Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Be Careful What You Wish For

I have a knack for having my wishes come true in the strangest forms.

I have always wished I could get one of these wild desert cottontail rabbits to hold still long enough to let me pet its fuzzy tail.  I wanted to see if it was as soft as I imagined it to be.  I had domestic rabbits as pets as a kid, but I don't recall that their tails were as fluffy and soft looking as the cottontails' tails.  This morning I walked outside and found this:

Yup.  It was mighty soft.  I just wish it could have been attached to a live rabbit.  I'll have to be more specific next time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ever Changing Goals

I've been struggling to come up with things for my horse trainer to do with my horses, because it seems that they always behave well for him.  He hasn't had the pleasure of experiencing their freak outs, perhaps because the novelty of having someone new on their backs distracts them from the things that usually spook them.  He does have a way with horses.  Every time he rides one of them, the next person who rides that horse always notices a huge improvement in the horse.  So, even though he hasn't seen what I've seen my horses do when they are scared, simply having him ride them for a few minutes a week is as good as sprinkling pixie dust all over them and having magical things happen.

In our last lesson, he rode Bombay while I rode my bike.  We began with me walking my bike beside Bombay.  I think because Bombay knows me, he wasn't concerned.  Then I rode in circles around Bombay while the trainer sat on him.  Then he followed me, and even squeezed Bombay up to a trot to chase me. Then I passed them from behind.  Still he had no trouble.  He suggested that I ride around in the distance, because sometimes it is unrecognizable movement that gets a horse excited.  I thought it was ridiculous that we were having to try all these different things just to get Bombay excited, because every time I ride him, if he sees anything moving out on the trails, he gets nutty nervous.  A lot of times I don't even see whatever he sees, but I know he sees something because he pumps himself up real tall and gets the jitters and snorts.

The trainer had me turn up the trail he was on and ride toward him.  Finally, Bombay pumped himself up tall and gave a little snort.  The trainer said he felt his nervousness that time.  I guess going away for a while and coming back made me a stranger in my horse's eyes, but once Bombay knew it was me, he relaxed again.  We talked about setting things up differently in the future so that we don't ride out together, but meet up in the desert from a distance.  I started thinking that maybe I should just ask the old, deaf, retired guy who normally scares that crap out of my horses when he rides his bike to just help out by riding when my trainer is here.  I mean, if this bicyclist has got time to spy on me in my back yard from behind bushes, he's got time to help.

The trainer then worked with P.S. and Gabbrielle on cross-firing.  Gabbrielle has always had this strange, hyper-speed gallop in which her legs just get spastic and out of control.  I constantly worry that she's going to break a leg when she gallops, and it is difficult to get her to slow down.  She also still carries her head like a giraffe, which isn't good for her back.  Of course, Gabbrielle didn't cross-fire much at all when P.S. lunged her in the round pen in front of the trainer.  No one has ridden Gabbrielle at anything faster than a trot since the dressage trainer worked with her back in 2011.  We weren't sure what to expect, and considering how fast she goes when lunged, neither P.S. nor I were inclined to experiment with the pace under saddle with this horse.

Of course, the trainer had no problem teaching her to lope under saddle.  He's fearless and up for anything.  He recognized that Gabbrielle was nervous having a new rider in a different saddle, so he kept her at the trot at first since she was experienced carrying a rider at that pace.  She had never been in a breast collar or back cinch before, but she was experiencing that now.  When he felt her start to relax, he pushed her up to the lope, but she spazzed out and kept going faster and faster like she does when we lunge her.

She spooked at something on the outside of the round pen and ran sideways across the pen.  I held my breath and prayed really hard that he would stay on.  I've seen Gabbrielle dump two riders already while spooking, and I didn't want anyone else getting hurt.  He rode it out with no problem, and once he got the direction of her legs under control and got his stirrup back, he just put her right back into the lope like nothing ever happened.  This time she sped up and gave a pretty good sized buck, which he called a little hop, but it looked like a rodeo bronc moment to me.  Her legs were stretched straight out and up in the air at a 45 degree angle.  Again, he just resumed riding and even made her go faster, so that she would learn that she can't get out of work by trying to dump her rider.

At some point she started limping.  Memories flooded back of the time the dressage trainer led Gabbrielle to the riding arena, mounted, and Gabbrielle suddenly began limping and falling all over the place like she had broken her leg.  I was shocked and scared.  The dressage trainer dismounted, examined her leg and hoof, didn't see anything, said, "She's faking it," got back on and put her through her paces.  That "broken leg" healed miraculously, and she moved just fine.  So, in this incident, I watched quietly to see if this was a true injury or another episode of faking it, and the limp cleared up real fast when the trainer didn't get off to give her sympathy, but moved her up to the lope.  What is it with mares faking injuries?  I've got two of them who do that.

At another point she leaned so far to the side like a motorcycle that the trainer said she almost dragged his knee on the ground.  I guess her speed was what kept her upright.

The trainer said that the turning point was when he decided to just give her a loose rein and let her go as fast as she wanted.  It had a reverse psychology effect, and she slowed down to a more controlled pace.  He felt that her biggest issue was a lack of confidence, and that the best way to get her down to a controlled lope from her crazy gallop would be to just keep riding her at the pace until it's not so scary for her.  Then move her out of the round pen and lope her on a straight of way.

After seeing how see behaved, I certainly didn't feel comfortable riding her repeatedly at the gallop and I really didn't want P.S. taking the risk, so I decided to shift focus and put all the other horses on the back burner while the trainer works this out with Gabbrielle.  We talked about getting her into a better, more collected frame.  He's going to teach her to lower her head on command.  I did teach her to lower her head when you place your hand on her poll, and she's happy to oblige and drop her nose all the way to the ground as long as you aren't trying to bridle her.  But I haven't taught her how to drop her head when someone is in the saddle.

Gabbrielle does really well on the trails with the exception of the occasional spook or refusal to pass garbage, a cactus, or a stranger.  We could just keep her in her comfort zone, but P.S. would like to ride her in endurance competitions some day.  So, it's imperative that the horse be confident and comfortable at all paces with all trail obstacles, and that she know how to carry herself in an optimal manner in order to avoid injuries.  But what's even more important is that she be a safe horse to ride at all paces.

It was good to see that even with her petite bone structure and size, she could carry a heavier person and saddle.  So, perhaps I shouldn't be so concerned about planting my fat butt on her.  I've just always been bothered by the way she sways and falls to the side, catching herself at the last second, when I mount her.  The last time it happened, I decided to just let her become P.S.'s project horse, because P.S. is light as a feather and she has a really good relationship with Gabbrielle.  With P.S. riding her regularly, I didn't think much about goals for Gabbrielle.  I put all my focus on the geldings.  Now it's time that I shift my focus back onto her training.  I feel like Gabbrielle got the short end of the stick, because her training has been interrupted so many times by unexpected events, and as a result, there are holes in her foundation that could come back to bite us if we don't address them.

I went outside today to take pictures of Gabbrielle, but Lostine photobombed the shoot...

Monday, April 14, 2014

My First Snake Sighting of the Season

Scrappy and I almost stepped on this little guy this afternoon.

I'm blind as a bat, so I took some pictures and blew them up on my screen to research what kind of snake it might be.  I didn't find many pictures of snakes with these markings and this coloring, but there were snakes of this size and length that matched, and people were calling them Western Coachwhips.  If anyone thinks it might be something different, let me know.  It was long and thin, and difficult to see.  They say not many people spot them because they are fast and can climb trees and cactus.  This is the first time I've seen one of these.  It didn't try to get away from me, but just posed while I took pictures.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...

Equine Festival Wrap-Up
Okay, I think I am almost fully satiated with showing pictures and reporting on the equine festival.  Just one more picture...

This handler's hips don't even reach this horse's belly, and the top of her head barely reaches its back!  Even if she's a short lady, that Arabian horse is amazingly tall for the breed.

I was watching how well behaved all those Quarter Horses were once they accepted their schooling, and I was thinking about how every trainer I took my horses to had to wait at least a week for my Arabians to settle down and settle in at their stable before they would even work with them on a lunge line.  Yet here I was at this show where trainers were putting Quarter Horses under saddle within a matter of hours.

Then I saw this lady trying to lead this super tall, gorgeous Arab around the fairgrounds, and it reminded me of all the times I've taken my Arabian horses to rodeos and horse shows for the exposure.  They basically ran back and forth on the lead line or ran circles around me, huffing and puffing in both excitement and terror.  This lady had to keep putting her hand up to push the horse out of her space, and it was jigging along acting like it didn't even know she was there.  I thought, "Now, that I can relate to."

But, thankfully, my Arabs have calmed down quite a bit since we moved away from the creepers, and I think that Rock's solid, relaxed, confident nature has had a positive effect on them as well.  All the horses spend more time sleeping on their sides sprawled out without a care in the world, because they see Rock do it and realize that nothing tries to eat him while he sleeps.

I also think that being associated only with people in the horse show world didn't serve me well, because the majority of what I learned was equitation skills and horse show rules, which didn't do much to keep me safe when my horses were unruly.  Now I am learning more about the nature of horses and how to train them from cowboys and cowgirls who have a lifetime of experience working ranch horses.  I feel like the knowledge I am gaining goes back further in history and has a less specified purpose, and is therefore more useful to me.  There are many different cultures within the horse world, and I feel fortunate to have been able to access more than one.

Helpless Hossie
I don't know if I pick them silly or if I make them silly, but I've got some seriously silly horses.  This weekend I heard some banging around outside, which usually just means that some horse is kicking a water tough, but Stewie made me turn and look, because he was squealing like something was wrong.  Stewie, our Chihuahua mix, likes to sit on a pillow at the top of the bed and watch the horses through the window.  He was letting me know there was a problem.  Rock was standing with one front leg in a water trough, and despite getting it in there, he couldn't seem to get it out.

I went outside and tipped the trough, but couldn't tip it all the way over because of the angle of his leg.  Keeping the trough tipped on an angle with one hand, I tried guiding his leg out with the other hand, but didn't have any luck.  I was trying to lift it out from different angles and nothing was working.  Then I looked at Rock's expression and realized that he was laughing at me.  I flapped my arms and said, "Git outta dere!" and he promptly reared up a little and pulled his leg out himself.

Got Air?
One of the things I don't care for about my new neighborhood is that it is legal to build bonfires, and I've got some neighbors who have been doing that every Friday and Saturday night recently.  We like to open up the windows in the evenings to let in the cool breeze, and before we know it, we are choking on smoke and have to close up the house.  The smoke burns my eyes, nose, and throat, and pinches my lungs, making it hard to breathe.  The next day I have an endless headache.  The smoke makes me rub my eyes, and now I've got an eye infection.  I feel like we can't even have our air conditioner running because it blows in the smoke.  It's an awful feeling knowing that I can't even control the air that I breathe because of inconsiderate neighbors.

Because our property is lower than others in the neighborhood, the smoke gets packed in and we really suffer.  I took the dogs outside to do their business and was shocked to see this bonfire roaring so high that it was as tall as the roof of the house that it was next to.  I ran in and got my binoculars to make sure it wasn't out of control, and saw a bunch of people sitting around it in chairs drinking beers, completely unconcerned about the 20-foot flames in front of them.

Fright After Fright After Fright or My Heart Can't Take It Anymore
I'm glad I had the equine festival posts pre-written and queued up for my blog last week, because it was probably the toughest time I've had yet with the dogs.  We forgot to lock the kitchen trash can on a couple of occasions before leaving the dogs alone in the house, and Scrappy knocked it over.  He and Midge got into it and ate spoiled food and chicken bones.  I thought Scrappy was going to explode because his belly was so severely distended with gas.  Both dogs had projectile vomiting, projectile diarrhea, and uncontrollable bladders for the next few days.  The incident didn't do anything to help Midge's recovery from her Pancreatitis.  We couldn't feed her or give her any insulin for a couple of days.  Being diabetic, she's not supposed to eat anything other than her prescription dog food, so getting into the trash was life-threatening to her.

Fortunately, Stewie was locked in the kennel when we left the house, but I had to stay on top of cleaning up the accidents before he made himself sick by eating them, which was easier said than done, because Midge managed to vomit eight times in one ten minute period.  It was a nightmare.  I'm pretty sure I am never going to forget to lock that trash can again.  I hope no one else forgets either, because I'm going to need some serious sedatives to survive another episode like that.

First I thought Scrappy was going to die, then I thought Midge was going to die, and then I nearly killed Stewie in a freak accident.  I'm always careful not to lower the stool of my recliner without first checking to make sure a dog isn't under there.  But one night Stewie managed to crawl underneath my recliner from behind.  I thought he was in the bedroom, and when I pulled the lever to raise the stool and lean back, I heard Stewie screaming.  I pushed the stool back down and sat forward, and he raced out from underneath my recliner.  He's okay, but I came pretty close to having a heart attack when that happened.

I'm praying for a dull, predictable week ahead without anymore traumatic events.  Bombay got his bath and was doused in fly spray, so he better not add any more wounds to his current collection.  I just want everyone to be safe and healthy for a while.  That's not too much to ask for, is it?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Horsemanship Progress

Here are a few more pictures from the horsemanship competition to show you what some of the trainers worked on:

Picking up feet and having ropes around the legs...

Pulling a tire behind them...

Jeremy was the first to ride his horse out of the round pen up to the audience...

He sidepassed him back and forth in front of the bleachers...

This was only the horses' second day under saddle, and the trainers were exposing them to a tremendous amount of stimuli.  Thomas rode his horse out to us too.

He rode the filly right up to the barrels and let her sniff them.

He also cantered around the main arena.

Matthew came out too and took his horse through its paces...

Jeremy had his horse helping him open and close the gate to its pen...

I guess what I took away  from the weekend was that a lot can be accomplished with a horse in a short period of time if you know what you are doing and you do it right.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Spurs Worked

I took dozens of shots of my latest trail ride on Friday, but the battery on my camera died after three cruddy ones, so no pics to go along with this post.  My husband rode Rock and I rode Lostine out on the trails.  I was going to ride Bombay, but once again he has managed to shred his skin in multiple places on something, and I didn't want the saddle pad to rub the raw and bloody areas.  I'm planning on giving him a thorough bath this weekend, and putting a thick layer of bug spray all over him so that he'll stop itching himself like a maniac.  

I lunged Lostine in the round pen before putting a saddle on her to give her muscles a chance to loosen up, and to get the creaking out of her joints.  I instructed my husband to stay on the flat, sandy trails, but he doesn't know the area that well, so when we would reach an intersection, I needed to tell him which way to go.  The only problem was that Rock was moving at a pace that was faster than Lostine's, so sometimes Rock would get so far ahead that my husband couldn't hear me.

On another occasion when I was riding Lostine and the horse trainer was riding Rock, he turned Rock off the trail to go investigate something down in a ditch.  We were headed away from home, so Lostine didn't like losing her buddy horse, and she reacted by backing up the trail to get closer to home and to Rock.  I was giving her all the cues to go forward, but she was clearly ignoring them.  I looked at the trainer and said, "What do I do here to fix this?"

Right then Lostine jolted forward, and he said that she needed more pressure and to get some spurs.

So, on this ride with my husband I was wearing my new spurs, we were approaching the same trail I was on where Lostine tried backing her way home, and my husband was too far ahead to hear me say which way to go.  He went left when we needed to go right.  I made arm movements to point in the opposite direction and yelled out for him to turn around.  I turned Lostine right before Rock had caught up to us, and she responded by running backwards toward Rock and home again.  

First, I asked her to go forward with my usual forward cues, and then when she ignored me and was about to crash into Rock, I gave her one kick with the spurs, and she immediately lurched forward, followed by a bitchy swish of the tail.  She didn't give me anymore trouble after that.  I think I kept her out too long, though, because in the last part of the ride she was stretching her neck out and twisting her head to the side as if she had a Charley horse.  Poor old girl.  I feel bad riding her, but she needs these trail rides every once in a while to get some exercise and fresh air.  I think the benefits of an occasional, short trail ride outweigh being permanently retired and having her muscles atrophy as she just stands in the same spot all day waiting for the next round of hay.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tarp Work

Most, if not all, of the competing trainers used a tarp in one way or another to help with desensitizing their project horses.  Matthew did an interesting exercise by encouraging the horse to go under a tarp that was flapping in the wind.  First, the horse stuck its nose in there...

Matthew raised his arms and stick like a maestro directing an orchestra, and his horse continued to push all the way through under the tarp, coming out on the other side...

Eventually, he stopped lunging the horse under the tarp, and just asked it to rest under it, while he backed off and took a seat at the far end of the pen on the barrels.

Then he did an even more amazing thing.  He sidepassed the horse across the front of the tarp, letting its hooves rip the tarp into two pieces.

He then used the portion of tarp that was no longer attached to the fence to drive the horse around.  I thought it was a creative way to make your horse useful in its own training.

Many of the trainers rubbed tarps all over their horses, covered their bodies, and even their heads with it...

Many used the wind to their advantage, knowing that the tarp is scarier to the horse when it seems to take on a life of its own.

Things got a little crazy once the tarp was attached to the saddle and the horse was lunged with a whole new set of sounds and sensations going on back there...

But all the horses and trainers survived.  Once each horse made up its mind that the tarp was nothing to fear, it was much more accepting of other things, like having a rider on its back.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

First Saddling

Some of the 2-year-old colts didn't respond so well to their first saddling...

I thought it was interesting that many of the horses stood calmly while being saddled, and only flipped out when lunged at the faster paces with the saddle on.  The pictures make it look terrible, but each horse really only threw a fit that lasted about 30-seconds, and then accepted the saddle on its back.  When in doubt, though, starting bareback may be the best route...

This mare was something special.  I went to the pen containing the horses that were being started by the trainers in the Horseman's Challenge competition, and this mare walked right up to me and nuzzled my hands while the other four horses cowered in the far corner.  I talked to her, telling her how special she is, and she allowed me to pet her all over her face and even accepted having me play with her ears.

I saw that the trainers were getting ready to sort the horses into their pens, so I started to walk away.  The mare turned to walk away too, but then I thought of something else to say to her and I backed up to tell her just how smart of a horse she is, and she actually came right back to me, looked me in the eyes, and listened as if she understood what I was saying.

Spoiler alert...  She and her trainer won the competition.  I suspect there will be a lot of people placing bids on her in the auction.  She not only has a level head and a friendly personality, but unique coloring, nice conformation, and she moves like a dream.  When I last saw Thomas ride her, I would have never guessed that she only had two days under saddle.

I told my husband about her, subconsciously hoping that a fifth stall would magically appear on our property so that I could bring her home, but reality always has to win out.