Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Goings On

Well…the last update on Epona wasn’t great. She had a bad day at training. It was a bit surprising, because until then she had been the #1 star student. Oh, Epona! Goes to show, horses have good and bad days, even with the pros. 

As for Tweed and I, we had out of town company and a lot of severe weather, which limited what we could do. I decided to focus on very basic leading in straight lines over obstacles and keeping his attention when the cows came running to see what we were doing. 

I kept reminding myself:

“A horse can only think of one thing at a time and that should be you.” 

If I don’t have his attention, I can’t get his feet. 

It has been going very well, and I should have a lesson tomorrow, my first since the clinic. 

We finally finished the barn breezeway. 


Oops, I lied. Not finished. We still need to put the trim around the door. 


Night. 


Day. 


I’ve also planted the raised beds at the barn. 










They are a mixture of flowers, herbs, trees, tomatoes, and peppers. 

The trees are apple and Kwanza Cherry. 

The herbs are thyme, basil, oregano, lavender, cilantro, and dill. 

Several varieties of tomatoes, even a Czech variety since my husband is 1/2 Czech. 

Habaneros and jalapeños. 

We have a gas fire pit there now, and have enjoyed evenings at the barn with a glass of wine. That’s a date night for us. 

Does it get any better?



Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Epona in Saddle



Epona: patron goddess of mares and foals
Pona: to heal, to recover. To survive.

Day 3 at training, and Epona has learned to pack a saddle. I commented that she looks bigger with the saddle, and her trainer said that she is also "the best girl."

It's nice to know that the sweetness and strength we saw here has carried with her to training. 

I've also witnessed an incredible confidence in her feet, or sure-footedness, and I'm eager to see if that also translates into the formal training. She's the kind of horse who just slides through mud and ice and stays on all fours like it's nothing. Mud puddles, standing water--meh. She hasn't shown any fear.

I had worried about not having separated her from her mother these last few years, and if that would make her more buddy/barn sour. Oddly, it has seemed to have done the opposite. Her mom didn't miss her, and she doesn't appear to be missing home.

****

I follow several trainers on FB, and it's always interesting to see what they're doing with the horses. (One of the things I love about ours is that she has always kept us in the loop and even encouraged us to participate in the training. Not all do that.) Anyway, I was reading the bio of this other very good trainer, and it mentioned a few things that she specializes at:

1. Getting to the feet
2. Mental soundness
3. Lateral Work
4. Centered Balance

Those are all the things I, too, am working on with Tumbleweed.

I realized, after the despooking clinic, that I need to spend more time on 1 and 2, while still working on 3 and 4. 

I will be focusing on MORE forward, and MORE straight, with MORE togetherness (which seems to help him), over new obstacles. By togetherness I mean, more ground work at my side, where I can see him with my peripheral vision, and less driving work over obstacles. (That's the advice I received from the horse trainer at the clinic, and I think it was wise.)

I will also focus on being, as he said, less greedy, and really trying to learn when is the best time to stop and take the win.

It's funny to think that Epona and Tumbleweed, if all goes well, will be on the trail together someday. That will be a dream come true. I'm looking forward to adding her into the training and riding around here when she gets home.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

A Bit of Something


The whirlwind week is over, and it’s time to reflect on what happened. First, hauling Epona to training.  

***

As you all know, a lot of work went into preparing Epona for her big day. Practice tying for long periods. Loading and unloading. Leading. The basics. 

We also made a checklist of things to take with her to help transition: her own hay, fly spray, grain, and even water from our well.

My husband had the tires inflated properly and oil checked on the truck, and I had a fire extinguisher…just in case.  I also made sure to have a full tank of gas, so that when I loaded Epona, I was ready to jump in my truck and go, not stopping until we arrived at the training barn  

With all the preparation, it was a success. Epona settled right in and even had hay from home. Her trainer said later that day that she had already taken over and become the boss. (She gets that attitude from her mama, so I wasn’t surprised.)

She unloaded like a champ, and held it together even when a deer ran by about 30’ from us. 😳 She was the first to see it, and she was shaking, but she stood still next to me—just like her mama would have done. Which begs the question, how much of a horse’s personality comes from the Dam? Seems like a helluva a lot.

On the way to her stall, she had to pass her daddy, who didn’t know he was her daddy. Sarah, the trainer, yelled at him. Knock it off! This is your daughter! Haha. 

I got to see Sarah’s new paint foal, a stud colt, and oh my, oh my. Baby fever. But no. I have enough on my plate with T-Boo.


So, let’s talk a little about my boy & his day at the obstacle clinic.

*****




My first observation is that 90 minutes is only enough time to scratch the surface, and I wish I had signed up for 2 time slots. 

We arrived early and I took Tweed over the outside obstacles, close to where the clinic was going on. They had one of those tall, waving ballon figures you see at car lots, and it was blowing around pretty good so that you could see it really well from about anywhere. Tweed did awesome giving me his attention right out of the trailer, even with all the excitement, scary objects, noise, horses, and riders. It was impressive.

When our time slot was called, we entered with a new batch of horses and riders (a lot of freaked out horse energy) and went through them based upon difficulty: green, yellow, and the hardest, red.

Tweed was doing really well, but then a horse started bolting around behind him and it made him agitated. He started to resist focusing on me and the obstacles because he wanted to think about, and look at, what was going on around him.

Which leads me to the best piece of advice I got, and it was from an older  horse trainer gentleman who helped us. He said:

I don’t want to disparage horses, but….(long pause)

They can only think about one thing at a time…(long pause)

And that should be you.

Translation: he wanted me to only walk, or ride, straight lines with Tweed, and do that until his attention was relaxed and only on me. As we walked, we got closer to the red obstacles, and sometimes into them, but he also warned me:

Don’t get greedy.

Translation: you’ve got to learn when it’s best to stop and call it a win.

I only got about ten minutes of saddle time, and it was over. Seemed so short!  But what a win it was for the two of us! 

I learned a lot in that super short time, about myself and Tweed, and the partnership we are each seeking. I felt it happening.

Which leads me to the title of this post: A Bit of Something.

****

I hope this makes sense. I think it will for most horse people. It goes like this:

When you’re devoted to a horse, you are looking for a bit of something. I can’t fully define what it is, because I don’t have a word for it, but it’s what you entrust your life to.

It’s a big frickin’ deal.

Turns out, your horse is looking for that same bit of something from you.

Perhaps, it’s that part of you that would walk over hot coals for them. Or broken glass. Or even risk death to defend them.

Both horse and rider know it when they see it and feel it, and you grow further into it with every big challenge you face together.

As you do grow into it, certain sparks begin to light in your soul, and they draw you even closer together…toward a true partnership.

That’s the golden ring we’re all pursuing.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Horses Aren’t Pets

When I went to get Tweed this morning, he was an asshat agitated. 

Yesterday, we went to the park in a mild windstorm. I figured if we wait for good weather in Spokane, we won’t be riding much. Was he happy about it? No. But he wasn’t an asshat bad. 

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the park, in the mild windstorm, there was also a loose dog barking at me. It was dragging around a long line, and it had on a blue bandana, and a collar. I spent about ten minutes catching it, then tying it to a tree for the park rangers. 

When the park rangers arrived, they scared the dog and he broke free again. 😳


(The dog is watching)

When I finally went to get Tweed unloaded, he was shaking from head to foot. Luckily, I had tied him my trainer’s way, and was able to unload him safely.

We worked a few obstacles, stray dog following us around with his long lead line and also a dark, ominous wall of clouds closing in on us, then went home. 

Fast forward to today, it was sunny and calm, but Tweed wasn’t excited about seeing me show up. At all.

He had quit our team. (Which is where the team analogy breaks down a bit, but we won’t go there.) 

Instead, as I was driving to the park, and seriously questioning my life choice to be a horsewoman, I was reminded of something I’d been told before, but never entirely believed: horses aren’t pets. 

When Tweed chose not to come to team practice…the other horses were out eating fresh grass, and it wasn’t fair!…I had to smack his hind end with my lead rope until he gave me his attention. It took a few moments and was a battle of the wills. I even wondered if I could win our little battle. But he turned to me and got haltered, led out, spooked, did circles, loaded, and off we went…again.

So yeah, horses aren’t pets, I get it—but what are they? And had all this consistency, rain, shine, wind, cows, dogs—made Tweed sour? 

Had I ruined him?

My mind was in a spiral of thoughts like that and I was extremely discouraged. 

You’d think, after all these years, I’d have learned the lesson that is most true with horses: it is always darkest before the dawn. Things are always at their worst, and most hopeless, before they improve. About the time you hit rock bottom, your horse becomes a completely different horse. In Tweed’s case, it was a 180 shift in less than 15 minutes. 😳

Maybe our little battle in the stall was all it took to enforce my boundaries and get his respect. 

The little things…like snatching grass when we’re leading them. Tweed was doing that, too, and my trainer told me not to yank his head, but to put his feet to work every time he reaches down for it. It’s ignoring us and becoming their own boss, even though it seems innocent.  

Anyway, whatever fixed his attitude, we only needed a very short warm up, then we were able to practice walk, trot, lope transitions in saddle. Open and close the gate. Proceed to the arena, and close that gate. Walk, trot and lope there. Open the gate, and ride out to the obstacle course. 

Tweed was GOLDEN. Like, no one would have recognized he was the same horse that greeted me with his butt. 

Tomorrow is our lesson at home, and home is harder. It just is. The other horses are a huge draw. The cows with bags are scary. 

Then, I haul Epona down to training and spend the next day at the partnership clinic.

This will be the last post until after that.

Fingers crossed that calm Epona and GOLDEN Tweed show up for the next three days  


Tuesday, June 4, 2024

A Busy Week Ahead


This is a busy week. I take Epona to training on Friday. It will be the first time she has been away from home, except going to the vet. 

I need to have the oil in my truck changed, and tire pressure checked on the trailer tires. The haul is 2 hours down and 2 back. After what happened to Teresa, I carry a fire extinguisher in the cab of my truck. Hopefully, I won’t have to use it. 

During my last lesson I practiced loading and tying horses my trainer’s way to prepare for the Epona haul. 

1. She never pushes them over with the divider. She makes sure to move them over, then close the divider. I’m guilty of pushing them gently with it. 

2. She ties them in the adjoining slant stall. To do this, she runs the rope through the tie hole, holds the end, moves the horse over, brings it over the panel, pushes the horse over, closes the panel, then ties off in the adjoining slant. 

If anything happens, it gives you access to untying away from the horse. It also gives you more control when unloading them. 

Epona will be hauling alone, and I plan to have her in the middle of the trailer. 


The trainer has her own steer down there now, and she’s training the horses on them. Her schedule is full this summer. Otherwise, I’d be very tempted to haul Tweed down there, too, and have her work with him on cows. I’m going to see about a cancellation list or maybe late fall, early winter.

We discussed the possibility of taking a lesson on the cows with Tweed when I pick up Epona a month from now. (Unless something happens during the training that she has to be brought home.) What could happen? Hard to say. She hasn’t been pushed out of her comfort zone yet, and we don’t know if there are any lingering effects of the pharyngeal dysfunction. So, we’re kind of holding our breath. The vet thought she was ready, as does my trainer. But training exposes things. 

If for some reason she does need to come home, I would definitely take Tweed down to fill her spot. I hope, however, that all goes well. She has been a very smart horse around home, and shows a high level of self-preservation, meaning the ability to remain calm, even when she’s scared, and not make things worse for herself. Her mom had that ability in spades, and it saved my daughter many times. I hope she retains it at training. 

Tweed and I are signed up for The Path to Partnership clinic this Saturday. I wanted to do some trail work to prepare, but the weather has been horrible as an atmospheric river and high winds passed through. It’s expected to be bad again today, but maybe clear up tomorrow and then sunshine and 80’s for the rest of the week. It will be hovering around 90 during The Path to Partnership. 

Weather Whiplash. 

If I can leave my grandson home during his nap, with grandpa to take care of him, AND get a window of decent weather, I will haul out today…then again tomorrow. 

Wish us luck!

Friday, May 31, 2024

The T-Team: Frequency & Opportunities


When I read The Compound Effect the part that struck me the hardest was that our life choices are 100% our responsibility.  Not 80/20, 50/50, or 90/10--100%.

It has been a challenging year, yes. Many extra things were put on my plate, yes. But that could not be an excuse to stop doing the things I need and love to do. It was up to me to make it happen.

Frequency is very important--consistency--but not so much the amount of time doing it. Therefore, I lowered my expectations of what a training session looks like. It doesn't have to be loading up and heading out. It can be 30 minutes on the ground at home. Whatever it takes, just so that it's daily. Frequency builds the relationship and the trust.

In Atomic Habits, he pointed out that it's okay to miss one day--life happens--but don't miss two. Otherwise, you are forming a new habit--the habit of not doing the thing you want to do. Eventually, it will derail you from success. I want to be successful with what I'm doing with Tweed, and we need consistency if we're going to build our teamwork.

It's my observation that the more you work with your horse, the more you will run into big obstacles and resistance, because, if you're working with them everyday, you are working in wind, rain, general chaos, and fluctuating moods. All of those things are opportunities, but...they're also challenging and--well--sometimes discouraging. 

The good news is that about the time you are so thoroughly discouraged you're thinking about giving up, you usually have the most unbelievably wonderful day to keep you going. 

All of this consistency, and thinking about horsemanship, led to a drastic shift in my concept of "training." It struck me that we are a TEAM, and it is TEAM TRAINING, not Tweed training. I played a lot of sports growing up, so this concept is very comfortable. I go to the barn, meet with my teammate, suit up, and we train together. It's as much about me as him. 

I need to practice not looking down. I need to practice sitting back on my butt and not tipping forward. I need to practice having more courage..balance...strength...understanding...and communication.

Where is the T-Team at today?

Well, we are working on a few things:

1. Trot to lope transitions. Tweed was getting emotional during the transitions, so we started doing lots and lots of them. Now, he goes back and forth pretty darn good, and we don't have to spend much time warming up.

2. Vertical flexion and working off the leg.

3. Getting back to work. Tweed, like all horses, wants to get worried about things around us. His herd mates eating grass while he works. Grandson throwing dirt. Cows running up with big white bags in their mouths. Training at home has provided us endless (ahem) opportunities.

4. Maintaining speed. Tweed wants to walk at a 2, and when I ask for a 3 or more of a working walk, it is harder on him and makes him want to take up the trot. Going slower also gives him opportunities to think about other things and tune me out.

Here are a few videos of the work from the last couple of days. The first day was with my trainer.

Trot to lope transitions, on the line, just in case the cows sleeping nearby did something crazy.


Turning on the rail. (Right now, we're only doing this at the walk and trot. The object is to keep him going the same speed, turn, then pick the speed back up. It's not there yet, but should come soon.)



This next clip is long and boring, but it wasn't boring in saddle, because I could feel Tweed getting worked up underneath me, even if it doesn't show in the video. 

Before this, one of the cows got up and started shaking a big white bag. Tweed worked through it very well.

But right before this clip, my dog, Lucy, went over and started to bother the rest of the cows, which got them up and moving away. You can see that Tweed starts to arch his neck and slow down. He is wanting to take control back. He really, really wants to look at them and get excited. I had visions of last week swirling through my head. (The Scary Cow Obstacle).


Sorry about the audio. It was windy and lots of airplanes in the sky that day.

Today, we were out there working on the same things, but alone. It was a much nicer day--no wind, and no cows--but my husband did jump on the 4-wheeler and zoom out with our dog, Lucy. A part of me wanted to yell out, Hey, we're training over here. Be quiet! But then I remembered that it's good training...and I need to use it as an opportunity.

As I look back at this video, it seems that without my trainer there reminding me, I'm not keeping him in vertical flexion. His head is bobbing around freely much more, and that is also affecting his turns. They became wider, rather than rocking back on his haunches. I'll have to send this to her, and see if she agrees.


I look forward to the day that Tweed and I have a working rhythm, communication, and mutual respect.

We're chipping away at it.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Semi-Silent Sunday

I want to take a moment to honor Shirley's mare, Coyote Belle, who has passed on. Tumbleweed is not one of Coyote Belle's, but I have admired her babies for many years. I wanted Rio, with his heart-shaped star, so badly, but it wasn't meant to be. She was a noble-hearted horse who produced the most amazing foals. She will be missed by many. Rest in peace and big hugs to my baby's first human mama, Shirley.

******

Best saying ever when it comes to horses: what a difference a day makes.

trot to lope to trot

One-step disengagements.


Who made this lunge line? I remember it being someone from the blogosphere. 


It sure has been a good one.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Unexpected Cow Obstacle

Yesterday was a little crazy. Went out to work with Tweed and mid-way through, the cows from the day before made their return, running up to the fence to watch. 

The head cow, a big black one, even had a bag in her mouth. Last year she jumped the north fence and got in with the neighbor’s herd of cattle and made quite a show of it. My horses witnessed the whole thing and now find that herd quite unpredictable. When they come running to the fence, Tumbleweed thinks they’re coming through it, too. 


A crazy cow WITH A SCARY BAG in her mouth!

Tweed was loose in the round pen doing trot to lope transitions, so his energy was slightly up. He went into flight mode and banged a panel, cutting his leg. I calmed him down and got him haltered, then did the groundwork we did from the last post. 

Afterward, I texted my trainer the videos to see if I should do something different. This was her reply:

You did a fantastic job of claiming the space tweed wanted to be. That alone gave him a new job. 

I don’t think you could have done more. As he learns to put his focus back on you for a few seconds you can give him those jobs. One of these days you will see him looking for guidance when he gets worried. You’re right on doing the exercises to ask for his brain. It slows his anxious energy and tunes him in to you even if he struggles to relax. The cows are great practice. Like deer coming to see what your about or geese that stand up and won’t move off the trail.

In other words, yay, cows!

But I do think, knowing these cows love to run up on us like that, I will keep him on a long line for this work. He’s comforted by contact. 

After we were done, I released him in the arena with Foxy, hoping the cows would come back. They did. 



Tweed didn’t seem to care, but once Foxy saw the cows, she wanted out. 

*****

I had tended to his cut and scrape with SWAT, but one of them needed more. 



Time to put on the vet hat. 


Good luck wrapping a bandage near a hock! It took me three tries, and not wanting to get it too tight, it still came off by morning. 

Try one. 


Try 2


This one probably would have stayed on, but it cast the hock. 

Third time is a charm. 


I didn’t have any help until my 3rd try, and Tweed let me climb all around him to get it wrapped. He stood stock still and wouldn’t budge one inch, even when I asked him to. He wasn’t frightened, but I’m positive that he did not want to hurt me. 


I saw this graph later that night. Remember the book, The Compound Effect? Well, I have been working with Tweed every day. Most days are uneventful, and don’t get a post, but because we are working and training together so much more, I am seeing more. 

In the short run, it can look like slow progress or even going backwards somedays, but the consistency will pay off big down the road. It’s all about learning to be a team and trusting each other. 


Friday, May 24, 2024

Random Stuff

This post is going to be a bunch of snippets, seamed together by nothing. Streams of consciousness blogging. 

****


A horsewoman is also a vet. Through the years I have become quite the expert at home horse health, especially keeping the elder equines chugging along. Currently, I’m soaking and wrapping Cowgirl's front left hoof for an abscess. It amazes me how patient they are when they know they're being doctored. She just stands there with her foot in the bucket for 15 minutes, then patiently as I wrap the poultice. I think they're grateful, and it sure is rewarding when we fix what’s hurting them. 

***




I’m taking Epona to training on June 7th, the day before the Despooking Clinic. It’s 2 hours away, and next to my mom’s town, so I’m going to pick her up and bring her home with me, then take her to the airport the next morning so she can fly out to Tennessee with her cousin and best friend. They’re going back to their hometown. 

My daughter is working with Epona on Trailer loading and hauling so that it won’t be as stressful for her. My trainer, Regina, is helping her. 

Regina had an excellent suggestion. She said to send her down with the fly spray she is used to in order to prevent hives. Apparently, when a horse is stressed, any new spray can become an assault to their skin. 😳 Brilliant suggestion. 

And, of course, make sure she continues on the same exact supplements. Basically, provide as much continuity as possible. 

Another interesting factoid, Regina doesn’t let her horses looky loo when they dismount from the trailer. If they do, she takes them back in and works with them until they stand still inside (rest) and outside. She can unload and drop the rope with her horses. 😳 I need to up my unloading game. 

****

Slippity-doo-dah. 

Our local saddle shop refleeced my favorite saddle and while it was taken apart, reinforced and oiled it. He did a beautiful job, but the new wool is going to be slick and slippery until it compacts. 







I love this saddle. After riding in it for 20+ years, I am used to its feel. 

Regina had an idea to keep it from slipping: cut gripper shelving liner 5-6” short of the saddle length and place it between the pad and saddle. (I just bought a new Five Star wool pad in a slightly larger size than my old one. Tumbleweed seems to have grown into a 32”x32” pad.)


Here is the new pad, with the gripper. Going lengthwise, as shown, did not work. We still had slippage. An adjustment needed to be made. 


0Old 5 star pad. 30”x30”, but a little too short for my saddle. 




I stopped mid-lesson and we took the saddle off, and repositioned the gripper to go side-to-side, draped over the middle, rather than long way along the spine. 

It worked much better. 


****


Hell no. 

Half way through our hell-at-home lesson yesterday, a herd of cows came running to our fence line. The neighbors just put them in last weekend, but our horses haven’t been in pasture to share the fence line and check them out. (Which is probably a good thing.) Tweed saw them and his head shot up and his tail flagged up. He was like, GAME ON!

I was like, Well, there will be NO riding today. 

My trainer was like, Oh, there will be. Hee, hee, hee. 

She told me to trust the process and get his head back in the work by disengaging one step and going to neutral. 

Tweed wasn’t tuning in, so she said keep walking towards his hindquarters until he bends and softens into you. Don’t stop until you get soft from him. Over and over. Lots of walking toward his hip. Stopping when he got soft. When he put his attention back on the cows, more walking to his hip, more disengagement. Eventually, he remained soft and attentive, and we went back the one step, then neutral, and get him to wait for directions. 




(If you’re curious about the bent panel, Beautiful Girl did that back in 2007. She escaped her stall and run over that bar, didn’t break any bones, and I found her out running with the herd.)

The title of this section is HELL NO, because that is what I thought about riding Tweed when he locked onto the neighboring cows. But it didn’t take too long to get to HELL YEAH! It’s time to ride! 







Regina: I told you so. 

****
I have a horse friend who accompanied us to a wine tasting yesterday afternoon. 


She is the party planner. Or, more accurately, the horse adventure planner. 

As we were drinking wine and talking, she came up with a horse camping trip for next fall to a place 4 1/2 hours away that I’ve never been. The boys can golf there, and we can ride the 7.5 mile loop trail. 

Whatever the case, I agreed to it. We have a tent, so we can tent camp and haul Tumbleweed. 


The wine was very good, and I highly recommend it.