Monday, January 30, 2017

A Horse to Make Your Heart Sing

Last weekend, I took Cowboy and Leah to the barn next door for a day of fun.  First, I worked with Leah, and she did great, but when I switched the saddle over to Cowboy and hopped on--my heart sang! He's NOT a better horse than Leah--he's just the one I have the most time with, and I believe TIME makes all the difference.

You may wonder why I decided to divide my time away from my sweet boy--and sometimes I even have to remind myself--but it's because 10 years ago Cowboy broke his front, left P3 and I thought he was never going to be 100 percent sound again. He'd been mis-diagnosed by his vet for 3 months.  She thought it was an abscess, even though the x-rays showed a clear fracture and displacement--x-rays she took on the FIRST day.  She took more x-rays later, when he didn't get sound, but they weren't as good as the ones on the first day.  She just kept coming to the house and digging deeper into his hoof--drawing blood each time--swearing it was an abscess.  Eventually she consulted and they decided to make a removable plate and had  me pack sugardine inside to "draw out the abscess."  That plate inadvertently cast his foot, so in that regard, it was helpful.

(I had to take off the bolts and repack it twice a day with sugardine--sugar and iodine mixed together. My farrier was the one who took the measurements and nailed the plate onto his hoof.)

When I finally got my 2nd opinion, I brought those x-rays to the new doc and he saw the fracture with a flashlight in a dark bathroom at the barn.  It was clear as day.  (Moral: always look at  the x-rays and don't take your vet's word for it.)   We sent those x-rays, and new ones, to WSU and had the vets there give us an opinion.  They thought his prognosis was very poor because of the time that had lapsed (3 months) and the severity of the displacement.  They recommended that any treatment we did should be "conservative."

During his convalescence--which took a year--I didn't have a personal horse to ride, so I rode my husband's horse, Shadow, but he was already pretty arthritic and trippy.  I looked for another horse and ended up finding two--Leah and Beautiful Girl.  Then, Cowboy surprised us all and had almost a full recovery. He'd made it 6 months in a 12x12 stall--I visited him constantly because we had set it up right next to our house.  Then, he moved to a 24x12 stall for another 3 months. During the whole stall-rest process, he had not been allowed all, which would have been cruel for some horses, but Cowboy had been an Orphan Colt, so he seemed to like the attention and be okay.

Cowboy and I have been through A LOT together!

Time is key to a singing heart, and to that end, with all three of my horses, I'm devoted.  So, I don't have any time to waste.

I asked my husband to dig out my horse trailer with the tractor.

I loaded up Leah on Saturday and went next door to the barn.  (The only place safe to ride in this weather.)

I've only ridden her once--bareback in the snow--since our last clinic.  Saturday was day 17, but most of those days were spent riding Cowboy and working with Beautiful Girl.  Leah was a little wound up, but we worked on the walk, trot and lope.  She doesn't have any pain in her feet anymore, but I think she still does have issues in her body that exercise and massage will slowly work out.  She used to overarch to the inside going left, and she barely does that anymore.  It used to seem like a pinched nerve, but whatever it is, it's almost completely resolved.

On Sunday, I took Cowboy and Leah both to the barn.

I rode Leah first, then switched out the saddle and rode Cowboy.  He had been pretty bothered by the fact that he had to wait, so when I hopped on him, he was ready to go and as responsive as he's ever been.  Riding him was pure joy.

We set up a few obstacles to play over.

And, afterward, I rode bareback which, as you know, is much WARMER.

My heart did begin to sing a little bit riding Leah bareback.  She was happier than when she's saddled.  And, her trot is like floating on butterfly's wings.

All and all, I was at the barn for four wonderful hours that day.

I'm going to be trying a few new saddles on her in the coming weeks to see if I can replicate that bareback feel.  A friend suggested a cut-away--and another, an English trail-style saddle.  Whatever it is, it needs to fit around her broad, muscular shoulders.

Finally, today, Day 19, I took Leah over to the barn for more of the same work.  I hope that riding her more will help her lose more weight and stay in better shape.  My farrier suggested I ride her every day to get her moving good again.  That's not always possible, but with the arena, I can ride her quite a bit.  If I didn't have the arena there is no way I'd ride in the snow and ice.  Too dangerous.  I feel very lucky to have the arena.

Hope you're all getting horse time in, as well!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Vacation San Diego--Ride Canceled

I escaped the snow for a little vacation to visit family in San Diego, California!

The reason my hands are up in the air in these pictures is because I remembered to bring my rain boots!

Yes, those wonderful Hunter rain boots of mine, and ALL my other cold weather clothes, because we made it just in time for the BIG storm. 

We had reserved a 3 hour beach ride down near the Mexico border at Pony Land but the only day we could do it was the day of the torrential down pour.  Sadly, I had to cancel it.  Trees were knocked down, big waves had washed sand up onto the boardwalks, it was kind of crazy.

But that didn't stop people from going to the beach.  In fact, two ladies were swept away by a huge wave at Ocean Beach down the road from Mission Beach (pictured here) on the same day we were there.  They only recovered one of them!  Here's the story.  My heart goes out to them and their families!!  I always think, there but for the grace of God go I.

We didn't know about that tragedy until we got home, so we were enjoying ourselves.  I would not have posed for a picture with my back turned to the ocean if I had known about it.  There were some big waves that came up pretty quick and threatened to go over my boots, but I moved back.

 Even though it was overcast and rainy, 61 degrees was still WAY warmer than back home in Spokane, WA.

What's not to love about the beach?

And Palm Trees?  The beach below is the one at Mission Bay, where my grandmother always took us in the summers.

 I even got to see my grandparent's old home. Such good memories there on Iroquois Way.

Despite the rain, we had a wonderful time with our family.  Lots of food, lots of good times, lots of love.

But there were some animals who were very happy to see us when we got home.

And now we're back to work and life--and I need to get some rides in!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Getting Direction Control & The Horses Fighting at Feeding Time (Video)

After I wrote today's blog post about "Road Blocks," I had an idea that maybe the problem is my lack of confidence in controlling her--should she decide to run off or do something equally, or more, dangerous.  I mean, how much control do I have with a halter and rope?

Rebecca did recommend that I work on passing the rope back and forth over her head, which I did, but that didn't seem enough. Then, I remembered that Andrea, from Mustang Saga, had made me a special halter--one with loops on the cheeks for reins, that would be much better for right/left communication and bending.  I've had it for years, but I've never used it!

I ran out to my trailer to see if I could find it--and Ta-Da!

I worked with her bending left, right, and backing up.  She bends WAY better than Leah or Cowboy.  I also did it from the top of the mounting trough.  I did lay on her back, but I didn't sit on her back.  The new gear was throwing her off just enough to make her a bit antsy.  I figured better safe than sorry.  And, I want every step to be POSITIVE.  Beautiful Girl is the type of horse that if she feels  you're being fair and she understands and can do what you're asking--she will do it.

Here are some videos I took.  1.) Allowing Beautiful to explore her new gear. and 2.) The amazing craziness at feeding time today.  It was actually kind of scary, but you can really see the dynamics of our herd.  Cowgirl protects Red and lets him eat in peace--Penny tries to keep the peace--Cowboy instigates--Leah and Beautiful Girl jostle for position--the goats scramble--the pony goes wherever she can find a safe place.  Cowgirl has a set of kickers on her, that's for sure.  I would  not want to be in the way of those missiles.

Horses Fighting at Feeding time: (Forgive my sniffling.  I have a cold.  But I still got out for my 100 Days of Blessings, gosh-darn-it!  Hope I'm not blessed with pneumonia!)

 And, exploring her new tack, then attacking me!


Getting Past a Road Block

For those of you who have stuck with my blog since its inception, you may have thought--hasn't she been here before?

And, the answer is, yes, I have.

I get to the point of sitting on Beautiful Girl's back, but I'm unable to take it to the next step. This video was, I believe, taken in Fall 2011, about five years ago.

Here is Beautiful's first time EVER being ponied.  This year, we're going to take it a step further by ponying her, first, in the arena at Riverside State Park, and then on the trails there.


As I was searching old posts to get these tidbits, I ran across a post about my depression when Cowboy was first diagnosed with Head Shaking Syndrome.  It took all the passion away from working with my horses and may have contributed to my not getting past the road block.  It was also about the same time that I started doing the online radio show that consumed almost every waking moment for three years.

In any case, I did stop, and now I'm here at the same point I left off.  Each day, I go out and get Beautiful in the snow and take her to the arena and mounting trough.  At this point, I've sat on her back--mounting from both sides--and petted her.  She has stood still.

Yesterday, before I went out, I saw her nip at Cowboy and chase him away from the hay.  She was grumpy.  As I was leading her, she spooked and bolted.  So, there was a lot of information to tell me not to push it too far, and I listened.

But I am going to have to get past this point.  Somehow.

My training will be on hold though, for a few days, as my husband and I take a little trip.

Oh, I did give Loki a bath yesterday, too.  I don't know how, but he finds a way to get stinky even in the winter!

And more pictures of the snow--before it melts with the upcoming heat wave.

I was trying to capture the snow gently blowing off this Heritage Birch.

And, the Weeping Birch.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Rebecca Suggests a Plan for Beautiful Girl & Me

I asked, Rebecca, my trainer, to come over on Thursday and watch me with Beautiful Girl and then give me some suggestions about how to proceed.

This is my plan:

1. Continue putting my weight on her back--first laying over, then kicking leg partially over, sit on top of her & pet her, let her move where she pleases while I'm on her. Rebecca also suggested placing things along the fence line that she can meander over to and explore--so that she doesn't get too bored with the whole process. Do this from BOTH sides.

2. As soon as the roads are clear, practice hauling her in the trailer to the next door farm, and back and forth--unloading and loading.

3. Pony her at home and on the trail, preferably with the horse she most looks to and respects--Cowgirl.

4. Never proceed to the next step until she is confident and bored with the step she's on.  We're trying to avoid her emotional side and strengthen her ability to console herself and build courage away from the herd.

Today was my 13th day of blessings, and working with Beautiful Girl lends itself well to these small training sessions.  My goal was to throw a leg over and sit on her back today.

Her back.  I've been seeing a lot of this from the mounting trough.  She has become really good at standing there and letting me jump on.

That is what she thought of me laying over her back--zzzzzzz-, so I proceeded to throw the leg partially over--and eventually, fully over.

It went well and it was so warm.  (More incentive to be on your horse, rather than leading it.)  I did it from both sides and then put her back with the other horses.

Here are some more photos from the last few days.

More bareback riding. The snow actually was hard on Cowboy's shins--rubbed them a little raw.  So, I'm slowing it down until the snow softens up.

Out our front door last night.

Out our front door this morning.

 The view from on top of Beautiful girl today--the rest of the herd in the fog.

Beautiful Girl stands, or comes to me now, when I approach her with the halter and lead.  This next picture was not one of those times, but this is how she usually looks.

A sign of relaxation and comfort.  Same look she had today when I was on her back.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

100 Days of Blessings

The way a crow 
shook down on me
The dust of snow 
from a hemlock tree
Has given my heart 
a change of mood
And saved some part 
of a day I had rued.

Robert Frost

I typed the Robert Frost poem above from memory, and it was all correct. Yay, for keeping my memory!  It's one I refer back to in my mind on snowy days--like today.

While I was out riding Cowboy bareback in the snow and sun--I realized--this is not a 100 Day "Challenge"--

This is 100 days of Blessings!

I have been blessed every day, except one, since 2017 began, which makes this my 10th day of blessings.

If it weren't for my horses, I could easily be depressed about all this snow and cold, but because of them, I get out in it and find that it's not all that bad.  I bundle up--layer after layer after layer--and roll myself out to the barn.  They're all in good moods and happy to play.  They seem to like the snow!

Cowboy was a little off on his bad foot today.  I've noticed him holding it out more because of the cold weather and its affect on his arthritis. I've been giving him Bute to help that.  Riding is good for him though.  He really needs to keep moving.

I took Beautiful Girl out and put my weight on her back again--she did much, much better. I wiggled around and kicked my feet up.  She bent around to smell them and seemed quite relaxed and curious.

Oh, let me tell you how she really blessed me today!  ....

After I put Cowboy away and gave him some grain, I went back out to the turnout to get Beautiful.  She was in an open run.  So, I walked way out, holding the rope and halter, and called to her--just wondering if she'd give it a try.

Guess what?

She came out of the run and walked over to me!

It's little things like that that make my heart melt.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Picking Up Their Weapons...Safely

 “And when you're alone there's a very good chance
you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won't want to go on.”

                                           Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go

The farrier called and said he was going to be late today, so that gave me an hour to work with the horses.  I decided to make my training about issues that would help my farrier--picking up their feet, and, I chose my two worst horses in that department as my pupils--Cowgirl (my daughter's horse) and Lily (the spoiled pony.)  


Many years ago I boarded at a large facility and one day, when my daughter and I went out to visit our horses, a young lady had just been taken away by ambulance.  She was preparing her horse for barrel racing and it kicked her in the face.   Her family was well-known and well-respected in the horse world as trainers, racers, and ropers.  They knew what they were doing.  The way I looked at it, if that could happen to her, it sure as heck could happen to me or my family members.  The horse had smashed in the front of her face, but the girl did survive.  Why the horse kicked, I never found out.

Days afterward, hoping to avoid a similar fate, I called my farrier and asked if he'd give my daughter, husband and I a class on how to properly handle our horse's feet.  I offered to pay him the price of a shoeing.  He accepted.

What I learned, and have done ever since, is to face opposite the horse.  If he's pointing west, I'm pointing east, and I never turn around to look at him or his legs.  Instead, he taught us how to face the opposite direction and do everything we needed to do--pick up the legs and place them in between our own, and pick out the hooves.  He also taught us, and demonstrated to us, how to keep ourselves in a position where we could easily push away from the horse if things went badly.  

Twelve years later, so far, so good.

But let's face it, handling those feet can be dangerous and scary.  It was the LAST thing Beautiful Girl, my mustang, gave me--her weapons, as my farrier called them.  And, can you blame them for wanting to keep control of them?  Those feet are the most important elements to their survival.  And, they are deadly.


Cowgirl is an alpha--with the horses--and people.  There is almost always one foot she refuses to pick up and, if you push her, you're going to get a fight.  Today, it was the back left.  When I got to it, she planted it firmly on the ground, tensed her body, and had a hard eye. Her body was saying, Just try to pick it up! I Dare you! This sh** is FUN for me!

There's a time when I would have pulled on it and simultaneously pushed her with my left shoulder to knock her off balance so that she'd have to shift--thus, freeing up the foot.  That used to work really well for me until I realized I want my horses to choose to do everything.  Choosing is much safer than forcing, in my opinion. 

I want them to lift the foot as soon as I move toward it, and  most of my horses are very good at that.  So much so, that sometimes it seems as if they're getting ready to kick me as I move around.  In reality, they're shifting and freeing the foot for me to pick up.  They're thinking ahead and anticipating where I'm going next.  (I try to mix it up so that they can't always predict it.)

Back to Cowgirl.  I asked for the left back--the one she had planted firmly on the ground--repeat, FIRMLY.  She didn't budge.  I got up and went to her head and wiggled it back and forth a couple of times, to soften her.  Went back to the foot, still wouldn't budge.  Went back to the head, wiggled the muzzle a bit.  She shifted, licked her lips, and lifted the left foot for me.  Many times it's just about getting them out of that fixed mindset.  They don't really want to be jerks--it's just what they do in the herd--a dominance thing.  We have to snap them out of it.  Hello.  Hello.  It's me.  I pick your feet.  Make you feel better.  Remember?  Hello, in there.

Oh yeah, what was I thinking, grand-mum, here you go.

I worked with Lily and Cowgirl for about 30 minutes--lifting & picking their hooves, grooming, and then doing it all over again.  Lily did great for the farrier--much better than she's ever done before.  Cowgirl initially resisted on that same left back foot, but she quickly thought about it, corrected, and gave it to him.
Whew!  All seven were awesome for the farrier today!  Win-Win!


Yesterday I worked alone with Beautiful Girl--putting my weight on her back.  She did better, but we still have some work to do.  Here's what it looked like from my vantage point.  

 I'm not digging that eye.  It doesn't look happy.

Here are some more photos from our day:

Frosty the Mustang!

The snow is so dense, it's difficult to see variation in it.  This is the view as Beautiful and I walked toward the arena.

 It's either this deep...or deeper.  Beautiful looks longingly back toward the barn.

The view looking down on her back from my mounting place.

Cowgirl and Leah.

Since it's January, all the horses are officially one year older.

Here are my horse's ages:

Beautiful Girl--10
Lily--Age unknown.  Approximately 15. 

Here's a post from 2008 where I introduced our herd and their ages.

Happy birthday to all the horses out there!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Sometimes You Have to Fall, If You Want to Fly

I'm convinced that the difference between our younger horse-selves and our older is that at some point we became more afraid of falling than we did excited about flying.  What's more, we traded "having fun" for "knowledge."  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that I've become more "mental", as Buck Brannaman would say, but there has to be a balance or what good has my new, smarter-self done for me or my horses?

So, yes, I fell today--day 7--in the soft, cushy snow--and I had a blast.  But more on that in a moment...

Before I went out today, I read my blog posts from last year (2016) and what I saw was a lot of thinking.  I also got out there and did stuff toward the 100 day challenge--so there was a fair amount of doing, too.  What that effort and thinking produced, however, was this desire in me to not only be out there clocking days and "training", but to be having fun in the process.  Real fun. Be-a-kid-again kind of fun.  Make mistakes.  After all, my young-horse-self made lots of mistakes, even fell a few times, but she also had great horses and great fun on her horses.  

On day 5, I rode Cowboy bareback in the snow in the north pasture with a friend and it went GREAT!  A little walking, a little trotting, some very sore legs, LOADS of fun!

It was 5 degrees F when we went out there that day, and it warmed up to 12, but the warmth from Cowboy kept me oh-so-toasty!

Yesterday, day 6, I spent 20 minutes with Beautiful Girl haltering, unhaltering, leading, picking up feet, approaching, retreating.  It didn't seem like much, but she needed the work. And. that work paid off today.

My Goal Today (Day 7):  Ride Beautiful for the first time ever--Ride Beautiful in the snow.  (Major long shot, but I figured I'd test her each step of the way and see how far we got.)  Have fun!!

My husband volunteered to go out and help me, and his presence there was just enough to throw her off and make her insecure...and harder to catch.

What's going on?  Why are there two of you?

Let's walk, Beautiful.  Walk, walk, walk.

No need to run, Beautiful.  See me?  I walk.  You walk.

 There.  There.  Look at  me.  Look at the halter.  It's okay.

Avoiding doesn't make me disappear, Beautiful.

 That's better.

Why is he there, mom? 

But mom, how tall you are!

The better to jump on your back, Beautiful Girl!

See, this is fun, Beautiful!  Fun!  Fun!

It was so fun, let's do it again.

I'm still me.  I'm still with you, just on top of you.

Uh, it's harder to stand up when you're on me, mom.

What you don't see in these photos is that I asked my husband to lead Beautiful Girl with me hanging over her back.  (Both photographers were kind of busy.)

Yes, I fell jumped off.   Multiple times.  Sometimes I landed on my butt in the soft powder.  I always got up smiling and reassuring her.  My jumping-falling startled her, but we did it over and over so that she would know, it's okay.

It was fun, lots of fun, but I knew I wasn't ready to throw a leg over and go to the next step.  We continued the leading to the mounting block overturned trough, with me on top of the trough like a 7 foot monster, then me hanging over her back, rubbing her, jumping off onto the ground--until she was relaxed and comfortable with it.

The moral of the story today was GIVE IT A TRY!  Have fun.  Experiment.  End on a good note.  Make lemons into lemonade.  Be willing to fall.  Be ready to fly.  But know your limits.  Tomorrow is another day!  And the day after that and after that and so on!  Just keep going out there.

Here is some video of my husband leading her back to me as I stood on the trough.

And, at the end of the day, Beautiful Girl didn't want to be put back in the turnout.  She stood at the gate and wanted to give me a kiss.  I'd say that was successful.

Something I almost forgot.  We almost lost Red on day 5.  I'd been out riding Cowboy in the snow and he was out with the other horses doing fine.  When we put Cowboy and Penny away, we went in to get lunch, but about an hour and half into it, I looked out and saw Red down.  I ran out there and found him stuck and unable to get up.  I ran to the barn and grabbed a shovel and a rope and I dug out the ground around his hooves and then when he tried to get up, I threw the rope around his neck.  Then, I waited until he gave it another try (he was cold and exhausted) and I threw all my weight against it--which gave him the extra he needed to get up.  He was woozy and wobbly, but as you can see from this picture today, otherwise A-OK.  He will not be turned out again, however, until this snow and ice melts.  He's 37 this year.  37!!  I'd like to see him make it well into his 40's--or as long as he's willing to go.