Confessions

Babyface

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I bet that header will pull in a few random readers. Sorry, but I’m not going to fess up to having done anything juicy. First of all, I want to make it clear that this is not my photography blog. That’s here. While I’d like the photos I blog here to be my best effort, oftentimes they’re not, but I’m going to post them anyway. When I decided to keep a riding/horse blog I knew I wouldn’t have time to agonize over the photos like I do in my photography blog. In fact, I wasn’t even going to try to post pictures here, but I happen to think photos help people relate to your story, so I started putting some in. That led to my feeling like I HAD to post pictures, which I don’t, but … well, crap. That’s what photographers DO. So now I try to post some farm/animal/riding related pictures, but they’re not always going to be my best shots. God. If you knew the hours and work that go into my other blog you’d think I was nuts. Or just a tad OCD or something. (Ya think?) I guess what I’m trying to say is by all means enjoy the pictures, but please don’t think they’re a good example of my work.

And while I’m on that subject I’d like to confess that shooting horses is NOT as easy as I thought it might be. Perhaps that’s a bit of a no-brainer, but being a rookie photographer I wasn’t aware of that fact. I suspect that like people, some horses photograph better than others. Oh sure, we all know a pretty horse when we see one, but that’s not really what I mean. Some horses have nicer angles, stronger features and better colors for shooting. And believe it or not, some horses simply know how to strike a pose and hold it better than others. For instance, every time I have a camera in my hand Dharla is on the move. Her lips, her head, something is always moving. And that doesn’t make for great shots. Bullet is less wiggly, but he’s a bit of a lumber wagon and so his body has to be shot in just the right position or he looks like a tank. Which leads me to my next confession.

I’m a horse snob. Yup, I admit it, I’m swayed by a pretty face and physique. Now my former horse was pretty. Prior to owning Tia I wasn’t big on grays, but the color grew on me. Tia wasn’t the prettiest form of gray (she was flea-bitten), but any time I ran into hikers out on the trail all the little kids wanted to pet the “white” horse. And when hikers and bikers stopped on the AL trail to gawk at my horses I always heard remarks like, “Look at the pretty white horse!” Heck, when I was a kid we used to play a car game where we formed teams and looked for certain object on opposite sides of the road. Each object was worth a certain number of points and a white horse was always the Mother Lode. So I guess grey horses hold a certain mystique for many people.

Tia was also very refined. So between being gray and fine-boned, she photographed well. I didn’t have my camera until the last few months of her life and therefore, didn’t know what a great subject she would turn out to be. But I’ve since learned my lesson the hard way: Dharla is a bear to photograph well. She’s everything Tia was not: dark, angular and she tends to have the attention-span of a fruit fly. Oh, and did I mention she never stops eating?

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With her shaggy winter coat, unshaven bridle path and skunned up face, Dharla looks very much like a backyard nag. Until yesterday. Yesterday it was windy as hell and when my husband announced that he and his buddy were going for a ride I decided to opt out. I’d had a couple of great rides last week and I didn’t want to wreck my streak by cowboying it up with the guys. The only down side to that was that I knew Dharla might get a bit bonkers being left behind, what with the very high winds and all. I still worry about that and probably always will. I don’t know what I think will happen … will she jump the fence? Run through it? I doubt it. But there you have it. Whenever I stay behind I usually end up walking a path between my office and the kitchen window so I can keep an eye on things.

I asked my husband to put Dharla in the smaller paddock and give her some hay before he left. Food is usually a helpful distraction. Truth be told, she hollered a few times and paced the fence line a bit as he rode out of sight, but she wasn’t nutty. I relaxed and settled into a routine of spying on her every fifteen to twenty minutes or so. At one point I looked out and she was trotting along the fence and hollering, but she didn’t seem nearly as worked up as I expected. About 4:30 I took the dogs out for a last game of Frisbee and after we finished up I decided it was close enough to feeding time that I may as well go out and get Dharla fed. I mixed up her grain, opened up the gate to the smaller paddock and placed her pan in the bigger of the two fenced-in areas. Since she wasn’t very worked up I decided she may as well have full run of the larger paddock. Dharla really likes my company, so I hung out and brushed her as she ate, then picked the paddock while she finished her grain. I set out a bit more hay, then went back to the house to feed the dogs

  Five minutes later when I came back out the basement door I could hear Dharla hollering at the top of her lungs. She sounded really frantic or pissed off at something. You know the sound; it’s different that your typical, “I miss my buddy” whinny. I looked toward the barn and saw someone up on the AL trail trotting flat out past the farm on a Paint. I think I know who it was, but they didn’t slow down or stop. Not that I care. But Dharla sure did! Holy cow. She turned into a different horse. This was the first time I’d ever really seen what she’s got under the hood and it was quite a show! Her tail was up, her head was up, her nostrils were fully flaired and she was floating and dodging all over the paddock. She kicked it up a notch and ran from one end of the pen to the other, sliding on the greasy surface and darting out of the corners. She snorted and blew, snaked her neck and dashed from the gate to the barn. She was simply amazing to watch!

I grew up with Quarter Horses and always considered myself a Quarter Horse person through and through. That is, until the first time I saw (in person) an Arabian move freely. Holy crap, that just took my breath away! Sadly, I’ve been in love with the breed ever since. I say “sadly” because there are pros and cons to everything and unfortunately, I think this breed has been very misunderstood. I find most of my Quarter Horse friends greatly dislike the breed in general. If pressed, most will tell you they either knew an Arab that was “nutty” or they knew someone who had Arabains who was a jerk. Yeah. Well, that’s how bias are created. I still love a good Quarter Horse, though I’ve known many that were turds and way too many owners that were likewise. But when it comes to poetry in motion, I just can’t get past the Arabian.

Unfortunately, the same thing that happened to Western Pleasure horses has happened to Arabians. Now I don’t know squat about showing, but I still have the opinion that what you see in the show pen is not in any way, shape or form related to the breed I used to ride and love. What the hell happened? I dunno. I guess one day someone woke up and said let’s see how slow we can get these animals to go and still conform to a specific frame and certain gait. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but all I know is that it looks like hell and I can’t imagine the horses feel very good doing it. I’ve been told these horses are supposed to look like they’re a pleasure to ride. For who? Someone a step away from assisted living? Sheesh. It just makes me sad watching it.

But I digress. As I stated in an earlier blog entry, I’ve been contacted by Dharla’s breeder in regards to her full (younger) sister. I really like Dezarae a lot. When she moves freely she’s the spitting image of Dharla. Unfortunately, Dezarae has been groomed for show and so most of her training has been geared toward that. When I first saw her most recent video all I could think was that I wanted to buy her and rescue her from a life of that kind of monotony. But her sticker price is far and above what I would pay for a trail mount. Here, she’d be relegated to a life of shaggy coats, dirt and skunned up faces. But I think she’d have a heck of a lot of FUN.

With her breeder’s permission, I present Dezarae!

Feb 23, 2012

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I’m glad I got out for a ride (yesterday)  because this is what we woke up to today. Ug. It IS February, but we haven’t had snow in so long that it feels like an early spring storm. It’s really NOT spring …. yet, so I can’t complain. Besides, it’s already turned into drizzle and the temps are supposed to rise again. By tomorrow this snow will all be gone. Meanwhile though, it’s a lot of mess. Bullet makes me laugh, with his little dollop of snow right in the middle of his forehead. He’s such a character, that boy!

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Dharla and I did another easy ride down the AL trail. Worked on getting a nice relaxed trot. It was VERY windy again, so I give Dharla a lot of credit for being so calm. Every now and then a really strong gust would make her a bit goosey, but overall she held it together very well. She was a bit sticky at the first rocky ledges area, but I used my legs to cue her forward and when she tried to turn the opposite way, a light tap at the girth with the stick helped reenforce my request and she complied with little fuss. (Yay!)

At the second rock ledge area where she’s given some resistance, she proceeded to walk on, albeit with great caution. I gave her lots of encouragement and praise and made sure I was using a slightly animated forward motion with my seat. That really seems to help. Looking back, when we come to this spot I think I anticipate a battle and I probably tense up in my lower back and brace in the ankles a bit too. Making sure I’m ultra relaxed and using my seat to strongly encourage forward motions helps a bunch. It’s probably safe to say that Dharla and I have gotten into a bit of a tense vicious cycle at these two spots and focusing on relaxing and using the stick to reenforce my cue should help clear this up.

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful and pleasant. Dharla is such a good girl and I’ve had a couple of very nice rides the last week or so.

Feb 22, 2012

Winter Sunbath

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Much warmer temps today and a decent amount of sun. It’s still very windy, but it’s February. It’s easy to forget that winter and spring is usually a bit more windy when the temps are in the low 50’s!

I got out for a nice jaunt along the AL trail today. Dharla was feeling good and gave me a bit of attitude as we approached the first rocky ledges. I dismounted and found a nice stick to use as a whip as I do think at this point that she’s just pushing my buttons. The icicles are gone and last year she wasn’t giving me any issues walking through the ledges. (She was nervous, which is OK, but she wasn’t blowing off my cues) I think she just remembers this area as being the “sticky, scary” spot and is willfully refusing my cues. I decided to test that with the light encouragement of the stick. Lo and behold, that worked pretty nicely. Hm. From now, until we get this issue resolved, I’ll carry a stick. She’ll get a couple of chances to respond to my cues, then if she outright refuses I’ll use the stick to reinforce my cue a little bit more. I know she’ll soon be walking forward as asked, just fine.

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful. We did stop twice to chat with hikers and the guy I met on a ride before who was out taking pictures. Dharla was a perfect lady and stood stock still as we talked. I so love that about her!! We had a very nice ride … actually the first time I’ve really been able to relax and let my mind wander a bit. We did a few nice walk/trot transitions, but mostly we just ambled along and enjoyed the nice day. The sun finally came out to stay and the sky was bright blue … it was great to be out together and get some fresh air!

Time: 2.5 hours

Distance: 4 easy miles

Feb 18, 2012

I’ve been remiss in noting rides. Its been a bit busy lately. Aldo and I got out today and did a nice Peach Orchard loop. I decided we should do the loop in reverse for a change … I can’t recall the last time I did that. If I don’t reverse a long trail once in awhile I tend to lose my mental map. Trails DO look different when you ride them the opposite way!

As we were headed up the long rocky gulch we were startled by someone VERY nearby who started shooting. I know we were in moderate proximity to two very isolated houses, but we were not on posted property. At first I thought maybe someone was target practicing, but I soon changed my mind and I think whoever it was was doing it on purpose to dissway us from our path. Dharla was in the lead when this happened and it occurred in the fist fifteen minutes of so of our ride … a time when the horses are usually pretty fired up and feeling frisky. I felt Dharla flinch at the first shot. It was very loud and booming … definitely a rifle of some sort, possibly even a black power rifle. Dharla held it together and I kept her moving. There was a quick second and third shot, followed by silence. A few minutes later we heard several shots, rapid fire style. That was when Aldo said maybe someone was target shooting, but I didn’t think so. And to prove my point, as we continued farther up the gulch, the shooting stopped. I think someone was having an attitude about our being out there … not that it’s any of their business! I was very pleased at how Dharla kept herself under control and just followed my instructions to keep moving at a steady pace. Wow! Very impressive for a young, frisky feeling mare!

Once we got up onto the orchard it was blustery and cold. I was kind of glad I’d suggested we do this ride in reverse because the wind and chill would have been a bit much at the end of the ride. Toward the end of the orchard, way off in the distance we saw someone approach on a horse. That’s a bit unusual! After all the times I’ve been up there I’ve only run into another rider maybe all of three times. As the horse approached I could see it was another buckskin and I racked my brains to think of someone we might know who rode another buckskin. We don’t see many around these parts.

Turns out this was a local guy who leases his horse from friends. He says he rides up in the orchards a lot, but I’ve never met him before. We stopped and chatted for about twenty minutes. His horse was very antsy and the rider bemoaned the fact that his horse is often hard to slow down. Both Dharla and Bullet relaxed and stood quietly as his horse pawed, fussed and danced around. I felt bad for the guy … I know how annoying that can be! (And I was SO proud of my girl for being SUCH a lady!) We exchanged names. The man said he’d look us up in the near future to get together for a ride. Hm. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that before!

The rest of the ride was uneventful. I decided to take a slightly different trail at the beginning of the long loop and soon discovered nobody has used that trail in eons. There were places where I was seriously thinking maybe we were lost, but I focused on every step and tried to follow a very faint indentation in the thick layer of leaves that covered the ground. Right about the time I was getting a little worried and wondering if maybe we should turn around and retrace our steps back to the starting point, then take the more obvious trail, I found the spot where the detour rejoined the main trail. Phew! Glad I wasn’t alone on that ride! (No that Aldo is any help. He has NO sense of direction at all)  I’ll have to try doing that part of the trail again real soon so I don’t lose it in my memory. It was too cold to be getting lost of having to retrace steps, so I’m glad we ended up where we were supposed to be.

Overall, it was a great ride. A little windy and chilly, but I was glad to get out for a nice loop with Aldo.

Time: 3 hours

Distance: Guesstimate, 6 miles

Feb 17, 2012

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Yup, it’s been kind of boring around here lately. Foul weather, miserly moods, spring fever. I did get out several days in a row to do some ground work with Dharla, but the footing is greasy and so we had to keep things to a dull roar. She’s done very well with what we’ve worked on so far and I’m pleased. Her attitude is very willing and she’s a pleasure to work with. I introduced the scary bag on the training stick. She was a bit blowy, but all I did was walk out in front of her while leading her around the arena as I flapped the bag in a big arc from one side of me to the other. She quickly figured out that the bag was OK and relaxed. The plan (once the ground improves) is to start working her around/over different objects like tarps and cones.

I finally got a chance to ride today. My husband came home early to ride as is his habit on Fridays. I asked him where he and his riding partner planned to ride. I wasn’t anxious to be out in the woods yet; the ground is much too slippery for my liking. He wasn’t sure, so rather than tag along and wreck their ride I decided to tack up and head out slightly ahead of them. If I waited until they left I knew Dharla would be pretty fired up. I’ve discovered that if I tack her up while the guys are getting ready to go, then leave about five minutes before they leave, Dharla does great. Thankfully, Dharla doesn’t get the least bit worked up or worried about where the other horses are. I’ve done this routine a couple of times now, gearing her up and heading down to the arena (which is out of sight and semi out of earshot) and it’s been a smooth transition. Once down in the ring I can do some ground work and warm-ups, then ride out on my own from there.

So off we went, down to the arena. I put Dharla through a shortened version of our regular ground work routine, then lunged her at a walk and trot both directions for a bit. She was a perfect lady, relaxed and smooth, making nice stops and changes of direction when asked. I spent about twenty or thirty minutes in the arena, then mounted up and headed down the dirt road. We haven’t ridden down the dirt road since fall, and Dharla had her super-cautious poky walk goin’ on. I wasn’t in any hurry and so I let her pick whatever pace she wanted as long as she kept moving forward. I was prepared for her to spook at every little rock and log, but she didn’t. She did give a few downed logs the evil eye, but she never once jumped sideways or tried to avoid forward motion. (YAY!)

We eventually reached the woods trail that cuts up to the AL trail. I’ve noticed that Dharla really relaxes when we transition from a more “open” trail to the woods. I think the openness of the wider, more open trails over-stimulate her senses a bit and she feels a little more safe in the confines of a winding, woodsy trail. That’s just my observation though. She just “feels” like a different horse in the woods. Less tense, less worried about what’s around the next bend.

We quickly reached the AL trail and Dharla’s mood changed again to slightly more tense and energetic. In short order we were at the “Big Scary Place” AKA the rock ledges. She approached the passageway carefully, then several feet into it she stopped, head high and looked around. Waiting I guess, to see if anything was going to make a move to hurt her. I let her stand and take it in for about twenty seconds before gently squeezing and asking her to step forward. Dharla responded with two or three steps forward, then stopping again, head up, looking. This time after I let her look then asked to to walk on, she tried to turn around. This is her default MO. So I backed her a good ten steps, then turned her around and asked her to walk on. Again, she tried to turn around and head the opposite direction. Again, we backed up, only this time we backed up a bit more and when I finally turned her around and asked her to walk on, she did. Slowly, but she obeyed. I was thrilled. She traversed the entire passage without one spook. She gave a few rocks and patches of ice the evil eye, but with my encouragement and praise, she kept moving. I was truly ecstatic and loved on her a lot for being so brave.

We rode across BH road and past the area where the logging was such an issue a few rides ago. Dharla never gave me any hesitation as we passed that spot. We did some nice walk/trot transitions and worked on getting her to lower her head and relax. She responded beautifully with a nice slow, controlled jog. This really was turning out to be one of our best rides yet! The temperature was dropping and the wind was really starting to pick up and since I estimated only about an hour more of daylight, I decided to turn around and head for home. I noticed Dharla shifted into her “Goin’ home” walk immediately and so I asked her to take her energy down a notch. She complied very nicely.

The return home was basically uneventful.  To avoid amping Dharla’s energy we walked the whole way. We never saw hide nor hair of the guys, though we did see a double set of tracks along the trail. I had no idea where they went, but knew they woudn’t return until well after dark, which is another reason why I didn’t join them. I’m not ready to ride my horse after dark yet and besides, as the sun slipped over the ridge it was starting to get downright cold. As it was, I was glad I decided to turn around where I did because my toes were losing their feeling!

Dharla did have one last big spook and naturally, it occurred in the very last rock ledge passage. We were spitting distance from home when we approached the very last rocky passage. I could feel Dharla’s wariness, so I gave her lots of encouragement and started humming a tune. This seems to help sometimes. About halfway into the passage what sounded like a twig snapping over the top ridge spooked Dharla so badly that she nearly dropped to her knees. We stopped and listened, but there wasn’t anything there. I let her collect herself, then we proceeded on. She was on high alert, but she was “with me” and that’s all I ask. I understand that she’s afraid. I do. I just ask that she chooses to stay with me and trust me, and she did.

We arrived home a few minutes later. I stripped off Dharla’s tack, brushed her, then gave her some supper. She never once hollered or worried about Bullet’s being gone, which still completely amazes me. Dharla’s willingness to walk away from the barn and go out alone or leave a group and continue on by herself just surprises me. She’s not nearly as herd dependent as I would have thought, having grown up on a large breeding farm where she was always surrounded by other horses. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled. This makes life MUCH easier for me since I mostly ride alone. I’m just not used to her lack of  …. well, fuss. It’s nice. I hope she always stays this way.

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On another note, Dharla’s breeder contacted me about Dharla’s sister. We test rode her when we were looking at buying Dharla. The mares are full sisters, a year apart in age, and look very similar. They are both super athletic, but they are very different girls! At 4 going on 5, Dezarae is already a seasoned winner in the Western Arabian circuit. I really liked her when I test rode her, enough so that when I went back with my husband we both rode both mares again. Dezarae was/is impressive, but her price tag was significantly (and appropriately) higher than Dharla’s. Dharla hadn’t had as much specialized training as her sister and unlike Dezarae, Dharla hadn’t been shown since she was a two year-old. (Sport Horse in hand) I actually liked the way Dezarae felt under saddle a little better than Dharla. She’s more naturally collected and rode more like my old mare Tia. But Dezarae’s personality was, well, a little bit standoffish. And understandably so.

Dezarae spent most of her life being groomed to show and has had little one-on-one time with any one special person. I talked to her trainer and he said that when she was at his barn for training she responded very quickly to having just one person work with her consistently. Unfortunately, I think a lot of show prospects must go through this kind of thing. They’re handled a lot, but it’s often all about business and doing job they’ve been bred and raised to do. They probably don’t get a whole lot of opportunity to just be someone’s buddy or pet project horse. There’s nothing wrong with being raised that way … in fact, from what I could tell, all of this breeder’s horses were very well behaved. You could see they’d been handled a lot since birth and were started properly. Their horses had impeccable ground manners, which usually comes from lots of handling and careful management. But one-on-one relationships? Well, these horses can’t all be nurtured the way they would be if they were the only horse or just one of few. With Dezarae, that missing link showed in her reluctance to “tune in” to people when she wasn’t under saddle. Dharla didn’t exactly exude sweet and cuddly vibes either, but she seemed tuned in to me right from the start. Again, her trainer said that was unusual even for her and he was pleased that Dharla seemed taken with me. Apparently another woman had come to test ride Dharla a few days previously and Dharla had remained aloof with her.

There was another thing that happened when we went to test ride the two sisters. As it happened, I rode Dezarae first. The husband and wife owner/breeders were present as was their trainer. Normally, I’m uncomfortable riding a strange horse and even more so in the presence of professionals, but I’d already been there once and ridden both girls once, which was enough to know that these people were not the least bit judgmental and their trainer was in fact, very helpful. As I rode he talked to me and gave me several pointers, both general and specific. I felt very comfortable on both mares, though I’m by no means a schooled rider. Over the years my husband has ridden a greater variety of horses and he’s got a lot of natural talent. He had no trouble riding Dharla and when he rode Dezarae, who was probably the more complex of the two horses, it was obvious that they were a great fit. So much so that the trainer and both owners were quite wowed. They kept asking if he had any interest in showing and the trainer mentioned that he could probably show that mare “tomorrow” and win with her. (Turns out later that summer Dezarae won Region 16 Open Western Pleasure with this trainer riding her!)

But we were looking for a horse for me, not my husband. I’m not sure why, but I never considered Dezarae seriously. I guess it was partly because I knew I wasn’t going to be itching to show and I felt that of the two mares, Dharla channeled an inner connection with me more so than her sister. Oh, and there was that big honking price tag. Yeah. That was intimidating. I really couldn’t justify paying show prices for a backyard trail horse. So I went home and fantasized about owning Dezarae, but we bought Dharla. Not that I felt like I settled in any way  … I’m happy with my choice. At my age I couldn’t see spending a small fortune for a fancy show horse.

That would be the end of the story except for one thing. The breeders have contacted me twice to ask if we might want to reconsider buying Dezarae. Argh! It was hard enough to say no the first time, but I really believed we made the right choice. When they asked several months later if we might reconsider Dezarae, they told me she was slated for more professional training, after which her price would surely increase. Basically, it was a nice way of saying, ” Hey, we know you liked her and if you ever thought you’d consider buying her, now’s the time!” Obviously they were going to have to try to recoup some of what they’ve spent on the mare’s schooling. I get that. But even though we knew her price was about to shoot past the point of no return, once again we passed. With winter not far off I was concerned about how much riding I’d be able to do. I thought it might prove hard enough to get one young horse ridden without having to worry about a second youngster. Besides, at that point we still had The Bean and we didn’t need another mouth to feed.

But the Bean died suddenly in October, leaving us with two horses for the first time in well over a decade. While there are pluses to that, there are some drawbacks to it too. Then a few days ago the breeder wrote again. Included in her note was a link to a new video of Dezarae and tactful inquiry if we might be interested in her. She sweetened the pot by reducing her asking price considerably. I suspect they have several new babies arriving any day now and with the slow economy and a new crop of foals on the way, they are probably feeling a bit squeezed. To say they are motivated to sell is an understatement; the mare is being offered at a steal. Well, to us.

If money grew on trees and if I could turn back the hands of time, I’d buy this mare in a heartbeat. Who knows, I might even grow a pair and show her! She has the makings of a really nice, well-rounded horse. And if bred to the right Quarter horse, I bet she’d produce some really wonderful foals … not that the equine world needs any more baby horses! Sadly, I’m not wealthy or young anymore and the amount of time and energy I’m putting into Dharla is probably my max effort for now. I don’t see my physicality changing any time in the near future and to have two young mares that need to get ridden often  …. well, I just don’t think I could do them justice. It would be close to having a full time job, which is totally beyond my physical reach. And then there’s the rising price of hay ….

I’d love to say yes. I really would, but I know I can’t. Dammit. I hate limitations.

Feb 9, 2011

A Good Finish!

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I took the picture above just a few weeks after getting my new camera. It was my very first attempt to photograph horses and action. I was using a large zoom lens and a tripod, both for the first time too. Needless to say, I’m lucky I got any photos that were worth keeping and even the two or three that I kept were not all that great. I’d pick them apart in a heartbeat today.

But here’s the thing. In spite of all the flaws I can see, I still LOVE this photo. (And a similar photo that I posted on my photography blog a while back.) Why? Because the joy and adoration on this little girl’s face reminds me how unconditional love looks. The way I like to see it, this young lady doesn’t care if the horse she’s riding on won or lost, she’s just thrilled to be sitting up on his back. With all the fussing and perfecting we do with our horses we tend to lose touch with that attitude. So yeah, while the photographer in me wishes I’d known enough to pull back a bit and try to include both horses and not chop the legs off the subjects, the little girl in me doesn’t really care. I kept this picture because I smile every time I look at it. It helps me remember the unfiltered thrill of being up on a horse and not worrying about what’s going right or what’s going wrong, but just being where I want most in the whole wide world to be: on a horse!

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Dharla and I got out for a nice loop in the woods. She handled everything quite well (water crossing, mucky deep mud, etc.) and it was relaxing and quiet. Gosh, she has the makings of an awesome trail horse! Smart, observant, willing, super surefooted. We emptied out onto the AL trail by the viaduct, crossed, then looped around at BH and headed home. No real issues at the ledges, but when we got to the last “scary area” she was a bit spooky and amped. Now granted, this area is very close to home and I’m sure she knows exactly where she is in relation to home by now, but I decided to turn her around and walk her through the area several times before calling it a ride. That uncovered a bit of a sticky spot. We ended up passing through various parts of that outcrop about 15 or 20 times … at least until she was more compliant. I wouldn’t say she was totally relaxed, but at least she wasn’t spooking or refusing to go where asked. I don’t get the sense that this is truly a fear problem. Perhaps it was at first, on the first few passes. But after that I do sense that it’s a disrespect issue: she simply doesn’t want to go where I’m asking her to go. I’m sure that’s partly because she’s been afraid in that area, so we’ll just keep treating it as a fear issue and give her lots of time and exposure to help her understand that nothing’s going to happen to her in that spot.

I think it’s important to pick your battles. Because the rocky outcrops are always going to be a part of our rides, I don’t want to make a bigger deal out of them than necessary. I think if you do that you risk getting into an attitude loop where the horse starts to associate that location as “The Spot Where Shit Happens.” Unfortunately, due to the nature of their presence the ledges will always present some teaching moments that I don’t get a lot of choice about using. In other words, if I want to go anywhere then my horse is going to have to learn to cope with the ledges and the conditions they present. My goal is to get my horse to walk through these areas with me no matter what we encounter there.

Some seasons that means there will be puddles or water on the trail at the base of the rock ledges. Other seasons (like now) that water will turn into ice and scary icicles. Because water almost always weeps from the face of the ledge, on some days the sun reflects off the wetness and makes them appear quite shiny. On other days our shadow appears on rocks as we pass by them. Again, this all depends upon the sun, it’s location and the time of day that we’re riding. I can’t ride “around” these issues and Dharla must learn to cope with them as they crop up. Because these things occur naturally, I can’t pre-arrange a specific event for us to practice. Instead, I’ll just have to grab these teaching moments on the fly.

I had the same problem when we first brought Dharla home last April and we started trail riding. Dharla had the typical Arabian aversion to water. ANY kind of water. A small puddle, a two-inch wide trickle across a path or a bubbling book … it didn’t matter. Dharla was NOT going to get her feet anywhere near water. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single place I can ride around here that we won’t encounter water in some form. I will admit however, that I was not surprised by Dharla’s dislike of water; The Bean had been outrageously melodramatic about water in his youth. Good grief, he wouldn’t even approach a dark spot on the ground long after a puddle had dried up! So after having watched The Bean do everything but stand on his head to avoid touching water, I wasn’t all that fazed by Dharla’s apparent distaste for anything wet. While she wasn’t nearly as dramatic or emphatic as Beanie, she did do her best to put the kabbash on any water crossings.

All it took was patience and LOTS of practice. I’m sure somewhere there are horses that are just naturally made to be great trail horses; horses who seem to take everything they encounter in nature with stride. But I do think that’s the exception, not the norm. My horse has the makings of a great trail horse, but some things are going to take more work than others. That’s OK.

On another note. Friday (Feb 10) is the end of the first week that Dharla has been on a few new supplements. Can I say I see any difference? Yes, a little. I did feel that during our ride today those times when she did spook were not nearly as bombastic as they were prior. While Dharla isn’t a spook and run kind of horse, she can really dig deep when she spooks, sometimes dropping her head and shoulders to what almost feels like her knees or the ground, while scooting sideways several feet simultaneously. Kind of like what I’d imagine riding a cutting horse feels like. This is why I call her the “Bottle Rocket.” It’s quite a roller coaster ride! But on our last ride her spooks seemed less frequent and less animated, which is really all that I’m hoping to achieve for now. I’m not looking for a bomb-proof horse, I’d just like to see her level of reactivity come down a notch or two. That would greatly improve things for my back.

As for the supplement I’m giving her for her heat cycle … hm. I can’t say I know for sure yet. Heck, if I’m being really honest, I’m not even 100% sure what I’m looking for. I suspect when she goes into heat I’ll know. Less nasty antics with Bullet prior and less teasing/squirting when she’s in standing heat maybe? Time will tell. I will say that I’ve FINALLY succeeded in getting Dharla to eat the supplement pellets very well and it seems she’s now acquired a taste for the herbal liquid. Yay! Persistence and smaller doses paid off and I’m very glad not to be throwing my money down the tubes.

Snow coming in for the weekend …. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it won’t put too much of a dent in our riding. But hey, it IS winter for crying out loud!  🙂

Feb 7, 2012

Watching the competition

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Too cold and windy to ride. I took Dharla down to the arena to do a little ground work. More moving the hindquarters, forequarters and backing up. She’s getting very responsive to my requests and relaxing more and more. I lunged her (at a walk) on a medium length line and practiced our stops and getting her to turn in to face me and give me both eyes. I think she was taught to whoa and just stop where she is, not turn in and face the handler. We also worked on getting a nice change of direction and quick departure. Once she got the idea of what I was asking she did well. Better counter-clockwise than clockwise today. She seemed pretty relaxed even though it was quite windy and we could hear Bullet hollering up on the hill. Silly boy!

In a previous post I talked about putting my horses on a couple of dietary supplements. The products I’m trying are to target specific concerns, but the more I think about it the more I’m thinking I might consider putting both horses on an all-around vitamin & mineral supplement. Neither horse gets or needs a lot of grain and I’d rather switch them over to oats, which means I’ll need to add some supplements anyways, so I might as well get them used to eating it while I can still add it to their regular grain. I’m not looking to throw money at a supply company, but I do think they’re probably lacking a bit in this department.

And while I’m on that subject, I wonder how many horse riders spend as much time making sure they’re in as good of shape as their horses? I mean, we know regular exercise and conditioning is important for our horse’s health and performance, but what about us? I’ve been a weightlifter for slightly over 32 years … long before weight training was in vogue for women. And along with weight training I’ve followed a regular cardio and stretching routine for equally as long. I know all that sounds like a lot of work, but I’ve got my exercise program pretty much down to a science and it doesn’t take up that much time. I like to think of it as making an investment in myself because if I’m not healthy then who’s going to take care of (and ride) my horse?

So in light of that thought I’ve decided I’ll notate my own training at the bottom of this blog. It will be in lift-speak, which is to say that I’m not going to write everything out because I know what it means and that’s all that really matters.

RTM: 4/415c/40m, S, Y

Feb 6, 2012

Ever the chow hound

 

 

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I got out on Dharla yesterday. It was a sunny, not-a-cloud-in-the-sky, warm day. Perfect for a nice easy walk/trot down the AL trail. Our nighttime temps have been in the low to mid-twenties, so the icicles were back. We didn’t get very far before we had to confront that issue. We probably worked about ten or fifteen minutes before I could get Dharla to move through the first Big Scary Place. If she decided to back up, then we backed. If she tried to turn around and go the other way, we circled. We stood our ground and thought about it …. a lot. Eventually, she determined that nothing was going to kill her and we made our way forward very carefully. *Shrug*

We encountered the second Big Scary Place about five minutes up the trail. Wash, rinse, repeat. This time I got the sense that she knew the drill, but she had to try to avoid going forward just to see if I was going to let her get away with that. Um, no. Again, if she wanted to back up, then we backed …. and backed and backed. If she tried to circle, then we circled. Once again, it took about ten or fifteen minutes of this before she inched her way forward. Every attempt to move in the right direction was met with tons of praise and neck petting and although she remained spooky and snorty, we advanced. Naturally, once through the scary place I turned her around and we walked back and forth through the passage several times before moving on. I gave her lots and lots of “Atta girl’s”

The next few segments of the trail went very well. We just took our time and enjoyed being out. There were a few bikers and dog hikers out and as usual, she took all that in stride. We eventually came to the spot where we struggled on our last ride with the tree logging. She was alert, but moved right through the passage without any major issues. I was quite pleased. The next Big Scary Place was about ten minutes up the trail. Again, it’s a narrow passage between two steep rocky ledges that have icicles hanging off the ledge in places. Dharla did her usual song and dance: Stop. Blow and snort. Try to back up. Try to circle around to the opposite direction. Again, I followed the same drill. At one point she was fussing and as I circled her she inadvertently stepped her back feet into a shallow drainage ditch that had water in it. That made her decide that maybe it would be better to move forward than mess around there. We made our way though the passage slowly and carefully.  I gave her lots of time to think about things, letting her stop and explore if she wanted and giving her tons of encouragement and praise for her bravery. Silly girl!

Coming home was uneventful. Funny, how Dharla isn’t nearly as bothered about any of the Big Scary Places when we’re going home. She had (what I call) her “going home” walk goin’ on and we moved along at a good ground-covering pace. Actually, I’d eventually like to see her head out at this pace some day instead of dogging it so much, but all in good time. Overall, it was a good ride, longer than I actually wanted to be out, but the extra time was spent working on fear issues. It felt like Dharla really tried her best today and I was quite pleased with her efforts.

On another note, my back is REALLY uncomfortable today. Or maybe I should say it’s more uncomfortable than usual. Ug.

Easy Keepers

 

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My horse is an easy keeper. Above, you can see her summer condition, when there’s green grass to eat. At that point she get’s about a handful of Triple Crown Lite and some supplemental hay. (Lite as in: for Fatties.) In defense of Dharla I will say that she’s really not all that fat, but it’s her build that makes her look pudgy. It’s her Polish belly. My other Arab mare was built the same way, only Tia had that side-to-side chunky look rather than the Big Belly Below thing going on. I swear, sometimes Dharla looks pregnant. She certainly tries to eat for two. That girl rarely even picks her head up when there’s food around.

I kind of like the fact that my horse is an easy keeper. I’ve had a hard keeper before and you’re constantly at whits end trying to get and keep weight on them. You’ll practically stand on your head begging them to eat all their grain or trying to coax them to polish off their ration of hay. God, is that frustrating. And wasteful. I can’t tell you how many pounds of half chewed or slobbered on grain I’ve tossed out or how many different kinds of “tricks” I’ve tried to get our previous hard keeper to eat. I constantly worried that someone was going to call the SPCA and report us for animal neglect!

Now it looks like we have another easy-keeper. Bullet used to be chunky, but we put him on TC Lite last summer and that helped. And since his Lyme treatment in October his weight has gone down even more. In fact, I’m a little concerned about that and I’m thinking he should probably go back on a slightly higher fat grain. Dharla is still eating TC lite to which I’d decided to add a few supplements.

After a couple of conversations with some folks I respect and after doing some research of my own, I’m going to add a supplement that contains magnesium, some B vitamins and a bit of L-Tryptophan to her gain ration. It’s been said this combo can help decrease spookiness and may calm and soothe a highly reactive horse. Now normally I wouldn’t consider Dharla highly reactive or nervous, but when we trail ride alone she can be very spooky. So I think it’s worth a shot. I’ve also decided to try adding an herbal remedy to her chopped forage that’s supposed to improve hormone health. (She gets a very small amount of a chopped timothy grass mix which absorbs the herbal stuff quite nicely. Far better than pelleted grain.) This product helps relieve reproductive symptoms such as irritability, back soreness and other moody behaviors that pop up around their heat cycles. Last year I noticed Dharla was very nasty to Bullet just before she went into heat, then she turned into a whore once she was in full cycle. Poor guy. He never knew which end was up! I’m also putting Bullet on a supplement that has magnesium,Vitamin E and Selenium that targets muscle soreness.

Eventually I think I’d like to switch both horses over to oats and get them off the processed grain. If I end up doing that then I’ll need to add some supplements to their feed anyway, so I figure I may as well get them used to having them now. Dharla was very put out about having something strange in her grain. Bear in mind the dosage is very small, but it amazes me how horses can tell something is different and will find a way to avoid eating the offending foreign item. I had to cut the dose in half and split it between morning and evening feedings or she would just spit it out or flip her grain pan over. Bullet was a bit less dramatic, but he was hip to the change too. He gave me his best “Huh?” look, but kept eating, albeit slower. It only took him a feeding or two to forget there was something different in his grain. Dharla hasn’t been quite as easy, mostly because grain is still a new concept for her and she’s not nearly as ga-ga over it as Bullet. Getting her to consume the herbal concoction was tougher, but I think once she ate it she didn’t mind it as much as the grain supplements. The herbal stuff has apple cider vinegar in it which smells strong, but probably doesn’t taste all that bad.

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a skeptic about giving horses supplements. I sometimes wonder if it’s just a placebo to make pet owners feel better? I told myself I’d give it a try and see if I can tell if there’s any difference. I certainly don’t think it will do any harm to try.

Has anyone ever given supplements a fair shake and if so, what did you try and what where your results?

Left Behind

Holler, but don't stop eating!

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When we had three horses it was never an issue when someone went riding and left the other two horses behind. Even after Bean died, it really wasn’t much of a big deal if one horse got left waiting at home. But Dharla and Bullet have developed quite a love/hate relationship since October and Dharla’s not too happy when Bullet leaves on a ride.

We created a small paddock when Bean started going downhill. I needed to keep him apart so I could do a better job of monitoring his intake and output, which was next to impossible to do when all the horses were together. Bean was sneaky; he’d stand at the hay rack and crib, but he wasn’t eating as much hay as you thought. I’d spy on him out the kitchen window, knowing full well that he wasn’t consuming his full share. He was one picky eater, that boy. So we made up a small holding pen that had plenty of room to move about, a run-in shed with a stall he could enter at will, and water. Sadly, he died shortly after, but we never got around to taking the pen down.

When Dharla arrived we could soon see she was a hay hog. I guess she came from a farm where she always had access to hay and was turned out most of the day. I suspect their method of feeding was to toss flakes of hay around the paddock, which the horses would then consume at will. Obviously, the more pushy the horse, the more hay they got. Unfortunately, this can make some horses pretty bossy. I happen to think it makes their ‘survival of the fittest’ genetics kick in. So Dharla is downright nasty about “HER” hay. She’ll pin her ears and snake her head at Bullet if he even thinks about going near when she’s got hay in front of her. You can see the evidence of her antics below: She ends up hitting her head on anything nearby. Nutball.

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Dharla's facial skun marks

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Bullet was always low man in the herd when there were three horses, but I tend to think he and Dharla are fairly evenly ranked as a herd of two. Neither horse seems to be very much above or below the other in hierarchy. Sometimes Bullet seems to take the lead, other times Dharla is clearly in control. So when she starts trying to pressure Bullet at the hay rack, he usually just gives it right back. Unless she actually turns tail and tries to kick (she hasn’t) or goes so far as to nip him (she hasn’t) he pretty much ignores her. Believe me, she can and will move him if she wants, but he’s not a doormat for her like he was with The Bean. Often, he’ll just pin his ears and snake his head right back at her. Brats.

When riding together Dharla will lead or follow; position doesn’t matter too much to her. If the trail is wide enough, she’ll walk alongside Bullet, but then he can get a bit snarky if she starts to pull ahead. Odd, because Bullet will lead or follow too, but apparently he doesn’t like it when another horse makes a move to pull ahead of him. And leave either horse at home and you’re in for a hollering match. Never one to expend too much energy, Bullet will run to the paddock gate and stand there yelling for Dharla until she comes home. Dharla gets much more animated in her distress and runs the fence line blowing and snorting between frantic whinnies. Usually if we put some hay out for her that helps take her mind off her misery, but yesterday she simply stuffed her mouth and kept right on hollering. That girl is somethin’! When Bullet’s here she’s not too thrilled with his company, but when he’s gone …. woe is me!

Tia used to holler whenever one of the boys left for a ride, but I didn’t worry about it because she always had a pasture mate with her. Now that we’re down to just two horses, that’s not a solution. When Bullet leaves on a ride I usually put Dharla in the smaller pen and give her plenty of hay, but she’s still pretty anxious. I’m wondering what other people have tried to ease this situation or if they even think it’s worth the bother?