Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The neighbors make themselves heard

Sunny was not in a cooperative mood last night.  Happy enough to be caught, he then objected to being tied up at the top of the lot without Thunder (who was quite content to watch us from down by the loafing tree).  He danced his way through brushing, and tried to sashay himself out from under the saddle.  Tough luck, Sunny!  He got brushed and saddled anyway.

Rather than go back down through the lot and out, I walked him around to our normal practicing field by way of the driveway.  Which takes us out of sight of the lot - at which point Thunder stirred himself to whinny and trot down the fenceline.  Sunny pranced along next to me, but quieted down once we were back in sight of his buddy.

I bridled him, ditching his halter in the center of the pasture to use as a spiral in/out marker, checked the girth he's gained weight and hopped on.  He promptly walked off.  Backed up, stepped down and tried that again.  He finally stood still on mount three.

It took probably half an hour of work to get him nice and round - he wanted badly to go over to the north fence by Thunder.  And there was something moving across the tree grove on the south side by the lines of round bales which wasn't helping matters any.  I persevered, and eventually he settled down, although he persisted in wanting to drop his shoulder and dive across the circle on the south side. Occasional banging and engine noise signalled something was going on over there, but I couldn't tell what.  Eventually the what was explained by gunfire - apparently some folks at the pheasant place were sighting in on the range out back.  They must have been setting up new targets, thus the banging.  The shooting triggered the appearance of a little spike-horn buck who trotted out of the trees, bounced over the pasture fence and proceeded on across toward the north tree grove.  He must have been eating/resting in among the hay bales, and decided it was time to move to safer territory.  Although he didn't seem to concerned about a) the noise, b) the horses, or c) me.

At that point the wind kicked up, and between that and the continued shooting and voices from across the way I pretty much lost my horse attention.  I'd been riding for almost an hour at the point anyway and it was starting to get dark, so I finished up with some stationary bending and stretching exercises and called it a night. 

Today was just too chilly to face riding - I have new long-underwear coming, though, and as long as the snow keeps holding off....
Nu-nu thinks it's chilly, too
Made the bed when I got up this morning, and went back in to find Nu-nu had made herself a nest in what remained of my warm spot.  She poked her head out when she heard me come back with the camera, but initially all that was visible was the tip of her tail. I actually was reaching to yank the covers flat again when I realized the rumple in the covers was something under there!

On the plus side, it's soup weather again.  I love soup, but it just isn't warm weather food.

The last of the turkey
No more leftovers - I made turkey soup of the last of Tom today.  The plan was turkey-barley, but I must have used the last of the barley in something else, so I dumped in a half cup of steel cut oats.  Hadn't tried that before, but I didn't think there was any reason it wouldn't work - and the result is pretty tasty

The only bad thing is that I didn't get around to turkey enchiladas this year, and they're one of my favorite leftover turkey meals.  Oh well, maybe Christmas...

Monday, November 28, 2011

The ears have it

After the wind on Saturday, Sunday was cool, bright and still.  Hard to believe it's almost December.  I debated over riding - with sunshine pouring in the south windows on the house it felt deceptively warm - but ultimately decided to wait until the temps climbed back up on Monday.  Checking on the boys in the afternoon I did end up hopping on Sunny for a few circuits around the pasture, though.  He and Thunder were dozing in the sun when I got to the farm, and I just couldn't resist all that warm pony fuzziness.  

He was perfectly content to wander here and there wherever I pointed his nose, and we even showed off (although nobody was watching) with a few sidepasses and a couple of almost perfectly circular 360' turns on the haunches in both directions.  I won't call them spins, but those back feet were definitely staying planted.  Sunny's wonderfully comfortable bareback, smooth and steady - somehow the withers that are completely non-existent under saddle are just perfect for sitting behind.  And he's not so tall that the ground is a worrying distance away, either!

Thunder observed from the top of the hill, content to keep loafing.  When I finished with Sunny, I laid across his back a few times to his complete lack of concern.  They were back to nibbling their way across the pasture as I left.  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving week re-cap

Sunny: "Hey - did you hear that?"
It was a beautiful week weather-wise, and with C home from college for Thanksgiving break, I actually had company riding.  Tuesday evening we rode an 8 mile loop with Caspar and Buddy.  I'd intended to ride Rufus, but it was later than we'd planned to leave before she was ready.  Fading daylight meant a fast pace to finish before dark. I had the farrier pull Rufus's shoes for the winter already, and barefoot he gets sore feet too easily to make a quick loop something I wanted to do with him. so C volunteered Buddy.   We finished up just as the sun was setting, and by the time we turned them out it was black.

Wednesday afternoon I tacked up English at the farm, working on my homework with Sunny: collection and transitions, side-passing and bending.  He was the most responsive and willing he's been at home.  Since he was so good, I rewarded him by not making him work for quite as long.  Afterwards I bridled Thunder (no reins) and let him carry the bit while I lunged him. He wasn't thrilled about the bit, but did a lot of chewing which was good.  And he was light and responsive on the line.  Both directions at the walk and trot for about 20 minutes total.  Then I added reins and worked on getting him to drop his nose and give his face. Small steps. 

Thursday after I popped the turkey in the oven I collected the boys and spent a wonderful couple hours riding with C and J.  An absolutely beautiful day -  shirtsleeve temps, lots of sunshine, and just enough breeze to ruffle manes.  So different from last year, when I believe the high for the day was 16'. 

Friday C and I rode again - Rufus finally got his turn.  We started early enough to mosey, and keeping him on the shoulder where the footing was soft worked out well.  He's a kick to ride.  Ears pricked, stride long and forward... I could tell he was happy to be out.  He's very looky and much more the stereotypical Arab than Sunny.  Large rocks, clumps of differently colored grass and weeds, culverts, stumps... potential horse-eaters, all of them, but mostly he just eyes them suspiciously and keeps moving.  Although thanks to some gigantic squirrels (amazing how big dead leaves make them sound) and a few wild turkeys he and Caspar both took a couple of sideways bounces. 

Today, unfortunately, seasonal weather returned.  We have winds gusting to 50+ mph and temps in the 30's.  Not good riding weather, but given the rest of the week I can't complain.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

For all the little things...

For naps...
 My pies are baked, the cranberry relish is set, and the eggs are deviled.
The peels are off the potatoes, and the turkey's lounging in the pan.
I even have most of "work" cleaned off the kitchen table.

and dirt...
And I'm thankful for that.
I'm also thankful for what promises to be a beautiful day...
for riding, and just because...
For the friends who'll be joining me later, 

For country roads...
and for family and friends around the globe,
who are safe and sound
- may they stay that way! -
enjoying their own Thanksgivings.

and sunshine...
For the critters,
even the one that woke me up at 3 a.m. 
to inform me that it would be morning soon,
- if my typing is odd, it's because she's draped over my arm supervising this post -
and for all of the things that I forget to say "thank you" for 
each and every day.

sunrises, and sunsets....
To all of you out there,
may your day be as peaceful or as exciting as you choose,
filled with good food, family, and friends on two feet and four.
 And may you always have plenty to say "thank you" for.

For pony ears... and all the other bits, too!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Reining, Cutting and Working Cow @ the Ranch of Cherry Creek

Yesterday was an education.  
In a good way!

Apparently, Eric (who I've been taking lessons from) periodically arranges some sort of field-trip or clinic for his students.  His goal is an opportunity to spend the day learning about an aspect of the horse or show world most of us didn't have much experience with.  Eric's students include a lot of young riders (and a few of their parents), and most of his younger students ride and show hunt seat or English pleasure, so this particular excursion really was a brand new experience for the majority, including me - and it was a huge treat.

Don Ulmer, long-time reining, cutting and working cow-horse trainer and sometime judge generously volunteered his time and expertise (and facility) for a demonstration and hands-on learning opportunity.  Not so much a clinic, exactly, as an introduction to the world of reining, working cow and cutting horse competitions.  

His audience was initially supposed to be about 40 strong, but inclement weather unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on how you look at it - cut the number by about half.  About 10 youth riders of various ages and their parents, and assorted others of us beyond our teens made the trek up to the Ranch of Cherry Creek in spite of blowing snow, wind, and some of the coldest temps we've seen yet this winter. Thankfully, the barn was heated, and the huge - 150'x300' - indoor arena while not exactly warm, was comfortable as long as I was moving or wrapped around my coffee mug. 

The facility itself is gorgeous and practical - a barn runs along the outside of the arena wall down one full side. 30+ (I didn't count) 12'x12' box stalls line both sides of the wide aisle, with offices, a kitchenette, bathrooms and a tack room facing a row of stalls on one end.  It's all very light, airy and open feeling, helped out because the stalls are bars on all sides from about counter-height up.  A couple of us wandered the barn aisle oohing and aahing over the lovely brass plates identifying each resident, the stalls themselves, how comfortable and content all the horses looked, and how clean and neat everything was.  It's not a boarding/lesson barn, it's a one-owner training facility, and it was definitely an impressive operation.

The day started at 10 AM (although since I rode up with Eric and a couple of others and he hauled the horses, it actually started a lot earlier) with Don and his daughter and fellow trainer Elise demonstrating the basics of their warm-up, what the elements of a reining pattern consist of and how they can be combined, riding for training purposes and a couple of "show" patterns, followed by an explanation of how the pattern would be scored.  After that they gave us a cutting demo (on a very fresh pen of cows) and a scoring explanation, and then showed us the after-the-box portion of a working cow horse run, again with an explanation of scoring.

Along the way, Don explained what makes each event different, how they prepare, what makes a good, better, best run, and how and why the horses need to carry themselves the way they're encouraged to.  His explanations were very thorough - we didn't have too many questions, but it was a shade chilly sitting still, so perhaps we were all just slightly frozen....

After lunch (broasted chicken, potatoes, macaroni salad, cookies and lots of hot coffee) the hands on portion of the program started. 

Along the way...
Don's philosophy of training and horsemanship encompasses several things.  I'm going to paraphrase wildly here, since I wasn't taking notes, so these are a few of the statements that stuck with me at least as I interpreted them.
  • It isn't possible to MAKE a horse do anything, at least not productively, for very long.  
  • You need to ride the horse, the horse shouldn't ride you. Elaborating on this point, he explained that every step the horse takes when you're on him should be intentional on your part.
  • Correction isn't about making something painful - horses remember pain and it makes them stiffen up.  A stiff horse isn't a fluid, flexible horse. 
  • Find the job that suits the horse, and your life - and theirs - will be much easier.  
  • What suits the horse isn't necessarily going to be what he/she was bred for.
  • A horse has five parts - head, neck, shoulders, barrel/ribcage and hip.  You have to be able to move them all where you want to when you want to, or you aren't riding the whole horse.
  • You have to ride the whole horse - if you only depend on your reins to control your horse, and your hand is halfway up his neck, you're only riding 10% of him. (And if you can win while riding 10% of the horse, he'll buy him, because when the other 90% of the horse gets involved, he'll be a universe-beater - lol!)
  • At some point you have to trust your horse.  If you can't, you may need to find a horse you can trust.
On to the hands-on portion of the day:
After lunch they saddled six or seven horses along with another two that Eric brought along.  These were their show horses, and not just any old show horses, either - check out the Winner's Circle page.  Current national and reserve national champions Dakota Wolf, RCC Reinman, Quintessa, and Short and Smart, along with past multi-time champion and reserve champions Traddition and a couple of others whose "official" names I didn't catch.  Since not as many of us as originally planned were there, everyone who wanted to got a chance to try cutting one or two cows while Don and Elise turned back and coached.  For the most part, it appeared to be a matter of not overriding.  Those horses knew their jobs, and the riders that sat tight and stayed out of their way did better than the ones that tried to do too much of the thinking.

For anyone who doesn't know - which until yesterday, included me, if you take your hand off your horse's neck when you're cutting a cow, you lose points.  So the idea is to let your horse work the cow, and only provide an miniscule amount of guidance needed with by shifting weight, and using your seat and legs.  Lifting your hand cues your horse that you're done.  Meaning that if the horse doesn't really want to work a cow, you're in deep digested-by-cow-already product.

Then they set up the flag.  On a pulley system strung from one end of the arena to the other across the short end of the arena, it's set up at cow height, and stands in for a cow for practice purposes.  We all had a chance to try that - again, once locked on to the flag, no hand lifting involved, and you always cue the horse with the leg closest to the flag/cow.  So if you want your horse to turn left, you kick with the left heel - which seems counter-intuitive, but that's how they're trained.

Eric had me riding Aslan, one of his horses, an ex-junior reining champion.  Aslan hasn't been finished in the bridle, so he's still in two reins (which I'm fine with) and he's never seen cows.  But he's extremely solid on all of the maneuvers Eric's had me working on with Sunny, so I had an excellent opportunity to practice those.  The arena was so big that those of us waiting our turn still had a normal arena-sized area to ride in while the action was going on on the other end.   We could either watch or ride - I really wanted to watch, but I also didn't want to freeze, since I'd shed my heavy jacket to ride.  So I'd watch until I got chilly, then practice some more with Aslan until I was warm again.

Since Aslan hadn't seen cows before - although he was definitely interested, not spooked - I didn't try cutting.  But I did get to try spinning, which was a lot of fun.  And later on I switched horses and tried chasing the flag, which was absolutely cool on a stick.  For the most part I managed to remember to keep my hand down, and I kept my seat on the catty gelding I was on pretty well.  Remembering (and finding a chance) to breathe was definitely a challenge, though!

What I walked away with:

I can safely say that working cow horse is probably NOT in my future.  I'm not the adrenaline junkie that sport's need-for-speed enthusiasts seem to be.  Reining... there's a lot of speed there, too, but since ease and control are the primary focus, I'm thinking I could maybe work up to that.  Cutting has always looked like fun, and yesterday was no exception.  But I'd need a different horse, as Sunny doesn't seem to have a lot of interest in cows, so for the time being that's probably out.

A better appreciation for why western horses' head carriage is low.  But this is getting long, so more on that later.

Overall it was a fantastic day, and the Ulmers get my whole-hearted thanks for hosting us and sharing their time, horses, and knowledge. 

It didn't feel like I did a whole lot beside listen and absorb, but when I finally got home yesterday evening I heated up a bowl of left-over chilli, and managed a whole half-hour on the couch with the cats before I fell asleep.  I woke up when the program I wasn't watching ended, brushed my teeth, and crawled into bed at 8:35 PM.  Proving yet again that learning IS exhausting - lol!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Lesson Day

Windy and brisk - the sun was trying, but not having much luck.  I think it might have crept into the 40's, just, but it was already dipping into the 30's when I headed for the farm.

Tonight was our first indoor lesson.  I warmed up (relatively speaking) in the outdoor arena, but at lesson time Eric stuck his head out of the barn and asked if I wanted to ride inside.

The indoor arena is about 1/3 the side of the outdoor, and Sunny's been under a roof about three times in his whole life.  He hesitated at the big sliding door of the barn when Eric slid it back for us, but stepped up onto the concrete when I asked him.  We proceeded down the aisle, with him eyeballing the horses in their stalls on either side and waiting for the ceiling to fall on him.  He wasn't any too sure about shadows we cast along the walls in the indoor at first, either, but I walked him once around to check out the corners and he settled right down.

This week we tried something new - haunches in.  And after a few odd fits and starts, we got the hang of it.  Poor Sunny - he tries really hard, but half the time I'm still sending the wrong signals, so things turn into a giant muddle more often than not.  So from haunches in, I was supposed to cue him to canter - which he was supposed to pick up. Sigh... 

You'd think we'd be getting it by now, but what a mess - after several sprawly, ugly departures and dropped-inside-shoulder, corner-cutting circles, Eric found me a dressage whip to tap him on the butt with.  That worked a bit better, but once he was moving I kept worrying about him charging out of the indoor and down the barn aisle - which I don't honestly think he wanted to do, he just wanted to keep looking in that direction in case there was something out there that might attack him - so I kept unintentionally shutting him down. 

It doesn't help that all of the bad habits I'm finally getting fixed at the walk and trot resurface with a vengence as soon as I think about cantering.  I get stiff, forget to breathe, drop my inside shoulder, give away my hands and automatically start leaning forward.  Once I finally managed to sit back, keep my hands quiet, and started trusting him NOT to tear off down the barn aisle, he stopped flattening and leaning so much - go figure.  We stopped on a good effort - by which point in the warmer air Sunny was good and sweaty. 

Wrap-up was more half-pass practice.  I'm still screwing that up as well, but at least I'm finally figuring out where my legs go - now if I could just get them both in the right place at the right time!

All things considered, it wasn't much worse than a few of our outside attempts, but at some point we need to get this canter thing clicking.

It's occasionally discouraging to watch Eric on a horse he's ridden a handful of times that's already sidepassing and loping around in lovely, easy circles - but considering Sunny's learning right along with me, we're making good progress.

By the time I'd walked him for half an hour or so he was starting to dry (and I was getting dizzy).  Outside it was dark, but the temps were holding steady at just south of 40' and the wind had completely died down. I was pleased - no, make that thrilled - to find Thunder a) still tied to the trailer, b) no scuffs on horse or trailer, and c) no big hole from pawing.  In fact, his halter wasn't even pulled tight.  Good boy!  I unsaddled, snugged Sunny into his new cooler, picked out his feet, and loaded them up. 

It was an uneventful haul home this week, at least - and the cooler worked a treat - back at the farm Sunny was dry underneath but for a damp strip behind his front legs where the girth runs.  Rubber curry to rub out the last of the sweaty bits, a good brushing everywhere else, and he was almost back to completely fluffy.  Definitely a good investment.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dress-up & circles

Too bad it didn't get here earlier in the day yesterday!
Sunny - more fun to dress up than Barbie - lol!
 It was too warm (61'!) to need it today, and I could have used some anti-static spray to keep the zappies down.

Think he has a career as a sports model ahead of him? 
Nah. Still, I think it fits him pretty well.
Dress-up time over, I tacked him up and started working on those big round circles.  Loose rein, nice easy posting trot same as yesterday.  It was breezy and there were hunters wending their blaze-orange pheasant-seeking way through the fields next door and across the road. But in spite of the distractions he did pretty well. One lovely canter transition to the left and a not-so-great one or two to the right. Spiral, spiral, spiral.

All told, about an hour's ride.  I brushed him down, then let him graze under the trees where the grass is still greenish.  No work with Thunder today, but tomorrow it's his turn.

Lesson Day

This week's lesson day was much more pleasant than last! 
Nu-nu thinks so, too
It was in the 50's again, sunny and almost no wind.  Instead of trying not to blow away and scooting away from plastic monsters, I was pushing up my sleeves and Sunny was actually sweating.

I tacked up - sans spurs - and had the arena to myself for about 15 minutes while Eric put away the horse he'd been working with when I got there and collected his next victim.  (I don't mind at all if he rides while he teaches.  It's really helpful to be able to have a visual demonstration when I'm not getting the hang of something.)  His mount this time was a finished reiner, so he showed me some slides, as well - bonus! :)

This time he had me go straight from warming up into a series of really round figure eights, loose rein, just picking up the inside rein and cuing bend with my legs.  Good practice finding my diagonals, and the beginning of working toward asking for flying lead changes.  But for now, just working on even, round circles and proper bend without either of us dropping our shoulders.

Gradually he had me ask for more collection - I can definitely feel that Sunny's getting lighter on his front end and being able to carry himself in a more balanced way.  Practicing with spurs did help - but I didn't miss them during the lesson at all except for canter right.  Eh... straggly, rough, and stiff - he wanted to canter completely flat, stick his nose to the outside, and turn his body into a board.  But we worked through it and eventually managed a not-completely-sucky departure and decent downward transition when I asked for it as opposed to when he wanted to slow down. 

We finished by working some more on half-passing, and a revisit to that exercise Eric showed me a couple of weeks ago.  The one where I ask him to spiral in until he's sort of snail-shaped, then unwind him by rocking him from the forehand to a reverse spiral on the haunches and out- which makes about as much sense when I try to explain it as it was when I tried to ask Sunny to do it.  With some coaching as to hand was "inside" and therefore needed to be raised and which heel I needed to be pushing which hip over with, Sunny was doing the whole thing beautifully.  Which was fabulous - but when I tried to do it by myself today, dyslexia kicked in again and I'm all muddled.  I can tell he's trying to do what I'm asking for - it's just that I'm not asking him right.  Sigh...

Anyway, it was chilly and getting along to dark by the time I managed to get him dry enough to put in the trailer - of course the cooler I ordered arrived today.  But I'm sure there'll be plenty more opportunities to use it before winter kicks in.

Homework:  Trotting lots of big round figure-eights.  No cutting across on the diagonals, he wants two ROUND circles stuck together.  Spiral in and outs, and more side-passing along the fence.  (I don't think he trusts me to work on half-passing without him there to coach me on right/left bend - can't say I blame him!)

It was a great lesson, but the most exciting moment of the day?  Turning the last corner half a mile from the farm and hearing this completely awful, horrible, no-good, very bad screeching noise start behind me.  I was going really slowly anyway, so I tapped the brakes to see if something was sticking and I could unstick it.  No dice.  Movement = squealing.  I stopped completely, put it in park and made a quick loop around - other than the boys shifting around, no tires hot, low or smoking....

I could see headlights coming, so not being parked in the middle of the road seemed like a good idea. I was actually on the phone (bluetooth earpiece - love that handsfree!) with my mom.  She called to my dad to pick up the extension - he's the go-to guy in the family when anything starts making scary noises.  The consensus was since nothing seemed to be visibly wrong and I had less than a 1/4 mile to go, I might as well get there, get the horses unloaded and then try to figure out the shrieking. 

The boys didn't seem to be unduly alarmed which was good, so I got them unloaded and tucked up for the night.  Re-checked tires, etc.  Still nothing hot or smoking, and nothing loose or wiggly.  It really sounded like brakes - the engine sounded fine until I put it in drive and took my foot off the brake.  SCHREEAAK-sqeeeSSShriek.  But impossible to tell from the cab if it was the truck or trailer making the noise.  The advice from several states away was try reverse - lo and behold, no noise going backwards.  And when I put it in drive again, silence - or at least normal noise, no squealing.  The most likely explanation was a rock wedged somewhere it wasn't supposed to be - that corner is really washboarded, and it would be easy to kick something up.  No shrieking all the way home, and no weird noises today, either, so hopefully that's all it was.  Sure did wake me up, though!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


I'm going to stop trusting the weather forecasts if this doesn't keep up - not that I'm complaining, mind - but the last two times we've had a "chance of snow/rain" it's been beautiful, sunny and perfect.

It wasn't exactly balmy, but the high was near 50' rather than the measly 43' that was predicted - and I'm not going to complain about that, either!

It was about as warm as it was going to get by 2 pm, so I dug around in various bins and containers of tack until I eventually unearthed my spurs, hitched up the horse trailer and headed for the farm.  The boys were loafing under their tree.  They stuck their heads into the halters without any hesitation, although I have to say Thunder was a lot more eager to walk down the driveway to the trailer!

After cleaning hooves and a cursory brush to loosen some dust - they're both clean and fluffy in their new winter coats - I saddled Sunny, who was not thrilled but also not prepared to make an issue of it. In the western saddle, just in case things got... well, western.  Then I let him stand and deflate while I opened the pasture gate and set a cone out in the center so I'd have a visual marker other than "tall generic weed" to spiral in and out on.  Then I warmed up his bit for a minute or so and bridled him. 

Confession time... I've never actually ridden him with spurs.  He's usually got more than enough go for my taste when we're trail riding.  And I don't know if D used them on him when he trained him or not.  My guess would be not, as he doesn't tend to use either a bat or spurs unless he gets one that refuses to move out forward, and that's never been an issue with Sunny.

Now Eric's instructions were clear - nubby, knob-ended spurs.  But those aren't exactly thick on the ground around here.  I ended up having to order some, and they haven't arrived yet.  The ones I have do have a rowel, but it's small, blunt, and very non-aggressive, so I figured I'd give them a shot and see how it went. 

And actually, all things considered it went well. Once he realized that I had something pointy attached to my heel, transitions were much more prompt.  And for the most part he stayed cantering until I asked for a downward transition, rather than falling out on his own.  Not to say he wasn't still poking his nose out trotting, but it felt a lot better than last week's Thursday ride. So perfect, no - but improved respect yes.  And I was doing my best to cue, bump, then tap with a spur, not just go straight for the gusto.

Other than a few rounds of canter for improved energy both directions, I stuck to low & slow and lots of bending again, doing my best to keep my shoulders back and my elbows locked at my sides - not sure how successful that was, but at least I remembered to keep checking on it. 

Sidepassing down the fence was a shade better, too.  He's getting the idea well to the right, not so much to the left, which is also the direction he has a harder time counter-bending to reverse in, so that wasn't a big surprise. 

All told about an hour's riding.

After I had Sunny unsaddled and the sweaty spots curried, I saddled Thunder.  With my saddle this time, rather than the light one I've been using on him.  Not that mine is all that much heavier, but it is longer and it has a back cinch.  I left that on the loose side, snapped some reins onto the rings on his rope halter, and walked him out into the field.

I worked on getting him to give his head to both sides for a while, and then on putting weight in both stirrups.  He was fine with that, so I got brave and laid across his back.  No problems there, either.  I probably could have sat on him, but at that point brave seemed to be shading into stupid territory, so I called it an afternoon.  Maybe once his wolf teeth are out, and he's actually aware of what giving to the bit means.  And following some ground driving.  And not when no one's home.

Anyway, that was my day - and I'm going to consider it a success.  Happy Tuesday! 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Lesson

It was windier than all get-out yesterday - anybody know the roots of that saying?  I'm having visions of a whole bunch of hyper-active rugrats racing in and out of the house banging the door and letting huge gusts of air in....

Aaanyway - the gusts were topping 30 mph, and it's so dry that there were dust/leaf devils swirling around everywhere.  Nights have been down near freezing or below, so it was chilly, and I was crossing my fingers that it was going to get into the 50's as promised by my 4 pm lesson.

I pulled in at the farm, caught the boys - Sunny whinnied when he saw me, then turned around and walked about 10 steps the other direction while I was putting Thunder's halter on.  He didn't go so far as to play catch-me, but his opinion of the whole enterprise was clear.

I'd left plenty early, wanting to be able to take my time getting ready.  But it actually didn't take that long before I had him tacked up and ready to go.

It was just warm enough that well-layered, it wasn't bad to be out - except for all the dirt we were eating.  The arena had monsters - surrounding it.  Flapping plastic on some poles outside one end, ditto on the greenhouse on the other end.  And more yet on the sawdust bales stacked along the middle.  Sigh... of course, the flapping was only scary when Sunny had to work.  Stretchy walk on a loose rein and he'd stride right by. 

I wish I'd been able to be in two places at once and watch us - apparently Sunny is getting less heavy in front.  Walk/collected walk is much improved.  Sitting trot (me) is improving, but posting trot I kept missing my diagonals.  When I did get them, I'm pretty sure it was luck. Anybody know any good tricks getting them right more often?

For quite a few laps it was "Lift your left hand to your right shoulder and get his nose in, half-halt with the right hand! Don't let him look at that, or think about it - make him focus on you.  Good - now don't release that much.  Sit up, use your weight and make him balance.  More right leg - don't let him drop his shoulder.  Right hand!  Tip his nose - Good!"  Eventually we were getting circles that were more circle and less trapezoid. 

Through all of this, we were still working on transitions - walk, ask for more collection, sitting trot, back to walk, sitting trot, posting trot (missed diagonal - fix it!), sitting trot, down to walk, more collection... you get the idea.

Once we'd worked through the worst of the "monsters are gonna get me" reactions, we did do some canter work.  For a change, he actually had me asking for a bit of roundness, rather than it being just about my body position, so maybe that's getting better?  And I don't think Eric had to remind me to look up near as often.

My homework for next week - work on sidepassing down the fence without bulging, and on not releasing with my whole arm, just my pinkies.  I'm also supposed to find a pair of nubby English spurs to reinforce my leg - I'm asking properly, but Sunny's ignoring me.  Especially on the right - I've been ponying Thunder a lot, and I think Sunny's just getting used to ignoring any bumping that goes on over there.

Good points: Eric was complementary on Sunny's condition - Sunny may be round, and he was definitely warm - damp along his neck and back legs, and under the saddle - but he wasn't running sweat or puffing at all after a full hour's lesson.  He's starting to slobber nicely, and to carry the bit better.  And on that note, Eric repeated again he's impressed with how much improvement he's seeing in only a handful of lessons from where we started at.  From a bitless bridle and absolutely no contact to actually having a "great few strides there" I think is what he said a time or two - now it's just a matter of getting them strung a bit closer together until they make up a whole lap!

Made it back to the farm still in the daylight, which was nice.  Unloaded and turned the boys out with a couple handfuls of the ewe's alfalfa in their tire feeder for a treat.  (And I do mean handfuls - no sense in giving Sunny too many extra calories!) 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Lesson day today

And I sincerely hope it goes better than my ride yesterday.  Oh, nothing went disastrously wrong, but nothing went particularly right, either.

Somehow Sunny is managing to get rounder.  He's terribly pumpkin shaped, even though the hay isn't out yet.  There's still enough green left in the pasture grass that they just aren't interested in hay, even though they could reach the calf hay if they wanted to.  When I talked to G, he said he's waiting to put a bale out for them until they start being interested in sharing with the calves.  Which makes sense. 

Anyway, back to my ride.  It started out with Sunny standing on my foot, and didn't get much better from there.  Two words: hollow and stiff.  Nasty bulgy/flat-sided circles.  Ugh.  I finally gave up on trotting and just focused on getting him to bend and yield at the walk.  Which eventually did work - he finally gave a big sigh and I could feel him start to focus.  But it took about 45 minutes. 

Yes, it was windy, and yes there was construction noise from the other side of the house - but that's nothing new, really.  I'm sure I was a big part of the problem, since I was trying to feel what I was doing wrong rather than having someone hollering reminders at me.

I didn't push too much beyond where things started to feel better, wanting to end on an up note, at least.  There wasn't any cooling out to be done, but since Thunder'd been a good boy tied at the trailer the whole time, I collected him and we went for a short mosey down the road a ways.  I would have gone further since they were both giving every evidence of enjoying themselves, but I could see cars pulled off up ahead along the tree grove - probably hunters - and in the other direction it was starting to be busy with 5 pm traffic, so I turned around. 

Crossing my fingers that stiff and hollow don't reappear this afternoon!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New tarp, old habits

Maybe this is why the blanket wasn't an issue with the boys?

What are your wearing?
It's been a while - at least a year - since I did much with a tarp.  I used one a lot when Sunny was younger, mostly spread out on the ground for him to walk across, but he wore it a few times, as well.  In fact, it was something I worked on with all of the mares and Thunder, too. 

But I stopped when the game got to be so old hat they whickered at the sight of the tarp coming out.  My tarp was getting kind of brittle with age and I started to worry about one of them putting a hole in it, catching a hoof, and panicking.  Not exactly the lesson I was looking for! 

Yesterday I was wandering through Menards in search of something I'd forgotten to write on my list - and still can't remember - when I passed the wall of tarps.  For under $3.00, I could have a brand new 6'x8' tarp.  Cool.  (This is why Menards is such a dangerous place to send men, isn't it?)

Sunny models while Thunder waits his turn
I spread my new purchase out on the ground in the lot, weighted the corners with rocks, and called the boys.  Sunny remembered immediately - one sniff to verify, and he walked right across and stopped four square in front of me, ears pricked waiting expectantly to hear the click that meant he'd get paid.  Good boy!

Thunder took a minute or so to snuffle around the edges and test the solidity underneath by pawing, but it wasn't long before he was walking back and forth with no hesitation, either.

I really had planned on that taking more than 5 minutes - including set-up time. 

Time for stage 2 - I rolled the rocks off the edges, gathered up the tarp and folded it in half.  Sunny immediately sidled around so that his left side was facing me.  Too funny!  He knew exactly what was coming.  I let the tarp flop over his back - feet stayed still.  Click.  I flipped it on and dragged it off from both sides a couple of times, while Thunder looked on. 

Then it was his turn.  As with the ground stage, I could tell he was a bit more anxious.  He wasn't worried enough to back away, but he was concerned when I lifted it toward his back, so at first I just rested the semi-folded tarp against his shoulder.  Feet stayed still - click, corn.  Hmmm.... this wasn't so scary after all.
So stylish
As you can see, neither of them was wearing a halter, although I did have one handy just in case one or the other got too obnoxious and pushy.  My original intent had been to work with one at a time like I did with the blanket the other day, but since they were paying attention and being respectful without fussing at each other, I didn't bother. 

I like working with them loose, because if they want to shy or move away, they can without feeling trapped.  And both of them did scoot out from under a time or two. They just don't get clicked.  And they come right back.  I just switch to the other horse, and let the one that moved watch the other one get rewarded for doing it right.

I wasn't making any effort to keep the tarp quiet, or really to keep it from lifting and blowing in the breeze when I pulled it off.  I let it loft when I tossed it over them, and made sure that the loose ends flopped around their legs, as well.  Although as you can see from the pictures, I did stay close enough to hold it in case a big gust came through - my goal definitely wasn't to scare them silly.

When both horses would stand quietly with the tarp unfolded completely across them up to their ears and back to their tails, and I could shake it out without their eyes getting big, I called it a day.  Which took probably half an hour and a pocket full of corn dispensed 5-10 kernels at a time.  After that I just hung out for a while, scritching itchy spots and enjoying that lovely horse smell.

The weatherman says rain/snow mix today.... I guess fall is slowly creeping toward winter.  How I hate to see it go!