Sunday, April 13, 2008

The 3 Rs: Reading, Riding, and Recession

This is picture from last summer when Gabbrielle was two-years-old. It was the first time that Gabbrielle wore a saddle. She sniffed it a couple of times, and then went about her horse business, completely unconcerned about that weird thing on her back. Her calm demeanor truly amazes me. I've been slowly introducing her to the concept of carrying a rider over the past year. I place my hands on her back and jump up and down beside her. I stand on a stool beside her and lean over her back. She stands still and waits. If I do that to my older horses, they get disgusted and walk away.

I've put a bridle and snaffle bit on her, but her head is still so petite that I can't adjust the bridle to be small enough to fit her. Today I put a foot in a stirrup and wiggled the saddle back and forth. Again, she just stood there quietly. Based on her demeanor I would think that she would accept me onto her back in a saddle, but I'm waiting for her to grow and fill out a bit more. I'm hoping I can have her ready to mount by this Fall.

In the meantime I'm trying to learn how to ground drive. I have collected dozens of books on horse training over the span of the ten years that I've been fortunate enough to own horses. I'm embarrassed to say that I've read very few of them. I've got the curse of hardening lenses, so I can't read without a couple of magnifying glasses attached to my face. I haven't found a prescription for glasses that allows me to read AND see what's going on around me outside of a three-foot radius. My optometrist won't give me bifocals because I have problems with vertigo. Therefore, I'm uncomfortable wearing glasses, which makes me uncomfortable with reading.

My other issue with reading is that it is rare for me to get ten-seconds of uninterrupted time, so it's a struggle just to complete one sentence. For those of you who have site meters, you may wonder why I visit your site ten times in one day or sit on it for two hours. It's because I start to read your posts, and then have to answer the phone or the door or the dryer buzzer or the oven buzzer or the dogs barking or an email or an instant message or someone talking to me in person... I read both books and blog posts in fragments when I get a few seconds here and a few seconds there. I also have to do the same thing with writing my posts.

But back to ground driving... I have never done it before. I can recall Bombay's first trainer walking behind him and smacking his haunches with two long ropes that were strung from a bit in his mouth through the rings of a surcingle to the trainer's hands. A surcingle is essentially a cinch that goes all the way around the horse's mid-section or barrel, and it has metal rings sewn on in different locations. I contemplated buying one, but wasn't inspired to pay $50 for a piece of tack I will only use for a few weeks. I decided to string the ropes through the stirrups of the saddle instead. (I've got to save every penny, because my kids are going to be in college for a minimum of the next seven years and we are still trying to figure out how we're going to pay for it. The expense of a college education for a 4-year degree can be the equivalent of buying a house now-a-days. So, it's like we are buying two more houses.)

I attached two lunge lines to the side of Gabbrielle's halter, strung them through the stirrups, and attempted to walk behind her. But there was one problem -- one major problem. She kept turning to face me. She refused to let me step behind her. I could run circles around her, and she'd just keep turning to face me. Even when I cracked a whip to make her move away, she faced the whip. I took a step backwards, and Gabbrielle took a step forwards. An image flashed in my mind of GaWaNi Pony Boy driving a horse from the front, so I continued walking backwards, and Gabbrielle continued to follow me. I pulled on the right rope so that her head turned to the right, and her body followed. I did the same with the left. We were doing well until Gabbrielle started getting distracted and looking around. I became aware that several of my neighbors had come out of their houses to watch. One neighbor asked if I had ridden her yet. I explained that she's still too small to carry someone of my size and weight, and maybe she'll be ready in the Fall. Gabbrielle couldn't concentrate anymore, so I ended our lesson, gave her plenty of praise and treats, and then rode Bombay on the obstacle course again, knowing I've got to ride every chance I get.

In fact, that morning I stopped by the local feed store to buy some dog food. The cashier commented on the beautiful day and asked if I planned to be riding. I recall telling him that I woke up in a lot of pain and was too stiff to ride at the moment. We've been through enough expensive mattresses of different firmness/softness levels that I know the problem isn't the mattresses. Fortunately, I worked out those kinks by mid-day and was able to ride. When I ordered a bag of my brand of dry dog food, the cashier's eyes got big. He said, "I'll have to check our inventory," and disappeared into a back room. He returned informing me that they only had two bags of dry dog food left, and neither were my brand. He explained that because of fuel prices, the trucks aren't coming by very often anymore to deliver supplies. This is at least the third time I've had to switch brands because mine was not available. I thought, "Soon there won't be any dog food at all. Are people going to have to start feeding their dogs table scraps then?"

First hay prices skyrocketed in part due to fuel costs, and now it is hard to find dog food. Last weekend I picked up some extra hay at $12 a bale, plus tax, and the farmer told me that he can't even pay his electric bill. Everything he makes is going toward fuel and fertilizer. People say that one of the first signs of a recession is RVs and horse trailers with FOR SALE signs on the side of the road. We've got more and more of those popping up every weekend. Hang on to your hats. Some of these storms that Mother Nature has been sending our way may seem like a sneeze compared to what Uncle Sam and the economy have up their sleeves.


I'm Mikey said...

It's starting to really scare me, this economy. I read an article yesterday stating that we've peaked on our global oil and from here's it downhill, prices go up and up and within 30 years it will be GONE. Which will affect our shipping tremendously. Within 10 years it will be a crisis that will cripple our economy.
We're already seeing it. I'm wondering where I can move that I can grow my own hay... for real. Things are going to change... not for the better.

sue said...

I have done a fair amount of ground driving.. hate to tell you, but invest in the proper equipment!!! part of that turning to face you issue may be due to that... and a proper driving bridle will keep her from looking about too much.... if you take a look at my blog, especially from last fall, you will see tons of photos of us driving Tonka.. I would be happy to email you with some of the things I have learned if you care to hear about them.... I love driving!!!!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Mikey - I'm worried too, but by looking at the traffic on my road on a Sunday, I'd think no one else is concerned about the cost of fuel, at least.

Sue - Excellent! I was hoping someone would be available for tips. You are welcome to email me at I read through a few of your posts. You went the whole distance by getting a cart! You even drove Tonka down a street while walking behind him. Now that is confidence!

Rising Rainbow said...

I hate to say this but I'm thinking along the same lines. It's looking like things could get really tough.

Twinville said...

I've been noticing a lot of horse trailers for sale on our local Craig's List lately, at least 2-4 a day!
Usually people are selling them in the Fall because that's when they seem to get rid of horses around here, because it's too cold and windy to ride for more than 5 months.

Hay has went up from last year, over $2.00 a bale (from $6.00-$8.00), but like you said, people don't seem to be worried too much and are still on the roads.
We only live 2 miles from I-40, and there don't seem to be any less trucks and trailers driving through our state, either.

But there are little changes, like you mentioned, if we all keep our eyes open for them.

(ps, my word verification today was "GnCud"...made me laugh thinking about my goats swallowing their cud. hehehe)

Callie said...

It's here and it's gonna get much worse before it gets better. We've had to tighten our belts. I'm hoping my hay prices stay stable.

Lulu said...

I think many of us are feeling the pains already! I had to drastically shorten my horse show schedule, and my trail riding schedule. With hay and fuel prices, I have to spend smart.

I've done tons and tons of ground driving, and never botherd to buy a surcingle. I agree that the correct equipment could definitely help! Lucky for me, I have done just fine without. (Now that I said that, I will probably have problems in the future!!)

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

The changing economy was part of the reason I was so happy to move home. The one good thing about here is there never has been any money so things never really change. We just keep limping along.
Along the lines of driving-I have never had a surcicle. If your mare does not want to move forward try running just one drive line through the stirrup and lunging her. The other drive line can be over the saddle, but not through the stirrup. Once she is lunging good in both directions(you will have to change the lines when you change directions)) you can flip the loose drive line over her hip and just hold it loosely. If she gets too excited, just drop the loose line and stop her.
As she gets comfortable moving you can work your way to the back and start driving her.
I don't do a lot of ground driving anymore, but still use this technique to get colts used to things around their butts. and hind legs. Very important for a rope horse.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Rising - I'm wondering how it is affecting Arabian horse breeders like yourself. The lady who bred one of my horses is still buying breedings and birthing foals.

Twinville - That is interesting that people in New Mexico are giving up horse ownership because of the winds.

Callie - Thanks for the input. It gives us an idea of how widespread this is.

Lulu - Hauling those horse trailers around sure does guzzle a lot of gas.

Browneyed - Thanks for that advice. I'll give it a try. Gabbrielle is really good about letting ropes get wrapped around her legs without feeling panicky. I've spent a lot of time throwing ropes over her back and neck, around her legs...

Twinville said...

You said:
"Twinville - That is interesting that people in New Mexico are giving up horse ownership because of the winds."

I think I must have miscommunicated or something.

No. It's not as simple as that.

It seems that quite a few people don't want to feed and provide vet care for a horse that they can't ride for about 5-7 months a year.

So, instead of keeping the horse around all winter, it gets sold or even leased out to new owners (with indoor arenas, I'm betting).

Also, keep in mind that the wind we get here is not just a summer breeze.
We often get gusts up to 65 mph...and it's the kind of wind that bites into your skin, digs through your clothes and gives you windburn and chapped skin.

And it spooks horses something terrible because all sorts of odd smells are blowing about and they probably are getting whiffs of the mountain lions and bears we have up here. But the horses can't tell from which direction the smells are coming from.

So, horse riding in the winter is not as much fun and keeping water unfrozen and fighing those gusts of bitter wind while walking up the steep hills to the barn twice a day can be drudeery for many folks here in the mountains.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Twinville - I understood. We had huge winds here yesterday with dust devils blasting through every few minutes. In addition to the problems you mentioned, it's not good to get all that dirt and sand in your and your horse's eyes. I have an eye infection this morning, because of it. We get 80 MPH gusts in the valley and 100 MPH gusts at the mountain peaks. It doesn't last for 5 to 7 months, though. We get plenty of riding time.

Shirley said...

One thing you didn't mention on ground driving, so I don't know if you do it, but if you tie the stirrups down(run a piece of twine from one to the other so they can't flap) it can help to prevent the horse being able to turn and face you. Keep a light feel on the driving lines so that you don't have a lot of slack, and can tighen the outside rein if she tries to turn to face you. I am going to be ground driving my fill, Sassy, this summer and am really looking forward to working with her.

Twinville said...

hehe. I hear ya on the dust and sand blowing in eyes and such.

Yesterday after riding, I rubbed my face and I could feel the grit imbedded in my pores!
When I took my shower I vigorously scrubbed my face and noticed the small beach on the shower floor.

I am SO ready for the sand blasting to be over!