Sunday, November 14, 2010

8 mile Saturday and weekend wrap-up

Is this a happy face, or what?
C and I had a riding date on Sunday. Unfortunately, the bright sunny morning turned into a grey, cold, blustery afternoon. And we left about the same time the sun vanished behind the bluster. Still, the temp was in the 40's - well, almost - and it seemed a shame to not put some miles behind us.

Going away we were riding with the wind. We decided to do our usual route in reverse, which one of us should have had the foresight to realize was a very poor idea. Brrrr! Right into the wind all the way home.

Mainly we walked and talked, but we did a bit of loping on a nice smooth sandy stretch. Sunny picked up a right lead when I asked, and held it much better than he has to date. I only had to bump him back up again twice. I think regular outings agree with him!

C had Lightbulb, her barrel horse - he's long and lean and catty-quick. She was thrilled that he was content to lope along relaxedly, as he doesn't always do relaxed. Lightbulb's stride is so much longer, he was taking one stride for every one and a half of Sunny's.

We walked the majority of that last two miles so the horses would be completely dry when we got home ('Bulb sweats easily, especially in his winter woolies). Between the dropping temp and that wind neither of us could feel our fingers when we got there. Sunny was very pleased to load up and head for home, and I was equally thrilled to crank the heater in the truck!

I thought about riding Sunday, but not for very long. Too many things to get done around the house, but I did squeeze in an hour of grooming and pasture clean-up.

How many horses do you see?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Horse trailer Friday

Since I had yesterday afternoon free after the guys got on the road, and Sunny was squiffy about the trailer last week, I decided to spend a couple of hours working on loading. Not just with Sunny, but with the other four at the farm, as well.

Every time Sunny's gotten in the trailer lately, he's gotten a workout. So I figured it wouldn't hurt to let him be the "monkey-see, monkey-do" horse with no actual work involved except hopping in and out of the trailer a few times. Too bad for him he decided to be uncooperative, as he got a workout anyway!

Rather than stepping in nicely, he tried angling himself around the trailer. I circled him a few times with no joy, so rather than let him continue to be sticky about it, I retrieved the dressage whip and used it to extend my arm so that he knew swinging sideways wasn't profitable.

His highness enjoying some trailer time.

Even with Sunny being a pill (although by the end of the afternoon he was walking in and out as per his usual) Star watched with interest, thought hard, and then decided that inside was by no means a bad place to be.

Taking a moment

Her trailer experience has been very limited, and was a long time past besides, so walking in and out politely was great.

With Solitaire, who has never been in a trailer, my goal wasn't actually loading but just familiarizing her with things without traumatizing her. When she's afraid she tends to freeze, then freak out (which has in the past involved flipping over). Not a horse that does pressure situations well. I just asked her to step up to the trailer, let her investigate, and then backed her away. Then I did "touch-it" with the clicker and the end of the dressage whip from inside the trailer, but never asked her to step in. From snorting and blowing, she gradually started checking things out, and when she was visibly relaxed about things I put her back.

Sunny got loaded and unloaded in between each horse. Thankfully, his initial "I don't wanna," behavior was short-lived.

Thunder, bless his heart, remembered the trailer being a very rewarding place to be, and stepped right in with no hesitation whatsoever. He's ready to go for a ride. :)

The last victim was T's Amyra, and she loaded, albeit with a bit of snorting, nicely, as well.

Considering Sunny's reluctance to load...

Not wanting to overthink things here, but - I know a bad trailering experience can make a poor loader. But T and I are both careful drivers, especially with horses on. I don't think he's been banged around any more than would be caused by road conditions - yes, we do a fair amount of hauling over gravel, but we do our best to avoid any that are badly washboarded or full of potholes and ruts.

But Sunny's generally the first horse in, and he's right up next to the front wall of the trailer - I wonder how much noise the halters and bridles hanging on the hooks in the tackroom make? Trailers aren't the quietest places to be anyway, but I might try hanging some rugs against that wall for padding to maybe cut some of the racket. It can't hurt...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Packing for hunting

Rufus and T are headed west this weekend. It's the long planned, much anticipated hunting with horses trip. This will be their first year, although everyone else along (including the horses) are old hands at all this packing and tracking business.

T was to have gone last year, but a family emergency changed plans at the last minute. This year he was bound and determined nothing was going to spoil his fun.

I did lobby successfully for him to leave the big truck and trailer home with me - I want to ride, too!

Rufus is sharp shod - I'll have to get a picture - for good traction on potentially frozen hills.

T had his list compiled. Need I mention the phone calls if I'd seen, variously, his compass, his long underwear, the missing wool socks he knows were in his drawer last week... At least he knows were the guns are!

I got to make the list of horse-type extras and make sure they were packed.

Basic extras on my list include:
  • halter & lead - spare set in addition to what Rufus is wearing
  • headstall & reins - and spare set
  • saddle/breastcollar/cinch/pad
  • cinch & latigo (spare set in addition to the ones on the saddle)
  • saddle pads (2 extra)
  • box with assorted bucket clips (carabiners), saddle strings, twine, electrical tape, etc.
  • human/equine medical supplies - although since they're going with a large-animal vet, and he's taking his truck complete with vet box, I'm hoping they'll be covered in that department!
  • buckets (2 minimum)
Brushes etc. are already in the trailer, and since J is took his truck complete with vet box, I kept my emergency kit here so that I'll have it if I need it. Hay and grain was already packed, and I didn't need to send the portable corral, as the place they're staying has a barn and corrals - talk about glamping! The humans get to stay in a house with electricity, heat, and a real bathroom. So much for roughing it!

They were loaded and off about 1 PM yesterday. T called this morning to say he'd gotten a deer - they hadn't been out with the horses yet, just walking to scope out the lay of the land.

Monday, November 8, 2010

SSA Mister Jimmy (a.k.a. "Jim Bob")

Did a bit of poking around and found a couple pictures of "Jim Bob" in show shape strutting his stuff. (Scroll about halfway down the page to where half-Arabians are listed, or just do a find for "Jimmy".)

Apparently, driving plans aside, he's for sale for the right (unlisted) price, so if you're in the market, feel free to make an offer - LOL! He seems to be a very nice boy, at least on limited acquaintance.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunny's Sunday

I'm not a huge fan of the time change. It gets dark way too early anyway!

I monkeyed around a bit with Sunny on Friday, but as you can see, nothing serious.

Saturday afternoon's ride route was mainly gravel, and we were clipping right along as the daylight faded. With no shoes, I didn't want to push that hard on Sunny.

This afternoon C and I rode the same route a tad more sedately with Sunny and Bubbles. We loped where the footing on the shoulder was dirt rather than gravel. I concentrated on just getting the lead I asked for and then keeping him in gait and steady until I asked him to slow down.

Trotting, I asked him to soften and step under himself, instead of getting hollow and sprawly, trying to stay consistent myself with hands and seat, sitting up, not forward.

At one point, C asked Bubbles for a nice slow lope, and then gradually increased her pace. I had Sunny trot, and asked him to extend. Bubbles was galloping, and Sunny still had gears left - SO COOL! But the footing got bad, so we slowed back down.

We saw lots of pheasants, a few road hunters, and one slightly terrified bunny rabbit - the horses seemed to be enjoying themselves, and I know we did. It's hard to beat 70's and sun, especially in November. Definitely a day to be thankful for!

Lesson 4: "Jim Bob"

I opted to leave Sunny at home again this week - and ended up riding a Country English horse by the unlikely name of Jim Bob. I've never ridden, or even considered riding Country English, but as you'll see, the big action was pretty much a moot point anyway.

Jim Bob is lovely, although a bit of a puller. Apparently a previous rider taught him to lug badly on the reins - my assignment was to successfully get him to soften - while remembering all the things I tend to do consistently wrong regardless of who I'm riding. I was sporadically successful... Clever E, to put me on a horse that will pull if I'm not working to fix MY habit of giving away my hands!

Can you see the hunt seat lessons resurfacing?

E got on first and rode for a few minutes to give me an idea of how JB goes. A Dutch Harness horse/Arab cross, he's big and round and upright. Like Nick, the horse I rode the last time, he's been to Arabian Nationals a couple of times (Country English and Native Costume), but also like Nick, JB is now headed for a second career. He's going to be a driving horse.
A less forward horse than Nick energy-wise, with E on board, he looked plenty firey, and I admit I was a bit nervous, as powerful as he appeared snorting and blowing, high-stepping around the arena.

Once I was on, although his bigger stride and upright front end made it feel like I was flying, he was really very smooth and comfortable to ride, and I never had the slightest feeling of being out of control.

As you can see, (I wish I had some pictures of E riding him for contrast) with me riding him, JB looks a lot more hunter than country! And although I didn't have to work to make him go, I didn't get more than a few brief snip-its of the action JB showed off with E.

That's okay, though. I'm learning - and a lot of what I'm learning is where MY issues are. The lessons are definitely making a difference in my confidence level, and hopefully in my riding in general. The good news is that I have fairly consistent bad habits. The bad news is that they're pretty ingrained.

For example, for the last several years when I ride I always end up with a lot of lower back pain. To the point where if we're trail riding and doing a lot of walking, I always end up getting off and walking about half the time.

I'm starting to realize that the main cause isn't only lack of riding and nerves making me tight - it's also HOW I ride. Instead of sitting up and breathing, tightening my abs, tucking my butt under and squaring my shoulders, I tend to collapse forward, stiffen through my lower back, and give my hands away. I need to remember POSTURE - to stay both fluid and firm.

So if Sunny pulls, rather than me softening to him, I need to keep driving him forward into my hand until he softens to me - if I automatically give him more rein, all I'm going is reinforcing the pulling. makes sense, doesn't it? Sigh...

After my lesson we headed over so T could ride Rufus. I borrowed C's Casper, and we just had time for an 8 mile loop before it started getting dark.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rufus and the farrier

I keep pondering Rufus and his aversion to the farrier....

Personally, I LIKE new shoes. But for Rufus, chaps, nippers & especially shoes seem to be the monster under the bed - a big hairy deal!

Sunday his behavior as I groomed him before our ride was an absolutely typical for him: doze while being brushed, give each foot politely when asked; ready and cooperative for each hoof. He actually anticipates slightly, shifting his weight off the next foot in line, propping the toes of the back hooves as each front sets down.

I dug and pried at caked in mud and crud, each foot loose in my hand, horse relaxed against my shoulder.

This is the same sweaty, whites of the eyes showing horse that spun circles, popped his front end, and kicked at the farrier last weekend.

Checking his feet for rocks after the ride was a replay of his earlier behavior - each hoof raised easily for my hand when I asked. He's not just like that with me, he enjoys being brushed and fussed over, feet included.

He never seems at all worried about the farrier initially - he's fine with being greeted and petted, at least until the man gets out his tools. It's I start hauling the grooming tools out a rattling box and tapping on his feet when we ride? Maybe...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bonding with Rufus

Post-worming & bot-fly removal for Sunny & the farm herd and Rufus and his group, T had to go do actual work for his Monday student-torture (a.k.a. bio-chem exam), but J wanted to ride and I was game. Rather than put another 8 gravel miles on Sunny's shoeless feet, I opted to borrow T's ride and take Rufus.

I figured, even though I wasn't practicing on Sunny, I'd still get a ride in, and Rufus needs the miles just as much, if not more! He had the whole rest of the weekend off, after all.

We've been discussing the possibility of switching Rufus from his mild grazing curb to something that will allow more precise communication. He can be a bit stiff through his shoulders, and since bending is on my list of things to practice anyway....

I could have gone with the full-cheek snaffle I use with Sunny, but Rufus is accustomed to, and comfortable with, a curb, and what I really wanted was something that would let me isolate sides of his body better than the curb. I opted for a Myler comfort snaffle with slotted D cheeks. With the reins snapped into the slots, the Myler snaffle still allows very mild curb action. The difference is that where a regular snaffle's jointed hinge would have a potentially harsh nutcracker effect, the middle "barrel" hinge in the comfort snaffle allows the cheeks to swivel independently when a rein is lifted or lowered, but not to collapse together like a scissors when picking them both up. That avoids the possibility of jabbing the point of the hinge into the roof of his mouth. (I do use it with a flat leather curb strap, but buckled on as I would for an O-ring snaffle, where the only purpose is to hold the cheek pieces. It isn't there to provide any stop, it just keeps the whole works from potentially sliding through the horse's mouth. )

It would be Rufus' first ride on newly sharp-shod feet, and as much as he hates the farrier's visits... Well, let's just say that getting him trimmed & reset absolutely regularly makes a huge difference, and we'll have to stay on top of the farrier to make sure the schedule doesn't get bumped later and later as it did this time.

The new shoes were an unqualified success. We jogged or loped the majority of the 8 miles, and not only did Rufus not break a sweat, but there was none of the slipping and tripping he'd been doing when the ground got even slightly uneven.

One of the biggest differences was in his lope departures. Instead of flinging himself up and forward, sliding and popping from lead to lead, he was lifting and settling nicely into a lovely, if forward, rocking chair gait. He favors the left lead and needs really clear cues to take the right. He also doesn't "slow" lope quite yet, but a gentle half-halt worked to slow him down for a few strides at a time.

Downward transitions? The horse can STOP. Unfortunately, the first time it wasn't because I asked, but because his companion slowed down. Ummm - ouch!

After that, I asked for verbal warning from my riding buddy, or called the halt myself. Using lots of leg and riding firmly through slowing down was much more successful. And definitely less painful, as it didn't involve a jarring meeting with the front of the saddle!

The bit? Worked fine. I liked it, and Rufus didn't seem to mind it. We had a couple of squiffy moments - pheasants flying up, etc., and I didn't have any issues settling him, so control wasn't an issue, but loosening his neck and shoulders will take more time than one day's riding, and obviously, T's going to have to give it a try and see how they pair of them get along with it.

Sunny's feet? I'm reluctant to shoe, since I'm not sure how much longer the weather's going to hold. He's by no means sore, and for arena and field work, he's fine. But gravel road miles are going to catch us in short order, and I'll need to make some sort of decision soon...