Tarps 5-25-12

 

*

A few days ago one of the ladies I was riding with said something to the effect of, “If I didn’t know better, I’d almost think you were riding a Quarter Horse.”  I had to chuckle, because I wasn’t sure if that was meant as a compliment or an insult! (I’m pretty sure she wasn’t trying to insult me!) My mare does have a very ‘athletic’ build, though I’m sometimes a bit bothered by her low-slung belly. She’s NOT fat, that’s just the way she’s built. But what I am proud of is how beautifully muscled she’s become. Not that when I got her she was in bad shape. But she wasn’t a trail horse and the miles and miles of hills and long trots we’ve been doing is paying dividends in muscle and conditioning. Dharla does have a very nice butt if I may say so myself:

*

*

What she doesn’t have is a great neck and that’s something we need to work on. It’s time to start encouraging better head carriage and get her neck muscles built up so she’ll carry herself properly. That’s not too important out on the trail, but it IS important for overall strength, balance and confirmation. In fact, if I’m understanding this correctly, proper head carriage will help round her back and tuck her tummy up a bit. Tia had beautiful collection and framed herself naturally. In other words, I didn’t have to work very hard at getting Tia to collect. Dharla is a totally different story. While she’s not a star-gazer, she does tend to want to carry her head more upright until she’s fairly fatigued. Then her head comes down and her nose comes in. Even when I lunge, her head tends to go up and her nose goes out more than is should. Eventually her head carriage improves as she relaxes, but that takes awhile.

I haven’t been pushing Dharla for any sort of specific refinement until now. We’ve mostly just worked on getting to know each other and trying to relax in this new environment. But it’s time to start nudging her toward some specific goals. Yesterday we did a little work down in the ring. Last week I introduced Dharla to a ground cloth. (Tarp) My goal was to get her to walk across a tarp that’s laid out on the ground.

I started by leading her out to the middle of the ring and opening the tarp. At first she was a little startled, like, “What’s this?” But I took my time and let her check things out. I slowly unfolded the tarp as she stood beside me. Once her initial curiosity was satisfied she pretty much ignored me as I opened up the tarp and weighted the corners down with a few large rocks. Next, I lunged Dharla in different corners and spots in the ring. Nothing too close to the tarp, but she could clearly see it. It was interesting to see how she reacted differently depending up on which eye was facing the tarp. We lunged in different places at different gaits until all the shy had gone out of her.

Next, I walked Dharla up to the tarp and asked her to step on it. It took a few seconds before she made an attempt, then shifted her weight back slightly. She didn’t try to back away, it was just a subtle weight shift. I gave her a couple of seconds, then asked again. Twice, she repeated her response, then on the third try she stepped one foot onto the tarp. I released the pressure and let her stand there with one foot on the tarp as I pet her and encouraged her with my voice. After a minute or two I asked for her to move forward a bit more. She complied and put her other front foot on the tarp. I released, praised her and paused. The next time I asked her for forward movement she walked boldly forward and we crossed the entire tarp. I stopped her on the other side and praised her liberally. After a minute or so, we circled around the tarp and did the whole process again, but with much less reluctance. By the third try Dharla was stepping onto the tarp with no hesitation at all.

We spent about five more minutes walking across the tarp from all different directions. I broke things up by walking around the ring a bit between crossings so each time we crossed was like a separate incident. After we finished that I put on her bridle and spent about twenty minutes riding around the ring at a walk and trot. The tarp was still on the ground in the middle of the ring. Oddly enough, Dharla did shy a few times at the tarp once I was on her back, but we just kept working calmly. It was pretty windy, which always amps her reactivity so we just worked on quiet walk/trot transitions, a little neck reining, stops and some backing. Simple stuff.

 I finally decided it was time to see if Dharla would cross the tarp with me up. I urged her over to the tarp and when I felt her hesitate slightly I gently asked her to keep moving. Much to my delight, Dharla stepped boldly onto the tarp and crossed willingly. Yay! We did a few tarp crossings from different directions, then called it a day. I was very pleased!

Now if we can just get that head inching in the right direction  …

Advertisements

Fail

*

I meant to get out and ride yesterday, I really did, but my garden got in the way. I’ve got all my annuals and the handful of veggies I grow and once I have those staring at me I can’t relax until they’re planted and settled in. I thought I’d work on a few floral beds for a bit in the early morning, then saddle up and go for a ride. It was a perfect day for riding; not too hot, nice sun, big puffy clouds, a gentle breeze. But the more I did the faster time went and the next thing I knew it was noon. I took a little breather to rehydrate, then started right back up again, telling myself I’d take a break at one or two and ride. By the time that rolled around my back was shot and I knew I wasn’t in any shape to try to ride.

This is my dilemma. If I ride early, then my back is shot and I can’t get anything more done that day. If I postpone riding until after I’ve gotten a few things done, then I run the risk of my back being too fatigued to ride. While I’ve worked very hard to condition my back to withstand a lot more than I ever dreamed, I’m still far more limited than I like to admit. Normally, this isn’t a big problem except for those times of year when I have to get a lot done. Spring and fall are the heavy hitters.

So I didn’t get to ride. I did spend a good amount of time grooming both horses. I’m using that Bio Spot stuff for ticks and I think it makes them itchy like Advantix does with the dogs. So both horses had gone down back and found a nice muddy place to roll. I cleaned them up at morning feeding, then they went back down and rolled again. So they both got a repeat grooming session.

I don’t know if I’ll get the chance to ride today. The weather’s back to crap …. again. I live in the wrong place to have horses.

5-23-2012

*

I so love this picture of The Bean. It’s not great by any means … the fence line obscures his nose and the resolution isn’t the best, but I love the fog, the spider webs clinging to the line and the fact that Beanie was alive and well at the time. He was waiting to be fed and not amused that I was taking pictures instead of taking care of him! He was such a pistol, that boy, and so missed. (Click on photo to better see details)

*

I got out on Dharla today. I met up with the endurance ladies I talked about in an earlier post. I almost didn’t go because when I went out to the barn to get ready the sky was black with storm clouds. I’d checked the radar before I had a bite to eat and changed my clothes, but the sky certainly didn’t look like the image I saw on my computer! I called the girls and hedged. They had already loaded their horses and were about to head over to the trail head so we decided I’d wait fifteen minutes or so and see what the clouds did, then make my decision. Either they’d see me on the trail, or not.

About twenty minutes later the sky improved and I decided to take my chances. It was too muggy to pack a slicker and my saddle doesn’t have any means to carry anything anyhow. If we got a sudden soaker I was just going to have to get wet. Dharla and I headed off in the direction we were supposed to go and about fifteen minutes later I saw the girls coming my way. Once we were together we had to figure out where we wanted to ride. It’s been raining quite a lot and we concluded the woodsy trails would be pretty slick. Because those trails are narrow and hilly, we reluctantly chose to stay on the Airline Trail, which is flat and rather dull. One advantage of riding the Airline Trail though, is that you aren’t constantly getting slapped in the face with wet leaves like you are on the woodsy trails after it’s rained!

I don’t know squat about endurance riding except to say that those ladies M-O-V-E! Thank goodness my sweet girl is in tip-top shape because we did one fast hustle down the trail! Actually, I like the fact that their horses walk out very fast. Dharla’s walk has gotten a bit poky from riding with Bullet, who has the slowest walk on the planet. So it was good for her to have to shake a leg to keep up! Trotting speed was no problem, she staryed right up with them. The lead horse had a wonderfully steady pace which is good for Dharla, who, in her inexperience, sometimes struggles to keep a steady rhythm going.

I must say that my horse performed beautifully. She was in full-blown standing heat and this was only the fifth time she’s ridden with a strange group of horses (and only the second time she’s seen this duo). She was a perfect lady the entire time. No fussing, no insisting she get too close or sniff anyone, no squealing and whinnying when we parted company a bit later. Gosh, I’m so thrilled with her temperament! That’s not to say she wasn’t a little amped up when we started out as a group … she was. But she quickly learned that she needed to conserve her energy for the long trots and pushing her speed wasn’t a good idea. I just kind of let her figure things out in her own head and only gave her a few checks here and there.Her recovery after every long trot was amazing … her sides weren’t even moving! Ah, to be young and be an Arabian!

I, on the other hand, was exhausted when I got home. My lower back was shot from so much posting. Even though I ride all the time I’m at such a disadvantage with my back problems. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that, but I’m thinking I need to increase my core training a bit to try to compensate. In all fairness, some of my discomfort was due to the fact that I’d been doing a lot of work around the house prior to riding, but still. It’s frustrating to be so uncomfortable.

I’m back to riding lessons starting next week. (Yay!) It’s about time! I lost the entire spring with my eye issues. I’ve got some things I want to work on. I know it’s a hunter/jumper barn, but I want to work on my basics. I started doing a bit of jumping at the end of last year, and as fun as that is, I don’t think I’ve mastered some of the more subtle stuff I’m looking to improve. I know I give the appearance of having it together, but I want to fine-tune my timing, cues and feel. I know it would be best if I could board Dharla and take my lessons on her (or haul her over), but that’s not possible right now so what I may do is ask my instructor if she would come here once a month and work with us. We’re only a ten-minute drive. We did that a few times last spring and it really helped. We’ll see!

Lots of Rides

 

 

*

5-17, 18, 19, 20 2012

Yup, I’ve fallen behind. Spring comes in hard  and heavy here and while I’ve been getting out to ride, I’ve also been working my brains out in my yard and gardens. Oh, and we have a barn that’s about to be built, starting some time this week if it ever quits raining.

I’ve had some really nice trail rides on Dharla, both alone and with some new folks. I was out on a trail one day last week when Dharla alerted me to something ahead. We stopped and listened … I cant’ see very far down the trail now that the leaves have come in on the trees. Sure enough, I heard voices. I figured it was a couple of ladies on mountain bikes or just hiking, but much to my surprise it turned out to be two women on horseback!

We introduced ourselves and chatted for a bit. Turns out one of the women is involved in endurance riding. She has several horses and her husband rides as well. That day she was out with a friend who was riding her husband’s horse. With nothing to write with or on, we tried to memorize some information in hopes that we might contact each other sometime in the future to ride together. I shot her an Email when I got home and we made a tentative date to ride on the weekend.

Both the husband and I met up with R. and her husband on Saturday morning. We did a couple of local trails and got an idea of what they’ve ridden in our area. It looks like R. might be someone I can ride with on occasion. She’s experienced and knows her way around our neck of the woods, which helps. Her horses have experience with the type of things we encounter on everyday rides and I don’t have to worry about trying to babysit her or her horse while I’m exposing Dharla to new things too! (Yikes!)

I start up with lessons (English) again next week. I’m about 6 weeks or so behind schedule starting, but my eye surgery put me behind. Even though I continued to ride Dharla anyway, I didn’t think it was right to ride elsewhere without my doctor’s OK. I’m really looking forward to getting back into a weekly routine as there are things I want to learn to do better so I can work with my own horse more effectively.

May13, 2012

*

I got out today on one of those rare rides with the husband. That doesn’t happen very often anymore, so it was unique in that aspect. I wanted to try to do something a bit different and expose Dharla to some deep water crossings if at all possible. When I ride with Aldo and Bullet I like to take on stuff that I typically can’t or don’t choose to do on a green horse when I’m alone or with someone else. I try to use having a ‘babysitter” horse to my full advantage when Aldo goes along because he’s so experienced and I don’t have to worry about whoever is on Bullet at the same time that I’m working with my own horse. Nothing worse than that!

So we did a nice loop that had a bunch of slightly more challenging stuff for Dharla and in most cases she rode lead. I typically put her in the lead fairly often since she tends to lean a bit toward being spooky and I want her to learn to cope with things instead of finding comfort in the company of another horse. I do switch to following too because she needs to learn not to rush into the horse ahead when she gets nervous or revved up. So while it may seem like there’s no real strategy to what position I ride, there usually is.

We started off riding from our house down the dirt road that runs past the arena. We only pass three houses on this road and it was pretty quiet that late in the day, but one neighbor was out mowing his lawn. That was good to go by and Dharla was fine with it. Of course, she had Bullet’s company, so it’s hard to tell how OK she would have been had he not been with us. We continued down the road until we came to the place where the trail starts. We’re used to this part since we ride it often, but I put Dharla out front anyway. We didn’t go far before we came to a place where the trail split and I decided to take a branch that I’ve never ridden with her. Soon, her true colors came out and she was hesitant and actually balked at a very small, shallow creek  crossing. I let her think about things a bit before I encouraged her forward and she then crossed without too much trepidation. A few moments later we came up on what, for lack of a better description, I’ll call a car and truck graveyard. It’s a corner of a friend’s property where he’s amassed several ancient cars and old trucks in various stages of decay. They’re not especially spooky to me, but Dharla had a different opinion. She was a wee bit freaked out and wanted to turn around and head in the opposite direction.

At this point I asked Aldo to pass us and lead on, the idea being that I didn’t want to give Dharla an opportunity to balk. He did, and Dharla quickly tucked in behind him and we moved past the vehicles without any further emotion or fuss. The trail widened there for a bit, so we rode side-by-side until it started to get tight again, and I pulled ahead. This being a new section of trail for Dharla she was still a little wide-eyed and a bit blowy, but overall she handled it quite well. There was nothing on that section of trail that  should be all that scary, it was just “new” and that’s all a green Arab needs to be on high alert. But before we knew it we were back on a trail that she knows quite well and I felt her relax.

A few weeks back there was a big brush fire off to one side of the trail we rode next. I hadn’t been up there to see it until now and I was shocked at the size of the area that was burned. We don’t do “open burns” in this state and our woods are very old and overgrown. It looks like the fire fighters got the fire under control just in time because the down side of the trail is the start of a HUGE forest that has tons of Hemlocks that are in various stages of health. Hemlocks suffer from wooly aphid disease which kills the trees slowly over a period of several years. Large stands of Hemlocks are slowly dying and sometimes they can be a major fire hazard. Fortunately, this part of the country isn’t known for having droughts, but this spring was the exception. Had that brush fire jumped the trail it would have had disastrous results. Years ago the state tried culling the Hemlocks to prevent the spread of the aphids, but that was in the early 90’s and I don’t think it did the trick. Too many Hemlocks and too little manpower, no doubt.

Anyhow, with Dharla still in the lead we rode past the big burn. I was pleased that Dharla didn’t hesitate although the area was very odd looking and still smelled quite strongly of burnt wood. This section of trail is one of my all-time favorites as it winds its way down through a large stand of White Pines. Here, the floor of the woods is covered with oceans of bright green ferns that sway gently to and fro in the breeze. You could hear a pin drop if you listened carefully, it’s so peaceful and serene.

This trail empties out into a sluice that puts us at a deep stream crossing. There’s an old wooden bridge that crosses the stream, but it’s been deemed unsafe for equine use for several years. So to continue on our way we must cross the river here. Unfortunately, the crossing spot is a challenge. We have to descend the face of a rock ledge that is at least (if not slightly greater) than 45 degrees and is always slick with seeping water. The descent is short … maybe all of 10-15 yards, but it ends in some knee-high water that precedes the actual crossing. So once you commit to the descent, there’s nowhere to go except down and into the water. LOL! I’m laughing because it probably sounds much harder than it is, but I’ve never ridden with anybody (who doesn’t know this trail already) who doesn’t look at this next section and go, “Shit! We’re going down THERE? Are you kiddin’ me?”

Nope! When we entered the sluice I had Bullet and Aldo take the lead. My only objective was to get Dharla down the chute and into the first pool of water without hesitating. Now bear in mind, it’s not as simple as just pushing her forward. I had to time this right. In other words, this teaching moment was about more than just getting the job done. What I really wanted Dharla to learn was to wait to go when I said go, not go when she wanted. I knew she would be nervous, and I also knew her MO when she’s really nervous is to do one of two things: If she’s alone, she balks, but if she’s with another horse then she’ll usually just try to rush through whatever is making her nervous as quickly as possible. Well this isn’t a challenge that can or should be done quickly. My goal is to teach my horse how to take her time and trust me that: 1. I won’t ask her to do anything I don’t think she CAN do, and 2. to do it when and how I ask it to be done.

Was I nervous? Yeah, kinda. My biggest concern was that Bullet is a slow and determined horse. We don’t call him the Lumber Wagon for nothing. So I knew he’d start down that ledge and I was going to have to time my descent just right. If I held back too long, Dharla might lose her confidence and say “Screw it, I’m going home!” and try some evasive stuff. But if I jumped the gun and started her down the ledge too soon, chances were pretty good she’d have little-to-no speed control (this being her first time down it and all) and she’d end up right on top of poor Bullet. The idea was NOT to get into a sticky situation or become part of a road jam. Fortunately, I’ve done this crossing so many times, I could do it in my sleep. Also in my favor was the fact that Dharla and I have done this crossing from the reverse direction, which had us going up this ledge instead of down, so it wasn’t 100% new to her either.

Bullet started down in his usual steadfast pace while I held Dharla back and waited until he cleared the pool below. Dharla didn’t hesitate one bit and when I sent her forward she shimmied down that ledge like she’s done it every day of her life. She stepped right into the shallow pool and up onto the small sandy island on the other side. We still had the deep water to cross, but Bullet was already half way through it and Dharla didn’t hesitate at all when I asked her to begin to cross. The water was freakin’ DEEP!!! I almost got wet and it was up to the top of Dharla’s legs, but she handled it well. Our only glitch was that as we came up on the other side Dharla wanted to exit on one side of a bush and I wanted her to exit on the other. We ended up with a compromise: She stood still (in the water) to let me make the choice and since she did that I choose to exit on her side of the bush.

We continued on and did some nice extended side-by-side trotting until the trail narrowed and I put Dharla in the lead again. Since this was the first time she’d ridden this trail in reverse I wanted her out front so she could process things. We then picked up a trail that led to a dirt road that runs along Salmon River. Fishing season has started and I knew there would be some light traffic on the road, which I thought would be good for Dharla to experience. For the most part people navigate this road very slowly, but you never know what you’re going to encounter. Better to do this a few times with another experienced horse and rider along for support. The road is very narrow in places and one side of the road has a very steep bank and the other side drops off into the river. In some places the shoulder of the road drops 15 or 20 feet into fast moving water and in other places there isn’t any shoulder at all! So it’s a bit of a challenge when you do meet a truck or car, depending upon where you are!  But as we rode along we were passed by about five trucks or cars (in total) and Dharla didn’t bat an eyelash at any of them.

Eventually the dirt road put us on a short trail that led up to the Airline Trail. I ride this trail with Dharla all the time, so from there on it was pretty straightforward. We did some nice canters and extended trots on the way home and soon arrived at the barn with some seriously hungry horses. Neither horse had much of a sweat by then, so we stripped their gear, wiped the horses down and fed. We were both starving too, so I fired up the grill and we had a nice Sunday dinner. I’m not a mother and my own mother is deceased, which tends to make this a bit of a gloomy day for me, what with all the frigging emphasis on moms. But a nice long ride ended up being a good way to spend this Hallmark “holiday.”

*

Distance: Guessing maybe 7-8 miles? Hard to tell!

Time: 2.75 hours

Still Alive

 

*

Holy cow, it’s been a crazy week or more! First things first. I’ve got the official medical OK to ride. Ha, ha. Anyone who’s been reading my journal knows I’ve been riding anyway, but I was doing it under the guise of what-they-don’t-know-won’t-hurt-them. (Pretty twisted thinking, but that’s a horsewoman for ya!) Hurt who? The retinal specialist? Pffft! Like my doctor would care if I fell off my horse and tore or detached my retina again! Cha-ching. No, I’m getting the bills now for my little eye escapade and I think I can pretty much conclude that the doctor wouldn’t mind a bit. I have a suggestion for young readers out there in blog land who haven’t decided what career to pursue. Study eyes, specifically retinas. They get $2,500 for a 15-minute, in-office laser procedure. Unless you win the Kentucky Derby, that so trumps horse training.

Speaking of D-day, did anyone watch it? It’s a tradition here, but we had plans that prevented our watching it so we taped it and watched it a day later. I think we’ll do that again next year as it was nice to be able to fast forward through all the pre-race nonsense and hype.

So I’ve gotten in a few rides. Nothing crazy, but it’s averaged out to about one ride every 2 days or so. I’ve also been doing some ground work and lunging down in the arena if have the time. Overall, Dharla has been doing great. I got out today and rode. Although it was quite windy and we were riding alone, she did fine. She’s still spooky here and there, but nothing too nutty. It’s supposed to rain the next couple of days so I wanted to be sure to get out for a little something today.The temps have been a bit cooler than usual which is actually kind of good as it keeps the no-see-ums down. I did get a face mask with ears for Dharla so when the bugs get too swarmy we’ll be able to stand it. I lunged Dharla in it last week and she got used to it pretty quickly. She typically wears a fly mask in the daytime during the summer, so I figured it wouldn’t be too much different than wearing that. Still, better to test it out in the safety of the arena and see how she does with there before attempting to go out in the woods with it on. I’m thinking she’ll do fine.

We’re getting really close to starting our barn. We had several more loads of fill brought in today so we can do a bit more site work before the materials arrive. We also finally got to burn our gigantic burn pile on Saturday. We’ve been waiting for months to get some rain so we could get a burning permit to burn. After a few days of rain last week we finally got our chance and lit that baby up. My pyro husband was thrilled as it was pretty intense. We also burned our old dog kennel as it’s been falling apart and down for a couple of years now. Wow … LOTS of memories there. I was kind of sad about seeing it go, but we’ll be building a new kennel and I’m sure it will be much better than that old dilapidated thing. Still, the kennel dated back to before 1986 when we moved in here, and all of our dogs have spent time there. It made me think of the dogs we’ve lost over the years. Gunnar, Whitney, Casey, Szatan, Misty, Dozer, Skidder and Sahar, who died the year or so before we moved out to the country. Lots of great dogs memories over the years.

Anyhow, next we have to get the permit approved and filed. I think that should have been done weeks ago, but what do I know? I’m actually looking forward to a few rainy days again so I can catch up on other stuff. Spring can be a little overwhelming when it’s nice out. There’s so much work to be done!