Monday, June 30, 2008

Ethan to Alexandria - pictures

Waiting for the ride to start -- they shuttled trailers down from the farm to the arena where the ride ended, so luckily there were lots of good stout railroad ties to attach horses to after the trailers left.
J's mare Sheba is 26 years old this year. She's Arabian, TB, Morgan, and probably a bit of QH, and is one of the best rough country horses I've ever seen. She's ponied a ton of babies in her day, worked cattle, and just generally done anything she's asked. Not a kid's horse though -- she can spin on a dime and fly 10 feet sideways in a heartbeat when she wants to.

I wish there'd been more scenery to capture yesterday, but much of it was pretty much like this:
Or like this.... Not that I'm inclined to strip and ride topless anyway, but the idea of a possible gravel landing pad and that exposed skin (shudder) - although from a purely selfish perspective, it wasn't hard on the eyes! Luckily the one rider that did come off landed in the relatively softer long grass of the ditch.

We paused for a bathroom break at Hanson Lake, receiving some dirty looks from the swimmers, although we stayed on the pavement of the parking lot and didn't leave any horse apples for bare feet to hit.

I thought I had a couple of the horses sleeping at the trailer, but I must have dreamed that part. They were happy to be standing still, though, and so were we!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Good friends, good weather, and...

A good horse. I'm lucky to have all three, and to have an understanding husband who told me to go have fun tomorrow.

A group of local riders and drivers threw together a cross-country ride this weekend, and once again C & J are playing chauffeur for Sunny and me. (The search for a suitable three horse trailer continues, but that's another story.) At any rate, I'm going to play on the trail and just enjoy my horse, and will - hopefully - be home to attend a re-scheduled cookout that was weathered out today.

We debated the logistics of all of us going, but the kids haven't ridden enough to make a long day in the saddle pleasant, and weren't excited about the prospect of a wagon ride in the heat. (I can't really say I would be thrilled, either!)
Well, that was yesterday. Today was the ride. Beautiful day -- lots of sun, high clouds, enough breeze to keep the bugs off without blowing everything away. Sunny was easily caught (although I definitely need go out early some days when I don't intend to ride him - he's getting a wee bit suspicious that seeing me early means work!) and he's a peach to load. The "trail head" was a local farm only about 5 miles away, and our destination was the local horse arena on the outskirts of a small town about 10 miles as a crow flies.

I've ridden on a couple of these local rides before, and they usually involve a bit of road riding, but mostly we end up winding around in and out of pastures and across cut hay fields. Pretty, not too taxing, and with a shady spot to stop for lunch. Had I realized this one was to be 9-10 miles of gravel topped off by 2 miles of blacktop, I would have passed. Sunny doesn't have shoes on - ordinarily he doesn't need them - and I don't like riding on blacktop. A lot of it's slippery when it's hot, the concussion is hard on legs, and there are a lot of less than careful drivers out there. I also discovered that I can't ride for long, flat distances on a hard surface without my lower back protesting badly. Hills and terrain that allows for varying speed and position I'm fine. Even on softer surfaces - fields, etc., I'm okay. Not gravel or pavement.

So, after a very long day with lots of walking (I think I walked about 6 of the 12 miles we covered), I'm sure of two things: 1) Sunny has a definite future as a steady trail horse - he wasn't fazed by much of anything, and 2) a trail ride needs a trail, not a road.

And now, I am going to bed. Will get pictures from the day up tomorrow.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How long is long enough?

Tonight I had an hour. One hour total, from stepping out of the car at the farm to stepping back in. The kids had been promised we'd go bowling, and between supper, the inevitable teen cry of, "I have to do my hair!" before leaving the house, and getting the horses called up, my evening was a lot shorter than I'd initially planned. Funny how that seems to happen!

We had rain last night and all morning before it cleared, so it was hot and sticky and we arrived at the farm in the evening lull when the breeze dies and mosquitoes and heel flies attack in swarming droves. The horses were quick to come in, and while they were muddy from the rain earlier in the day, Sunny is too fastidious to be much of a wallower, so it was the matter of minutes to get him brushed off and tacked up.

H took over my camera, so she gets the photo credit.
The frog prince survived his horse encounter
unsquished, although it was a near thing.

After I convinced H to part with my camera for a bit, T took some video, but I neglected to tell him keep it short, so I'll have to see if I can edit it into short clips tomorrow. I got in about 15 minutes of nice circles and serpentines, but mosquitoes - is there a name for those hovering masses of bloodsuckers? A fog? A whine? A welt? Whatever you call them - they kept us up on the driveway and lower lawn where the grass was short. (I wish we could work up even a small bit of ground for an arena, but pasture's at too much of a premium.... gotta keep the sheep happy!) Staying out of the long grass did help a bit with the bugs, but not as much as Sunny'd have liked!

When I was through I tossed M up for a brief lead-line session, leaving just time to untack, brush & turn out before my hour was up.

M & Sunny get reacquainted

My quandary though, is this - is a 15-20 minute ride better than nothing, or am I just encouraging a short attention span? Do I continue ride on these shortened evenings and hope I can get something accomplished? Tonight our 15 minutes felt good, and brief sessions for groundwork - five minutes here, 20 slipped in there.... I have good results with those. But for under saddle work, I suspect that when I consistently don't have enough time to spend, I'm ending up ingraining a lack of work ethic. I really don't want that. I know some of you out there ride on tighter schedules than mine - what's your answer? Is an occasional long working session enough to keep things in tune? Indoor arena, lights (wishful thinking...)? Or am I worrying for nothing?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More than halter

Arabians frequently get a bad rap from people who think they're "just for pretty," that they're halter horses not for real using. The same is sometimes said of bred-for-halter Quarter Horses. I'm not going to get into that debate here. I will say, I think that showing young stock and even older horses in halter on a local level is a great way to get them out and show them the world without spending an insane amount of money. ( Local level, close to home -- no gaudy silver show halters & custom-fitted halter blazer necessary!) It's also a great way for those less comfortable in the saddle to participate in something with their horses.

That said, halter/showmanship classes have never been my favorite, either to watch or to participate in, but they aren't the only game in town anymore. According to an old article I ran across recently, in-hand trail classes have apparently been popping up all over, with obstacles gaged to suit various age levels. (I guess maybe I'm just late to discover this whole phenomenon -- it isn't the first time!) But really, what a cool way to introduce a young horse to the idea that they can do more in the show ring than pose and strut!

My first exposure to in-hand trail came last year in Iowa at an Arabian club-sponsored open fun show. The class was open to all ages of handlers and horses, although I don't think any of the four-legged competitors were younger than three. They used the same obstacles as the under-saddle class, but adjusted for speed (no lope/lead changes). It was a lot of fun to watch.*
Has in-hand trail made it to your area? If so, what do you think?

On the subject of trail classes in general: one of Pony Girl's recent posts was refreshing. Maybe it's just me, it sure seems like trail classes are getting to be more about showing pretty gait changes and negotiating ground poles, gates - okay, those are a valid trail obstacle - etc. than really showing how horse & rider deal with interesting challenges. Whether it's due to insurance premiums, lack of imagination or lack of materials, these days most of the "obstacles" seem to be technically difficult rather than potentially scary: sidepass along a rail, stand for dismount, pick up feet, remount, negotiate a bridge, retrieve a letter from a mailbox....

Any of those are potentially challenging for a young horse, but not really frightening for a more seasoned mount. My trail class memories from childhood 4-H involve things like moving a crated live chicken or a rattling bag of pop-cans from barrel to barrel, slickers, ground tying, dragging a tarp, and other horrors, most of which seem to have vanished, at least from the sanctioned shows that I've been to lately. Winning today's classes often comes down to bare tenths of a point, as the experienced competitors jog through predictable patterns without breaking a sweat -- what happened to seeing how the horse/rider combo might really react to something strange on the trail?

What's your experience: are you still seeing creative trail challenges where you show? Are there obstacles you'd like to see more of, or that you still see a lot of people having problems with? Would you participate in an in-hand trail class if one was offered?

[*Complete aside: my absolute favorite memory from that Iowa fun show was a pint-sized young lady on the 17+ hand Standardbred in double bridle and saddleseat rigging negotiating obviously unfamiliar pole and then barrel patterns. Apparently neither horse nor rider had ever run either barrels or poles before, but with lots of encouragement from the crowd ("Just think of it as another pattern!" "Around to the left - your other left!!" and, "Run for home!") they turned in a time fast enough to earn them a ribbon in each event. And if you've never seen a racking horse do a barrel pattern, it's a hoot!]

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Meet the crew

Didn't get much - well, any - riding in this week, but for a happy reason. T's (now mine, too!) kids, Hope and Marcus arrived on Saturday for the summer. In preparation we spent evenings after work getting rooms ready, cleaning out the garage, organizing tools, etc. They're settling in, and will be (hopefully) more excited about the horses as they were last year, but if not that's okay, too.

I'd anticipated spending Sunday afternoon riding, but ended up chatting with the BO for longer than I'd planned, so just did some brushing and hanging out. It was nap time, as you can see!
Sunny and Thunder
A sea of ears and mane
The crew...(QT video)

After documenting the napfest, I headed home for supper (garlic lime shrimp on the grill, yummy!) and then we took the kids fishing. H reeled in fish after fish, leaving the boys in the weeds. She even managed a small Northern Pike, which she stated, "Just looks weird!"
Fish Removal Service

The Pike

Not having renewed my fishing license yet this year, I was happy enough to camp out on the bank with my book, serving as the designated bug spray wielder when necessary. The mosquitoes were out in full force, but protected by copious amounts of Off! and with the fish biting, no one seemed to mind too much.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mosquitoes: the swarm descends

I knew they were coming, those darn little blood-sucking fiends that appear every year about this time. And yes, I mean mosquitoes. Oh, there were a handful around as early as March. The first warm spring days always produce a few, but June is when they really become a nuisance.

It's always a trade-off - no rain, fewer winged biters; more rain, horses knee-deep in lush green pasture grass, full stock tanks, (hallelujah!) lower fire danger.... And swarming hordes of tiny monsters.

At the farm, the top pastures and the north neighbor's grove drain into the northeast horse pasture. Once the water down there gets low enough not to run, the mosquitoes start hatching. Added whiners arrive from the south neighbor's ponds. His pheasant hunting operation/private game preserve is lovely place to ride in the early spring, summer and early fall, with turkeys, deer, foxes, pheasants and all sorts of songbirds to see -- unfortunately, we pay the price in the spring when the murmurous swarms descend.

Last night there was very little breeze, one of those hot, muggy evenings where it might rain, but probably not. At the farm the horses were voluntarily dozing in the upper lot, the one that's bare dirt. A few of them were down the hill under their favorite shade tree, also surrounded by dirt from countless stomping feet. Head to tail, with nature's fly-swatters swishing away, their faces and bodies were still dotted with mosquitoes. Thankful that West Nile shots were done in a timely fashion, I fly-sprayed all the ones that tolerate it (yes, I know, something to work on) and wiped the rest down, for what little good it will do.

Riding, was definitely out. Traipsing around in pastures & fields would mean still more mosquitoes, and the alternative was confinement to the far too small for riding upper lot, or riding up and down the gravel roads, keeping to the center so as not disturb the whiners lurking in the tall grass on the shoulders. If we keep getting rain, warm temps (what, warm weather in the summer - who'da thunk it?) and quiet evenings, I may need to check into arenas somewhere close by.

More immediately, I need to find a mosquito-discouraging fly spray. What I'm using does seem to work fairly well for heel/face flies, but mosquitoes, not so much. If anyone is using a brand or a make-your-own-at-home recipe that works, and/or has other solutions/suggestions, I'd love to hear them. (I've used an ivory soap, apple vinegar, citronella mixture in the past which I liked, but for some reason the foamy horses disturbed the BO when it rained....)

In the meantime, I'm crossing my fingers for that South Dakota wind to kick back in, and lots of sunny days to dry out the boggy spots.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

One Cat + Clutter = my blog space

We joke around here that we have a book cat and a computer cat. Meet Mabel, the computer cat.
Unfortunately, from this angle you can't see the desktop image, which is a shot taken between Sunny's ears on a recent trail ride. I tend to change them out as I get one that I really like looking at. The clutter is due to liking being out with the four-feets or curled up with a book far more than I like a) cleaning and/or b) organizing and filing paperwork.

Thanks, Pony Girl for the great idea!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Injury tracking...

Okay, that settles it. I definitely need to keep better health records. Out of the blue this morning my in-box contained a message regarding a horse I used to ride. His new owners have started working toward getting him ready to compete in HA Sport Horse Class A shows. Their question: had he ever sustained a tendon injury or strain? He has a bump on the back of one front leg. He had it when they bought him, and they, and their trainer, are concerned. The vet says it's just scar tissue, but they don't want to push him too hard and possibly aggravate an old injury - if that's what it is.

Well, I had to sit and think for a bit. The bump I remembered. I also knew I'd never seen him lame or even slightly off other than a lengthy period while a truly nasty gash to his off hind healed. That injury - you can't miss the scar - was fully disclosed before they purchased him, and not the subject of their question. I handled this boy from long-yearling age on until he sold to them at 8 (he's now 10). I treated his various scrapes and bruises, all minor other than that sole bad one.... Something about that bump rang a bell, but what?

After pondering I finally remembered him coming in from the pasture with a puncture wound. He wasn't at all lame, and since it was in a good spot for drainage, we cleaned him up, dressed it with salve & wound powder, and let him be. It healed, but did leave a bump. I was able to clear up their concern - no old bow, just scar tissue. And they were in complete agreement with my thought that they might just need to give him enough time to develop the muscle for sustaining collection over longer periods. They were relieved, and I was glad my memory hadn't failed me.

It was a doh! moment: just how many similar nicks, cuts and scrapes have I doctored (and on which horses, when)? Scuffs and bumps not serious enough to have a vet out, but that might have scarred or be the sign of something recurrent. For the times requiring a vet visit, how good are my records? Only two of the (currently 9) horses on the farm are mine, so the decision as to who gets called in and when isn't always mine to make. And since I don't pay the bills, the receipts aren't handy, either. But I'm the one who handles them.... I track worming, vaccinations, farrier visits & other routine stuff, and I do have notes on vet visits and treatment required... why not the "minor" injuries?

Would it be so difficult to snap a quick digital pic (love that date stamp) and save it with the horse's name & stats? Probably not. I usually have the camera handy anyway, and it would be a good way to track how well things are healing, too. I did some hunting, and came across the following at Equisearch: Keeping Your Horse's Health Records, offering some pertinent and practical suggestions for maintaining routine health records. There seem to be a myriad of products sold to help one keep track, many of which provide the ever-nifty search feature -- or I can really go all out and just use the horse planner my loving husband bought me for Christmas. I hereby vow to do better!

So, how well do you document, and what? Do you find buyers are apt to ask in detail regarding old, but still visible injury marks? How often have you had to check back regarding a past treatment for a recurring problem?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

It's on the list... now if I could find the list....

When C called the other night, and after I made the decision to make the trip, I did my usual scramble/rummage through the tack boxes, the barn, and the refrigerator to collect everything Sunny and I would need for the day. It's a task that gets easier later in the riding season after a few outings have nailed down in my head exactly what not to forget.

I'm really going to have to find my horse-camping checklist and keep it where I can actually remember to use it! And actually, I need to have several. One for day trips, one for overnights/longer trips, one for showing, and one for just hauling. I have a longer one for the overnight trips, and have finally mostly compiled one for showing (it keeps getting longer), but there always seems to be something forgotten at home that we really could have used.

On the things-I-forgot list for yesterday go:
  1. first aid kit - I have a horse/people one at the farm, and a travel kit that always goes along, but with traveling with someone else, and packing the saddlebags at home, I didn't think of taking the more complete one. I did have vet-wrap, and wound powder along while riding - gotta love saddlebags, and I always carry a knife/multi-purpose tool and a hoof pick, so we at least covered for minor stuff, but still...
  2. bucket & water - there was ample water on the trail. I'd ridden it before and knew there would be, and I know Sunny's good about drinking away from home, but....
  3. tack check - I hadn't checked to make sure that the new saddle pad I've been using was compatible with the saddle bags I took. I didn't do a test run, or I would have discovered at home that the saddlebags ride up under the pad as soon as Sunny shifts. He would have had a sore back if I'd used them. J was able to tie them on his saddle for me yesterday, but.... Since the pad is working, I think I may need to try something that sits over the saddle horn instead.
Things I did take that worked:
  1. The Freedom Bridle - I've been playing with it since last fall, but hadn't ridden him out and about with it. He does have a tendency to pop his nose up if he doesn't want to stop, but that I can work on.
  2. Saddle & pad -- his back was evenly wet, it didn't shift on the hills, and he didn't have any sore spots at the end of the day, although I'll check him again today to be sure. Hooray for finally finding a pad that doesn't slide!
  3. Food - lunch-size soft cooler filled with portable stuff like cheese sticks, pepperoni slices, and multiple small water bottles pre-frozen. Hard fruit, granola bars (non-sticky kind), etc. Trail mix without melty stuff.
  4. Stiff brush - the $1.79 floor scrubbing brushes from Wal-mart are better than most of the "horse" brushes I've purchased. They're stiff enough to remove dry sweat and mud, but not so stiff that the horses don't lean in to them. And they're comfortable to hold.
  5. Extra saddle pad, just in case (didn't need it, but...)
  6. Sanitary/babywipes & a pack of tissues for emergency TP use.
  7. Cell phone (in case of emergencies)
If you haul to shows and rides that require overnights, do you have a list that you use to pack? What about for day trips? Is there anything you've found that works really well or not so well?

A very Sunny Saturday

Yesterday was a real treat. A friend had called on midweek wondering if we'd want to join her and her husband on an overnight horse-camping outing down on the Missouri. T had drill this weekend, so it was just me, and after some slightly panicked thoughts (time constraints, exploding horses, etc.), I decided that I couldn't NOT go. Further discussion made it a day trip rather than an overnight, and I commenced the frantic scramble that precedes the first extended trail outing of the year.

Since it was only me going, I'd trailer down with C & J. The driveway loop at the farm was blocked Friday night, so I planned to just drop my saddle, bridle & unnecessary morning items at their place the night before, and walk Sunny down the drive, meeting them at the road to load. Of course, that meant I also needed to get the full saddlebags, miscellaneous stuff like my purse, fly spray, etc. down the drive as well. For scrambled as my evening and morning were, it actually turned out that there were only two minor glitches -- nobody brought a bucket (there was ample water available in tanks, etc., so not a problem, but still...), and the pad I've been using on Sunny turned out to be incompatible with the saddlebags I'd brought (solved by tying them on J's horse, as we only needed two, total).

We left Mitchell at about 8:30 with an 80 mile drive in front of us, and pulled in to Greenwood at about 10:30. The day was gorgeous - sun, light breeze, few bugs - and the footing was good. I'd been really worried, as we've had such bad rain this spring. All the flooding tends to turn the gullies to washes and it's really easy to sink a horse in some of the boggy spots. As it turned out, it was dry enough to cross where we wanted in all but a few places, the grass was belly deep and taller in spots (made for very happy ponies, as they could grab a mouthful without even bending their heads). The only real shock of the trip was exactly how low the Missouri is -- more sand than river, it's lower than I've ever seen it, which is scary after the amount of rain we've had.

We'd decided to take it easy: C's knee hasn't been good, and both of their mares have had some "slightly off" issues in the past couple of months, so although both seemed sound and good to go, we wanted to make sure not to overdo, and also not to get too far out if a problem did arise. The terrain we stuck to is mainly grassy rolling hills separated by tree-clogged, sometimes impassable gullies. If you wander, which is the fun way to go, it makes for lots of climbing and descending and a fair amount of backtracking to find a passable route. All in all, it's a workout for flatland horses, but we must have judged things correctly, as they were all still perky and walking out at the end of the day. Happy to stand by the trailer and rest, though! We took frequent breaks for water, stopped for 45 minutes in the shade for lunch, and around an hour later in the day before making one short final loop to see if we could catch a glimpse of the reservation's buffalo. It was not to be on this trip, although we did manage to collect a huge swarm of mosquitoes!

It was a great outing, and I'm so glad I decided to go. Sunny and I have a few bugs to work out, but more on that later. For as little real riding as I'd had a chance to get in this spring, he was a trooper.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A sigh of relief

Well, we did it. It's taken a while longer, but as you can see from the grin on my face, the evening was a success. After delays by weather, wedding and two dozen other odd things, we finally saddled both three-year-olds tonight. I wasn't actually intending to, which is probably why it went so well.

I started the evening with a smaller goal -- saddle Sunny for the first (OMG - can't believe it's June and I'm only now putting a saddle on!) time this year. Friends are day-riding down on the Missouri tomorrow; a shakedown ride for them, to see how the trailer's packed, the horses are riding, and the knees are feeling. She's been battling joint problems, and he's had health issues, so it will be an easy ride, break for lunch, and an easy mosey back to the trailer. When they asked if I wanted to tag along, how could I pass it up?

SOooo... back to the main event: Sunny & the youngsters were caught up, my husband was fooling with Amyra, his filly, and somehow when I opened my mouth out popped, "There's an extra saddle in the car." Oh boy.

But she stood like a placid rock while he saddled, and walked just as calmly around the lot for 5-10 minutes with only the occasional ear cocked to listen to the saddle squeak. PB was just as calm, if slightly more hesitant to actually turn - I think he thought he'd been corseted!

As a first saddling went, it was a complete non-event. Sunny was fine for the few minutes I rode, and I think, touch wood, that he'll be good to go tomorrow. I'm looking forward to riding, but more so to that big sigh of relief I'm going to heave when we're all home safe and sound after a sunny day's ride along the river.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Riding jinx?

I'm beginning to wonder if this year is going to be as jinxed as last year, riding-wise. We have actually had some beautiful days here in South Dakota this spring -- unfortunately, I haven't yet been able to take advantage of them. Between the emergencies (colic), the routine horse stuff (farrier, vaccinations, worming, etc.) and the family have-to's (weddings, graduations, etc.), my horse-time has been significantly eaten into.

Case in point: last night I headed out fully intending to saddle up. Yes, stormy weather was predicted, but for most of the day the sun was out and shining brightly in direct defiance of the weather forecast. It certainly seemed likely that I could get an hour or so in before things turned for the worse. Silly me. As you can see from the brooding clouds hanging over our heads in these pictures, my ride was not to be.

By the time the horses were in and groomed the sky was black and the birds had ceased singing. The ponies ended up with a token amount of grain for coming up, and when I let them out, proceeded to kite around the pasture kicking up their heels and reveling in the cool storm-front breezes. We then hung out on the hill for a while watching the storm clouds and taking a few pictures.

I've decided attempting to make the show this coming Saturday is a lost cause. Not enough preparation, and too much stress for me and the ponies.