5-23-2012

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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)

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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!

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Scattered

This is what Tia thought about schooling!

 

 

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My mind is all over the place today. As I was out feeding I got thinking about how easily I lose motivation. It’s like, once my horse is fairly reliable I start dogging it with the schooling. I just don’t have the experience to know what I should really be working on and I lose my motivation. I argue with myself about this kind of stuff all the time.

On one hand, I know my horse is perfectly capable of doing what I normally do, which is trail ride. Sure, there are things we’ll encounter out there that we’ll need to work on, but it’s not like every time we go out something new comes up. Meanwhile, there are scores of things I could (and should) probably be teaching her, but I really don’t have the means. For instance, I’d love to know I can load her into a trailer with ease in case I ever want to go somewhere different to ride. But I don’t have a trailer and I don’t have any experience teaching a horse how to load. Then again, the breeder got her here, so maybe this isn’t an issue? Same with ring work. I could keep riding her down in the arena, but am I working on the right stuff? I have no way of knowing. I’m not a trainer and a few lessons aside, I’ve never had any formal schooling myself. So I worry more about teaching my horse bad habits than I worry about not doing enough schooling. After all, it’s not like I’m going to need a perfect flying lead change out on the trail. Some would argue that not teaching my horse to be anything but a good reliable trail mount is irresponsible, but if I don’t have any aspiration to show and I don’t plan on selling my horse, then what’s wrong with just having a lot of trail miles?

Sometimes I daydream about different things, like having a trailer and a horse that I know loads so I could take her to a nearby stable where we could take lessons together. Since that isn’t possible, then I daydream about boarding her there for a couple of months so I could take lessons with her. But then Bullet would be left home alone …. not that he couldn’t adjust to that, but it would be a bit chaotic for awhile. And I’m not sure how Dharla would do being moved to a new place, albeit temporary. Would she be a spook machine? Would I have to spend weeks just getting her settled in and adjusted? And I’d have to let go of all my control issues. Not that I don’t trust the place where I’d board her. I do. But I’m just a wee bit of a control freak when it comes to the care of my animals.

OK, I’m a huge control freak.

So this is the kind of stuff that rattles around in my brain as I’m picking the pasture, waiting for the horses to finish their grain.

March 18, 2010

Bullet

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Out for another great ride today. I typically don’t ride on weekends unless I know I’m going to be able to get back in the woods and off the beaten path. The AL trail is like Grand Central Station and the vast majority of the people who use that trail are morons and worse. So I try not to have to expose my horse to that nonsense if I don’t have to. Since I’m “retired” I can ride any day of the week and if need be, can give my horse the weekend off or choose to do something in the ring now.

Speaking of which …. I suppose if the ground continues to stay dry I should think about getting back to a bit of ring work. Ug. I wish I could say I like that, but I really don’t. Still, it’s good for Dharla to do a bit of schooling. I guess I should get my butt down there and see if the footing is drying up. It can be a bit greasy if the one side hasn’t gotten much sun.

I also need to think about whether or not I’m going to continue taking English lessons. I’d like to, but I’m concerned about getting stretched too thin with time, energy and cost. I typically ask for an early morning lesson because as the season progresses, I’m (still) ridiculously heat intolerant. That means that by the time I get home, I’m probably not going to be able to ride my own horse if the temps are already inching up. Once we get into summer I figure I have all of about 3.5 hours in the morning to get everything I need to do (outside) done before I have to retreat inside to hibernate in the AC. It’s like living in a bubble; you sit and watch the world go by, but you can’t participate in it.

Although the recession hasn’t had too much of a personal impact on me, I try to live as though it will. I make a tank of gas last at least two weeks, I try not to consume anything I don’t need and I keep a close eye on the bottom line. I always ask myself twice (if not more) if I really need something before I buy it or commit to it, including things like riding, herding and piano lessons. I’ve recently decided it’s time to cut back on the herding. My dog is going on 8 this year and he’s already got some congenital spinal problems. Since it’s never been our goal to compete, I’ve mostly been doing the herding for fun; his and mine. But while we both still enjoy the venue it’s expensive and a bit of a luxury. So I’m going to cut back considerably on that. We might go herding now and then, but it’s not going to be a weekly gig.

Piano lessons are something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I took piano lessons when I was a kid, but dropped them as soon as my mother would let me. Mom was a piano teacher and all her children studied piano, but we didn’t take lessons from her. Mom would cart us to someone else for that miserable task, then stand in the kitchen as we practiced and yell, “You’re not playing that right!” I hated piano back then, which is kinda sad. Only my brother stuck with piano. He had a true gift for it and played mostly by ear. Anyhow, when I called to make arrangements to take piano lessons I was surprised at how reasonably priced they were. I expect that will help me afford them for some time to come. Oh, and I love playing!

I’m on the fence about riding lessons. I already know I’m not going to show. Even if I wanted to show, I don’t think I could justify the expense right now. The barn where I’ve been taking lessons is primarily a hunter, jumper barn that shows. A lot. And while I’ve had a blast learning to ride English and learning to jump, I’m probably never going to use that part of what I’m learning. Not that it’s not all good … it is. But, well, I just don’t know. I love the instructor and the barn is literally ten minutes away. That makes things easy, but I’m still hedging a bit. It would fall into that “luxury” category for sure.

But back to riding. Since Aldo was going to head out on a ride with R, we decided we’d tack up an hour or so before they were supposed to connect and do a little loop together, Of course, the best of plans always seem to go awry and we didn’t get headed down the road with enough time to do much more than 1/2 hour together. The plan was that we’d ride a bit together, then Aldo would break off and go meet R. and I’d continue on alone. This gave me a good opportunity to see how Dharla reacts at going off on her own, and I’m happy to say that she did very well! Naturally, she was a bit animated for the first few minutes, but she never hollered or fussed and even better, she didn’t try to turn and follow Bullet. I was SO pleased, because this scenario will probably reoccur a lot as the season progresses.

Dharla and I did a couple of nice woodsy loops off the beaten path. We encountered a mountain biker on one of the trails, but we just calmly moved aside and let him ride past. Dharla has always kept her cool with bikers, which is a Godsend because we have to deal with them all the time. Occasionally a biker will come barreling out of the woods and startle us, but even then Dharla has always managed to keep her brains in her head. The more I ride this girl the more I love her! We did a good bit of hill work and just enjoyed being out in the woods alone.

Part of the reason why I decided to do a preemptive ride with Aldo before he left is because I find Dharla’s much less stressed at being home alone if she’s not here when Bullet leaves. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s true. If Dharla’s here when Bullet and Aldo ride off, she spends the better part of the first hour being really stressed. But if we’re not here and we come back and Bullet’s gone, she’s much calmer. At first I thought that was (maybe) because she’s just tired from being ridden herself, but one time all I did was take her down to the arena to do some minor groundwork while Aldo and Bullet left and when we got back to the barn and she found Bullet gone she was still pretty calm. Not that she didn’t holler, she did. But she didn’t run the fence line and carry on nearly as much as she will when she’s at the barn when Bullet leaves.

When we got home I cleaned Dharla up, gave her some hay, then hung out with her for a awhile. I so enjoy her company and she actually seems to enjoy mine! Overall it was a great day. Aldo and Bullet got home several hours later, just before dark. From the looks of things I know I made the right decision to ride alone. We’re not ready for their kind of ride. Yet.

Time: 2 hrs.

Distance: 6 miles (guesstimate: FB rd, AL trail, ridge loop to long trail loop to the wide water crossing & home)

The Wisdom of Age

First Ride!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dce 21, 2011, (Off)

It’s yet another crappy, rainy day. It seems like I can hardly get two days in a row of decent riding weather and then it’s miserable again for a few days. We’ve been in this weather pattern for the last year now, and I’m pretty sick of it. When I had a 28 year-old horse it didn’t much matter what the weather was like as I didn’t feel the daily pressure to get her out. But this year things are different and I can’t help feeling that I should have been more productive than things turned out to be. And our downfall was 100% related to nasty weather.

So we get another day off. That’s not horrible, but it wasn’t what I had planned for today. Not having much else on my agenda this morning, I sat down at my computer and caught up on email and reading. A fellow equine blogger that I follow had written an interesting post about being “horse crazy” since birth and trying to find acceptance in the equine community as she grew up. Unable to have a horse of her own, she baptized herself into the horse world by working in the equine industry and learning via firsthand experience, albeit with other people’s horses. Yet for some reason feeling accepted into and affirmed by the greater equine community somehow eluded her. Why? Because she didn’t have a horse of her own.

Like her, I spent most of my youth fantasizing about owning and riding horses. Whenever opportunity arose, I pestered horse owners relentlessly, begging them to give me a ride. Though we didn’t live in an area where horses were typically found, we sometimes visited the countryside where horse and pony sightings were far more common. On those rare occasions I would bolt at the clip-clop of approaching hooves like a child who runs toward the jingle-jangle of an ice cream truck bell. When we visited a summer fair, I would abandon my family just to hang out around the pony ride.

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As I grew a bit older, my favorite summer event was attending the pony and horse pulls with my family. I was fortunate that, although my father was not a full time farmer, he was well liked and respected among the local horsemen. Once these men got to know (and trust) me, I was allowed to help harness and hitch their teams. Looking back, I can’t imagine anyone letting someone’s non-horse reared child help with this task, but it was a different time and they welcomed the extra help. Me? I was thrilled, even if it meant just standing for hours in the hot sun holding a grazing pony on the end of a lead rope.

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 I still enjoy watching pony and horse pulls, only now I usually watch them through the lens of my camera.

So thinking about all this and the blog I read earlier made think about my own past and path with horses. My father bought a pony for the family when I was about ten. She was young, unbroken and quite an advanced “project” for an inexperienced child. But children and fools have no fear so I guess my parents didn’t see the harm in letting me give this pony a shot. We did have some help in the form of a family friend who had grown up riding horses on his parents farm. But he was a grown man and couldn’t be expected to back such a little Welsh pony.

I remember we did some ground work, if you could call it that. We taught the pony to be haltered, lead and eventually to be saddled. Perhaps we sacked her out, but I don’t recall and it’s probably unlikely. I remember getting helped up on her while our friend held her head, then her bucking and shaking and and basically just doing everything she could to get me off. Sometimes she succeeded. Eventually, the friend started to let go of the lead rope as he walked beside us. I was nervous, but not really scared. I knew Topsy would buck … I expected it. But I learned not to be afraid of that. I knew it was just part of the process of her learning to be ridden.

I rode that pony as much as I possibly could until I was thirteen or so, when my parents broke down and bought me a horse of my own. By then, my folks had made the decision to leave the ‘burbs and relocate in the country. They purchased an old run-down dairy farm that my father intended to convert back into an operating “Gentleman’s Farm.” You see, my father was a farmer at heart, but a doctor by profession, and sometimes I think he used my love for horses as the catalyst for leaving city life and livin’ the dream. I sure can’t fault him for that!

Through most of my teens I was involved in riding my barrel racing horse. She was fast, well broke and very competitive, and the riding skills that were learned at the expense of a feisty Welsh pony were further honed on the back of this capable mare. Bottom line, Serena made me look pretty damn good … far better than I probably actually was. In defense of myself, I did have to learn how to stay with such a fast moving, quick turning horse. But as quick as Serena was, she never gave a buck or a hop in her life, and I could eventually learn to relax and enjoy the ride.

If there’s a common theme with my fellow blogger, it’s that while I had my own pony, I never once had a riding lesson in all this time. Oh, I rode plenty of horses, some who were very challenging to ride, but I never had formal instruction of any sort. I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of rider, who did pretty well I might add.

Many years later, when I was in my mid 30’s, my husband decided he wanted to learn how to ride. Not anxious to try to teach him, I signed him up to take lessons nearby. I went with him for the first few lessons to make sure it was the right kind of place for him, but also because I was curious. I wanted to see how riding was taught, especially to an adult. Each time I went I found myself wanting to do more than just watch, but it seemed a bit foolish to pay good money to take lessons for something I thought I already knew how to do. But the more I watched the more I started to realize how little I actually knew about the technical aspects of riding. Sure, I’d picked up some things instinctively and from basic repetition, but many of the finer points had eluded me all those years. So I asked the instructor if I could join the class. She was very willing to let me.

It wasn’t long before I noticed something unusual happened during our lesson: The instructor often didn’t expect me to perform the same exercises as the rest of the group. Now granted, the other students were all beginners of various levels, but still. Why was I exempt from having to practice the same basic skills? She seemed to treat me as though I didn’t need to be taught or corrected because I already knew how to ride. In the end, I didn’t take lessons for more than a few months because I wasn’t learning or perfecting anything new. I came away from the whole experience feeling foolish and never tried to take another lesson again until I bought Dharla last March.

I sometimes share my blogging friend’s feelings of not being good enough or of not knowing enough because I didn’t grow up with a ‘formal’ horsey background. I mostly learned from the school of hard knocks, and while that’s really OK, it means I don’t have the bragging rights to the credentials so many like to see. Usually I don’t get too hung up on this, but I sometimes feel a bit left in the dust when horsey friends start throwing around buzz words and terms I never much cared to learn. But I’m not an armchair expert either. I’ve lived with horses in my back yard for almost 45 years. I think a little knowledge has rubbed off along the way … or at least I sure hope so!