Jan 28, 2012

End of summer ride

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I got out to ride with the husband today. We didn’t get a very early start and by the time we left the temps had dropped and the wind had picked up. Looks can be deceiving and although the sun shone for the first time in days, it was still pretty cold. I’d cleaned up the horses in late morning when I went out to give them more hay. Dharla wasn’t too dirty, but Bullet was covered form head to tail in layers of caked on dried dirt. He was still sporting a wet belly and muddy haunches from a recent sun bath, but I brushed him wherever the mud had dried in hopes that he wouldn’t lay down again before we rode. When we went out to tack up three hours later both horses were caked with wet mud. Even Dharla was a muddy mess, which was a first. I guess the sun made them itchy and they both chose to roll in the wet paddock. I noticed Bullet was shedding a bit when I brushed him earlier. Our days are getting longer so it’s possible the urge to rub and itch … a ritual that precipitates shedding … has begun.

Concerned that the woods would be greasy from recent rain and melting snow, I convinced my husband to start our ride on the flat Airline Trail. I thought the horses should expend a little energy before we tackled the woodsy terrain. We didn’t go more than a mile or two before we veered off the flat trail and picked up another trail that slipped around behind a long steep ridge. It was amazing how much the ridge cut the steady wind and once we got tucked up behind it we were a little more comfortable. Unfortunately, there were several places where the footing really stunk and in a couple of cases that made me a bit nervous.

Bullet was in the lead and because he’s got a slow, steady walk I had to keep checking Dhalra to keep her from riding up his butt. She’s much lighter on her feet whether we’re going uphill or down and its easy with her natural inclination to walk faster to end up right on his butt. Because the trail is narrow, steep and rocky, it’s important to make sure there’s a bit of room between horses. I like to be able to see the ground that’s about to pass under us, especially when riding a young inexperienced horse who might not know enough (yet) to choose the best route. I don’t like to over-steer a trail horse, but until I know they have the trail sense to pick a good path, I like to be supportive and ready to help them make the best choice. You can’t do that if you’re riding up the bumper of the horse in front.

Dharla checks well. Twice I actually stopped her and asked her to wait while Bullet ascended the rocky, narrow path ahead of us. She waited patiently, then when cued, half lunged half walked forward. Given how frisky the horses were feeling and that we were climbing a steep incline, I wasn’t bugged by her somewhat over enthusiastic response. Normally, I’d use this as a teaching moment and try to get her to relax a bit more and control her speed, but I just wanted her to respond to my check and then move forward (reasonably controlled) when asked. A couple of times I felt her back feet slip sideways on the slick mud and I held my breath. This occurred at a place where the trail drops sharply on the down side to a river many yards below, and rises steeply on the left or up side. Literally, there is NO place to go if there is a misstep or a fall. Once, I actually squealed like a girl … it was SO greasy and dangerous. But Dharla quickly recovered and moved right along. I was so proud of her and I gave her lots of reassuring pats and praise!

We arrived home about 1.75 hours later. I was frozen. I couldn’t feel my gloved fingers or my toes. Still, I was glad we got out and had a chance to ride. Who knows when the next chance will be?

Time: 1.75 hrs.

Distance: about 3.5 miles?

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Contemplations

I’ve done a lot of thinking the last 48 hours about my relationship with Dharla and I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.

1. I need to quit basing my progress on what other people have done with their horses.This is MY experience, not theirs and taking three years to do what they did in three months does not detract one thing from the finished product. I need to keep reminding myself this is a JOURNEY, not a destination.

2. I need to give up my need to turn every step into a me or her situation. If she’s not ready to do something then WE’RE not ready. Period. And since we’re a team, that’s really important to remember.

3. I need to look at this as a good opportunity to relearn how to be more optimistic. I used to be, but I lost my sunny outlook somewhere along the line. Having lots of bad shit happen to you is really not an acceptable excuse anymore. Get over it and move on.

4. I need to constantly look for any little willingness to give to my requests and revel in Dharla’s naturally good disposition. Don’t nit-pick a sweet horse to death!

5. I need to quit thinking I’m going to change 45 years of my own bad habits overnight. Learning and putting new information into action takes time. Nobody perfects everything right away, including the ‘experts’ who are teaching. They’ve had years upon years to learn what they know and have tons of different horses and riders to prefect their methods on. In contrast, I’ve only owned three (of my very own) horses. My pool of exposure is far and away more shallow than theirs. Lighten up!!!

6. It’s too easy today get overloaded with information and end up with Paralysis by Over-analysis. Don’t get way ahead of yourself. Read, learn and apply the information that’s applicable to where you are NOW and don’t waste your time trying to grasp concepts that you don’t even need yet!

That’s all for now. I’ll probably come up with more as I move forward.

Jan 25, 2012

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I got out on Dharla today. To say I’m missing Tia is an understatement for sure. The last few rides haven’t been exactly what I’d call fun or relaxing, not to mention that I basically dislike winter riding. But I feel like I don’t have much of a choice in the matter right now.

We started down in the ring because I’m not dumb enough to think I can just jump right on my horse after not riding in almost a week. So we worked on basic stuff like moving her haunches, backing, then some light lunging. Her attitude was very good throughout and she responded very well. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to ride so I tacked her up before we started just in case I thought I was up for it. Since she was working well and not being a jerk I decided I should do something more with her. I’d like to say I thought a nice walk up on the AL trail would be fun, but I knew there would be almost immediate issues with the rocky icicle spots. I can’t go very far without encountering something that she treats like it’s the big Boogie Monster. Still, I didn’t want to end with just a simple ground work session, so off we went.

As usual, she was wound tighter than a top. I mean, she started spooking at things before we even got off the lane that led to the ring. I just stayed calm and encouraged her forward. We rode past our lane to the barn where Bullet stood sentry at the gate, whinnying. She passed by without hesitating, which pleased me greatly. When we reached the AL trail it was deserted. We started walking in the direction that we usually go and she was moving at a crawl. I let her pokey her way along. I could feel how tightly wound she was, but I wasn’t playing into it. She spooked several times and invisible ghosts, but I just kept her moving. I don’t make a big deal out of make believe stuff.

It was only a minute or two before we reached the spot where she starts giving me crap about going forward, at which point we couldn’t even see the rock ledges or icicles yet. She stopped twice and tried to avoid moving forward by turning to the right. I countered and got her to move a couple of steps forward again before he hit the brakes. At that point I hopped off and grabbed the lead rope that I had coiled up on my saddle. I removed the reins from her bridle, clipped the lead onto her rope halter and led her forward. As we approached the icicles, I started circling her around me, forcing her to go past the rock ledge and icicles on both sides. Bear in mind that the trail is only about 6 feet wide here, so our “circles” were very small and our movement was limited. She wasn’t very worried about the icicles, but gave them the evil eye a few times as she went past. I just kept her moving.

We continued to do circles in the narrow lane between the rock outcrop. The ledge area extends for about 100 yards, with icicles hanging down in random spots along the way. We worked our way down the trail doing circles (both directions) until we reached the end. I stopped, rubbed her head and then started the same procedure going back the way we came. I used lots of verbal encouragement and praise. At any point if she seemed overly spooky I focused on that spot, sometimes stopping and letting her investigate the source of her fear. Actually, she didn’t seem all that afraid as we worked our way along. When we got back to the starting point I turned her around and led her forward again. When she seemed spooked at any point we either circled there for a bit and/or I let her investigate the issue more closely. Overall I ground worked her in that area for a good solid hour or more.

When I thought Dharla was acting relaxed and not bugged … I wouldn’t say she was licking her lips or really looking ho-hum relaxed, but she wasn’t freaked out by any means … I took her to the starting point, reattached the reins, removed the lead rope and remounted. I cued her forward was really stunned when she took 2 steps forward then stiffened up and tried to turn around and go home …. again. Huh? So what gives? Is this NOT a fear issue, but just a pissy mare thing we’ve got going on? She certainly didn’t seem frightened.

I circled her several times, then cued her forward again. She took one step and locked up. I circled her more, then cued her again. She took another step and locked up. This went on for about five minutes until we were finally standing about five feet into the rocky area. I let her put her head down and sniff the ice … same ice, Dharla, same ice! She took another step, then tried to turn for home again. I circled her more, then cued her forward. Slowly, we inched our way through the rocky area, one blasted step at a time. She stopped several times. I waited, then cued again and she would take one or two steps forward, then stop again. When we had almost reached the end I turned her around and we proceeded back through the same area the same way … one spooky step at a time. As we neared the other end I stopped her again and we did the whole routine again. She got a bit more willing and forward, but not much.

Finally, I decided to continue on a bit. As I rode along the AL trail I kept asking myself what the heck I was going to do next. I mean, there’s only so much I can do to get my horse comfortable with passing through this spot and there isn’t a whole lot of other places I can ride if I don’t. So it’s either conquer this hurdle or I can’t ride. Period. As I pondered this issue we approached the second rock outcrop with ice. I decided to turn her around and head back toward home before she had the chance to start refusing to go forward again. I simply didn’t have the time or gusto to go through another 60 minute dance of wills.

Heading for home she certainly had her “goin’ home” walk on. I slowed her down and made her move off my leg from one side of the trail to the other. (Our tracks look like we were drunk) I practiced one rein stops. I made her turn around and walk back the other way. Anything to keep her mind on ME and not on “whoopie, I’m going home!” As we approached the rocky outcrop she was very head-up, but not all that spooked. About halfway through the passage she suddenly spooked hard. I followed her gaze up and there on top of the rock ledges was a mountain biker riding his bike. I wished I had an Uzi. Thanks buddy. I just spent the better part of two hours trying to convince my horse that nothing scary is going to leap down off those ledges and eat her, and you have to happen along when I think I’ve made some progress and we’re on our way home. Great timing.

The rest of the ride was uneventful. I mean, we really didn’t go anywhere. All we did was work on being OK in the big scary place. I honestly don’t think I accomplished a damn thing and I know the next time I saddle up and head out she’s going to give me the same reaction there all over again.

I’m really discouraged. Between the shitty weather and the spooking horse, I’m a bit frazzled. I forget what it’s like to go for a ride just to relax and have fun. I’ve been riding a “project” for almost a year and I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere.

Time 1.45

Distance: crap

Brats

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We’ve all had a few. You know, those horses who have a love/hate relationship with each other? They can’t stand to be together, but they can’t stand to be apart, either.

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Herd hierarchy is a funny thing. These two don’t have to stand right next to each other, but they will. And then they bicker.

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She’ll hold her ground no matter how much he pokes and pesters, but when she’s had enough …. watch out, pal!

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She’ll give it right back to him, and then some! Better put your money on the mare to win because she always does! Of course, when either horse leaves to go out on a ride the other screams and hollers like they’ve lost their very best friend in the whole wide world. Go figure. Brats!

How about you? Do you have any brats who have a love/hate relationship with each other?

Work Ethics

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This post is meant to serve as a warning for those equestrians who wish their husbands, spouses, significant others or what have you shared their passion for ponies. Be careful what you wish for!

Two of the riders In the photo above are husbands. One is a father of five sons, the other has no children. Both men work stressful, high pressure jobs; my husband has been pulling sixty hour weeks for over thirty years. The young man at the far right is a high school honor student who works after school and every weekend. Needless to say, none of these men have very much “free time,” but when they do, you can see how they like to spend it. Inconspicuously absent from this photo are two wives and a steady girlfriend.

There was a period of time when I thought nothing could be better than having my husband share my interest in horses. He was an ardent animal lover and I thought we could enjoy some quality time riding and caring for horses together. When he actually started to show some interest in riding I got him into lessons, then encouraged him when he began dropping hints about getting his own horse. He was inadvertently playing right into my hands! We got him a horse, started riding together and spent the better part of most weekends hitting the trail. It was a lot of fun and we both enjoyed sharing quality  time together.

But as all good stories tend go, things gradually changed. A few years into this idealistic scenario we forged a new friendship with a couple of other riders, two who were men that lived close by. Their wives rode with us occasionally, but not regularly enough to make us a predictable group of six. More often than not, it was me and the three men who rode out every Saturday or Sunday afternoon. At first I found this enjoyable, even flattering that the guys would treat me like one of the gang, but as time wore on I began to feel like a bit of a third wheel. No stranger to male bonding, I knew there was an added benefit of men spending “guy time” together, talking about …. well, whatever it is guys talk about when they’re together. (I’ve heard tractor hydraulics and anything with a motor rank pretty high on the list) But the men seemed to hold back and refrain from verbal banter when I was in their midst. They didn’t hesitate to ride flat-out, expecting I’d hold my own with them, but even that didn’t make me one of them. I gradually began to think I was encroaching and started to bow out of joining them on their adventures.

A few years later I was forced to undergo spinal fusion surgery that went horribly awry. When I emerged from the subsequent three surgeries I was a changed person. Disabled and not expected to do much of anything physical again, it was strongly suggested that I forgo riding, preferably permanently. I promptly discarded that advice, but I knew I wouldn’t be in any kind of shape to ride with the guys for a very long time, if ever. And so began what grew to become nearly fifteen years of riding solo. Fortunately, I had the perfect horse. My mare and I had been together long enough and had experienced enough things that I knew I could trust her to take very good care of me in any situation. And that she did.

My husband and I fell into a regular routine of dividing up the chores. Whereas before we always did things together, I was now “retired” and at home full time. Routine feeding and clean-up became my responsibility Monday through Friday morning. Since our horses don’t stay inside there are no stalls to muck, but at my insistence we pick our paddock multiple times a day. We also feed hay 3-4 times a day whenever possible. Those responsibilities became my job until Friday afternoon, when my husband was slated to take over.

From very early on I started nagging my husband to come home early on Fridays to go riding. He runs his own business and can certainly allow himself a little time off, but given his strict work ethic he resisted my suggestion for many years. But after he met his new riding buddies that all changed. Suddenly he realized that other people actually went home and had their own life after 4:30 or 5 PM. Instead, his usual routine was coming home at 7:00, eating dinner and going to bed a scant three hours after getting home. Thirty years of habit can die hard, but suddenly he started leaving work on Friday at 3:30 or 4, coming home and heading out to ride with his friends. Part of me was really happy for him, but part of me was steaming pissed off. Why couldn’t he see the value in that when it was us riding together? I don’t have an answer for that. All I know is that I was always glad to see him walk through the door early on Friday afternoon, only to become incredibly sad as I stood on the porch waving goodbye as I watched him trot off down the road.

For many years those Friday afternoon rides morphed into late night gallivants around the countryside. Given how little time the guys had to ride, they often made up for lost time by riding late into the spring, summer and fall nights. By the time my husband arrived home from these rides, dinner had grown cold and the movie for the night had long since been watched (by me) alone. I grew angrier and angrier. It was his job to feed the horses Friday night through Sunday night, but with him off traipsing around the woods I would inevitably end up doing his chores. While I couldn’t bear to make the other horses wait for their supper, it fried my eggs that I had to feed them myself. That was HIS job and I didn’t think it was fair that I was getting stuck with all the horse chores while he just got to enjoy them. Obviously, by the time he got in I was a fuming, sputtering mess.

At some point this pattern of ours was going to have to change or it was going to tear us apart. I tried tying a pocket watch to his saddle, but you have to look at a watch if you want to know what time it is, and he refused to do that. I stopped holding dinner for him, but he didn’t care. I threatened to stop doing his barn chores, but he knew that was an empty threat. Finally, we came up with a solution that made us both happy: Humor. We struck a bargain. The deal was he would give me an estimated time of arrival …. give or take an hour. Knowing his disdain for keeping his eye on the time, I figured he’d usually err on the side of running late. And so our saga went. He’d give an estimated time of return to which I’d tack on an hour or even two. If he got home before I predicted I was happy. If he didn’t then he still wasn’t “late” according to his perception of time. I admit, it was a pretty goofy arrangement, but it worked to diffuse my angst. I was still sad at being left behind, but that was something I was going to have to fix by myself.

The second big hurdle in sharing my equine life with my partner is our different methods of doing barn chores. Every Monday morning it looks like a bomb went off in the barn over the weekend. The floor is littered with hay, the grain bin has empty grain sacks wadded up in the corners, the wheelbarrow is overflowing, the utility knife is MIA and the hay rack has several lengths of green bailing twine dangling from it. This morning I was irked to discover all the bales I set out on Friday had been fed out and the next candidate sat open …. six tires above my head. Huh? Call me OCD, call me anal retentive, call me whatever you like, but when I do chores I do them a certain way and it drives me bonkers that my husband can’t seem to figure that out. So we go about doing chores our own separate way. Monday through Friday I run a tight ship, only to have it thoroughly trashed every weekend. *Sigh* I guess that’s the price you pay for having your wish granted!

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The Wisdom of Age

First Ride!

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When I was young(er) I used to think I knew everything I needed to know about riding. Having been raised by parents who put a strong emphasis on physical activity, I learned to ski, swim and master a variety of physical achievements at a very young age. I was given a young, unbroken pony while I was still under the age of ten. Then after having trained and outgrown her, I got my first horse at thirteen. Mind you, I never took a riding lesson in my life, but learned to ride by the seat of my pants.

My (first) Quarter horse Serena was a well-started, gifted barrel racing horse. When I wasn’t running her on the makeshift track my father cut around our sprawling hay field, Serena and I spent hours honing our craft. I soon learned that when I cut a turn too tight my shin would clip the edge of the barrel and instantly split wide open. Damn, that hurt. Since this was long before shin guards were commonly used for other sports, I talked my art teacher into selling me a few sheets of copper that I fashioned into an armor. I used medical tape to attach the guards to my lower legs, hiked thick knee sox over them and continued to practice my turns.

I learned that making tight turns in a dewy, grassy pasture can lead to a frightening wreck. As silly as this sounds, it had never occurred to me that a horse might go down with a rider on it’s back. But one damp morning I checked my horse as she approached a tight turn and felt her hind-end slide out from under us. Her head flew up and her front feet scrambled to get a purchase on the slippery grass, but it was too late. We went down. Hard. My right leg was pinned under her side, my left foot still in the stirrup. I didn’t know what to do. I somehow managed to slip my left foot out of the stirrup and pushed myself clear as my horse struggled to regain her footing. Sitting on the ground in her shadow, I looked up. Serena stood frozen with shock, shaking and blowing, afraid to move a muscle. I stood slowly, mentally checking to make sure I wasn’t injured, then reached for the dangling reins and started to slide my hands over Serena’s legs. Thankfully, she was fine. Scared, but unscathed.

I knew I had to get back on. Not so much for my sake, but for hers. I slid my foot into the stirrup and swung on, then sat a few moments on the still quivering horse. Gently, quietly, we began to walk around the pasture. I knew we needed to go through the barrel pattern at least once so we wouldn’t develop a lasting fear of it, but I had a new respect for the danger of high speed turns on slick grass. We walked to the starting point, turned and began to trot through the pattern. Mission accomplished.

Most of the things I’ve learned, both good and bad have been taught through trial and error. At this point in my life I can honestly say I’m beginning to realize how little I actually know about riding. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something I want to change. I spent the last twenty years riding the same horse. Occasionally I rode my husband’s horse, but not with enough consistency to say I have a wide variety of experience riding other horses. I used to think that was a good thing; to have one horse and know how to ride it really well. But as I’m beginning to learn, this can actually create a false sense of security. I trained myself and my horse to be so in tune with each other that I’m finding myself a bit lost now when I ride a different horse. The subtle cues and signals I used to communicate with my old horse aren’t as readily understood by my new horse.

Starting at square one with Dharla is going to force me to change. I need to learn to grow with her in ways I didn’t take the time to learn with my old horse. I’m lucky in that I already have a good seat and soft hands, but there’s SO much more for me to learn and begin to refine. I’m excited about this, but occasionally discouraged. How did I go so long thinking I knew so darn much? Well for one, I had a great horse who made me feel like a much better rider than I probably was. When you think you do something really well its easy to stop looking for ways to improve.

In all fairness, I spent most of my 40’s trying to recover from a series of debilitating spinal surgeries that left me totally disabled. So I guess it probably wasn’t the right time to be fussing about perfecting something I was lucky I could still even do. (My surgical team did NOT give me their blessing to go back to riding. I ignored them and started riding only a few months into my lengthy recovery) Fifteen years later I have many physical limitations and the list of things I had to “give up” for the integrity of the metal hardware that holds my spine together is long.  But I’m still riding. And if I can still ride then I can learn to ride better.

If having a teachable mind is the first step toward success then I’m ready to become a student again.

Jan 19 (revisit) 2012

Pony Pulls

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Well I actually did get out and do a little something with Dharla yesterday. About mid day I went down to the arena to throw the Frisbee and ball for the dogs. The back yard was still too icy to have them chasing after things and they were dying to burn off a little energy. Not wanting to invite an ACL injury, I thought perhaps the riding ring might have slightly better footing.  Three quarters of it sits in full sun at least half the day and it’s flat, which is more than I can say for my back yard! So we ventured down and found it to be in fairly decent shape. A good portion of it was still frozen hard and a bit lumpy, but the sunny side had defrosted some and was perfectly usable. As I tossed the Frisbee and ball for the two canine maniacs the sun felt marvelously warm and inviting. Having just given the horses their afternoon hay, I decided I would bring Dharla down in about an hour or so and do a little ground work and maybe even ride a bit.

When I went out to the barn an hour later the skies were beginning to cloud over. Determined not to be dissuaded, I tacked Dharla up, stuffed a strand of bailing twine in my pocked, grabbed my stick and gathered up my helmet. It was about 34 degrees, but the steady wind that has been so prevalent (and such a pain) was absent. Only the occasional light gust of winter air rustled the branches overhead as Dharla and I started our walk down to the ring. She was her usual blowy and snorty self, but her overall demeanor was one of energy, not fear.

When we got to the ring we did our usual routine, which is to walk the perimeter of the arena several times  in both directions. I do this partly for my own mental warm-up as well as to allow Dharla to thoroughly scope out the area and reassure her that there aren’t any arena ghosts hiding in any of the corners. I have a strong suspicion that our arena is an energy “hot spot” on our property and it’s location and setting tends to contribute to my horse’s spookiness. There isn’t much I can do about that except follow a very distinct routine, give her plenty of time to check everything out and reassure her a lot. Nothing “bad” has ever happened in the arena so my expectations are for Dharla to do her best to get on board with the business at hand.

After circling the arena several times I picked up my training stick and we started working on our ground exercises: moving the haunches both directions, backing, moving the shoulders/forequarters. Dharla is doing quite well with these and although she doesn’t show signs of compliance to the degree that I would like (head-dropping, lip-licking) she does seem to relax and performs very well. It’s not that she doesn’t lick her lips or drop her head … she does. But she doesn’t do it as overtly as I’d like to see.

We reviewed ground work for about twenty minutes, but as we did so the weather began to deteriorate. The gusts of wind got stronger and ominous clouds began to fill the sky overhead. It was my original thought that I’d mount up and use the ring a bit to work more on some specific (mounted) exercises, then maybe venture down the dirt road, pick up a short woodsy trail and ride home from a different direction. It wasn’t a lengthy route, but it would be a change of pace.

I didn’t plan to do anything fancy in the ring as the footing wasn’t the best, but about half of the area was suitable to use as long as we just walked. I checked Dharla’s girth, attached my reins and mounted. I could immediately feel Dharla bunch up with tension. I wasn’t particularly buying it. We walked around the arena quietly. I simply asked her to move forward and nothing else. Given our ring isn’t huge, we traversed the area several times, making small circles at both ends and practicing our one rein halts at random. Dharla was still tense, but cooperative. Twice I felt her hunch up as a strong gust of wind blew, and I knew she was thinking about bucking. But I kept her moving forward and the moment passed. Unfortunately, even though we didn’t have any sort of incident, the fact she thought about it bugged me. I’m not used to riding a horse that thinks about giving me crap every time I get on it. Or maybe I’m wrong and reading too much into this? I dunno. I’m prone to dwell too much on the negative.

About fifteen minutes into our ride (still in the arena) I could hear a large truck rumbling up our road. I stopped Dharla and listened. Was it going to come down the dirt road and pass the arena? There’s only one place in the arena where we can see the dirt road and anything that’s on it. Sometimes that has been known to freak Dharla out because she hears something, but can’t see it. Our ears followed the rattling, belching truck up the road, then heard it slow down at the corner. Yes, it was certainly going to come our way. I walked Dharla toward the spot where she could see the truck and dismounted. We stood and watched together as the noisy truck rumbled past. Dharla was alert, but in control of herself. I was pleased.

After the town dump truck passed and rounded the bend I remounted and continued to walk Dharla around the arena. We could still hear the truck off in the distance. Unfortunately, the truck had driven in the direction I was hoping to ride after I finished in the arena. The dirt road is very narrow and not in the greatest shape and I was concerned that perhaps the town truck was going to be working somewhere over the next ridge. It probably wouldn’t be a very good idea to ride that way if that was the case. As we walked around and I pondered the choices, a sudden snow squall began to erupt. Discouraged, I decided we’d had enough. So far things had been a bit tense, but I’d accomplished everything I set out to do and I know that’s a good way to end things. As I thought this I started to hear the rumbling of the dump truck.. Good grief … it was coming back up the road toward us again!

I walked Dharla to the center of the ring and dismounted. We watched the truck approach, then as it vanished out of sight I listened and heard it take a turn toward my house. *Sigh* Being our only route home, I remounted and we worked a bit more on neck reining, halts and turns. (All at a walk) Eventually, we heard the rattling truck drive past our farm and back down the road toward town. I dismounted again, gathered up my things and we headed up the road to the barn.

Overall, not a bad ride or work session. I struggle with feelings of inadequacy and worry that I’m not skilled enough to get my horse where I’d like her to go. I really don’t have the foggiest idea what I’m doing or whether or not what I’m doing is even what I ought to be doing for her. I think I know her weaknesses, but I’m not sure how to help her strengthen them. I’m just kind of plowing through life hoping that at some point we’ll default our way into improving. I still fantasize a lot about sending her back to her trainer for a couple of months this spring, but I’m afraid that’s probably just wishful thinking. We’ll see.

Jan 19, 2012

     It’s been over a week since I’ve ridden Dharla. Our weather has taken a turn for the worse and with single-digit temps and horribly high winds I haven’t had a chance to get out there and do much with her. Our ground froze into a clumpy, clotted mess after ten or twelve weeks of sliding around in sloppy mud. I kind of figured this would happen since it seems to be the pattern the last couple of years. Trouble is, this leaves me without a safe place to do even the most basic ground work. The area around our barn is a slippery mess and the footing in the arena is crunchy granola hard and knobby. I could probably ask my husband to drag the arena this weekend, maybe soften up the surface a bit, but until then I’m stuck just looking out the window at my horse.

I knew this would happen eventually, but the timing really stinks. I’m only a few weeks into a ground work program and I feel like every day that passes is a setback. It’s not like I’m training an unbroke horse, but still. I think daily progress and review is important for our relationship. I had some ideas I wanted to try out for the issues with the icicles along the trail. I plan to put a halter under her bridle and carry a 15′ lead rope on our next ride. I did this when I first started trail riding Dharla in case I ran into any problems, but I’d stopped doing it a few months ago since I never had to use it. My plan is to see how she acts as we approach the “scary spot.” If she begins to balk, I’ll dismount and use the rope to lunge her either in circles or back and forth past the icicles. These icicles are not “new” to her, she’s simply refusing to move past them. I’ve given her lots of time to approach the icicles with caution, walk past them multiple times each ride, see them from both directions, sniff them … you name it, we’ve done it and still she persists in acting like she’s never seen an icicle in her life. So I would like to see if I can “cure” her of her desire to put the brakes on and learn to trust my judgement … or suffer the consequences. (Lunging)

Hopefully, this will be a step in the right direction. I won’t always have the luxury of getting off my horse and working her in the vicinity of something scary. The trails we ride are seldom wide or flat enough to do this kind of desensitization work so I may as well take advantage of it on a trail that is suitable. I will have had Dharla a year in March and brought her home to my farm April 1st. 2010. It’s not like we haven’t had time to build up some trust in me. I would very much like to see her become a bit more willing to trust that I won’t force her to go anywhere or do anything that’s not safe. We’ve covered a lot of the same miles repeatedly and I know she’s not daft. She should be getting on board with the fact that I’m not going to ask her to do something she’s not ready to do.

When I first brought Dharla home I fantasized about maybe sending her back to spend more time with her trainer over the winter. His barn is just far enough away to be almost TOO far to think I’d get there several times a week, especially if the weather turns nasty.  And I can’t imagine not seeing my horse a couple times a week; it’s almost unfathomable after having her in my own back yard. But the benefit of more training for both she and I would be enormous. I’ve never boarded a horse away from home before and the idea is both forbiddingly scary and exciting. Although an indoor arena would be available for our use (a luxury those of us without constantly dream about) this trainer seldom uses it. I know that from riding under his tutelage last March, when the ides were blowing and the snow still lay in large drifts where plows had piled it. “Are we riding outside today?” I’d ask with foreboding. “Yup” he’d say, with a twinkle in his eye and a grin. “I don’t think horses see well indoors and it makes them spooky.”

Ug. Did I mention that I hate winter?

 

 

Jan 11, 2012

I’d like to re-clarify for those following or reading my blog that this is basically a replacement for my handwritten training journal. I used to keep a hardcover training/riding journal so I could flip back and see where I’ve been and what I’ve been working on, but I decided to journal in a blog instead.  My “new” horse is young and green and for the first time in 15 years or more I’m putting some training on a youngster. When I first started agility (with my Cattle Dog) I learned to break things down into steps and I kept a training journal so I could follow our progress and note any ‘sticky’ spots. I also do this now with my other ACD, who herds. So I thought, why not do a training/riding journal for my horse? It’s also a nifty way to keep track of what I’m doing and log the time and distance we ride each month. With that said, the majority of my posts (here) will be dated the day prior since I don’t always get time to sit down and write directly after I train or ride. On days when it’s too cold or wet to ride I may come here and ramble a bit on the same day, but for the most part I suspect my entries will be dated the day prior.

Today I didn’t have enough free time to get Dharla back down to the arena to work on ground exercises. I had to use the morning to run a bunch of errands and get a few things done. The weather is predicted to take a nasty turn tonight (rain and/or wet snow) and I desperately needed dog and people food. Not my favorite chore, but necessary to say the least. I’ve had Hazer on a grain-free diet the last few weeks and he seems to be doing pretty well. I don’t want to run so low on his food that I have to default to Neena’s kibble, which isn’t grain-free. I hate being inconsistent, but there will be days where I can’t do any groundwork with Dharla and today was one of those days.

My friend (LM) and I had plans to ride if she could squeak away from her farm for a few hours. On an up note, she had workers at her farm who were installing the “guts” to her new barn. Well, the barn is old, but the stalls and stall doors are all new. It’s going to be so nice when it’s done. She’s in the process of horse-hunting so now she can rest easy if she finds something. (More about that search later.) I wasn’t expecting she’d have the chance to break away to ride, but she pulled in at 1:30 and was ready to go. I’d given the horses more hay a bit earlier, but hadn’t brushed them, so we had our work cut out for us.

*

After getting the Lumber Wagon brushed we tacked up and headed out. I decided it was a good day to start out on a woodsy trail rather than (once again) ride the Airline Trail, which is more open. If we start on the AL trail we don’t get very far before we encounter the rock ledges where the icicles are. Knowing my horse still has a bit of a “thing” about icicles, I thought maybe it would be nice to begin our ride with something different for a change.  I’ve been limited to riding the AL trail for over two months because of hunting season. That’s over now, but it won’t be long before the footing gets too slippery to navigate the hilly terrain. So I decided we’d start our ride there, then circle back to the AL trail and finish up with that.

Dharla led. That’s not really her forte yet, but I want her to get used to leading and following on the trail. She started out hesitant and a bit spooky over just about anything; boulders, logs, rustling leaves … basic woods stuff. Sheesh. I just try to stay relaxed and patient, but none of this stuff is new to her anymore. I’m fairly convinced she’s just making things up in her mind to see if I’m going to let her wimp out and relinquish the lead. (Nope) After about ten minutes she settled down and walked along like she does this every day. Yay! We crossed several streams, most that were surrounded by wide boggy, rutted areas. On the up side, this is something I’ve worked very hard to get Dharla to accept and she did great. Unfortunately, mountain bikers have made a general rutty mess of every stream we cross and in several places they have laid large flat rocks so they’ll have a smoother place to cross. This pisses me off to no end and come spring I’ll be out there throwing the rocks back into the woods. They’re only thinking of themselves when they do this and it makes it anywhere from difficult to downright dangerous for equine trail users …. who have been out there forging and using the trails they are now riding decades before mountain biking came on the scene.  I thought the whole point of mountain biking was to experience trails in their natural state? Weenies.

Anywho, the woods part of the ride went very well and it was nice to ride something different for a change! I think Dharla thought so too! Eventually we picked a path back that led back down to the AL trail and continued our ride there. We turned around to head for home slightly short of my usual turning point. The wind was picking up, the temp dropping and I was starting to get that bone-chilled feeling. We got back home as it was starting to get dark and I could hardly feel my toes. At least we got out again though. I’m afraid the forecast doesn’t look very good for the next several days. Pfffffft. Winter. (<— rolls eyes)

Time: Approx 2.5 hrs.

Distance: Approx 6.5 miles

Jan 10, 2012

Busy day today. I went out and got Dharla around 10 AM and we took a walk down to the arena. We did some basic ground work, then added moving the forequarters and added some finesse to our lunging. Dharla was probably never taught to turn and face the person lunging her when stopped, so I’m working on that, then sending her the opposite direction. She got it OK a couple of times and so we ended on a good note.

Her backing is getting very good. Fast and as many steps as I ask her to take. She also backs very straight, which is nice. Moving her hindquarters is almost perfect on her right side, but a bit less so on her left. Not surprised there She’s crossing her feet nicely for about three steps every time on the right, with no attempt to walk forward. She’s a bit less coordinated on her left and sometimes tries to walk out of it. I tried the forequarter exercise, but I’m a retard and I decided to stop and go back and watch the video again before I try it. Sometimes it seemed like she understood what I was asking, but I botched it up enough that I decided to quit before I just confused her. Duh.

Time: 45 min.

Two hours later I went out and did a trail ride with my friend. It was basically a repeat of the same ride as yesterday only with a “babysitter” horse. Naturally, the icicles we less intimidating with a buddy along for comfort. It got a bit chilly toward the end. We didn’t get back to the barn until almost dark!

Time: 2.5 hours.

Distance: 6 miles