New Digs

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Bully & Rascal (Click on photo for full size & best resolution)

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We moved the three horses into our “new” barn over the holiday weekend. Needless to say, it was a momentous event! We built the barn because we desperately needed a bigger place to store hay, but we didn’t expect to have our horses live out of it. The plan was to have the structure built by a builder and gradually do most of the finish work ourselves. (I’ve seriously questioned that wisdom about a million times since) We finally got things to a point where we could use the barn for more than just a hay mow if we wanted, and after spending so much money and time on the new barn, we did! There’s still lots to do to get everything 100% up to snuff, but it’s nice to have horses and hay in the same location. It beats having to load the truck up with a week’s worth of hay every Sunday and haul it over to the other barn. I’m all for anything that (eventually) makes life easier!

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Equine Roller Derby

IMG_5608(Bullet)

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They say you’re owed an accident for every 500 hours that you spend in the company of horses. I’m not sure who said that or how accurate it is, but it sounds about right … depending on what side of the equation you’re standing. I’ve had a few wrecks that resulted in some damage. Years ago I broke my left wrist (in multiple places) when I bailed off a horse who was falling on ice. I broke the same wrist a few weeks later because I cut the cast off prematurely, then came off the same horse. Yeah, I felt kinda cursed at that point, but I gave  my own stubborn stupidity credit for that mishap. When I first brought Dharla home she tossed me on my keester and I wrenched a knee badly. No medical intervention was necessary, but it was a close call and it prevented me from riding her for the better part of a week. (I should have waited longer for things to heal, but felt under the circumstances that I couldn’t). About two years later I had one other “event” where I came unglued from Dharla, but by then I think I was better prepared and no damage was done.

The most scary accidents are the ones you don’t see coming; the ones that happen when you’re doing something you’ve done a thousand times, and even though you’re always mindful and careful around horses, happen anyway. I mean, you can be 100% on your toes around animals, but because horses are big, powerful beasts with a finely tuned instinct to flee from anything remotely scary or abnormal, accidents can happen.

Our typical feeding routine is as follows: The “boys” get the most grain and (therefore) get their grain first. Both boys take approximately the same about of time to eat their oats and almost always finish within seconds of one another. They’re fed in separate corners of the run-in shed that’s located off the back side of the barn. Because she gets less grain (and eats faster) Dharla must wait patiently, and is given her grain last. She is fed apart from the boys, either in one of the stalls or in the run-in shed on the front side of the barn. This prevents her from gulping her grain, then pestering the boys while they finish theirs. At feeding time everyone knows the drill: when their grain is ready to dispense, the boys follow me around to their feed pans while Dharla waits on her side. Bullet is always given his grain first, then Rascal follows me over to his corner where he’s given his ration. Then I repeat the process for Dharla. Everyone is very calm about this routine. Well, as calm as hungry horses can be, but the point is that all three horses are very push-button and cooperative at feeding time. They know their job and I know mine.

Wednesday night was no different than any other. Everyone was anxiously waiting for their grain and milling about as I made the preparations to feed. Holding a grain scoop in each hand, I walked around the back side of the barn to give the boys their grain, Bullet first as per our routine. Bullet stood ready at his manger and I dumped his grain into his feed pan. As I turned to walk over to Rascal’s manger my foot suddenly slipped on some gravel that had accumulated on the surface of a rubber stall mat that lines the run-in shed. I should probably mention that these stall mats have been in place for many years and over time, the material under the mats can begin to erode. Every few years we have to pull the mats back and fill under them with some new material. The mat I was on was sloped at one end rather than level, due to erosion. I’m sure I was aware of this on a subconscious level, but it never really struck me as a true hazard until now. The gravel under my foot caused me to slip, but it was the slope of the mat contributed to the inevitable: I fell.

Because I was standing right next to Bullet, I not only went down hard, but I fell UNDER him. Which I knew would spook the poor horse badly. After all, Bullet’s head was lowered into his grain pan and he was happily munching his grain. It was the perfect storm for getting trampled. I wish I could say I tried to protect myself as I fell, but there wasn’t enough time. Plus, I had an empty grain scoop in one hand and a full grain scoop in the other. I don’t know why, but I didn’t want to dump that grain, so I continued to hold both scoops as I went down. I heard Bully react as I landed under his belly and I remember thinking, “this is going to be bad!” With only one way out of the shed, I knew at the very least I was going to get trampled. Bullet tried to get out of the shed as quickly as possible, jumping over my semi-prone body and kicking me in the head as he bolted. Rascal, who was on his way over to his own grain pan when it happened, turned and fled in hot pursuit.

The pain was intense and coming from so many places, I wasn’t sure what to address first. My immediate and strongest inclination was to stand up as quickly as possible. My head and neck were throbbing and both knees and one wrist were skinned and bleeding. Fortunately, nothing seemed to be broken. My head and neck … well, I wasn’t so sure. Meanwhile, the horses were blowing, snorting and milling about on the other side of the barn. I limped over to Rascal’s gain pan and dumped his grain into it, then tried to coax the boys back over to the other side of the barn to eat. The lure of grain overruled their fear and it only took a few brief minutes before they were back on their own side of the barn and eating again. I got Dharla situated, then tried to access the damage.

I honestly didn’t know if I was OK. I mean, by the time the initial, acute pain began to settle down to dull roar I had already decided I should probably try to finish feeding the horses. I set out three piles of hay, checked the water tank, then limped back to the house and made an ice pack. My husband wasn’t due home for at least another hour and a half. Should I dial 911? Could I wait until he got home? Did I really need to do anything at all? I didn’t know! I hurt, but having been trampled and kicked, I expected that much. But was I injured? Again, I wasn’t sure! Thinking two heads are better than one, I shot my sister a text.

My sister called immediately and somehow, between the two of us we (well, mostly I) decided I could wait until my husband got home. I’m sure my sister would have rather I called 911 or something, but the mere fact that I was sounding pretty rational and wasn’t experiencing worsening symptoms gave me the confidence to think I’d be OK. And I was. Needless to say, I didn’t feel great, but I wasn’t feeling any worse either. By the time my husband got home I was fairly insistent that I’d be alright. I was however, pretty nauseous and didn’t have much of an appetite that night. Ironically, I had a routine doctor appointment scheduled for Friday and so I decided I could wait until then to see someone about this.

I woke the next morning feeling like I’d been run over by a truck. I hurt everywhere and I had the bruises to prove it. My neck and jaw were very stiff and I had a large egg on the back of my head. I still felt some occasional nausea, which continued to plague me over the next twenty-four hours. When I finally saw my doctor she confirmed that I did indeed have a mild concussion. She didn’t exactly read me the riot act, but she made certain I knew when I should call 911. We went over a couple of critical points so if anything like this ever happens again I’ll be a better judge of the situation. And when you’re around horses every day you just know that day will probably come again, even if it might be some 500 hours (or so) from now. 😉

Double or Nothing

IMG_0812(Early spring pasture)

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Weather permitting, I’m trying to ride one, or sometimes both horses daily. I know it’s unrealistic to think I’ll be able to ride two horses a day once the heat and humidity arrive, but until then I’m going to do my best to try. The way I’ve been doing this is to school one horse in the arena, then ride the other horse out on the trail. Then I reverse the routine the next time I ride. That way nobody gets trail-slighted or ring-sour. Unfortunately, the gnats have been HORRIBLE, but yesterday the temperature suddenly shot up and they didn’t seem quite as bad. It was predicted to be unseasonably hot again today, which meant I’d only get to ride one horse, provided I rode early in the morning.

It was Rascal’s turn in the queue, but he still has a fair amount of winter coat that’s trying to shed out. So I made sure we got out on the trail early and we didn’t do anything too strenuous. Rascal is doing quite well with our trail riding. He readily accepts stream crossings now and he picks his way through even the most the rocky spots fairly well. He’s beginning to really “tune in” to me and vice verse. Overall, I think Rascal’s an uncomplicated horse who wants to please, but who also likes to think a little bit for himself. He’s also grown more interested in having some casual interaction with me in the paddock, as opposed to just wanting to be left alone. I’m finding that he’ll soak up any personal attention like a sponge. I usually spend some time brushing and grooming all the horses every day and Rascal is finally starting to respond to being pampered. At some point I’d really like to give him a bath because he’s pretty crusty, but I’m going to wait until we have a string of nice weather in the forecast. No point in bathing him just to have him go and lay in the mud!

Ring Around the Rosie

IMG_9533(Rascal, above)

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I gave Dharla about a week off from ring work. After six months of constant ring riding I decided we would only do a little trail riding first. I wanted to give her a chance to wipe the slate clean of all the repetitive circles and requests to do this and that. While “schooling” is nice, too much of it gets on my nerves. And I gotta think that if the monotony of schooling drives me a little crazy, then it must bore the heck out of my horse too. I like to pretend that horses think it’s just nice to meander down a trail every now and then and not have to think about too much except where to put their feet and not to rub up to close to a tree. So we did a bunch of that and it was truly wonderful to be stress and “request” free for a change.

Eventually it was time to take Dharla down to our ring and do little test ride. I’ll admit, I had some trepidation. History has shown that Dharla has some “issues” with our arena and as hard as I’d tried, I was unable to ever feel like I had a handle on our problems down there. In fact, the problems we had with schooling had alot to do with my decision to put her with a trainer. But it was finally time to take the real test and see if any of our lessons would stick and we could duplicate that work ethic at home.

Dharla certainly knew where we were, yet she seemed calm and willing to listen. It may have helped that Rascal stayed up at the barn with Bullet, which resulted in less calling to us down in the ring. Oddly, Rascal hollered a few times, but he wasn’t nearly as persistent as Bullet used to be when he was left behind alone. I always had my suspicions that the incessant calling from Bullet didn’t help Dharla focus very much, but I never wanted to use that as an excuse. Either way, I was pleased to note that the few times the “boys” hollered didn’t seem to matter to Dharla at all.

We started with a lot of nice forward walking and jogging. Dharla was quick to relax, drop her head down into a nice position and engage her hind end. Since most of her issues crop up at the lope, I found I was content to just walk and jog for awhile. I seriously considered not even trying to pick up the lope. Part of me wanted to only do the things I thought we could do well, so our first ride down in the ring would be a success. I mean, that’s sound, logical thinking, right? But deep down I really wanted to know where we stood. Was Dharla going to revert back to her old, fussy ways or was she really willing to work with me and give me her best effort? I relaxed and let her pick up the pace, literally letting her jog into a nice quiet lope. I was stunned by how quietly she loped! No tail wringing! No head tossing! No bucks, hops or shying! We loped a few nice circles and then transitioned back down to a slow, but forward walk. Head down, chewing and blinking …. was this my horse?

To answer my question, we reversed. Granted, I’d started the lope on Dharla’s strong side. Hey, I’m not an idiot! But now it was time to see what I’d get when I asked for the lope on her more difficult direction/side. We spent a fair amount of time just walking and jogging again. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t keyed up from the previous lope. We changed directions several times and when I thought she was nice and relaxed I asked her to pick up the pace of her jog until she stepped right into a lope. Again, she did this with no fuss and no issues! I was literally shocked! We completed a few nice circles, then took the pace back down to a walk where Dharla once again completely relaxed.

We then worked a bit on backing and flexing side to side before I decided it was time to see how she would respond to a direct cue to lope off from a walk. Starting with her strong side first, I asked her to transition from a walk to a lope, which she did without any fuss or hesitation. I think what honestly surprised me even more was that she kept her pace very controlled and didn’t go off like a rocket, or try to buck or shy at some imaginary thing half way around the arena. This truly was the absolute best ride I’d ever had in my own arena since I brought Dharla home four springs ago! We followed the same pattern as before, slowing to a nice relaxed walk and changing directions several times before asking for the lope in the opposite (harder) direction. Again, Dharla moved right off the lightest touch of my leg and quietly moved around the ring as asked. I was ecstatic!!!

We ended with some nice simple walk/jog patterns and headed back to the barn. Our ride lasted about 45 minutes. There wasn’t a single buck, shy or cow hop and there was no sign of her old tail-wringing and head-tossing. I’m still not thoroughly convinced we’ve put all our issues behind us, but this was certainly a HUGE improvement over the past and a great confidence builder for us both!

Wisdom Isn’t Popular

IMG_0690(Fuzzy Rascal, late winter 2014)

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Leadership. Respect. Alpha. These are buzzwords in most “natural” horse training circles today. I get that some people struggle more than others to understand these concepts and how they apply to horses, but having grown up around farm animals I’ve grappled a bit less with this. That said, I’ve found it hard to verbalize my idea of a harmonious equine connection, and to be more specific, how one achieves that with a horse. Until now. Finally, a trainer and clinician I’ve been reading for a few years has eloquently (and simply) explained this nebulous relationship.

Clarity. it’s a beautiful thing!

Then There Were Three

IMG_0692(Bullet, near the end of winter, intent on his pile of hay)

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The ride home with Dharla was 100% uneventful. In fact, given she’d only been out on the trail once in six months, I was thrilled to see she didn’t lose her trail feet or trail sense one bit. She seemed happy to see Bully and they rode back to our farm like it’s something they’ve been doing every day.

The introduction with Rascal was a bit of a show. While none of the horses seemed to have truly bad intent, there was lots of front foot strikes and squealing … mostly on Dharla’s part. Pretty typical mare behavior I suspect. Bully more of less just tried to stay out of the line of fire and when all else failed, he munched on hay. It really helped that Bully is calm and sensible about most things and not given to hysterics or drama. After about an hour all three horses were eating their own hay and minding their own business for the most part. There was still the occasional squeal and faked attempt to lash out, but nobody was really serious about hurting anyone. Thank God! Rascal has turned out to be more pushy than I expected and though he’s small, he considers himself a contender! He’s still not sure if he want’s to keep Dharla from being too close to Bully or keep Bully from being too close to Dharla! He’s a funny one, that little stinker!

The day after Dharla arrived I was up and on her the next morning. We had a really great ride down the Airline Trail. While that’s not the most challenging ride, regular readers might recall that even after three years of consistent riding I was struggling with an over abundance of spookiness and skittishness on this trail. I don’t know if Dharla was just totally flummoxed to be out on the trail again (after 6 months of arena riding) or what, but she was like a totally different horse. Things I expected to spook her didn’t even get a rise out of her and the one or two times she kind of hesitated were so understated, they were barely noticeable. We did some nice long, slow, collected jogs and a couple of easy lopes all without any shenanigans what so ever. I was VERY pleased!

Later that afternoon I took Rascal out. We also had a nice loop through the woods together. Unfortunately, that night the weather turned back into crap. The temperatures dropped significantly and heavy rain moved in. After much discussion and debate, I finally decided to put Dharla in a stall for the night. It’s a wee bit too soon to expect the horses to have worked out all their hierarchy issues enough to share a small run-in on a cold, rainy night. Right now Dharla has the least amount of coat among the three, and she’s leaner than she’s ever been, so it was kind of an easy decision. Again, I was pleasantly surprised at how she didn’t fuss or stress at all at being shut inside. Normally this isn’t our usual MO, but since that’s what she’s been used to doing at the boarding barn I guess it didn’t bother her very much. I’m not sure if my horse has really matured in the six months she’s been gone or if I’m just seeing the effects of the time she spent in training, but either way I’m very pleased and I hope it lasts!

Homecoming

IMG_5848(Dharla, in her pudgy youth)

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Weather pending, I’ll be riding Dharla home today! I’m excited and sad. Excited because it will be great to have her in my own back yard again, but sad because I’ll miss many things about having her in a big barn. I’ll especially miss our trainer and the barn manager. They’ve done such a fantastic job of taking care of my girl while she’s been staying with them. Dawne has made so much progress working with Dharla. Me? Well … a bit. I feel more confident that I’m in control and I’ve learned a TON of things I never knew about the finer points of Western riding. Dawn has such a gift with horses AND people … something I know from reading and hearing about other rider’s experiences is hard to find. Many trainers are better with one or the other, not both. I feel like I hit the trainer jackpot with Dawne though.

Adam, then barn manager will also be greatly missed. I’ve so enjoyed our daily exchange of stories, news and ideas. I know going out to feed at my own barn will be far lonelier than the time I spent mucking out Dharla’s stall there. As much as the chaos of after school and weekend lessons won’t be quite as missed, I truly did get a kick out of watching many of the kids ride. For the most part they are cute, and talented too … albeit a tad noisy at times! I’ll miss the barn cats, who would appear out of nowhere to rub against your leg, or suddenly leap out of the woods opposite the arena scaring poor Dharla right out of her mind. Well, I WON’T miss that quite so much!

I won’t miss the indoor arena, either. While having an indoor arena was one of the main attractions that peaked my desire to board, it turns out my horse didn’t particularly adjust well to it. In her defense, the indoor was dark and shadowy, with lots of odd creeks, pops and sounds that made Dharla very uncomfortable and nervous. Then there was the constant dull roar of activities that always seemed to commence the minute I mounted up. That happened so often, it grew into a barn joke. Was there a delivery of hay, shavings or grain pending? If so, minutes into my ride you could count on the truck arriving and unloading right outside the far end of the arena doors. Was there work scheduled to be done on the arena roof? It was a sure bet that the construction crew would start their project as I led my horse to the arena. Was the vet or farrier scheduled for a visit? They’d show up only minutes into my ride. If it wasn’t that, the Gator was constantly zipping here and there, buzzing past the arena doors like an angry wasp. Overall, Dharla learned to cope with most of these distractions, but it usually wasn’t a picnic.

I got out and trail rode Dharla only once. The balance of trail riders to show riders was about 1 to 10, and even then most of the trail riders were summer riders only. The longer I boarded Dharla the more I sensed she needed a break from the constant schooling, but the opportunity to get out on the trail with a buddy was almost non-existent. And that’s my main reason for bringing Dharla home. Well, that and the fact that it’s been the coldest, rainiest, snowiest season in decades. I can’t afford to pay board to have my horse standing around in a stall all day. And I don’t think that’s a healthy option for Dharla, either. I’d much rather she come home and be a real horse than pay to have her stand in a stall all spring. (The barn has turn-out, but only if it doesn’t threaten to rain. Apparently one of the drawbacks of boarding at a big show barn is that show horses shrink if they get wet. Or something to that effect.)

It will be interesting to see how things play out. Since Dharla left we’ve added Rascal to our farm. When they meet I don’t think there will be any issues, but she hasn’t seen Bullet in six months either. So who knows what kind of rodeo we’ll have? Thankfully, all three horses are pretty sensible and fairly easy-going, so I don’t expect any lasting problems. There might be a little jostling for the hay at feeding time or nit-picking for the run-in when it rains, but I don’t anticipate any more drama than that.

Out To Pasture

Fall Foliage-406(Click on photo for full size)

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We all think about it: What will we do with our horses when they grow old and unable to perform the tasks we got them to do? I didn’t have to think about it for very long. Suddenly that moment had arrived and I knew I had to face the inevitable. But I was lucky, I was able to keep, even ride (lightly) my aged mare until just a week or so before she left for greener pastures. Other people haven’t been so lucky.

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I know there are places where owners can retire their senior horses. A retirement farm will care for the aged equine and provide for their comfort while allowing the owner to move on with a younger mount if desired. Few people have the luxury of being able to stable and ride more than one horse at a time, so unfortunately that means sending your beloved, faithful senior to go live out the remainder of their golden years under the care of someone else. If the owner is lucky, they’ll find a retirement farm close to home, but often that’s not the case. Some owners have to send their horses to live in another state, where they’ll have limited access to them. That means relying on internet updates, photos and phone calls to stay abreast of the weekly or monthly changes.

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I can understand wanting to make room in your heart and barn to move on with a younger horse. After all, most horses don’t live but maybe a third of a human life span. But I can’t imagine missing those last few years of my horse’s life. Tia was engaging and fun right up until the week she passed on. To have missed those last few rides and months with her would have left me feeling sad and …. well, maybe just a bit neglectful. So with that said, if money was no object and I had all the time (and energy) in the world, I would love to have a retirement horse farm. I know caring for some aged horses can be stressful and hard work, but I definitely have a soft spot in my heart for elderly equines. I suppose running an old horse farm doesn’t exactly fall under the heading of a charity but it’s probably about as close as I’m ever going to come.

Spring has Sprung

IMG_6217

 

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I was riding quite a bit until I got bogged down supervising a seriously large landscaping project. We had a crew in to do more tree and landscape work around the new barn and it required being present to answer lots of on-the-spot questions. Try as I might, it was impossible to carve out enough time to get my routine chores done and the dogs exercised and have enough time left over to ride. Seemed like every time I thought I could break free I was needed to discuss and decide something or other. Unfortunately, that was also the nicest stretch of weather we’ve had this spring. Good for getting landscape projects done, but I think I may have missed some of the best spring riding. Today it’s windy and quite cold. The thermometer is barely showing a chilly 50 and it’s rainy and damp. They say tomorrow might be better, but that remains to be seen.

Dharla has been doing great! I’ve done some very nice trail rides as well as some good ring work. I’m please with her growth and maturity. The miles are starting to really pay off. Aldo still rides her once every other weekend or so, which means she’s getting exposure to things I won’t probably do with her when I ride. Not that we wuss out, but I ride predominantly alone so there are certain risks it doesn’t make sense to take. I have a neighbor who has ridden most of her life and was seriously injured in a riding accident last weekend. She was out trail riding alone. Good thing she was carrying a cell phone and was able to get a signal. I saw Lifestar fly over my house, but never dreamed it had someone I knew on board … with nine broken ribs and a punctured lung. Yeah, that made me recommit to wearing my helmet (I do!) and taking a few safety precautions before I hit the trail.

I’m hoping after the holiday I can get out and pick up where we left off. Perhaps this cold snap will keep the onslaught of bugs away for a few more weeks? Hot humid (non-riding) weather will be here before we know it and I’ll be dragging my feet again.

Y(R)ear End!

IMG_4964

 

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I haven’t posted much here lately. Between the eye problems and the bad weather I haven’t ridden much in weeks. Dharla has been getting out on the weekends with Aldo. I finally decided he ought to ride her a little since he’ll expose her to things I normally won’t do with her. My days of risky stuff or super challenging rides are over. He reports that a little initial “feel good” buck aside, she’s been taking things in stride.

I’ll look forward to better weather and the opportunity to resume riding in the warmer months to come!

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Happy trails!