Monday, October 30, 2017

All Good Things Must End

 I walked out to the barn with the dogs yesterday to see if I still had a barn...or horses.

Our region was engulfed in a super-crazy-dense-fog.  

There is a fence between the turnout and east pastures, where the horses usually hang out, but you couldn't see it at all.

I walked up to the gate and saw what appeared to be Little Joe.  Then, I turned and saw several more in the shadows.

It was so cool to see them emerging, one by one, starkly outlined by the white of the fog. I thought it would be fun to tape and share it.  

The fog greeted us each morning and disappeared midday.  We are guessing that was our last good weekend because the forecast is calling for snow in a few days.  We took the opportunity to get in what may be our last 2 trail rides.

Last Monday-Friday, during what has been this  lovely, long autumn, I spent one day working with Bee--driving her with her bit.  That went very well.  Another evening, after work, I rode Leah to the barn next door and around a 10 acre pasture--working on her collection at the walk and trot.  Afterward, I switched her out for Cowboy, who is acting stiff and needs exercise.  I spent another day at the barn next door working with Leah on the basics.  I realized she is very stiff and needs way more daily bending.  

It's going to be sad to see the weather change.  Very sad.  I will miss this time, but I guess all good things must end...for now.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Bring on the Autumn Wind--and Other Obstacles!

It has been a wonderful fall--full of color, clear days, and horses.

There has also been wind, but wind can be such a great training opportunity.

Last week, on a windy Tuesday, I tied all my horses up to wait for the farrier.  Cowgirl, our big palomino, untied herself and ran around the property.  I caught her and tied her again to a solid ring in a large post.  After about 45 minutes, she pulled back and broke the ring, and part of the wood block, and ran into the barn where the farrier was trimming Bee. She was also a bit grumpy during her own trim, pulling her foot back from the farrier.  I'd like to blame it on the wind--but it's really a lack of being used.

She's my daughter's horse, and my daughter has a busy life, so I asked if I could start working with her.  She gave me her blessing.

Last Sunday I took three horses next door to the obstacle course.

First, I let them run free and explore the arena.

It was another windy day, and you have to click, if only for a moment, on this video, to hear one of the doors pounding away.  The barn owner came in to fix it, but I asked that he leave it be as a training tool.

After they explored, I took turns tying them up and taking one through the obstacles in-hand.  Then, I took turns riding them through in-saddle.

That was the first time I'd ridden Cowgirl, my daughter's horse.  She was super fun. I'm going to steal her.

Beautiful went through the course being driven from the ground in-saddle.  I'm trying to work on making my hands as soft as I can and getting a partnership that is based on the gentlest asks.  Actually, I have been doing a lot of work "heeding" with her, but I'll write about that on another post.

This driving is all done in halter, and we've gotten pretty good at it with a little practice.  My next step will be driving her through the bit.  I think we're ready for that now.  The great thing about ground driving is that it allows them to approach scary obstacles by themselves--as they would if  you were in the saddle, rather than standing next to them.  Believe it or not, it does make a big difference.

Beautiful is becoming a much different and braver horse. She stands tied longer.  She did the best of all the horses with the farrier, and she is facing her fears.  Like facing them.  Putting her nose on them, rather than getting that cloudy, blocking it out, kind of eye.

Here's a very short clip that shows her standing tied quietly, even with the banging of the door behind her.  You can see Cowgirl standing, unhappily, in the back.  She hates standing tied, but when you give her a job, she is rock solid!  Cowgirl isn't scared of anything.

Leah did great, too, but I did have to use a little spur to get her to face up and go through the car wash obstacle.  I use these spurs.

I'll give her a gentle tap, tap, and that's about all she needs.  She responds far better to the spurs than she did the crop.  I wish I'd dug them out of retirement a few months ago.  There was a time I used them every ride, back when I was starting out with Cowboy.  I didn't retire them until maybe four years ago.  Used correctly, they are a wonderful aid.

Today, I'm going back to ride Leah through again.  She is on the cusp of another break-through--the ability to work through some tougher ranch-work skills.  I'll try to describe what I mean by that in another post.  This one is already getting too long.

Happy fall, y'all!  Hope you're getting lots of time with your horses!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Oh, Bee, What Fun We'll Have At Clinics!

Bee had her first clinic--aka four hours of fun!

It's a colt starting clinic and we work on whatever needs to be done.  Saturday we lunged, worked in the round pen, practiced being tied, and drove from the ground.

I thought it would be good practice to have my granddaughters, who were there with me, work Bee, too.

She was very good with the girls.

By the end of the clinic, Bee was the most calm I've ever seen her.  She also looked mentally tired and, strangely, at peace.  She hadn't worked up a major sweat, but she had to think a lot. The ground driving, especially, was good for her.  She got all wound up in the rope, but had to think to stop herself and not panic.  She also had the rope around her legs and butt--thoroughly sacking herself out.  But she worked through it all and decided to partner up.

Rebecca assessed the saddle and agreed that because of her short back, there will be some uncomfortable moments, however, she thinks it is good for her to get used to all kinds of feelings and things touching her.  The more, the better.  She didn't buck a bit changing gaits at the clinic.  In fact, she made me look like a pro.  I'd say, "walk" and she'd walk.  I'd cluck, and she'd trot.  Kiss, and she'd lope.  She's extremely smart.

These clinics are going to be so good for her.  Lots of exposure.  New people.  New horses. New places.  Building confidence.  Growing up.

The day after, you will be happy to know, she came right up to me in pasture to say hi--a sure sign she didn't have bad feelings from the day before.  Success.

Here are some of my fave photos from our lovey-horsey weekend.

This one is classic.  Cat is like 4 feet tall (or less) and she was riding Little Joe all over the place and getting him to do these big obstacles all by herself.  Proud moment for me.

The girls and I choreographed some drill team moves and did patterns in the arena.  It was quite fun.

And, our 15th Anniversary trip to Sandpoint, Idaho, where we were married and return every year.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Happy, happy Autumn With Horses and Family

Autumn is my favorite time of year, and I look forward to it each and every day after it passes.  I tell my husband not to plan ANY trips during the fall season because that is when our area is the absolute most beautiful.

Because of autumn, and its absolute grip on my heart, it has been a while since I've written on the blog, and I haven't been visiting my favorites as often as I'd like either. But it has been a busy and delightful time.

I've been able to get a couple rides out with Cowboy, a couple with Leah, and lots of work with Bee.  I even had my horse-crazy niece up for a weekend.  This coming weekend, I get to have my granddaughters, as our clinic season starts up again!

Unsaddling after the ride.

Last I left off, I was getting ready to ride Bee in saddle.

I started by working her on the ground. Lots of rope work--until I'd see her relax.  Then, practice carrying the saddle at all gaits.

She bucked  hard from trot to canter--just like she did the night she bucked my trainer off.  We had the snorting, all fours off the ground kind of bucking. Not for the faint of heart. When she quit, I was completely calm (after all, I wasn't on her back!).  She looked at me like, "What the heck just happened??"  I pointed for her to move on.  She did so quite willingly and didn't buck again.

But she did avoid going from trot to canter for a long time and several sessions.  Yesterday, she was full of energy, and I got her to do the transition several times with only a little bucking and/or kick out at the transition or when she'd slip.  The bigger issue yesterday was speed.  Cantering in saddle makes her nervous, and nervous makes her faster.

After seeing the first buck at transition, two weeks ago, I realized the bucking was not being mean or feisty or resistant.  It was just not understanding the feeling of that saddle on her back and it scaring  her.  It is hard work for a horse to hold themselves up at the canter/lope in a circle--and when you throw in a saddle, it makes it even harder.  But it gave me the information I needed to realize she needs lots of work carrying that saddle before carrying a rider.

However, that didn't stop me from riding her two weeks ago after her bucking session on the line. My plan was to keep it all at the walk and avoid transitions.  We also practiced lots of mounting and dismounting from the ground.  I had interesting things set up around the arena for her to walk to and inspect.  But I found her feet to be quite sticky and myself unwilling to do what was needed to unstick them.

I called Rebecca and asked for a ground driving lesson.  If I'm going to make her go, and work on steering, until she has it down pat, I'd prefer to do it from the ground and avoid fights.  If there's a fight, she will win.  The only way we'll both win is if it's a partnership.

We used a halter to keep it safe until she understands all of this very well--then we'll move to a bit and bridle.  After Rebecca was done demonstrating, I took the reins.  I practiced alone here yesterday and it was fun.  Tough to get the feel for it with those long reins, but overall it went very, very well.  If something does go wrong, and she gets wound up or steps on a rein, the halter is very forgiving.

To sum up with Bee--my goal is to have her going so well on the ground, in saddle, that it takes those worries away from her when it's time to ride.  I want balancing the rider, interpreting rider cues, being away from her herd--to be the only stresses. And, those will be enough.  By practicing versions of all three of those things, in small increments, I hope to minimize them.


Leah has been a blast to ride.  Her body has come together.  She loves the fall trails. She's full of energy and she's strong.  But with her strength, and new found agility, she has also started taking more and more advantage of that big left shoulder escape route when we come to parts of the trail she'd rather not partake in--like steep descents or water crossings not previously practiced, so not in her imaginary "contract."

I had to UNretire my spurs.  

(She was a bit mad at having to back up and take this picture.  We'd already had two fights at junctures she didn't want to go down. After this last unhappy moment, however, the rest of the trail was fun for her and her demeanor brightened up.)

When I say spurs, I mean gentle ones.  Mine are turned down a little bit and have a wheel on the end.  I first ask with my body, then my leg, then a gentle, gentle nudge of the spur.  

She gets it.  I should say, so far, so good.  In the photo above, you can see my crop--that was the ride I learned she wasn't to concerned about the crop.  The next trail ride, a few days later (no photos) I buckled on my spurs and only had to use them gently twice--and got a much better result.  

The crop is awkward.  All the shifting it from hand to hand, dropping it here and there and having to dismount to pick it up.  If the spurs continue to work, I'm all in on spurs again.  The last time I used them was with Cowboy, back when he was 8 and also doing some BIG evasions.  They worked very well, and I never rode without them until I retired them about four years ago.  They're back.


Besides time with horses--we've been taking trips to Greenbluff with the family--and hey, we found more horses.  This was a wagon ride we all went on together.

You can see the wagon behind--and the driver photobombing us.

The following weekend, I took more of my kids to Greenbluff, but did the wine, hard cider, and brewery tastings.  The big kid version of the trip.

(Big Barn Brewing Company in Greenbluff, WA)

It has been a wonderful autumn, and there is only more and more to come!  A clinic tonight (remember those fun clinics of developing trust all last winter--it's those again. Yay!) and Saturday, and hopefully lots and lots of trail rides before the snow falls!

Happy autumn everyone and HAPPY TRAILS!