Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Buckshot Surprises Me!

Have you ever had a day, or two, that are really bad, full of tension and stress and worry? And then you go see your horse, hoping he is doing well and nothing bad has happened, because you just don’t have any extra emotional energy to deal with it? Luckily, your horse is fine, and is maybe even glad to see you. And then you have the best time in the world with your special horse, and it is healing, and relaxing, and wonderful, just when you need it most? Well, that was my experience last weekend. After some work stresses, I had a great time Saturday and Sunday with Buckshot. He was perfect both days. Such a good horse. And I so needed it.

We had good rides on Saturday and Sunday, but I’ll just write about Sunday. The farm was quiet since the BO and BOH had gone to the reining clinic (I am taking a break from it). The weather was perfect- sunny, cool, in the 70’s, blue sky and slight breeze.

After I got Buckshot from his pasture and groomed and tacked him up, we went into the arena. There had been rain the previous night, making parts of the arena soupy. I set up three cavaletti, and two tall poles. We started our warm up walk and used the cavaletti to walk over and around. We walked around the perimeter of the arena so I could monitor how soft various sections were, and I determined what area we could ride in. It’s been many months since we have used cavaletti, but I love to trot over them so I thought it would be fun to use them again. After our warm up, we started trotting and after a bit, I started from one end of the arena and headed to the cavaletti, and Buckshot float-trotted over them! It was wonderful! He didn’t touch any of the poles! We did it several times, and about the fifth time, he hit one of the poles and moved it off course. But such fun!

We did some cantering that was lovely. And then we started walking out of the arena. Buckshot wanted to explore so I let him lead. He walked out strongly, then slowed down, so I took up the reins and led us around a bit. Then he started walking in another direction. Hmm, I thought, where is he going? He walked over to the side of the arena and down the rail. At the end, we stopped and I turned us around, and he walked over to the trailhead. I thought, he wants to go on the trail! And he did. All by ourselves! He walked confidently down the trail! We had a great time – walking through the lovely woods, over the creek, exploring some of the smaller side trails, and then returning. All by ourselves!! Without having to urge him to go! I was so happy, and surprised that he wanted to do this.

After the trail, we went back in the arena and worked on various patterns. When we had been riding for about an hour, I thought it was time to stop. We did a little more trotting, and then I walked, cooling down, and said to Buckshot, okay, we’ll go outside the arena and dismount. So we walked out of the arena, and surprise! Buckshot didn’t stop, but turned and walked over to the trailhead again! He wanted to go back on the trail! And so we went into the woods again, and had a nice second ride. My dear, sweet horse, who usually doesn’t want to go on the trail without other horses, in one day, wanted to go on the trail alone, twice! What a surprise! I guess you never know what they are thinking. It was such a nice ride!

You know, now that summer is ending, Buckshot is very sad about one aspect of summer coming to an end- getting washed. He loves the wash stall and frequently wants to go into it whenever we are just walking by it. The reason - treats! He gets to eat a handful or two of sweet feed whenever I wash him. So he loves to be washed!!

Knowing this, I had decided in advance that even if he wasn’t sweaty after our ride, I would take him to the wash stall and give him a “dry bath.” I planned to brush him and brush out his mane and tail, so he could have his sweet feed. As it turned out, he was a tiny bit sweaty, so I rinsed off his barrel and girth area, and then scraped the water off, followed by brushing his mane and tail and spraying him with Vetrolin conditioner. Then I walked him back to his pasture. I was so proud of him and grateful for the wonderful rides we had- I really needed the calm and restoration of being with him, and he couldn’t have been any better. Thank you, sweet Buckshot, you are the best horse in the world. And full of surprises – good ones! – at times as well.

Hope you had a wonderful time with your horse! And isn’t the cooler weather just fabulous?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Autumn Has Arrived!

The weather was cooler this past weekend – finally!-, and Buckshot’s energy was good. We worked on some of the goals I planned and had a good time. We mostly worked on stamina by trotting longer, and trying to canter longer. It is hard for me to get the feel of Buckshot in the canter, much less extend the feel to help him canter longer. That is a tall order. And of course, trying it for one or two days is nothing; it might take weeks and weeks to achieve even a small measure of it.

Using split reins was a little clumsy on my part. Both days I let one rein accidently drag on the ground and Buckshot stepped on it (while I was on the ground). Adjusting the length of the rein in my hands was much harder, and frankly, now I’m questioning why I even want to use split reins. English buckled reins are much easier for me- easier to shorten and lengthen, easier to maneuver. I am wondering about this.

Neck reining consistently was also a little clumsy. Buckshot was responsive and willing with both of these changes, but at times it was confusing. I don’t know if neck reining is all that important.

So it was a weekend of mixed results. Through it all, Buckshot was willing and cooperative. I appreciate that about him. I am also of mixed feelings about continuing going to the reining clinics. I think that Buckshot and I may be more comfortable working on our patterns and riding at our home farm, rather than with reining show horses in training. I am uncomfortable with some of the comments made about him, and so I am thinking about not continuing that activity. We can do a lot of fun activities right at home and that is appealing to me. I am a little dismayed by it all – my eager new goals, riding with show horses, an instructor that professionally trains reining horses to go to the highest levels, which isn’t my interest at all,- and a little out of sorts by some stresses at work, so I’m not in my usual optimistic mood. But I look forward to seeing Buckshot again soon, and hope that the weather continues to cooperate with us. Hope you had a wonderful autumn ride with your special horse!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

No Panic Today and An Interesting Dilemna

This past weekend two interesting things happened. The first was: Buckshot and I rode, with another horse and rider, down the scary road again, and had a good time. The day was sunny, with fluffy, friendly clouds in the sky, hot and humid. No rain in the forecast. Buckshot had somewhat lower energy on Saturday, but we warmed up in the arena just fine. After we were joined by my sister on her school horse Dusty, we headed down the farm road to the reining arena. Both horses were kind of slow going down the road, but at least it was a sunny and pretty day (instead of the cloudy, shadowy, gloomy day earlier). We had a good time doing work at the reining arena and started back toward the main barn. This was where I was worried if Buckshot would fear going back. But he did fine, I stayed relaxed and we walked right back without a problem. I was thrilled! I hope we have subdued the scary memory that occurred on the road when we were approached by strange people and big dogs, that gave Buckshot a huge fright!

The second interesting thing occurred on Sunday. Buckshot and I went to the reining trainer clinic. The day was beautiful – sunny, blue skies, less hot and much less humid – a perfect summer day. After doing the maneuvers and exercises the trainer instructed us in, he said to me that I had advanced beyond Buckshot. He said that maybe I was bored (with Buckshot) and maybe Buckshot was bored. He suggested that I ride one of the show horses occasionally. I thanked him for his comments, and took Buckshot to be untacked and rinsed.

I thought about what he had said on the ride back to the farm. I can always share my thoughts with the barn owner, and later, while feeding all of the farm’s horses, I shared my thoughts with her. Her response was enthusiastic so that made me feel good. Here is what I thought: How wonderful to have received such a big compliment about my riding skills! I didn’t know anyone had noticed that I had gotten better at riding, so it was wonderful to be complimented on it.

I know that Buckshot isn’t officially a trained reining horse, nor a show horse, nor do I want to or plan to compete in reining. But Buckshot is my horse, my wonderful, wonderful horse and he has taught me a lot in these past almost-five years. He is one of the reasons my skills have gotten better. He is an invaluable trail horse, and he is really a versatile horse as well. He works with me willingly in the arena, and on trail rides, and going to another farm for reining clinics. That is very versatile of him. And he is such a reliable, calm, trustworthy horse. I am extremely lucky to have him as my own horse. I love him to death. And he has a big motor. Many people don’t find such a valuable horse for years and years.

With Buckshot’s age (twenty five plus years) and my lack of interest/ money for competing, I haven’t pushed us too much in our reining maneuvers. And during the summer, rain and sometimes humidity have limited our time to ride and work hard. So I have gone a bit soft, understandably perhaps.

So perhaps both he and I can push ourselves more. We can do more! We can become better! (You can hear in all these thoughts that the option of getting another horse is not there. That is not an option for me, timewise or financially. I really enjoy Buckshot and want to ride him, not someone’s show horse. So Buckshot is my one and only horse. He and I are a good team. Period.)

But we can do more, and we can get better. While I drove home, lots of ideas floated through my mind, and I got them down on paper as soon as I got home. I will no doubt refine them, as these are my first thoughts, but here is what I wrote.

Goals –
Don’t break gait at the canter.

Develop two distinct speeds at the canter – fast and slow/moderate. Learn to successfully lope at both speeds.

Do full reining patterns impressively (without the spins, or the sliding stops).

Develop strength, stamina and control.

Techniques/ Helps to Achieve Goals-
Explore use of blunt spurs. Can my legs handle spurs? Unfortunately I move my lower legs a lot at the trot. I may not be ready for this.

Train Buckshot to know that cantering and rating the canter is fun, not work, and he can keep doing it. (So he doesn’t break gait and go into trot) This is a concept I got from Mugwump – need to read her techniques on this again.

Develop his stamina and strength. Mine also, by exercise.

Use hills to develop the above.

Canter for long periods of time. Where? Use the big reining arena, and when a bit more space is needed, ride on the grass perimeter.

Do a full reining pattern every day that I ride him.

Get all of the reining patterns.

Use western reins. They have a longer bite, and may help the next technique.

Neck rein him exclusively. Buckshot neck reins, but I learned English when I started riding, and so have stayed with English rein techniques and have only occasionally neck reined him. But when I do, I give a bit more rein, so it may help him keep going happily. Perhaps I can borrow some western reins from the BO to find out what kind I like.

To help Buckshot go happily down the road to the reining arena, bring treats with me and give him treats on the way. Wear gloves.

Ride him twice a day on Saturday and twice on Sunday. First session to do hill work on the trail, and build stamina at the reining arena. Second session to ride with others in class in arenas.

So that is my list. I’ll think through it some more but I think it is a good idea. For both him and I. I need some motivation and maybe what the trainer said will act as a motivation. The BO said she thought my goals of pushing ourselves more, and trying to work on the canter were good. She said Buckshot is very powerful physically, and he is willing. She thought this is a good perspective on the whole thing.

So I am more motivated right now. I hope that my future posts will be full of successes, but realistically, my motivation may flag at times. Have you had something like this happen with you and your horse – a turning point that helped you to move forward in new ways? And do you have any tips for helping a horse stay cantering? Thanks in advance!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Buckshot Panics!

Last weekend, Labor Day weekend, I made it to the barn on Friday, Sunday and Monday. Saturday is one of my usual days at the barn, but I had to go to a shower instead. Buckshot and I rode on Friday, and on Sunday three of us went to the reining clinic and rode there. On Monday a scary thing happened.

Monday was wet, with off and on rain, very cloudy and dark, and hot and humid. I got Buckshot’s stall ready and hoped for a window of non-rainy time so we could ride. Once the rain stopped and I saw some breaks in the clouds, I went to get Buckshot and groom him and tack up. We went out to the arena but it was full of puddles, so we rode in the grassy areas around the barns and arena instead. Then we headed down the farm road to go see what the other arena looked like and if we could ride in it.

This was a bit of an adventure since I haven’t actually gotten him to go down the road on our own before. But I felt confident and Buckshot had a small but good amount of energy, so it seemed possible. Buckshot started off strong, walking nicely, but before long, he was hesitant and I was urging him, walk on! Walk on! And slowly, he walked. After a bit, I decided to lead him on foot, so I dismounted and started leading him. He was still hesitant to go forward, preferring to stand still, but using words and leading him in a zig zag pattern, I got him to go more or less forward. He wasn’t agitated, just terribly hesitant, stopping every few feet. Then I noticed the BO walking toward us on the road; she had come from a barn further up the road. She helped me lead Buckshot . One of the nearby barns had a mounting block so I remounted, and with the BO leading and me riding, we continued our walk to the reining arena. Buckshot walked slowly but steadily along. Buckshot was fine when we arrived and the BO left to do other things.

We had a good ride at the arena, doing some patterns and exercises along with trotting and a bit of cantering. There were a few puddles in the arena so we had to go around certain areas but we made the best of it. Since it was very muggy, and it was the first time that we had ridden alone in this arena, I decided I really wanted this to be a very good experience for Buckshot, so I ended the work a little early. I let him graze nearby and then we headed back to the main barn. Buckshot didn’t need any urging to go in this direction, as it is the direction back to safety. You know what I mean.

So we were walking nicely down the road, and way off down the road, near the end of the road where the main barn and the BO’s house is, I saw four figures walking toward us. The road is heavily canopied with tree limbs, so it was quite dark and full of shadows on a dark, cloudy day. By squinting, I could tell who was coming – it was a boarder, and her husband, and two dogs – large standard poodles, which by squinting I could tell were on leashes. We walked a few more steps – they were a hundred yards away from us – and Buckshot suddenly tensed and stopped. His ears were forward and I could tell he was watching this group of, of somethings, coming toward us. I didn’t think much about it, but decided that since it was new for us to encounter two people (strangers to him) and two large dogs, I’d dismount and lead him.

Within seconds after I had gotten off and held the reins, Buckshot suddenly panicked! He bolted, he wanted to run away from them, he wanted out, now!! I held onto him, my heart pounding, and I yelled to the people “Get back, Buckshot’s upset! Don’t come any closer!” Buckshot continued to thrash and bolt and try to get free of my hand (luckily he didn’t rear or whinny- that would have scared me even more!). I kept saying “Easy! Easy!” to Buckshot. I turned and looked over my shoulder at the visitors and they were still on the road, way down there. But Buckshot was not calming down, he just continued to panic. I held on to the reins with all my might, terrified of what might happen if I let go.

Finally, the visitors turned around and retraced their steps and took a route through the woods. Buckshot stopped panicking and we stood there, my heart pounding, but Buckshot was no longer trying to get away. I took a few deep breaths, and started walking him again. But he wasn’t interested in walking. It took me forever to get him down the road, tiny step by tiny step. And this was going in the direction of the safe barn. Maybe he was still a bit afraid that the “wolves” (or whatever scary thing he perceived them to be) were still down there, by his nice safe barn. I didn’t know what he was thinking, but I continued to try and reassure him and it took a long time to get him back to the barn. He seemed totally calm by the time we got back to the barn, and I untacked him, gave him his treats, all normally and without incident. Wow! What a scary time!

I told the BO and she suggested that maybe, in his older age, his eyesight wasn’t the best at that long distance, and so he saw something that seemed very scary to him. But I was still tense and stressed and still slightly scared. Oh, my God, what if I hadn’t happened to dismount? I could not have ridden out his frenzied bolting- I would probably have been hurt and he might have been hurt also. I was so, so glad that I had chosen to dismount when I did, but I know that I didn’t do it because I sensed panic. In any event, I was very, very relieved that I had gotten off of him, and had been able to keep him from running away, and that we both ultimately got safely back to the barn.

As I thought more about it, perhaps there were other factors. It was the first time Buckshot and I had ridden alone at the reining arena, and the first time we were alone as we walked back to the barn. New experiences for him. It was the first time we had ever encountered anyone walking toward us on the road from that direction. The road was dark and shadowy and hard for me to see. The poodles are big dogs and they looked like big animals. So it was the first time a big pack of unknown beings were coming down the road, in our direction. I had asked a lot of Buckshot just before this happened and maybe his confidence wasn’t very high. So dealing with a scary pack of unknown beings – well, he just couldn’t. He panicked. Thank goodness they left and he finally listened to me, and finally we got home safely.

So, I can’t forget that although 95% of the time, Buckshot is a calm, reliable, unspooky, older horse, he can still spook, and he can still panic. I’ll continue to trust my judgment that sometimes it is best to dismount, and I’ll do that. And I have to remember that there are still some things he hasn’t encountered, that I may have to train him through, and be patient with him about. Anyway, that was our Monday ride. Wow, and whew.

Hope you had a better Labor Day!