Twice Blessed

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Things have been up and down with Dharla. Basically, she’s doing great. Me? Not so much. I worry. I fret. I get impatient, mad and frustrated … mostly with myself. The negative-speak in my head often overtakes rational thought and I’m embarrassed to admit that I hit an all-time low last week when my trainer caught me quietly riding my horse in tears. Yeah. Just a combo of being worn out and tired of trying to be patient with my inexperienced and very forward horse and my own stupidity and incompetence.

That moment aside, Dharla is making progress. She’s not the same horse she was when I put her in the trainer’s hands two months ago. That’s not to say she’s turned into a push-button, totally compliant mount. She’s still feisty, stubborn and apt to turn downright pissy when things don’t quite go her way. But she’s not nutty or dangerous or willing to go to battle just to prove her point. She never has been. Basically, she’s just a horse who hasn’t been properly asked to work, and the idea of having to do so now rubs her somewhat the wrong way. So she throws a few hissy fits and looks for any opportunity to squirt forward or move faster, even when she knows that’s not what’s being asked.

But Dharla’s momentary fits of indigence are often intermingled with moments of breathtaking brilliance, strength and beauty. When I watch the trainer put her through her paces I’m literally mesmerized. This horse can (and will) be pretty amazing some day. And she’s still the most sweet, compliant horse to work around when she’s not worried about being ridden or the trolls hiding in the corners of the indoor arena.

Problem is, I miss riding. Oh, I ride Dharla almost every day, but that’s not the kind of riding I’m used to doing. That’s schooling, and for now schooling isn’t FUN, it’s work for both Dharla and me. And most schooling sessions last only about 45 minutes or so because it’s  mentally and physically exhausting for us both. What I miss is spending a couple of hours a day out on the trail and not thinking every minute of my ride about what me or my horse are doing and if we’re doing it right. I miss having that quality time with my horse. Consequently, I end up going over to the barn and riding, then finding any excuse I can to just hang around and be with my horse. Which is kind of strange. I mean, she just wants to go back out to her paddock and eat or take a snooze.

This conundrum has led me to explore other avenues to scratch my horsey itch. Avenues such as taking additional lessons or half-leasing a horse from the barn, neither of which I’m particularly excited about. I mean, one can only absorb so much instructional information at a time. Enter, Facebook. I joined a couple of regional and local horse pages about a year ago and I freely confess that I’ve been scanning the postings about horses for sale or lease with a growing interest. While I’m not particularly interested in buying another horse, the idea of leasing one has definitely grabbed my attention.

A week or so before Thanksgiving I read a post about a Quarter Horse that was in need of a new home. The owner was in college and in a difficult bind. This was her first and only horse. To give you a little back story, at age seven and after much pestering, her father agreed to buy the girl some riding lessons for her birthday. She took to horses like a duck to water and it wasn’t long before she was mucking stalls and doing odd jobs at the stable to pay for more saddle time. Naturally, the girl begged her father relentlessly for a horse of her own, but it wasn’t until she had shown considerable commitment that her father caved. When the girl turned ten the father bought his daughter a very young, predominantly unbroken Quarter Horse. She called him Rascal.

I know you’re wondering what on earth was the dad was thinking when he bought such an inexperienced, young horse for his daughter? Let’s just forget that for a moment. The girl was tough. She’d spent several years fighting tooth and nail to have a horse of her own and she wasn’t going to give up the chance to have her own horse just because she had to start from scratch with it. And so she did.

Can I relate to that? Yes. If you go and read about my early history with horses you’ll see this young lady and I have much in common. We both learned via the school of hard knocks. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! Flying by the seat of your pants and learning things the hard way can impart a certain amount of confidence and a rapport with horses that many people spend a fortune and a lifetime to get.

So the young horse and girl grew up together. They did things that fearless young horses and girls will do, like go everywhere and anywhere together and just have fun. Life is never simple, but the horse helped the young girl weather all kinds of storms, including her parents divorce and her mother’s remarriage. Through it all they rode on beaches. They went camping. They entered some horse shows. You name it, they did it. I saw the photos. But I saw more than that. I saw a young girl who morphed into a young lady who simply adored her horse, and the father who made all her dreams come true when he bought his daughter this horse.

Unfortunately, children grow up. When the girl reached college age she chose to attend a university that was only about an hour away from home, but the distance between school and her horse grew worrisome. Too many weeks began to pass between visits and so she pleaded her case with her father. Although her father wasn’t a horse person he knew the importance of a strong bond, so he agreed to help his daughter move the horse closer to school and he picked up the boarding tab to boot. Thank goodness for loving fathers!

All went well until June 2013. Suddenly, without warning, tragedy struck. While changing a tire on a tractor trailer that was stranded on a major highway (his job) the girl’s father was stuck by another truck and killed instantly.

Gone.

And if that wasn’t enough, four months later the girl’s step-father was killed in an auto accident.

Gone again.

I can’t imagine being 20 and losing two fathers in four months. The emotional and financial implications of both these losses were huge and they had an immediate ripple effect on everyone in the family. I saw the first posting on Face Book the week before Thanksgiving. No mention of the tragedy, it simply stated that the poster was looking to free-lease her horse in exchange for it’s care. The post was accompanied by a photo of a little bay horse with a soft eye and a cute face.

I was instantly drawn to the photo. After all, Beanie was a bay and the similarities between the two horses were striking. I went on to read a bit more about the horse. It was small (a plus), it was a Quarter Horse (a plus), a gelding (perfect!) and he had been there, done that. (HUGE plus!) I kept reading, thinking I’d eventually come across something that would rule out this horse as a possible candidate for our farm. Much to my surprise, the post didn’t mention anything that sounded the least bit iffy. I shot off a response hoping I might be able to contact the owner before the holidays kicked in and the weather went south.

The girl sent a quick reply to my inquiry and we decided to talk on the phone. It was only then that I learned the sad story of the reason behind her need to place the horse. Her composure while telling the story was nothing short of amazing. She wasn’t going to beg anyone for sympathy or use her sad loss as a means to find a quick fix to her problem. That said, she was in an incredibly tight jam. Not only did she not have the funds to pay for room and board for the horse, but the small private farm had recently changed hands and the owners wanted her horse out immediately, if not sooner!

With the holiday right around the corner it was tough to set a date to see the horse. The girl didn’t put any pressure on me to do so and much to my discredit, I kind of let things slide. I dunno. It’s easy to get all excited about something, but another thing entirely to work out all the details and make it happen. I got a bit overwhelmed thinking about what it would take to actually bring another horse to our farm. Would my husband even get on board with the idea? We’d gotten used to the simplicity of having only one, sometimes two horses, instead of three. Days slipped by until another week or two had passed when I saw the post again. Pleading. Begging for someone to take this horse. Not buy the horse, but lease it for free.

I contacted the girl (again) and this time I actually made a date to drive out to meet her horse. The weather forecast was awful so we chose the only day that it wasn’t supposed to rain or snow. I think I was prepared to discover something majorly wrong with this horse, something the girl had either overlooked or had purposely left out of the description in hopes of placing him. But I was wrong. What I found was an adorably kind, patient, gentle little gelding with gaits as smooth as butter and an owner whose humble strength moved me to tears. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched the girl ride her horse around in the semi-frozen, greasy pasture. He was obedient and willing in spite of not having been ridden in a couple of months. No buck. No head tossing. No fussing. Just a cute-as-a-button ride. I hopped on, got the same response, and in that instant I was totally and thoroughly sold on taking this boy home with me!

We only had one problem. Well, maybe two or three. First of all, I had to convince my husband that we needed a third horse and second, neither the girl nor I owned a trailer. I pretty much figured we could find (read as: hire) a means of transportation, but I wasn’t so sure that I could (sight-unseen) sell this horse to my husband. What did know was that time was of essence. The clock was ticking and this girl had to get her horse rehomed as quickly as possible or risk his getting kicked off the property. The girl had literally been driving around with two bales of hay and a bag of grain in her car because the farm owner refused to let her bring any more feed or supplies to the barn. I’d like to think they were ignorant of how difficult it is to rehome a horse at the start of a New England winter, but even that said their cruelty and lack of compassion was totally uncalled for. They made it pretty clear that time was of essence.

I won’t bore you with the details, but obviously we overcame all our obstacles. It was an incredibly challenging and stressful week of pulling strings and calling in favors, but in the end Rascal was delivered to our farm the afternoon of Friday, December 13th. (Thanks Dawne!)  Rascal’s introduction to Bullet was uneventful and relatively calm and both boys settled into an uncomplicated partnership. The weather took an immediate turn for the worst and we got several inches of snow the day after Rascal arrived. It would have been nice if the new horse had a few days to get the lay of the land first, but it wasn’t in the cards. However, Rascal has turned out to be the easiest horse we’ve ever had. Nothing phases him.

A week later I did a maiden, 2 hour ride on Rascal. First time out on the trail and he just took everything we saw and did in stride! He has a champagne jog and super light mouth. Nothing bothers him … not the huge icicles hanging off rock ledges, not seeing frozen Salmon River up close, not being lunged at by an out of control German Shepherd on the Airline Trail, not being passed by several cars on a short segment of road, not having my riding partners go off on a different trail leaving us to finish the last 1.5 hour of our ride alone. Even when snow suddenly came crashing down from the ledges along the trail this boy just stood still for a second or two, then went on his merry way like it was just another day in the woods for him! Rascal’s going to be a great little trail partner for sure!

 

I’m feeling twice blessed: Once with the arrival of this amazing little horse and twice with the new friendship of his mom. I can’t thank Danielle enough for trusting me with her Little Rascal. It’s somewhat bittersweet to feel so good at the expense of Danielle’s loss, but I know she’s happy that we’ll be taking good care of her boy. So I’m going to let myself enjoy this giddy feeling for a while. I think I deserve that much.

Going Pro

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It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. Needless to say, I’ve been pretty busy. Dharla has been boarded at the stable a few miles from my house since early October. My last few posts were about my attempts to ride her through the woods to the stable, none of which (thanks to a small cow farm) work out as I’d hoped. I finally caved and called the trainer who promptly showed up with a trailer. After a small amount of prompting Dharla loaded right up and we delivered her to the barn in ten minutes. That was a lesson in keeping things simple. (Rolls eyes)

We gave Dharla a couple of days to “settle in” at the new barn. I did some hand walks and the trainer (Dawne) lunged her in both the indoor and outdoor arena. Basically, we gave her some time to get used to the new surroundings and routine. Overall, I thought she handled the change like a champ. Around the fourth day or so it was time to get to work, so Dawne tacked her up and hopped on. Again, Dharla coped fairly well. Dawne didn’t ask too much of her on the first few rides, she just wanted to get to know what makes Dharla tick and let Dharla get to know her.

At the beginning of the first full week I went to get Dharla from her paddock and she was three-legged lame. Good grief! We couldn’t find anything obviously wrong with her leg or hoof and so we assumed it was probably an abscess. The big change in footing may have been the culprit, but the timing was really unfortunate. Unsure how long she might be out of commission, I had to contemplate bringing her back home to convalesce. I wasn’t going to pay top buck to have her just standing around when she could come home to do that. We packed her hoof with a dressing, put her in her stall and by some stroke of good luck she was 100% sound the next day. We’re still not sure what the problem was as we never saw any drainage from an abscess, but it could have been a minute pin hole. We gave her another day of rest and then training commenced again.

The problems I’ve been having with Dharla at home didn’t take long to bubble up to the surface. Mind you, it’s nothing earth shattering, but the things I’ve been questioning and trying to “fix” were not in my imagination. It didn’t take long for me to see this might be a lengthy process. Not that I’m in a hurry, but what started out as getting a month or two of professional help has turned into probably keeping my horse in training through the entire winter. For now, the plan is to keep her in full training for at least three months followed by a month or two of partial training. We may (or may not) take a few week break in between things, but she’ll still be getting ridden during that time.

From what we can see, Dharla has two separate issues. The first isn’t always necessarily a problem, but depending upon the situation it can morph into one. Dharla can be overly reactive and spooky. I’ve talked about this problem almost since I started blogging about our riding adventures and it’s never really gotten much better. In fact, at times it seems like it’s gotten worse. I’m aware that spookiness can be a symptom of a myriad of other problems and I haven’t ruled out having her checked or tested some of the more likely possibilities. (Lyme & EPM) I always try to give Dharla the benefit of the doubt when she reacts strongly to something that frightens or bothers her, but I can’t deny that all my patience and our repeated exposure to those things hasn’t paid off very much.

What’s more intriguing is that when given the chance to explore something that she reacts to initially, Dharla often doesn’t act frightened of the scary object. For example, she’s been acting terrified of one corner of the inside arena. That particular corner has several different objects temporarily stored there, so we decided to pull a bunch of the objects out into the middle of the arena to see if we could figure out what (exactly) was bothering her. Turns out, she seems to have been frightened by two large planters with silk plants in them. Yet, once the planters were out of the corner she showed absolutely no fear of them whatsoever, and walked right up to them boldly and stuck her nose in the flowers. She proceeded to walk, trot and lope a circular pattern around the planters with no hesitation at all. The next day the planters were back in the corner and she went back to shying halfway across the arena every time we came anywhere near that corner. Once again I allowed Dharla to (slowly) advance into the corner and explore the planters gingerly, and once again she showed no fear, sticking her nose right into them. But once we returned to the other end of the arena she immediately fixated on that corner and started “worrying” about it and resisted going anywhere near that end of the ring when asked.

This sort of thing has grown very frustrating. I’ve tried letting her explore things while using praise and rewards to encourage her and I’ve tried simply ignoring the scary stuff. Nothing seems to work. It’s like once she fixates on something she simply can’t get her focus back on track. I don’t think it’s a trust issue. Dharla has shown a complete willingness to trust me in many different situations. For now, all I can say is that I’m pretty stumped.

Dharla’s second issue is a noticable right-sided stiffness and unwillingness to bend when moving in a clockwise direction. She’s pretty good at the walk and jog, but once the pace moves beyond that she braces and stiffens up. She does this whether the trainer or I am riding her. She also reacts very strongly to any use of your right leg, either squirting ahead quickly or giving a little cow hop from the hind end. It was suggested that I have a chiropractor evaluate and possibly treat Dharla, which I’ve done. I can’t say I’m seeing any major progress with this yet, but at least I feel like others are seeing it and I’m not losing my mind or imagining things. (Both the chiro and the trainer see exactly what I’ve been talking about)

Obviously, my riding form is probably a contributing to Dharla’s stiffness, which is another reason why I wanted to work with a professional trainer. Part of the problem is that Dharla is still very green at being schooled, but the other half of the equation is that while I’ve ridden nearly all my life, I’m not a schooled rider. I don’t think I’m doing anything to precipitate Dharla’s spookiness, but if I I can learn to communicate with her better then some of the other problems will probably work themselves out.

Overall, Dharla has been doing very well. I think she adjusted to the change in lifestyle pretty nicely. She seems content, cooperative and happy at the barn and I see (and often ride) her every day. It’s been an adjustment for us both. I’ve never had a horse in a “big” barn and so there’s lots for me to learn about that lifestyle too. I miss having her at home, but I’m enjoying some of the perks of having her at a bigger place. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to keep riding her this late into the season if she was at home. Hunting season is in full swing, making even a simple trail ride a bit too uncomfortable. I’ve also enjoyed meeting other riders and their horses and hearing their personal stories about their journey.

 I believe it will be beneficial if I can keep working with Dharla through the winter. Cold, but better than just having her stand around most of the next four months. So keeping her there longer has forced an investment in some new winter apparel for both Dharla and me. I needed a better pair of cold weather riding gloves and Dharla needed an entire wardrobe upgrade, including a medium weight stable blanket and a new turnout rug. Normally, I’d let Dharla grow a nice fuzzy winter coat and only blanket her on those wet, snowy or rainy occasions. But since she’s being ridden daily we’re keeping Dharla’s coat a bit shorter. The barn has Geo-thermal heat and with the added body heat from all the horses it maintains a pretty comfortable temperature during the winter months. But the indoor arena gets downright nippy and after a workout the transition for a damp horse can be uncomfortable. A new wardrobe means Dharla can make the transitions between temperatures with ease.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens over the next couple of months. I’ll be shifting from full board to rough board, which simply means I’m going to provide the hay, grain and daily stall cleaning service. This will help make our stay there a bit more affordable and will allow me to spend more on the training than the stabling. I’ll try to update things here as we go along on this journey!

March 9, 2012

 

Practice at the Equine Affaire

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Today I managed to salvage some dignity after Wednesdays ride. Dharla and I got out for a nice jaunt along the AL trail on this intermittently sunny and STILL very windy afternoon. What’s with all this nasty cold wind? We’ve been getting warm temps, but the wind has made the last few sunny days feel much colder than it should. Booo! It’s hard not to get your hopes up when they predict temps in the mid 50s and low 60s. To be able to ride in moderate temps without being harassed incessantly by bugs is a dream come true so it’s a huge letdown when you have to bundle up like the Michelin Man because of high wind.

But I digress. I pulled on a few layers and Dharla and I headed out. She’s in heat, which explains a bit more about Wednesday’s brief battle of wills in a few places. I wasn’t sure how she’d be today, but I was going to keep an open mind and I was not going to lower the bar. My expectations are not beyond her ability to meet as she easily showed me today with no complaints or problems.

We worked on walk/trot transitions with a few short canters thrown in just for the heck of it. I could tell Dharla was feeling feisty, so I didn’t let her get too fired up. Her spooks are becoming a bit less dramatic. That’s a good thing. She was listening to me and relaxing, so I took this as an opportunity to work on consciously being and staying relaxed myself. I kept checking in with my legs and back to make sure I wasn’t bracing or stiffening up. Boy, is it a challenge to keep my broken body relaxed. It probably hasn’t helped that Dharla has been very spooky this winter, but I can feel her relax more and more when I relax too. The funny thing is that I’m not nervous or worried mentally, but for some reason my body just involuntarily tightens up. Muscle guarding is common when you have extensive nerve damage and significant chronic pain, but I think I can get a better handle on this if I’m willing to stay conscious about my tenancy to tighten up and brace. My goal is to retrain myself to really relax while staying alert and ready to calmly handle anything that comes our way.

We had a delightful ride! The wind got pretty chilly toward the last half hour or so, but I was glad we got the chance to get out and enjoy some quality time together.

Distance: 6 miles

Time: 90 minutes (approx)

March 7, 2012

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There are days when my Australian Cattle Dog is a LOT smarter than me.

I got out and rode today, I’m just really behind logging my notes. Maybe that’s because my ride on this day wasn’t one of my best rides. Thing is, I knew better than to ride. I had planned to get out around noon on this windy, sunny, warm(er) day, but due to a miscommunication with a friend things got all screwed up. I clearly stated that I wanted … well, actually I needed to ride around noon or 12:30. My morning was busy and I had things I had to do later in the afternoon that couldn’t be bumped into the next day. Sometimes I can be very flexible with my riding time, but other times it’s gotta get squeezed in wherever it can. This was one of those days. Truth be told, it probably wasn’t a good idea to try to accommodate a riding pal, but I have trouble saying no. Unfortunately, I also assume people operate under the same principle as me, which is to say that when you’re riding a borrowed horse you do it when it works best for the owner, or you take a pass.

So I gave the horses some hay around 11:30 and brushed the mud off the Lumber Wagon. He’s shedding like crazy now and I returned to the house covered in layer of blonde hair. I waited and puttered, and waited, and puttered more. Meanwhile, the horses ate, then both laid down in the dirt (again) to take a little sunbath and snooze. And there I sat at 2 PM, still waiting, blood pressure rising by the minute. Getting more and more frustrated (and desperate), I put a call out at 1:10 and was assured she was on her way. But no, because it takes fifteen minutes, twenty tops to get from there to here. Bottom line, we didn’t get started until after 2:30 and by then I was in a silent snit.

I hate riding in a pissy mood, but sometimes I have to admit it happens. I try to let things go as soon as I saddle up, but if I’m being honest, that doesn’t always happen either. I know Dharla senses when I’m not myself. I’m stiff, more apt to brace and be impatient. And I was.

So we got out, but we didn’t do squat because both horses were pretty fired up and I’m probably a bit overly cautious when someone is riding my husband’s horse. I guess you could say we ambled, which was not what I had planned for that ride, but there you have it. Later that night when I thought about the ride I made a promise to myself to trust my gut and speak up when something isn’t going to work for me. When I called at 1:00 I should have told my friend the ride was off and gone out alone, or not at all. (Because I was already pissy and short on time by then) I should set a time that works for me and not budge from it on days when my schedule is tight. My horse should never have to suffer a miserly ride because of a series of events that have nothing to do with her.

So I rode, but I hate myself on days like today.

Ride: 6 miles

Time: 2.5 hrs

March 3, 2012

 

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I got out for a little toot on Dharla yesterday. Aldo and his buddy were planning to go for a ride mid-afternoon, but I figured they’d head for the woods which I knew would be much too slick for my taste. So I waited until they left, then headed out to get Dharla ready to go. To say she was worked up at Bullet’s having left already would be a bit of an understatement. I slipped her rope halter on then clipped a lead rope to it. Her MO is much like Tia’s used to be when she was agitated: she circles in her stall and moves from one stall door to the other, looking (and hollering) for her buddy. Ultimately, this has the potential for me to get knocked around and I won’t stand for it. I grabbed a hold of the lead rope as I brushed her and every time she tried to swing around and move to the other stall door I gave a short tug on her halter. It took about three tugs before Dharla realized I meant business and the wild look in her eyes started to subside. I looped the lead rope around her neck and went to get my saddle, then stood next to her for a few seconds before I swung it up on her back. I unwound the lead rope and held it in one hand as I finished tacking up, which I do in gradual stages. By the time we were ready to head down to the ring Dharla was relaxed and ready to go to work.

We did our usual ground work routine in the ring. I’d carried Dharla’s bridle down with me and when I felt she was sufficiently warmed up and paying attention to me I slipped it over her head, opened the gate and mounted up. We started our ride by going down the dirt road (past lots of big puddles) to the trail that winds through the woods and empties out on the AL trail. Dharla was alert, but not spooky. When we arrived at the rock ledges where she usually gives me a hard time, I noticed a new large branch had fallen to the direct right of the trail and lay alongside the base of the rock ledges. I figured Dharla would be apprehensive of that and we didn’t get very close before she stopped and locked up. I gave her some time to look and think about it before asking her to move forward. Brush isn’t anything new, but she quickly tried to turn and avoid moving forward in the direction I’d asked. I backed her up about ten yards, then turned her around. Again, she stood stock still and stared at the large branch. When I asked her to move forward she repeated the same routine, turning and trying to walk away in the opposite direction. I stopped her (again) and backed her up double the previous distance. When I stopped and turned her around and asked her to move on, she complied. She gave the branch the evil eye as we passed, but she didn’t fall apart. She continued to be a bit edgy as we walked the rest of the way through the rock ledge area, but she never shied at anything else. (Yay!)

The rest of our ride was fairly uneventful. We encountered at least five different groups of people out hiking with various unleashed dogs. Nearly all of the people and dogs we met were clueless about horse and trail etiquette and two of the dogs were downright threatening. Dharla held it together beautifully but I wanted to throttle them. (The dogs AND their people.) Get a clue, folks!

I felt Dharla moved very well and responded quite well to all my cues with the only exception being the little tug of wills that we got into at the rock ledges. But even that is getting better every ride. What is really important to note here is that I didn’t ride Dharla once the last week, but I was able to get right on her and go after just a very brief session of ground work and a few short circles (at a walk, no less) on a short lead rope. This makes me very pleased considering it’s spring and I know Dharla’s feeling quite good and full of herself! Generally speaking, this girl gets right down to business once a saddle is put on her back. I so love that about her. I also think the Clam Mare Ultra is helping her feel a bit less skittish and spooky. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve been riding her consistently on the same trails for the last several months? I don’t know, but I do feel like we’re making some nice progress. I can’t wait for the ground to start to dry up a bit so we can get out on some different trails!

Time: 2.5 hrs

Distance: 6 mi.

Down Time

 

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It’s looking like this whole week is going to be a wash. Too many days of very high wind followed by several days of a cold wintery mix means I’m not going to get any riding done. Oh well. Everyone can use a little break now and then. I’m not gonna sweat it. Besides, I think I have a touch of the flu or something. My stomach suddenly started to feel a bit wonky last night and it’s not quite right yet. I have an appointment with the eye specialist tomorrow morning for a pre-surgical consult. I’m sure he’ll dilate me to death and I’ll be mogg-eyed until bedtime. I’m highly sensitive to that stuff and they refuse to use a weaker dilution. So much for Friday!

I took a peek at the forecast ahead and hopefully next week will get better. Hazer hopes so too!

Feb 23, 2012

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

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

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

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

Feb 22, 2012

Winter Sunbath

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

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

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

Time: 2.5 hours

Distance: 4 easy miles

Feb 18, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time: 3 hours

Distance: Guesstimate, 6 miles

Feb 9, 2011

A Good Finish!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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