little miss smarty pants

Another day, another ride on MBM that just blows me away.  This mare is seriously the Goldilocks of project rides for me.  She’s sensitive, but not so sensitive that I feel out-horsed or like I’m not sure what to do with her.  And she’s just so dang smart that things stick really well, and I can really feel the progress from week to week. It’s shocking that just a month (and less than 15 rides) ago I was cow-kicking her around in a circle smack in the center of the arena because we couldn’t work anywhere else without getting glued to the wall. She is a rare “baby” horse who makes me feel like I’m a pretty okay rider.

classic MBM — one ear always listening

MBM has continued to struggle with her left lead canter.  She seemed a bit mentally blocked about it under saddle, since she could pick it up pretty much every time on the lunge line.  But I’ve also been predominantly working her right side, and encouraging her to get her right shoulder under her, so maybe that had something to do with it. Her problem is also a bit two-fold: when you ask for the canter she wants to TROTROTROTROTROTROTROT instead, and then her inclination is to jump into the right lead.  So it’s not the easiest transition to manage.

On Tuesday I took her for a quick spin on the lunge line to get us both thinking about canter transitions before hopping on for a quick ride.  MBM got them every time on the line again, so I resolved to just keep kissing until she picked up the left lead.  Of course my first kiss attempt led MBM to leap into the right lead canter, so I transitioned back to trot and slowed us down to get organized for the transition.  Somehow in the process of getting us organized I sat for a beat and let my left hip swoop forward and BOOM — awesome left canter transition.

i mean, not every horse can be blessed with these magical canter transitions

I popped up in the stirrups and gave the mare lots of praise, then down transitioned and tried it again. Boom.  Another awesome canter transition.  I seriously didn’t even have to move my outside leg back, just the light sweeping of my seat into the motion of canter set her going.  Same thing to the right.  Sit for a beat, sweep the right hip forward and MAJIK.  To the right it was even more magical because it helped me and MBM keep her shoulder underneath her and the right canter was gorgeous and balanced.

On Wednesday I hopped on her again to do the same thing.  While the hip-swoop is an awesome, quiet canter transition cue, it’s not really a cue that most people are familiar with, so I want to get MBM used to the idea that someone might put their leg back (and not ask for her haunches to move over) as well.  She was a little more annoyed and swishy because we went into the arena with two other horses, and it is deeply offensive to see other horses nearby but not be allowed to talk to them or spend time with them.  But once again, the canter was right there.

There was a little more durm und strang in this ride, as I decided to work on transitions on a circle (canter 3/4 circle, trot 1/4, canter 3/4, &c.) and that was not appreciated very much.  It seems that MBM didn’t like the amount of direction she was getting from me — she can still be a bit broodmare-y sometimes and doesn’t think that little pipsqueaks such as myself get to have opinions.  And that’s okay.  I kept at it, and we did the things, even if the circles were ever-increasing in size and egg-shaped.  And sometimes you just have to push a little bit.

You know what we didn’t have to fight or discuss at all this week?  Keeping her right shoulder underneath her, or walking on the rail, or changing directions between circles.  Those things were a big deal last week, and now they’re just things MBM can do.


another mom-bod who is feeling much happier after unloading 9 sucking parasites

We’ll need to start thinking seriously about rhythm within gaits next.  MBM tends to speed up or slow down as her whims direct, especially around the transitions.  Pretty much every training challenge we’ve come across has been so different from Murray — he had two clear canter leads when I got to him, his canter was one of his stronger gaits, and he’s always been pretty rhythmic, if lazy — so it’s a learning experience for both of us!

lemonade

When Murray’s leg hole turned into a more significant situation than originally thought, I was like “dammit, I’m not going to become one of those people who can only talk about her horse’s injury.”  And here I am.  Talking about his injury again.

But this week, we made some lemonade of this whole stall-bound situation. I pulled all of Murray’s shoes!!

back in the day of pony playtimes

You might not think that shoe-pulling is something to get excited about, but for me it really is. I have been obsessed with the idea of functionally barefoot horses ever since I started care-leasing Murray.  It coincided with finding the Rockley Rehab Blog, the proprietor of which firmly asserts that all horses can become comfortably barefoot with the right care.  And I really liked that idea.  I lived in Kenya and saw zebra on the daily, and never did I see a lame zebra.  I saw zebra running away from things (cars, lions, cheetahs) pretty damn quickly, over some pretty interesting (rocky, shale, slick, muddy, rainy, watery) surfaces, and very few of them ever slipped.  This was pretty good evidence in my mind.

Over time, I came to realize that without being willing to undertake certain lifestyle changes for the horse, it may very well not be possible for Murray to have a competitive career barefoot.  That is clearly not for everyone.

However, I can’t shake the inclination to believe those farriers and veterinarians and yahoos that say that barefoot really is good for the foot overall.  Human podiatrists acknowledge that the types of shoes that many people prefer are not actually all that good for our overall foot health and strength.

okay so this guy probably slipped at least a little

So knowing that Murray only has to be sound in his stall, in arena footing, or hand walking around in the gravel, I really, really, really wanted to give his feet a break from shoes and see if we couldn’t strengthen up his heels and re-angle his upright RF.  Farrier approves of this plan and hopes that it will help his particularly contracted RF heel spread out a bit.

Right now, we hand walk for 20-40 minutes 3-6 times a week.  I’ll try to start doing that on a whole variety of different surfaces so Murray isn’t just standing in the cushy padding of his stall an paddock.  I forsee another six weeks of this routine, which should give both of us plenty of time to harden up our feet and get into a rhythm!  It’s certainly not the same as the Rockley horses being out 12 hours a day on tons of different surfaces, but perhaps we’ll be able to get there a few weeks after that with night turnout.  Once we get back into real non-walk-work, the shoes will probably go back on.  Fronts first, and we’ll see if we can make it through the winter without hinds.

baby horse perspectives

Riding has been a bit off and on lately.  The smoke from the Napa fires sometimes gets pushed south into the Bay Area, and we have great air — so riding is on the table.  Sometimes it creeps over the hills and fills the valley, and to help preserve everyone’s lungs I cancel my rides.  I don’t think anyone minds the schedule.  Especially since there’s newborn puppies to stare at in my barn manager’s house!

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Mug shots 🐾

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I also took Tuesday off and volunteered at Napa Valley Horsemen’s Arena.  It was one of the evacuation centers for livestock during the fires, and they are happily starting to empty stalls.  Stalls West must have hustled up and dropped stalls off really quickly, because I recognized stickers from Camelot on their temporary barns.  The operation ran really smoothly.  As one might expect, the morning was the very busiest, as we took temperatures on every horse (with some not-totally-reliable ten second thermometers) and mucked and fed.  There was a big lull around 1 when we were done with all the urgent stuff, and so the veterinarian directed us to turn a couple of big mares (who had been stuck for a few weeks in mare motels) out into a free arena.  The girls trotted around a bit, rolled about ten times, and were not unhappy to come back in.  We considered turning out other horses, but as some were very hard to catch even in a mare motel, and I had no idea about the soundness or restrictions on any of them, without direct vet supervision I was uncomfortable with that plan.

We also helped load up a bunch of horses and a couple of pet steers to go back home, which was awesome for them.  Lots of people have been released to go home, and while a shocking number of structures were lost, because of the shape and size of the fires, many who were evacuated were spared.  The facility is switching over now to keep their sights on long-term care of the animals who won’t be able to go home — for perhaps months or years, as the infrastructure (wooden bridges or electrical/gas conduit) is rebuilt.  It’s going to be a long haul for some people, and I’m so glad that the community stepped up to help.  I’m really glad that we’re seeing the end of these fires too.

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Lip shimmer game on point

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On Wednesday I got back at it, and had a lesson on the mom-bod mare (now MBM) with B, as I’ve not been able to get her to canter left for… a week or so.  Oddly enough, B told me that she had never gotten MBM to canter left, only right.  So I’d somehow unlocked something in there in previous rides, only to lose it.

MBM was a little up and not listening to my seat as much as she usually does, but it was fine.  B had me slow my post way down and I half  halted through my thighs, and we got back in tune.  She is definitely one of those horses who gets tense, braces, and rushes when she’s confused or off-balance.  Thinking about tempo and getting her comfortable with moving her body in different ways is going to be key here.  But I was very pleased to feel that her steering was vastly improved from my last ride, where we fought about turning left at the wall for a solid ten minutes.

throwback to when Murray couldn’t turn left either

We tried a couple of canter transitions and I only managed to get the right lead, so B suggested pushing MBM’s haunches in a little.  That was the trick, and we got the left lead on the first try.  The super neat thing here is that I’m now experienced and subtle enough that I could push her haunches over just a little, even with the mare feeling a little bracey and rushed, and not over-do it or get weird about it.  MBM immediately locked herself into “race mode canter” and whizzed around the arena while I tried to get her back underneath me and listening.  I could feel myself bracing in my heels and letting them get ahead of me while I tried to half halt with my hands and actively fought that position, but it’s hard when letting the reins loosen and getting your leg back under you just results in feeling like you’re going too fast and have no hands on the wheel.

The trick was turning MBM into a 20 meter circle so she didn’t have the long sides to use as an excuse.  B had me half halt hard with the outside rein and keep my legs on, then soften with both reins.  We actually managed a full circle in a pretty quality canter, which was awesome.  So the next step here is going to be transitioning from this freight-train canter into a controlled canter more quickly.  This is the place where sometimes her former brood-mare-y-ness bugs me: I feel like MBM is bossing me around, like “I’m the mom, I tell you what to do.”  And I’m like “no, I’M THE MO– I mean, I’m the leader, I tell you what to do!”


murray antics for everyone’s appreciation

Right canter was a similar struggled, but I was once again really happy to feel that MBM had taken some of our previous fights to heart and was getting off my inside leg much more promptly.  B cautioned me not to let her bait me into pulling the right rein.  She pops her head and neck to the left in a counter-flex, so in response I flex her back right.  But once we flex to the right, she falls in to the right, and does so hard (like, in a few of our previous rides I thought we were going to crash into a jump standard).  So I had to slow the tempo down, flex right, then keep her off my right leg, and weight my left stirrup a little so she didn’t feel quite so inclined to just motorcycle to the inside.

It was a great lesson to confirm my instincts and feel the progress we are making.  Along with MBM’s slimming down and muscling up, B said she can see her gaits improving and extending, and that the mare’s canter has gone from pace-y to more three-beat.  Which is fantastic!

After my lesson, I tried to hand walk Murray for an hour and gave up around 40 minutes. HAND WALKING IS SO BORING OMG.  But I’m trying to get him out a bit more to help push some of the interstitial fluid out from around the leg hole.  He’s becoming more and more of a pill about bandage changes, so my goal is to tire him out a bit with hand walking (which he finds both tiring and boring) before I change it today, and see if he can’t be more reasonable for it.  The hole is healing it’s just doing so at it’s own absurdly slow pace.

But my vet and all my vet and tech friends assure me that it will heal. As they always seem to do.  Even if it does take forever.

want to get back to this please

 

are we having fun yet?

California is casually on fire right now.  Everywhere.  But mostly in wine country, which is especially hard because it’s hilly, winding, rural, and full of livestock.  And also because it means wine will be at least a little harder to come by in the not-too-distant future.

Riding non-Murray horses has been interesting.  I’ll give any horse a couple of rides before making any sweeping judgments, but sometimes you get an idea of what a pony is all about in as little as one ride.  Sometimes as soon as you sit on them…

i had a ton of fun on this bay nugget during our very first ride together. a good omen.

But what is it about riding one horse or another that is fun?  Obviously riding my horse is fun because I know all the buttons and how to press them.  We’ve also gotten to a point where I understand exactly how much to push and how much to give, so we can start to work on a few steps of really quality work that just seems to get better with every ride.  Obviously that is fun.

So what about with other horses?

Take the mama-mare I’ve been riding the last week or so as an example.  Our first ride together was… lackluster.  She fought me walking away from the arena gate (on foot and under saddle), and was magnetized to the barn-end of the arena like crazy.  The only place I could work in any semblance of a steady pace or shape was smack dab in the center of the arena.  I rode for like ten minutes.


the mom bod is strong with this one

A couple of weeks off and good fistful of rides later and this girl is my main squeeze at the barn.  She’s smart, sensitive in all the right ways, and learns really fast.  She also has a mean right drift, gets locked over one shoulder or the other really easily, and hasn’t quite figured out how to give to pressure instead of leaning in to it.  (Yeah, homegirl, you do have to move over when I put one leg and one rein on simultaneously.)

But it’s always fun riding her.  Even in the tough moments, when we can’t seem to walk in a straight line consistently, or my requests to get off my leg are met with weirdly strong mare abs.  Maybe it’s because it’s easy to see and feel her thinking and processing what we’re working on.  She also feels really honest and like she’s trying, in the moment when she’s not being openly defiant.  She slows down to think when I ask her to, responds to my seat… really, just my kind of ride.

In contrast, a certain Barbie Dream Pony I’ve also been riding lately has not been quite as much fun.

Image result for haflingerbreed hint: it rhymes with pfefferlinger.

Interestingly, the BDP has the same mean right-shoulder drift and locking mechanism that the mama mare seems to have.  He is smart and food motivated, and he learns… well, not super fast, but he’s not a moron.  And I’ve ridden him fewer times than the mama mare, so maybe that is contributing to our lack of jelly.  He’s not mean spirited or dangerous in any way, but I kinda get the feeling that he’s not listening to me.  That he’s just phoning it in.

So maybe that’s the reason I don’t have as much fun with the BDP.  A big part of our rides consist of me trying to convince him to pay some attention to what I’m trying to tell him so that we can actually get something done.  I think we all know that it’s frustrating to be ignored.

Now that I write it out, I think there really is something to this.  That I have more fun on a horse who seems like they are listening.  Because the mama mare basically doesn’t canter for more than one big circle at a time right now, and she’s almost as much fun to ride as my own horse.  But the haffie, who is capable of executing all three gaits, is just… not that fun.  Riding my friends’ horses also can go either way in this regard — sometimes they just don’t know how to listen to me because they’re so in tune with their person and I’m NOT that person.  And sometimes you get really good instructions and they listen to you perfectly and it’s AMAZINGLY fun.

What about you?  What makes a fun ride for you guys?  Is it as intellectual and annoyance based as me?!

land-sick

I have been so oddly exhausted since I came back from vacation.  I definitely had legit land sickness after getting off the cruise ship, which was odd because I’ve never had it before.  But there I was, with a cold and possible sinus infection, dizzy and spinning every time I sat still for more than a few moments at a time.  The first few days I was also super fatigued and couldn’t concentrate which was awful — school was starting, and I was trying to sort out documents and attendance and all the inquiries that came with it.  And any time I sat down to answer emails I felt like I was drunk.  For four days.

Weirdly, I felt fine as long as I was up and moving or driving.   But any other time I just wanted to go to sleep.  So I slept a lot.

I’m still feeling a little not-normal (tipsy as opposed to trashed), which has led to earlier-than-normal bedtimes and less writing/blogging/working in the evenings (kinda a staple for me).  I seem to be all caught up on my seep deficit though, because for the last few mornings I’ve been getting up slightly before my alarm feeling totally refreshed.  This is also weird.

Pony life trudges on despite my tiredness.  I was pretty boo-boo faced for a couple of weeks there, since Murray is the funnest horse I know right now, and not riding him means… a lot less fun.  There are plenty of other horses to ride, including some really kind offers from friends, but it’s different.  Unexpectedly, though, I’ve been having a ton of fun riding one of the ottbs in for training — she’s smart, and I know just enough to teach her a few things, so we’re making a lot of the progressive little steps that greenies make.

mom-bod bootcamp “before” pics

I also started hand walking Murray, which is half ridiculousness and half really boring lazy horse being dragged around by his tiny owner.  At first, Murray gets excited and thinks we are going for turnout — he loves turnout.  This elicits all kinds of jigging and antics from him as we approach the arena.  When he realizes that I’m not letting him free, the exuberance leaves him.  But still, he’s out of his stall, and that is a cause for joy when on stall rest.  Until he realizes I’m power walking him around for 30 minutes over poles and in figures.  Then the feet become really heavy.  Today he tripped over a set of walk poles, never really managed/bothered to get his feet back underneath him and stumbled through them, then angrily stomped the ground and kicked the air right after the poles.  Yes, Murray.  You tell those poles who is boss.

If you have good exercises for hand walking the pony, I’m all ears.  I’ve made a short list of things I want to train Murray to do, both riding/work associated and just for funs (e.g. take medicine from a syringe without murder, and other useful trix).  This little break is also a great opportunity for us to brush up on some behaviors that I know we’ll need in the coming months — clipper desensitization round 5, anyone?  And eventually I plan to tack walk and really get our walk improved under saddle.  I just… don’t want to deal with that quite yet.  Though perhaps it’s a better idea now, when it’s hot and he’s a woolly mammoth, than in a few weeks when it really starts to cool off.

pro tip: do not do this to your horse

The other thing I could use some ideas on is bandaging.  After the, uh, accidental leg-wax I gave him, Murray is not too keen on elastikon.  I need something that will help hold the bandage in place on the top and bottom without ripping out half of Murray’s hair on its way out — or a surefire solution to removing the elastikon without pulling out any hair.  Despite my best efforts, I just can’t seem to not rip his hair out.  And Murray is understandably a little tender about the whole leg hair situation right now.  It’s a long shot, since the value of elastikon is its stickiness and tension.  But I figured if anyone would know, it’s the collective blogoverse.

And that’s kinda the extent of it right now.  We’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other until this stupid leg is back to its glorious former self.

beastmaster

I have a vivid memory from when I was a small child (yes, even smaller than I am now!) of walking on my family’s property and coming across the herd of four horses they owned.  I remember this story not only because it was such an important incident in my small life, but also because I retold the story many times after — which we know makes a “memory” stronger.  We were walking through one of the paddocks (translation from Australian: a fenced area bigger than the entire property my horse lives on. Seriously, the farm was 6,000 acres and this paddock took an hour to meander across at my child’s pace) with my aunt, owner of the horses, probably my sister, and some other adults.  We were near the horses but not exactly underneath them, and something spooked them and they took off.  I remember this so clearly not only because a pony spooking is alarming to a sub-4-foot child, but also because my aunt grabbed me across the body and pulled me in close to her, I assume now to avoid the potential crushing of not-her-child under the unpredictable feet of her horses.

we were wandering somewhere out toward those hills

At the time it was so sudden and I marveled at my aunt’s ability to essentially pluck me out of danger’s path before the danger itself was apparent.  Now that I’m more familiar with horses, I know that there were probably a number of other factors that helped her predict the event — a windy day, horses already on edge, probably at least one dog sniffing around and likely to flush a bird from the grass.

For one of my odd-jobs I help a local woman with her three yearlings.  She also has two 2-year-olds that live in the same, big, 6-acre pasture.  The five of them usually come galloping in to me when I show up at the gate or call them, and it’s funny to think how recently I would have shielded myself behind the gate for such antics.  My confidence around horses has grown tremendously, even since becoming a regular rider and comfortable handling multi-horse situations.  Working for my trainer and mucking the paddocks (translation: American paddocks, aka the little ones) for the just-raced-yesterday ottbs, turning horses in and out at my barn, playing with young horses — I’ve had lots of opportunities to watch horse behavior.  I know that the youngsters will stop or split or wheel before they get to me with any speed, and that they are always happy to see me.

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I love when the children run to greet me at the gate

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It’s pretty nice to walk in among the kiddos and scratch here and there and get a bit of loving from them.  Both of the two year olds will always make groomy-lips when I start scratching their withers or midline, and will take the opportunity to exercise their groomy lips on anyone who walks by.  It’s actually insanely adorable, and I’m so sad that my phone camera is too zoomed in to get any good video of this action.  Especially because one of the 2 year olds is a giant 17hh beast already, and he’ll just grab on to the yearling gelding’s neck and start grooming away.

I’m still figuring out nuances to their body language, of course.  The smaller 2-year old started positioning his hindquarters to me about a week after the 1- and 2-year olds were first put in pasture together.  I got annoyed at him at first, because I had no desire to be kicked, and it’s rude to point your kicking apparatus at friends for no reason.  Then I realized that the bigger yearling mare is actually top baby in the pasture, and she loves to follow me around — so the 2-year old was positioning himself for a quick getaway from her.  When the bossy baby came after the little 2-year old with her mouth open (I should point out that he’s not actually little, he’s just littler than the giant) I was more than happy to step in on his behalf and push her away from both of us.  They can settle their little dominance disputes however they want when I’m not there, but nobody makes snarky faces at me in pasture.

Who’s top pony? I’m top pony.

murray obviously agrees

I wonder if the deep understanding and nuance that we can start to read in equine relationships contributes to the impression that some people have about a magical, wordless, on-a-higher-plane relationship and connection that one could hypothetically have with a unicorn horse.  I was probably as astonished when I saw someone wave their arms to fend off galloping horses as I was when my aunt saved my life.  And if you think about it, it’s pretty incredible that we can see an 1,000 pound beast approaching at a high rate of speed and throw our hands up in the air to divert their course from right on top of us.  What the inexperienced novitiate doesn’t know, really, is that running on top of humans is squishy and likely not the ideal footing for a horse, and that they especially don’t want to run on something that looks like it might be bigger and even less predictable than it currently appears.

Learning is funny like that.  To the uneducated, it seems like magic.  To the initiated, it is almost mundane.

Image result for beastmaster

But I still think of myself as a motherfuckin’ beast master any time I lead more than two horses in from the pasture in one trip.