Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cowboy to the Rescue: "Re-Do" of a Traumatic 6th Grade Bareback Riding Experience

My first time riding a horse bareback, at a run, was in the 6th grade with my wild and crazy horse friend, Julie.   Her parents didn't care if we rode the horses, but they didn't want us to use their saddles.  So, we'd walk over to the stables, clean stalls, play with the horses---in the safety of the arena--feed them dinner, and then walk back home.

One day, she and her younger sister asked if I wanted to ride the horses out on the trail--actually, out in the Las Vegas desert--off trail.

I thought I'd hit the jackpot!  Of course I did!  We put on the bareback pads, the bridles and bits, and off we went.

The ride out from the stable was golden.  The horse I was on was pretty small--it was probably about 13 hands--so not too far from the ground, and just a real sweetie-pie.  We talked and laughed, walked and trotted, pretty idyllic.

But then everything changed.

When we turned for home, Julie and her sister decided they wanted to run the horses back.  If there was any negotiating of that choice, it is a blur, because the next thing I remember, we were in a full-out run back to the barn, and Julie was yelling at me to hold on to my horse's mane.

Of course, I didn't.  I held on to a strap that was on the pad.  Big mistake.  Because when my legs got tired from clinging to my horse's back, and I tried to adjust, but started to slip instead, the pad slipped, too.  The next thing I knew, I was alone and walking back home through the desert, my pony, like a Kentucky Derby hopeful, racing to catch up with her herd mates.

I have another memory of that event--Julie and her sister riding their horses bareback, at a full run, as comfortable as if God had molded them together.  They looked happy and free as they sprinted away into the sunset.  (I was jealous.  I admit.)

Julie didn't come back for me, so I didn't like her much after that.  I didn't like bareback pads either. Or bareback, for that matter.



Last night I started to search Pinterest for bareback riding tips.  I don't get on there a lot, but my Pinterest page is here.

What I found:

1. Some people prefer pads, some people prefer true bareback.  (I prefer true bareback.)

2. It takes strong thighs. (Note to self, work out the thighs.)

3. It's easier to lope than trot. (Whoa! What? Say again. Insert memories of the 6th grade.)

4. Don't balance with your reins. (Already figured that out. Duh.)

5. If you can, go straight from the walk to the lope--skip the trot.  (Note to self, remember that.)

6. Sit back. Sit up straight. Look where you want to go. Sit balanced.  (Like ya do in the saddle.)

So, I started to mull this loping idea and remembered I own a fabulous little loper, a jolly little loping fiend--My Cowboy!

Um, Hi Cowboy. New thing today. You're going to teach me to lope bareback.  Or, maybe I already know how, but ----starts to tell him about her 6th grade experience, because she talks to her horses like that and they seem to understand--this time will be different and you will make me confident again.

Pretty sure Cowboy told me to hop on about then.

And, we were off to the races!  Well, Cowboy's too well trained to get into an all-out run with me, but we were definitely off at a lope!  I was sitting back, gripping with my thighs, moving with his body, and there was nothing that was going to stop us!

Oh. My. Goodness.  I was 12 again.  I was 12 in spirit and experiencing a genuine, died-in-the-wool "DO-OVER!"

It was glorious.

And, that was Day 37.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Close Contact: A Visitor, An Epiphone, A Hug

So much has gone on this last week, I barely know where to start.  As a favor to you all, I'm going to divide this post into sections so that you don't have to read the whole thing.  I'll start with the good news.
Cowgirl has a visitor.

Since Red died, Cowgirl hasn't been the same.  She's always hanging out by herself.  I started to think she'd been demoted by Beautiful Girl, but then yesterday, she rejoined the herd and kicked the crap out of BG when she came too close to her hay.

But something sweet happened during her time of mourning. Whenever I'd go out to the barn, there was a bird (is it a pigeon?) hovering near her. It would fly away when I approached, but it happened so often, I wanted to get a picture of it, so I got my phone ready.

A messenger?



Feeling Leah's Stress 

I mostly ride all my horses bareback nowadays; I don't have to lift a saddle on and off, which makes it easier and allows me to ride more horses each day.

At first, I was mostly concerned with myself, learning to balance better on their backs at different gaits, but as time has gone on, I'm more concerned with what I can feel through the close contact.

I've learned important information about ALL of them, but what I found about Leah was especially revealing.  Leah seems to take stress into her spine (maybe all horses do?) and when I pick up the rein to ask for something different, I can feel a tightening and twitching along her back that doesn't always correspond with a dramatic, and obvious, head lift.

To probe into that further, I practiced side-passing on her, but I worked really hard to use the lightest amount of pressure in the bit--just enough to signal NOT to move forward.  Then, I gave a little push with my left leg to get her to step over to the right.  The more I repeated it, and got softer and softer, the more she stopped reacting and I didn't feel anything in her back.  I shifted to the opposite direction, same technique, and she just scooted right over to the left.  It was an AHA! moment.  She's an extremely sensitive horse--a lover, not a fighter--and she requires an extremely gentle hand.  I have some work to do in that area, but her body is helping me figure it out.

As for her bareback walk/trot transitions, they're starting to improve in leaps and bounds!  Yay!

Water Damage:

The flooding in our house is almost done, but it hasn't stopped completely because it continues to rain.  We took out all the carpet, and now we're taking out portions of the wall and insulation throughout the entire basement.

On Saturday, I had my last straw.  As I was pulling out water-soaked baseboards, I started to cry.  My husband, sensing my sadness, or his own, or both, came over and pulled me to him and held me in his arms.  Or, maybe it's more accurate to say both of us held each other in our arms.  We just stood like that for a long time, then we parted and continued to work.  But I felt better.

That night, after working until about 7 pm, we got on our shorts and tank tops, set the television (that we had to bring up from the flooded downstairs) to YouTube scenes of the ocean waves, grilled salmon, opened wine, turned up the house temperature and partied like it was 1999, pretended we were back in Hawaii.

You know, I wouldn't wish this on ourselves, or anyone, but oddly, it has brought us even closer together.

Thank you flooded basement for reminding us what is most important--the ones we love.


On the bright side, we do have a plan to make sure this NEVER happens again, but more on that later.  Here are some photos of the last week.

Foxy + Little Joe =

A butt to butt kicking match that had Little Joe bleeding and Foxy running around on 3 legs.  

Both recovered.

Leah + Little Joe = Peace

 The pond large puddle flood in front of our house: before and after being pumped out (starting Sunday) to allow for more drainage.

See, I don't always ride bareback. This is me walking Little Joe to the barn next door yesterday.  We walked over to ride with a couple of our friends.  This was taken at our place as we were leaving.  He was a trooper.

Hope it is well with all of you!  Or, if not, that you're making the best of bad situations.  Hang in there!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Training Leah to Carry Herself at the Lope

Here it is March 15, 2017, and I'm only on Day 31 of my 100 Day Challenge.  If  you remember, I started the year out gangbusters--riding in the snow, training Beautiful Girl, & attending clinics.  But despite that great start, I'm at about the same number of days as I was in 2016.

That's why it's always wise to make hay while the shines--because, there will be plenty of days when it won't.

Day 30 with Leah was interesting.  I rode her and she was very racy--wanting to break out into a trot all the time.  Then, I asked her for the lope, and she would have NONE of it.  Instead, she pinned her ears back and started to offer a buck.  

I wondered to myself, "Hmmmm....what's the deal?  Is she scared?  In pain?"

So, I finished my ride and grabbed the lunge line.  Sure enough, when I asked her to lope from the ground, she'd just start running around like Speedy Gonzales...

'Cept, she wouldn't watch where she was putting feet, and her back feet would slip out from under her.

Race, race, race, slip, race, race, race, race, slip, and so on.

She was definitely anxious, and it was making me nervous watching her.  Then, just when I was about to quit asking her for it, she slowed down and carried herself in a gentle, controlled lope.  She did one lap, and I stopped her and PRAISED her.  I asked again, she repeated the performance for a lap, I stopped her and praised her again.  We did that both directions until she was rather sweaty (something I had tried to avoid), so we went in and finished the day with T-Touch massage.

Day 31 (Today)

Motto: Never let a good flood go to waste!

Leah and I started out our day walking through the puddles lakes surrounding the house.  I walked her forward, and then I backed her through them starting from dry ground.  Awesome practice!!

Next, I took Leah to the arena where, by the way, the footing is very good with the deep sand we put in last year.  I asked her to lope on the 25' line I purchased yesterday--a heavy-duty, yacht rope--to replace my thinner 25' lunge line.  (The heavy yacht rope was hard to get used to, but may be better.)

Leah did GREAT!  She remembered her lesson and gave me the most controlled little lope, right from the get-go!  She went 'round and 'round and 'round.  There were a couple times she slipped a little bit, but whenever she came to that point in the circle, she'd pay extra close attention to the ground and her feet, and she'd self-correct!

My, do you know how happy that made me to see my girl carry herself like that?!?!? It gives me hope!

After the lunge work, I rode her bareback for about 20 minutes.  We worked on walk-trot transitions and she wasn't nearly as racy at the trot today.  I have found that I LOVE riding her bareback.  It is making me a much better rider--developing my core balance.  I have a ways to go to be really good at it, but I realized as I was doing it--I had a HUGE smile on my face.  I'd probably had it from the moment I hopped on her back.  It was utter joy the whole time.  Maybe it's the connection?  Maybe the excitement of mastering a new skill?  Maybe a lot of things rolled into one.

Things are looking up for Leah and me!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

An Angel Arrives in the Mail

"God made the horse from the breath of the wind, 
the beauty of the earth, 
and the soul of an angel."

author unknown

Yesterday, I received a package from my veterinarian, Misty Parker, at McKinlay & Peters Equine Hospital.  Whenever they put a horse down, they take a piece of their tail and have a person make the owners an angel.

What a feeling when I opened it--the hair being so familiar to me.  I held it against my cheek and it was like touching him again.  That's a beautiful gift to give a grieving horsewoman.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Having Fun With Horses Whilst Surviving a Flooded Basement

It's a sad day when your barn and arena are drier than your house.  You see, our basement flooded. The water didn't come in from the sides, as you might assume, instead, it came in from the water holes in the floor--like the sump hole and the toilet hole.  It's all very clean ground water, but it's still destructive!  We've already removed all the carpet and when the water table finally recedes, we'll be able to dry out the standing water and start to take apart the walls and insulation.  It appears, the water has damaged the walls from 1'-2' in most places.

This has been a CRAZY wet year!!  The most rain we EVER got in any month in this city & the oddest winter.  There was lots and lots of water in the ground--and then the snow started to melt and the ground started to dethaw.  It was a setup for disaster.

Now, it's raining again.  Make it stop! (Worst case scenario, we move into the barn!)


Today, I'm going to just share photos of all the recent rides.

Our Hawaii ride.  Oh, to be in Hawaii again.  We did the picnic ride and it was GORGEOUS.  My husband said it was his absolute favorite guided ride he's ever been on.  I would agree.  We will be back to Paniolo Adventures.

The blue is the ocean where we could see Humpback whales playing.

My horse had lots of personality.


On the beach.

At the City of Refuge.

On the rocks in front of the City of Refuge.  If you could swim to this point, you would be forgiven your crimes.

 Last week's horse clinic.

Playing with the new horses today.  On the left is Foxy, and on the right is Little Joe.  We all took turns riding them.

The basement.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Happy Birthday, Cowboy, My Crazy Heart Horse

Happy birthday to my crazy heart-horse, Cowboy. He was 22 on March 7, 2017.  As far as I know, he is the oldest in our herd now.  Penny may be older, since she's a non-registered horse, and most non-registered are likely to be a little older than they say when they sell them to you.  But as far as papers are concerned, Cowboy is officially the oldest.

Cowboy was born on a ranch in St. Maries, Idaho.  His birth occurred when the family was out shopping, and when they arrived home, they saw him out with another mare who had stolen him from his mama.  A month later, his mama died after getting her neck stuck in a feeder, and Cowboy ended up being a bottle-fed orphan.

Bottle-fed orphans are unique because it's not the natural or best way to raise a foal, but he has the biggest heart and loves people.  In his best moments he is the most amazing horse. Though, he'll never be a kid's horse because he does have that unpredictable, scaredy-cat side.

Cowboy is a survivor--he's 10 years past a broken and displaced front coffin bone.  There is arthritis in the coffin joint, but Cowboy pushes through and still carries me on the trails.

Last weekend, I was bringing home some of the horses from the clinic next door and Cowboy came running along the fence line whinnying at them--just like Old Red used to do.  My daughter and I couldn't believe out eyes.  Is Cowboy stepping up into Red's role?  Time will tell.

Here's to Cowboy--my golden (almost) oldie.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

New Horses & A New Chapter

Losing Red was hard and, in fact, it set off a couple of health issues which I went to my doctor for this morning, but all is well.

Last week, I told my friends to keep an eye out for an older horse for us to add to our herd--a grand kid type horse.  I was thinking down the road, but one of those very friends, to my surprise, was needing to find a home for her heart-horse.  He's a 20 year old, very well trained & gentle Paint named Little Joe.

I went out to meet him last Friday, and he was a sweetie.

(Right before he mauled my camera.)

In between snow storms, that very day, I brought him home.

His only issue is that he has foundered before.  My farrier trimmed him yesterday, and he thinks he will be just fine.  But because of that, he has to be on a limited all grass diet, which makes him a perfect companion for Leah.  I'll be playing with him on my day off Friday.  Being thrown in with a bunch of mares initially made him really nervous, even though he's in a stall and run. You know how mares are--total hussies! Anyway, I think he's getting used to them now.

And, at the exact same time I was getting Little Joe, my daughter, Shiloh, found a horse for her husband, a beginning rider.  She's a 17 year old, ranch-trained Quarter Horse.

Meet Foxy:

I went out with them to ride Foxy and she was golden--very smooth, willing and responsive.  She's only ever been ridden in a hackamore, which they sold her with. She has done lots and lots of trail riding and a little rodeo.  My farrier went over to meet her, pushed back her long, raven-black bangs, saw one swirl on her head and said, "Easy!"  Which she was and is.  I'm really excited for my son-in-law.  He had a small amount of money to spend on her, so he made them an offer. They had a woman coming to see her the next day that probably would have given them their full price offer, easily--but the owner wanted to sell him to my SIL.  

Our herd is now back up to eight horses.  No horse can replace Red--that's for sure--but they are helping us to turn the page to a New Chapter. Even Cowgirl is going to start a new chapter this year, if all goes well.  Because she lost Red, Shiloh is ready to breed her and let her raise a baby.  It's something she has put off and put off, not wanting to pull Cowgirl away from Red, but now it's time.  

Do you think this is crazy?  When I used to go out to the pasture to bring Red in for morning and evening feedings, I'd always call for him.  I'd say things like, "Hey, Handsome. Come on, Big Boy. Let's go, Red. Hurry Up." (Red never hurried.) And, variations of that.  Now, when I go out there, I envision him with the others and I say those same things out loud, as if he's there, and it makes me laugh.  I know he's not there, but I like to remember it, and the whole scenario cracks me up.  Is that totally nuts??  

Cowboy is a good sport.  Yesterday, he looked around like, who you talking  And, he came over for some mom time.  I think it's his turn to get the special treatment.

More photos of the newbies and the day they arrived: