Thursday, March 21, 2013

Changing My Mind

One of the many things my horse trainer has taught me is to not be afraid to change my mind.  Having a routine helps nervous horses relax, but at some point you have to switch it up and challenge them.  So, if I am out for a trail ride and I turn the horse to the north, I should be able to say, "Oops, I changed my mind," and turn the horse to the west.  I should be able to change my mind as often as I want as to what speed we are going at, what direction we are going in, and what we are going to do when we reach our destination, and the horse just needs to get over its expectations and assumptions and learn to be flexible.

So, I've been changing my mind a lot in life lately.  When we first moved here, my husband said he wanted his own horse so he could trail ride with me.  My first reaction was that I didn't want to risk having him get hurt.  He's the main bread winner in the family, which makes him more valuable than me.  I've been riding since I was a kid, have been a horse owner for 13 years, and I still struggle with horses.  He's only been on a couple of trail rides on stable horses and mules.  His old knee and shoulder injuries didn't mend well after surgeries.  Why mess up his body more by taking risks?  However, I didn't take him too seriously.  I figured he was just humoring me and really had no interest in riding.  He was just trying to be supportive of my hobbies.

But after our half-day trail ride with the local stable, he said he enjoyed it enough that he's thinking about getting his own horse again.  He feels that even Bombay, who is 15.1 hands now, is too small for him.  He wants some big, stout, solid trail horse that won't stagger when he mounts him.  My reaction to that was that I'm already busy enough cleaning up after three horses, and one more horse means more manure, more expensive hoof trims and vet bills.  We'd have to buy a new saddle that would fit both the new horse and my husband.  I just wasn't up to it.  Instead of viewing a new horse as a wonderful gift for the family, I was viewing it as inviting more trouble into my life.

I mean, just look at how my trainer and I have been scrambling around trying to get consistent enough work going with each of my three horses.  If you've got too much, why get more?  Well, after my unpleasant trail ride on Lostine in which I couldn't stop her from running for home, and then lost a rein and had to dismount while she was running in circles with her head pulled around with the only rein I could reach, and after the trainer fell off Gabbrielle when she jumped four-feet in the air over the wind blowing the tarp up behind her, I started considering selling Gabbrielle to make room for a dead broke trail horse for my husband.

I doubt anyone would buy Lostine because of her age.  I'm sure a lot of people would love to buy Bombay, but I want to keep him.  He's got perfect conformation, perfect hooves, a great personality, really smooth athletic movement, and he was my first horse.  I would miss him sneaking up from behind me and pulling my hat off my head if he were gone.  So, that leaves my sweetheart, dear hugable, kissable Gabbrielle as the only option to sell.  She is super bright and can learn quickly if someone has the time and knowledge to train her consistently.

But then I think about how hard it would be to let her go and tell myself that I've got an empty stall for a fourth horse.  Maybe I should get my husband that horse and just see how it goes.  But I don't really want to buy a horse now while the weather is heating up because I'll have to pay for all the extra hay, farrier bills and vet bills while the horse is not being ridden in the hottest part of the year.  Plus I only have enough hay to last until the first cutting of this year for my three horses.  I think it would be ideal to buy one in the fall.

On the other hand, I've been watching the local market and when something that fits our criteria does show up in an ad, it sells fast.  It sells before the weekend comes and my husband is even home to visit the horse and take it for a ride.  So, I also know that if the right horse comes along, I may have to jump on the opportunity regardless of time and supply conveniences.

That's what I've been rolling around in my head over the past year.  Besides just having a dead broke big trail horse for my husband to ride, I think it would be nice to have at least one horse that I can ride out on the trails alone when I need to relax and get my head together.  Something like a therapy horse.  Then maybe I won't be so frustrated while training my other horses, because we'll have one horse that will hopefully always deliver a reliably safe ride when I need it.

In the meantime, my latest health condition put me out of commission for so long that I had to ask my horse trainer to go at it on her own with my horses.  She sent me her report on what she did with my horses and how they behaved.  She made more progress with all three horses in one session than I have made in the past month.

I realized that it would be a mistake to stop training the horses now, because they are in a phase in which they now know what to expect, so they are evading the training techniques and pushing our boundaries.  If I stop the training sessions because I am stressed out and discouraged from being too busy and sick all the time in conjunction with feeling frustrated over the current lack of progress, then the horses are just going to fight harder for the roles of pasture ornaments.  Though they have gotten worse and performed some dangerous stunts in the past few weeks, I don't think it is any fault of the trainer.  I haven't been able to do my homework and keep up their groundwork at all this month, so we are riding them fresh during our sessions.

I told her that if she has the time to keep working with my horses, she can, but not to expect me to always be there to ride and participate in the training.  I'm being swept away by other problems at the moment, but it would make me feel better to know that at least my horses are being trained and ridden while I'm out fighting fires.  It's better than just having them stand around until my life settles down, and then having to start over from square one.  Plus, should I commit to selling Gabbrielle, she'll have more recent training under her belt by the time buyers start looking at her, so if someone wants to take her for a test drive, I'll have a better feel of what to expect out of her.

So, that's where everything stands at the moment.  I'm not asking for advice -- just letting you know what I've been pondering -- mainly so that people will stop with the comments about getting a finished trail horse.  I hear you, and I make my own decisions on my own time.

In other news, I rode Gabbrielle for the first time in two years today.  My trainer has been riding her, and it was time for me to get a feel for how she moves and thinks when I'm in the saddle.  That dressage trainer who worked with her a couple of summers ago never showed me the cues she used with her training.  I had planned to go back a couple of times to have lessons on her, but for whatever reason that never happened.  So, I worked on getting her light on the bit with both lateral and vertical flexation.  Then I worked on backing her and discovered that if I lay any leg on her while asking her to back with the reins, she goes forward.  That made sense.  The dressage trainer had her nose tucked in pretty tight while she rode her forward.

So, my current trainer and I decided to use the cue of alternating tugs on the reins to cue her to back.  It's slightly different from pulling straight back and waiting for her to lower her head and give to the pressure.  I just need to be aware of her shoulder position to know which leg has room to swing back first and pull the rein on that side a little harder.

Then I rode her around at a walk.  She had a completely different feel from my other two horses.  The trainer had me turn her in gentle circles and then as soon as she put some slack in the rein voluntarily, I'd release the reins and point her forward so she can relax her head.  She was a good girl.  My trainer can't get over how I have two horses that both nicker every time I dismount them.  Cracks her up every time.

Then the trainer rode Bombay out alone on the trails and said he was plodding slowly away from the house and jigging toward it, so she did a lot of bush circling and changes of direction.  He didn't do anything she considered to be dangerous.  She said that he just pops his head up and looks around a lot and can't settle his jig down to a walk.  I suppose I can pretend he's a Lipizzaner just performing his dance when I ride him home -- consider it a really special gait that no other horse has.  The trainer doesn't feel like he's trying to run off with her.  He's just excited to be seeing his girls again.

Also, I picked up a continuous rope rein to try out to see if it was easier to maneuver over the split leather reins that keep getting caught under the saddle pad, and it was a lot easier.  But the feed store only had 8-foot single rope reins, and for trail riding I need at least a 10-foot rein to allow for some slack.  A horse could easily shake that 8-foot rein out of my hands and up over its head, or just drop its head to graze and that thing would be gone, sliding down to the horse's ears if I don't have a good grip on it.  So, I'm going to return the 8-foot rope rein and get a longer one either from my trainer or over the Internet.  I suspect once I get the right length rope rein, riding the horses will feel more like driving an automatic transmission so I can concentrate on just the steering, gas and brakes, as opposed to constantly having to shift gears in order to rearrange those split leather reins into a new position.


Marissa Rose said...

OMG I cannot ride in split reins to save my life!!! My best riding trait is having soft hands, but the second I have split reins I get a death grip on them and focus so much on the feel of the reins I don't feel the mouth and end up tugging on it.

Honestly, if your happy with your horses, then why change anything! I'm sure you will do whatever is best for your situation and the horses as well. I think a GOOD leasor would really help get consistent riding on your horses, and in turn get them to be the horses you want them to be!

Horses, especially hot horses, need so much work! It's all I can do to keep my pony worked consistently, I can't imagine having multiple horses that need to be worked a lot!

redhorse said...

I think your hubby has a good idea. You're right, you need to jump on a good horse when you see it. And you should have better luck selling Gabbrielle with a little more training and feeling of confidence.
Just take your time, you will find her a home where she's even more loved than she is now.

Breathe said...

Lots to think about, none of it clear cut. I got a pair of continuous reins with a long leather clip in the middle, so when a horse grazes, I can just hold on to that part and let the reins drape. I'll see if I can take a picture next time. Nice that the horses are getting worked regularly. Someone told me there's a lot of back sliding with horse training, and sudden surges forward. Maybe that's what's happening?

Cindy D. said...

I can honestly say that I have no advice for you. (whew) What I do have is empathy you with for all the options circling around in your head. I can relate to that and go through it constantly. Questions and questions about horses, kids and life in general and I seem to gravitate back and forth depending on the day. So I can totally relate to how you are feeling right now, and like you, I have decided that I do not have to make any of those decisions yet, and the correct answer will reveal itself eventually.

As far as reins go, I can tell you that I have a set of 8ft ropers, that I like about as much as you liked yours, but they do work nice on the mare as she is so small. I have 10ft ropers made out of braided cotton, and they are quite nice. Very soft and flexible, long enough that I can keep a hold of them when Trax shakes his head, which he does alot.
I also have 2 sets of Mecates. The up side to those is the ability to make my rein section as long or short as I want. And also gives me a lead rope to hold on to if on foot. The down side is that they can be a bit cumbersome and I find that the tail flops around and hits my horse in the face. It doesn't seem to bother them, but I can imagine that on some horses it would.

I'm willing to bet that you will enjoy the 10ft ropers when you get them.

Paint Girl said...

I have mecate reins and I love them. I won't use split reins on the trail anymore, only in the arena.
You just need to do what is best for you. If your husband is serious about getting a horse then he should get a horse. My OH did that to me about 7 yrs ago. He told me one day he wanted a horse and we got him one. He only will ride on the trails, but he tries to help me out when he can with feeding and scooping poo. I also think that by having a calm trail horse that it would help your other horses on the trails. That really helped Brandy. She used to be a wreck on the trails and having Fritz or my sister's gelding taking the lead on trails was the best way to train Brandy for trail riding and for her insecurities. So I really think it would be a great addition for you!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I gave up on split reins 4 years ago. They have their place in show circles, but they're not practical out on the trail.

I also don't like leather reins for trail riding either, for the same reasons.
Having cotton reins is so soft and supple in the hands and they are sturdy, but also very easy to wash, too.

The reins I use and love are my 10' long black cotton trail reins that I bought at Chicks Saddlery online 4 yrs ago.
And I just bought another pair of them to give to my trail riding buddy as a gift, too. She loves them for the same reasons, but also because when we do 4-6 hour long mountain trail rides, we like to stop and let the horses graze when we find a grassy meadow up high, and the 10' length is perfectly comfortable to allow a horse to graze while sitting in the saddle, without having to bend over to give the horse more slack in the reins.

This is the set of reins I have:


Sam said...

Jeremy Cluff made my reins for me out of mule tape - I love them. They are soft and long. I could ask him the price of making one for you? With the Friesians I had the same problem. Most reins are too short.


Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Sam - Thanks! I think my trainer has already started making some for me, but if she doesn't, I'll let you know. The longest I've seen them online is 11 feet. How long are your custom made ones for the Friesians?

achieve1dream said...

LOL! I rode with split reins all the time when I was a kid. I just tied a knot in them. :) Then it was like having both kinds hehe.

It is a difficult decision you are making... I don't even get along or work with Faran and I still cried when I first decided to rehome him. I've had to rehome horses I loved too and it is so difficult. I'll keep you in my thoughts and I hope the right answer presents itself to you.