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. 😉

Bumps in the Road

IMG_9493(Dharla)

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Well, to be more exact, bumps on the horse! A few days back Dharla came down with a really bad case of hives. When I went out to feed in the morning she had a couple of suspicious lumps on her neck and flanks. Having seen this before (with our other Arabs), I went over Dharla with a fine tooth comb. We’ve usually sees this happen in response to a tick bite or some other type of insect problem. However, we’ve always wondered if perhaps the hives could have been caused by something the horse ate? Given we’ve just started letting the horses have short, carefully timed grazing visits in our pasture, I had my suspicions that it might be related to that.

When I went out to feed the horses lunch Dharla was covered with lumps and bumps of all sizes. It was really quite alarming and I had to fight the urge to panic. Dharla didn’t seem the least bit bothered by her condition, so I took my cues from her. She was greatly interested in her hay and she wasn’t itchy or showing any signs of respiratory distress. I stood nearby and observed her for quite some time until I was certain she wasn’t in any sort of trouble, then I went and got my camera. While Beanie got hives on several different occasions, he never had them like this! Some of her bumps were twice the size of my palm, especially between her hind legs and in her lower chest area. Fortunately, her head seemed the least affected by the swelling. I think that would have pushed me over the edge.

By dinner time 3/4 of the bumps had vanished and/or were greatly reduced in size. I breathed a sigh of relief. The next day Dharla still had some areas of her body that had big patches of pea-size bumps, but nothing like the day before. I actually rode her that day, but we just did a leisurely walk down the Airline Trail. I was prepared to turn back at any point if the bumps grew at all in response to our exercise, but they didn’t. Today Dharla is almost 100% fine. I doubt we’ll ever know what caused her hives, but I did let her go down back and have a little more grass yesterday afternoon. So far, she’s good!

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!

Big Girl Panties

IMG_6377(Bean & Tia)

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Last Friday was the day I decided to try riding Dharla back over to the boarding barn … alone. Since our return ride the Sunday before was so uneventful, I thought doing it again while our success was fresh in our memory might help. Of course, this time we wouldn’t have Bullet along to calm any jangled nerves when we came upon the dreaded cows.

Dharla was pretty unconcerned as we followed the old dirt road that lead in the direction toward the barn, but the minute we approached the paved road Dharla got noticeably more aware of her surroundings. He head went up, her ears pricked forward and I felt some hesitancy in her step. I didn’t change a thing, but just continued to think “forward” and kept my worries in check. Given it was the middle of the morning and we were on a dead-end road, there was absolutely no traffic. That was good because it meant we could casually walk down the center of the road and not have to worry about keeping over to one side or the other. It had obviously been garbage day for the neighborhood and most driveways had not one, but two large bins at the curb. Dharla gave the first set of bins we passed a wide berth, but once we got past those she didn’t seem at all concerned about the others.

It wasn’t long before we approached our most dreaded section of the road: the white picket fence and the field where the cows are pastured. As we approached the fence on the right Dharla stopped dead in her tracks. I let her take the scene in for about thirty seconds, then calmly asked her to move forward. Much to my utter surprise, she did! Seconds later, she saw the herd of cows on our left. Again, Dharla hesitated slightly, but when I squeezed gently with my legs she kept moving forward. She was on high alert, but she kept her whits about her and did as I asked. The only other place I expected any worries was on a shortcut through another horse property. We could see a small herd of horses in a distant pasture and they could see us, but they weren’t that close to us. Oddly, things that are off in the distance can be more nerve-wracking to some horses than things close up, but I can never predict exactly how Dharla will react in this kind of situation.  As soon as we entered the property the horses off in the field saw us. They whinnied and ran along their fence, putting Dharla on alert. Much to my pleasure (and surprise) Dharla stayed right “with me” and continued boldly forward. Good girl!

Once we got past those obstacles we were pretty much in the clear. We only had about 100 yards of paved road to ride. Our timing was good and it was relatively quiet, so I was nothing short of thrilled when a few minutes later we turned into the driveway of the stable! It’s almost hard to believe that a ride we struggled several times to complete last fall was accomplished with little to no fanfare. I’m ecstatic! This small success is one giant leap forward that will enable us to ride over to the stable and take more lessons this summer and fall! Yay, us!

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.

Oh, My Darling!

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I had a great lesson on Dharla this morning. It was the kind of session where I came away feeling like we’re (finally) starting to work more like a real team. Needless to say, it’s been a long road!

I put Dharla in a training barn back in the beginning of October with the idea that I’d have her in training for a few months. Realistically, I was thinking maybe three months at most, but I planned on seeing how things went. Fortunately, I wasn’t married to a calendar, because while Dharla seemed to settle in quite well, getting us both used to the routine at a big barn was a bit challenging.

One of the first things we had to get used to was learning to ride with constant distractions. There were hay and grain deliveries, vet visits, and farriers working, not to mention the constant hubbub of daily life on a busy boarding farm: people constantly coming and going, horses frequently being shuffled in, out and around the farm, and the steady buzz of the Gator as chores commenced on a routine schedule. Meanwhile, both Dharla and I struggled to get accustomed to riding in a dark, shadowy indoor arena. Sometimes we were alone (scary for Dharla) and sometimes we were joined by anywhere from one (OK) to five (are you kidding me?) other riders. For a horse and rider with almost no experience riding in a crowded (or deserted) arena, this took some getting used to!

Then winter came. In early December it got frigidly cold and snowy, and it stayed that way until the last day of March. As a result, there was less turnout time for the horses, which translated into excess energy during rides. Oh, the horses got plenty of free time to run and play in the indoor arena, but that can’t take the place of several hours of fresh air and the freedom to move around at will. And then there was the dreaded snow-sliding-off-the-metal-roof. As I soon learned, that was the undoing of almost every horse at the barn. First I’d hear one person came off their horse when it spooked at the random whoosh of snow sliding off the roof above. Then another came off. And another. Before long everyone grew hyper-sensitive to the situation on the roof, and several riders even chose not to ride if the roof showed any sign of dumping it’s load.

Then we had to contend with the wind. The indoor arena is a large metal box with double sliding doors at both ends. No matter how hard we tried to secure those doors, the wind would constantly tug at them, making them rattle and bang. A steady wind was better and Dharla eventually came to accept the constant clanging at one end of the arena or the other. But if it was a gusty day and the doors banged at random, then that was another story altogether. I soon learned I’d have to contend with sporadic bucks and shies that the wind would produce.

Our winter rides were frustratingly up and down. I’d have a productive, communicative ride one day, followed by several rides where it felt like Dharla and I were on completely different planets. I was more than willing to go with the flow and do whatever it took to help Dharla feel more confident in her surroundings, but I must admit that I came home thoroughly frustrated more often than not. This brought me back to the same old, worn- out question I’ve faced since I bought Dharla almost four years ago. Am I the right rider for this horse?

We somehow managed to get through the worst of the winter. We had enough passable rides to keep me hopeful that with the arrival of spring we’d see a vast improvement in our environment and consequently, our ride. Unfortunately, I was very naive. The flurry of activity on the farm increased in direct proportion to the improvement in the weather. Not to mention, the New England show season started the last weekend of March. (Are they nuts? We had five inches of snow on the ground!) That means riders who were (mostly) absent during the worst of the winter are suddenly underfoot again, trying to make up for lost saddle time. The outside arena was (and continues to be) partially flooded. You’d think fixing the drainage in the outdoor arena would be a top priority, but so far that hasn’t been the case. Although it’s been an unusually wet and cold spring, everyone’s pretty psyched to start riding outside. However, with almost half of the arena under several inches of water, this makes for some pretty interesting rides. Especially when two or three people try to ride at the same time! And did I mention all the horses have spring fever? Yup, they’re pretty full of themselves too!

All nit-picking aside, when we began riding outdoors Dharla immediately showed signs of significant growth. Naturally, our first ride or two outside were a little super-charged and energetic, but she wasn’t over the top. And she didn’t give me hissy fits or temper tantrums over anything either! No shying at the far end of the arena, no bucks, no lines drawn in the sand. I was pretty amazed! When I take into consideration that I’m riding her in a brand new saddle and riding her with a level 2 Mylar bit, I’m pretty ecstatic about her mental progress. It feels like her work ethic has come a long way since we started our more “formal” training back in October.

One of the nicest changes I’m seeing is with our upward transitions. Dharla has always been comfortable transitioning from the walk to the jog, but transitions to a lope were usually accompanied by signs of tension and unease: a tail swish (or three), a head toss, and even a cow hop or two have been known to show up when I ask for a lope. (And sometimes I get all three!) So I’ve backed things down and kept the majority of our focus on making sure we’re really comfortable at the walk and trot. No sense picking up the pace if we’re not ready. Meanwhile, my trainer has been gradually working out the bugs with the lope.

Once Dharla got the reinforcement she needed and clear, consistent cues, she began to lose her stress over loping. She’s still a bit stiff and resistant when asked to lope off in a clockwise direction, but her right lead has always been her weaker side. I’ve also noticed that some of Dharla’s tendency to rush and push forward has eased up, and she’s starting to get more comfortable working at a relaxed, steady pace. These changes that I’m seeing may seem small, but the end result has been encouraging. I always knew Dharla had a lot of potential, I just didn’t think I could develop it by myself. Getting and working with the right trainer has been the best decision I’ve ever made. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’m so glad I went that route.

Now that spring is actually here I’m wrestling with the idea of bringing Dharla home for a while. She’s spent the last six months working hard and getting ridden a minimum of five days a week. A little change of pace might do her good. That said, she’s just recently turned a corner, which makes me hesitant to stop her progress right now. I’m really struggling to decide what to do. Fortunately, the barn owner and trainer are OK with me taking things month by month. If I decide she needs a break I’ll just ride her home. If she continues to make good progress then I’ll keep boarding her there. I still miss having her here at home, but she seems very comfortable where she is. That makes it easier for me to keep her there for now. When it gets hot and buggy I might change my mind. I’ll have to wait and see how much riding I’m willing to do when the heat and humidity arrive!

Spring Fling

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It’s been a LONG time since I’ve posted. yes, I’ve been busy. Yes, I’ve been riding. But it was a long, cold winter with lots of snow and bitter temperatures. Heck, it’s the second week of April and it’s STILL cold. And very windy. But at least the snow has melted, or pretty much so.

I’ve spent the better part of the last few months just letting Rascal settle in. It took about two months before I started to see his true personality, and I’m still making new discoveries every week. He was pretty shut down for awhile. That’s totally normal, I think. After all, Rascal had to endure some pretty major changes in his daily life. Mostly, I think he missed his owner. Given she had been the main presence in his life since he was two, they had a very special bond. I didn’t try to replace her, but simply gave Rascal time to process his loss and get acquainted with me. He’s a bit of a wary boy. Shy, and not overtly affectionate with strangers. But as the weeks wore on Rascal started to come out of his shell. I got fewer sidelong glances and the distance between us began to close. At some point he actually started to show a real interest in me and then I knew he’d turned the corner. He was settling in.

Inclement weather and/or lousy footing kept the opportunity to ride just out of my grasp. All told, I managed to sneak in three rides on Rascal before giving up and deciding to wait for the conditions to improve. What I observed on those few rides was a little horse with a lot of try and a few subtle quirks under the hood. Nothing I didn’t expect! I figured it would take some time for us to learn how to read each other and know what was expected. Rascal seemed a little wary about the trail and his surroundings, but with steady support he was willing to trust my judgement.

I’m not exactly sure how much trail experience Rascal has, so I plan to treat him as though he has none. That means giving him lots of time to get accustomed to and process the variety of things we’ll be seeing regularly out on our rides. Water, huge boulders and rocks, joggers running toward (and up behind) us, bicycles (most which will approach and pass us at high speeds), dogs, both loose (illegal, but a frequent occurrence) and leashed, and eventually cars, when we do a little dirt road riding. That’s a lot of things to condition a new horse to. And not knowing how Rascal will react to each new thing and in different settings, it’s a bit stressful for me. But so far Rascal has been taking most things in stride. He’s got Tia and Dharla’s distrust of large rocks and he’s not quite sure he likes crossing small streams. (Shallow puddles are fine.) We have yet to have a bicycle come up behind us, but when passed head-on he seems to handle it pretty well as long as we can move well off the side of the trail. (Not always feasible) It would appear he’s not thrilled about dogs. Even leashed dogs give him a bit of trepidation, but he doesn’t lose his marbles. He just kind of skitters sideways.

Rascal’s whoa needs a little refresher, and once stopped he doesn’t like to stand still. I’ll find lots of ways to work that practice into our rides. He has a wonderful little western jog, but his lope is a bit choppy and tentative. I think he has a nice comfortable lope in him, but he’s rusty, out of condition and a tad anxious. My plan is to do LOTS of walking, jogging and some hill work to get him back into shape before worrying about his lope. I can find plenty of things to work on while we wait for the arena dry up enough to use. Every now and then Rascal gets the idea in his head that he ought to turn around and go back the way we came. When that happens he does a bit of backing and scooting sideways. I’m not exactly sure what that’s all about, but we’ll work it out. I’m pretty sure I’m (inadvertently) miscuing him for something that I’ve yet to figure out. He’s sensitive and sometimes a tad willful, but not in a bad way. I have to chuckle at how quickly he’s learned his way around here. I’ve already noticed that his “going out” walk is half the speed of his “coming home” pace! He’s a smart boy!

I’ve been riding Dharla over at the “big barn” as often as possible, which translates into about 4-5 rides a week. She’s transitioned from full to partial training, which also has her getting ridden by the trainer three times a week. My progress with her (and consequently, my emotions) have been all over the map. But more about Dharla another time.