Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Time I Bit The Dust, Or Why I Worry About Letting Miles Down

When I adopted Miles from New Vocations, they told me he was fine in the arena, but what he really enjoyed were jaunts around the farm, and apparently he even walked down to their paved road, which is very quiet, for a nice ride. He just really, really loved getting out of the arena. Anna Ford rode him for me when I went to see Miles at their facility in Ohio, and while she didn't demonstrate his skills outside the arena, their ring is set up in such a way that there is a sand/working arena, as well as a grassy area attached in the same enclosure. Man, that facility is gorgeous.

Anyway, Miles clearly demonstrated a difference in the two areas. In the sandy area, his walk was a bit sluggish, his trot and canter a little tense, but as soon as she took him onto the grass he extended that stride of his into a beautiful free walk. We talked a bit and she told me this was his "happy walk", and he is most interested and "alive" under saddle outside the confines of a sand ring.

Therein lies my dilemma. I love love love this horse, and want him to be a happy boy. I honestly don't believe he is necessarily unhappy in our work currently-as mentioned earlier though, lately his natural inclination is not so forward:) There is no tail swishing, balking or any behavior I would consider problematic-he's just happy to jog and lope along if I let him. Luckily, one of the things I love about him is that when I do ask him to go forward, he will, with no snottiness.

When I take him out of the arena though...yeah, I have to admit he is a happy boy. He marches right along, just like I saw him do with Anna. I took him maybe 200 yards down a trail by himself a couple times, and he was great. I've not yet had the opportunity to take him out on a real trail ride, because I refuse to do that with just the two of us on our first time, though I'm sure we will have the opportunity to go out with someone's steddy-eddy trail horse this summer, hopefully soon. I should really be proactive and arrange it.

Blah blah the real dilemma is that I've fallen off Miles once, and of course it was outside the arena. It was March, before we had started cantering, and I was just starting him into "real" work, so I probably shouldn't have been doing ANYTHING outside the ring at all since we were still getting to know each other under saddle. It was a silly, stupid thing really.

We were just walking outside the arena (in a corner that, for some reason, Ebony never loved either), and there were some parked horse trailers and brush maybe 50 feet away (I'm horrid with distances). Anyway, he stopped. He didn't feel nervous to me at all, so I let him. He apparently saw or heard something and gave the classic sideways TB spook. Now, there were no witnesses, and y'all know how fast these things FEEL at the time, so all I can tell you is that spook put me totally off balance without either one or both stirrups (can't remember now). He was cantering/galloping (remember, this was before we had done more than walk/trot!) and he wanted to get out of there; I remember trying to do a half-assed one rein stop. At this point, I *think* I'm sort of half on/half off. I'm DEFINITELY telling him "whoaaaaa, whoaaaa" though I know my voice is pretty shaky. I'm thinking to myself "don't pull back on both reins, don't pull back on both reins", so I know I did that right. Sigh, one thing right.

If he had stopped , we would've been fine. However, every time he would slow a bit (I think he may have even trotted in there), my being off-balance freaked him out all over again and he would again adopt the "get me the hell outta here" mentality and start cantering/galloping-my no doubt poorly executed one rein stop was at least keeping him in the general area, which looking back on it was exactly the place he didn't want to be and maybe I should have just let him canter away like he wanted! I admit though, his canter/gallop scared me and all I wanted him to do was slooooooow down. Ebony and I had really struggled with our canter also, so I hadn't ridden a real canter in years at this point.

A fitter, stronger, more confident at-this-whole-cantering-on-my-horse Sarah probably would have stayed on. A Miles who actually listened to the word WHOA (no matter how shaky it may have sounded!) would have definitely prevented a fall. As it was, after approximately 5 or 10 seconds of this nonsense, I of course bit the dust. Thankfully, I wasn't seriously hurt, but falling off a 16.2 cantering (galloping?) thoroughbred onto hard ground doesn't leave you totally unscathed either.

Whatever, I was definitely sore (and holy hell do I still need to see a chiropractor at some point), but I got back on that little shit (I'm channeling my feelings at the time, of course;) and worked his ass in the ring, and then rode him out to that same area and walked back and forth a couple times. I got off, cooled him, and put him outside, then went home and proceeded to take some Motrin with more wine than I care to admit. Hey, it worked.

(Annoying Helmet Plug-I most definitely hit my head on the ground when I fell, and it bounced. My helmet didn't crack-though I know I need to replace it anyway. It's still the most important piece of equipment I'll ever own, and I won't get on a horse ever, ever again without one. I will never judge other people for how they choose to ride, but I hope more and more people who ride without one realize how easy it is for something bad to happen, and how important every single person is to SOMEONE else. End plug!)

So how is this all relevant now? I admit I've only gone past the scene of the crime on Miles once,
maybe twice, and I was less than super relaxed. I really, really want to trust him outside the arena, and I'm getting better, but I don't know that I still have the carefree attitude I had before he pulled his Hot Move. I hope to some day. I WILL some day.

Also, he's an OTTB-I really, really, REALLY want to canter him down a trail, or even just out in the grassy fields that surround our barn. And I WILL, no matter what, someday. I'm just...less than gung-ho about it right now, since our first experience cantering outside the safe confines of a ring was unexpected and kind of a disaster.

I know I'm a stronger rider than when we had this incident, and I think Miles might actually listen to me if I said WHOA now, no matter how shaky my voice is or how off balance I might be:) In fact, I'm pretty confident I wasn't forceful enough with my one rein stop, and that won't happen again, I hope. We have practiced both this and obeying voice commands since then. I have to say though, if I hadn't learned that skill, and if I hadn't had such great instruction from my last trainer who impressed upon me that pulling back on both reins in emergencies can escalate a bad situation into a horrible one, well, let's just say there are worse things than falling off the side of your horse as they gallop away (like rearing, still one of my greatest fears).

Sooooooo, this ridiculously long rambling post is really just me trying to work through a few issues. Am I being fair to Miles by keeping our work focused in the arena thus far? I do try to get him out every week or so, but I honestly don't trust him enough to do it much more than that, and we don't go far. I think, after our silly show next week, I'm going to make this our next goal-even if I can't get a trail partner, I can still take him around the farm and down the trail for a few hundred yards, especially with his new shoez! I can't wait to feel his power as we gallop down the trail-I don't think I'll have to keep him forward then:)

It will happen. We have so much time, all the time in the world, really. If you want to know an embarrassing secret, one of my favorite phrases to whisper to Miles is "Be patient with me. I will be patient with you". We are partners, fumbling our way through each others' strengths, neuroses, passions and weaknesses, one ride at a time.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fresh Air Fund

Re-posting from The Equinest~

This seems like SUCH a great organization. I honestly don't know where I'd be in my life if I didn't have the opportunity to be around horses, stables, barn cats...fields and forests, all of it. We lived in the city but I was fortunate enough to have parents who dutifully took me back and forth to the barn. Of course there are parents for whom this is impossible for a whole host of reasons, so I think something like this could really save a kid's life. Watch the video at the link if you can.

I wish we had land to host a child. Their smiles are absolutely beautiful.

Update: That'll learn me to scan websites. Turns out Michigan isn't one of the host states (yet they have host families in Ontario??), and they only work with kids from NYC. Still, I think they're great, and I hope they expand to other areas of the Country some day!

Monday, June 28, 2010

FINALLY!! A Beautiful Day!

I cannot WAIT to get out of this here office and get outside to play with my pony. It's so absolutely gorgeous outside, I want to RIDE. It's actually kind of exciting to have a show to work towards...July 7th, next Wednesday, we shall make our debut, show clothes or no show clothes (hint-it will be no show clothes).

I never thought I'd actually enter a walk/trot class again after I turned oh, let's see, maybe 10 years old, but I'm not feeling as silly about it as I thought I might. For one thing, our right lead is still SO hit or miss. I've also never actually cantered him in a ring with other horses who are also cantering...hmmm, wonder what that would look like to him? I'm sure no racing memories would be inspired by this scenario! In addition, we've not picked up the canter from a walk yet, though I'm eager to try this and see if it doesn't improve our transitions or shoot them all to hell. Anyway, 3 good reasons (and believe me, there's more!) to play it safe at our first show.

So, yay! I'm already picking out saddle pad/shirt combinations. I'm thinking either a teal or light blue ensemble-he looks smashing in either. Who says western people have all the fun? I'm still not sure on white polos or no polos. This show's gone rouge, I'm so confused! There are no rules! There are no limits!

Ugh, I've always sucked at fashion, and horse show fashion is obviously no different. For now, I'm going to count the minutes until I can blast out of here and get to the barn, to ride in what looks to be 75 degrees and sunny weather. Not a bad Monday in store, all in all, not bad at all.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Removing a Fly Mask in (Several) Easy Steps!

This blog is brought to you by Amanda, my friend at the barn who owns 3 horses and realllllly needs to start her own:) She took these hilarious pictures today after I left the show, and I asked Miles to add his own commentary. Since he seems to be such an expert. Jerk.

Miles here! Gawd, do I hate these funky masks my girl always makes me wear. Summer Time is Naked Time, amirite? It's kind of a pain to get them off, but once you're successful your owner is sure to blame it on your pasture mate anyway. As long as you make doe eyes at her and occasionally act like you can stand her presence, she'll be putty in your hands. So, the masks. How ridiculous is this thing anyway?

I look like a tool! This cannot stand. I am a regal thoroughbred who is to be admired at all times!

The key is getting the ears off first-unfortunately, this part is top secret. However, get yourself that far, get yourself on the ground, and follow these easy steps.

This is my favorite part, as success is clearly eminent. It's hard not to smile. It's all roses from here on out.

Told you!!! The key now is to get up, up, up, before anyone sees you!

Stomp on the damn thing for good measure, then go go go, what are you waiting for?!?!

Return to pasture mate, resume grazing, and wait for the admiring looks to come your way again.

Sarah back in. All I have to say is he better not complain when I start slathering fly repellent ointment around his eyes and ears from now on. Silly vain thoroughbred.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Show Time!

Haha, of course not for me! The dressage show my barn is putting on is tomorrow-I'll be there bright and early to do the announcing for the morning. Ugh, I hope I don't blow it. Originally I was going to scribe in the afternoon but something came up. Still, I'm looking forward to it. You never know, maaaaaaaybe next year I won't be volunteering because I'll be riding. Maaaaaaaaybe.

I hope to have enough time after I'm done announcing to take Miles out to see the sights. If he has his wits about him I'd love to hop on and ride him for a bit before I have to leave.

I ran out to the barn at lunch today to feed him his beet pulp and clean him off a bit before tomorrow (WHY did I bother with the bath less than two days ago?). He and LaShore have now moved to the field next to their pasture (which is VERY grazed down) during the day, and this field has LOTS more grass , so I'm super happy about that and hope that will help cover those ribs of his even more. It's probably just a temporary situation, but I feel much better knowing he's got access to grass all day. Poor LaShore is a founder risk, so we have to watch him (and he's the reason they couldn't be out on rich grass before now), but honestly it's a small price to pay because those two get along SO well. After what happened with Ebony (being kicked) and Cody, another horse at the barn that went seriously lame after being kicked by a herd mate, having my boy out 24/7 with a horse that he can play with and yet I trust not to hurt him (and vice versa!) is invaluable.

Back to this afternoon-even with all that yummy grass he was eating at the far end of the field, as soon as he saw me he ran down to the gate, and if horses could smile I'm quite sure he would have been. I'm so, so lucky to have him-he made it almost impossible to go back to work;) He definitely makes it impossible for me not to grin like an idiot and laugh out loud at this horse I love so, so much.

Update: Whew, I am pooped! Super fun time this morning though, and I only announced the wrong entry once and quickly corrected it! Miles was a superstar-I had very little time so I dragged him out of the field, brushed him, threw the tack on him and led him into the chaos. He was looky and a bit tense under me, but other than that was happy to take in the sights and sounds without overreacting. I think we might have to enter our first show in July after all-gulp.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Splish Splash

Miles reluctantly had a bath! Finally. Man, the grime that develops...I could make him superficially shiny before, but he was never CLEAN like he was tonight! So pretty. He was a very good boy-obviously non too thrilled, but no shenanigans-just don't you point that hose at his head! Here are some crappy cell phone pictures.

Side profile-I don't know if I'll ever get those ribs to go away. Still, he's actually in great weight-and from the looks of that butt you would think I actually had him in work! Or mayhaps the shoulder-ins are paying off?

Shiny! You almost can't tell his head never touched water. Though I did make his noggin suffer through a damp toweling-off, where he proceeded to treat said towel like a scratching post.

Flexies! Unasked for, but still flexies!

Yeah. Great. So....are we going to go eat that grass behind me or.....? Otherwise Ima take a snooze, if it's all the same to you.

Yes, precious, just as soon as I can get a decent picture of you and me (well, let's face it, mostly me, since you are shiny and beautiful and I am gross and sweaty). Just be happy I didn't embarrass you further by kissing you...I thought about it. I may or may not have done it and there may or may not be photographic evidence-just be a good boy and it will never see the light of day. Probably.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lazy Boy

Ugh, it's so hard to motivate myself to motivate Miles to work hard in this stupid humidity. It's like the tropics here, except, you know, without the oceans or beaches or beautiful views. Sigh.

So, he's been quite lazy lately, but I have to say I can't complain. Yes, I know we should be working more forward, create that impulsion, yadda yadda yadda. Why can't we just jog and lope along like a western pair out on the range? We're so good at it lately, maybe it's our niche! Instead I've been focusing on doing lateral work, shoulder-ins, leg yields, whatever. My favorite exercise right now is "open and close the arena gate on horseback". Yes, the excitement never ends around here!

Really, this is a nice problem to have, and I'll take it. I know when (if?) this weather ever breaks we will get our forward on...if he doesn't, well, I will and he will have no choice but to come with. With so many people, both at the barn and out in bloggy world, that are struggling with lameness or illness with their horses I know how lucky I am every time I can put my foot in that stirrup. Miles and I are pulling for all of you! Slowly, of course. Very, very slowly.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Days of Calm

At the barn, at least. Work is crazy. My dad got out of the hospital after a two plus week stay (he is OK and recovering, thank goodness). Kyle has been swamped at work, and though he works from home I feel like I barely see him. He usually comes to bed about 3 hours before I have to get up at 6:30. So thank goodness I have the barn, and these two ridiculously adorable boys to great me every other day or so.

OMG here comes the hay lady!

I haven't had a ton of rides the last couple weeks, and when I do ride I just can't bring us to do anything remotely challenging...bad, bad bad. Still, it's been exactly what I've needed on those particular days. There is a "Fun Show" at our barn in July-I'm slightly tempted to enter us in a walk trot class, just to see...where we're at. There's no show clothes required, what else do I want? Well, I guess I want to see him in that environment first. I've never ridden him in an arena with more than 2 or 3 horses in it, let alone a warm-up type setting. I think the smart thing is just to get him out, let him graze and look at all the commotion, lunge, and maaaaaybe ride him if he's got a brain in his head amid horse show chaos. There's a dressage show at our barn next week that I'm going to scribe for half the day (so NOT tempted to enter that!), but that will give me a gauge for how he is with showing as well.

Still, I look at this face and think, who WOULDN'T give him a blue ribbon, despite the monkey on his back? I mean, seriously.

This picture kills it.

It's hot again this weekend, so I think Mr. Handsome will get a bath-his first one yet!! Well, obviously by me. I'm excited, I'll admit it. Anything to make him pretty. I needed to take more pics anyway.

In unrelated to horses news, we took the dogs swimming today. Gosh, they are hilarious.

Lebowski (aka Bean) turns into a two year old again, I swear. That dog LIVES to swim. Of course, right now, they are pooped. Just how I like them:) Happy Friday Everyone!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Do You Want Your Own Miles (And Really, Who Doesn't)?

Introducing Explosive Rocket at New Vocations.

Now, I don't know anything about this horse other than what is posted here on his site. However, he shares the famous Mr. Prospector as a grand sire with Miles.

Look at that head! Look at those EARS!  It's uncanny, I tell you.  Man, it's a good thing I'm not independently wealthy:) Dammit, WHY is that?  I want this horse.  His description:

"Rocket is anything but explosive! This grandson of Mr. Prospect is a very well mannered and fun loving horse. He is a happy horse who simply goes around and does whatever you ask. Rocket only raced 2 times and was retired in January due to sustaining chips in his knees. He had surgery in February on both and was given a good prognosis for flat work and some lower level jumping. Now completely rehabbed Rocket is being schooled on the flat and is doing extremely well. He would be a fun horse for someone wanting to do dressage or lower level jumpers, he also would be a nice pony club prospect. He has a good mind, is very willing, and teachable. He gets along well with his pasture mates, has good ground manners, stands for farrier, bathing, etc…."

Someone adopt this sweet boy, and then start a blog so I can watch his progress. Yeah, he's got a wonky eye, but I think that just makes him that much cooler. I like the freaks, y'all should know that by now.


Do NOT mess with your blog layout if you have anything else to do for the next 2 hours. I'm sure most of you know this. I told you I was a slow learner.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

How Does One Become a Thoroughbred Person?

So, looking back on my previous blogs, it looks like I've started 90% of them with the word SO. This is the last one, if I have anything to say about it. If I slip, y'all are allowed fifty virtual lashings with a wet noodle.

Since I've started this blog, I have been absolutely OVERWHELMED by how much amazing writing there is on the interwebs about horses, dressage, OTTBs; I had NO idea, honestly. I've always been a slow learner, no doubt about that.

Anyway, it makes for great inspiration for blog topics-unless you guys want to hear more bitching about the weather, or maybe the bugs?? Yeah, I thought so.

I started riding at a hunter barn called Fox Brush Farm - A wonderful, non-snotty boarding/training facility, which emphasized safety over everything else. I started with weekly lessons, progressed to leasing horses and working there as much as I could, and then they helped me find Chami, best first horse ever.

Fox Brush had every breed of horse imaginable, though most of the lesson horses were Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, Paints or crosses thereof. Thoroughbreds? They were for the advanced riders ONLY, or they were training horses. I might lead them to and from their pastures, but none of the kids (I was there from ages 7 to 14) actually RODE them. I don't think that's so unusual either-a lot of people seem to start off their riding careers with similar experiences. Of course the Thoroughbreds were ridiculously beautiful, but they seemed so...HARD to me, with their athletic bodies and gorgeous heads that were usually perched on long, sinewy necks held high, high in the air. I had never been a rider brimming with confidence, so it was totally fine by me to keep riding the other horses, while leaving the "hard bodies" to people with more drive and experience while I admired them from afar.

Of course, when I (cough *my parents* cough) bought Chami when I was 14, she was technically an Appendix Quarter Horse (TB/QH cross). Let me tell you though, that mare sure looked and acted all QH. She was gorgeous to me, but she had that big 'ol QH butt and was an air fern-looking at food too long was not good for her waistline. Even at only 8 years old, she was a steady-eddy almost always, unless she saw a herd of cows (Serious cow-phobia. No horse is perfect). Anyway, I figured she was a fluke and got most of her QH mama and little to none of her TB daddy. Naturally, anytime she acted like a ninny I blamed it on the TB side:)

I didn't begin my voyage to being a "Thoroughbred Person" until I adopted Ebony a few years ago. Old stereotypes about TBs still danced in my head at that point. Granted, she was in her mid to late teens, and about as easy a keeper as you could find, but she was DEFINITELY a TB. Very, very sensitive and had to WORK for her respect. However, she didn't really have a serious spook in her, which was why I adopted her (well, the "free" price tag helped;). Again, I never was nor will I ever be brimming with unbridled confidence. She could balk, she could buck, she could be mad as hell at me...but man, when we finally figured each other out (I stopped forcing her to live in a stall half the day and do arena work ALL the time, and she figured out I wasn't going to tear her mouth off or beat her up for doing something bad, although she also couldn't get away with doing whatever she wanted-I think she had seen it all before me!), we had such great, great rides together. She was never overly-lovey, so any little gesture she offered me was pretty cool. She kept me thinking, always, when I was with her. After Eb, how could I go back to the stock horses? ;)

Enter Miles, who I'm obviously totally smitten with. After Eb's passing, I looked on DreamHorse and some other sites for horses of all breeds, but the sites I kept going back to (and the horses that inevitably caught my interest the most) were, you guessed it, Thoroughbreds. After reading Miles' New Vocations profile and watching his video, I couldn't think of any reason NOT to go see him. Also, at an adoption price of $400-come on, I'm still pretty sure I got away with highway robbery.

Of course, he was everything I wanted, and everything I didn't know I wanted. Now he is NOT perfect...I'm still a little ticked at him for dumping me back in March when he gave just enough of a spook to put me off balance, and then would not simply WHOA so I could right myself, but that's another blog! Mostly, he has become my best friend, who lets me know exactly where I stand. He's so, so excited to see me when I come out to the barn-when I get out of the car and he can see it's me-well, I'd really like to get it on video some day:) He can be lazy but will never be the kind of horse you have to nag or really get after to be forward. He listens to me on our rides and even if he doesn't understand something the first time, once he really "gets it", he gets it for good. Smarty Pants. He can get anxious but gives me the benefit of the doubt that I won't ask him to go somewhere or do something unsafe or that we can't handle together. He looks to me to keep him safe. He is mouthy and obnoxious. He's my boy:)

So am I a Thoroughbred person? I suppose I am. I still want my Andalusian one day! Also, I will never be super excited to ride a spooky, reactive horse-though one great thing I've learned is that OTTBs are often MUCH less spooky than other horses, because they have SEEN and LIVED through the kind of loud, high-stress environments that would cause a full-on meltdown in many other horses.

I think a lot of horse people would tell you a TB's heart can't be beat (har har), and usually they are talking about their courage as athletes. Of course they ARE athletic-and though as a lowly pleasure rider this has never been my #1 priority, I admit I love Miles' gorgeous muscle-butt, and his awesome, solid yet gracefully long neck. "Heart" is more than athleticism and the courage to tackle a cross-country course, though-it's also that joie de vivre! A love of living, and curiosity in all things-from your pasture mate to your handlers to that crazy girl who comes out and rides you and babbles at you and keeps kissing your forehead. Man, Miles has that in SPADES, and I think a lot of Thoroughbreds do too.

Yeah, count me in. I'm a Thoroughbred person.

I wish I could capture a picture that does him justice one day...the big pic at the top of this blog is the closest I've got, and I didn't take it! Still, this face is what gets me, every time I see it.

What about you? Is there a breed that you naturally gravitate to, or are you more individual-horse specific? If you have a favorite breed, what about that breed "gets" to you, or do you love most? I love hearing what other people's passions are, and why!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

You Said It, Big Guy

Miles' face right here? Pretty much sums up how we (I) feel about the weather this Spring and early Summer. Sure, there have been a smattering of nice days...usually on a weekday when I can't get to the barn for some reason or another. Mostly, it's been a lot of humidity, bugs and rain, followed by more f!@^#*g humidity. Today is just MISERABLE. I couldn't see at the barn because sweat kept running into my eyes and it BURNS, you guys.

Listen, there aren't a whole lot of advantages to living in Michigan these days, but we generally have pretty lovely Springs and Falls...even our Summers aren't too bad. This year, not so much.

Of course Miles, my native Chilean, seems much less perturbed than I am about all this. As long as I keep the mosquitoes at bay (by loading him up on toxic bug spray, sigh), he really doesn't seemed bothered by the weather. Goody for him. I for one couldn't WAIT to get myself and the dogs home today, where we are currently recovering in the sweet A/C. I know, I know, tough life:-) I can whine with the best of them. Still, we live in the fricking Northern Hemisphere, and it would be nice to reap the benefits again...preferably SOON, Mother Nature. Thanks a bunch.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The question is, what CAN'T I relate to my horse?

So, I had my annual review today at work. It was a good review overall, as I think is fair because, without bragging, I am damn good at what I do. I know I'm not a perfect employee because I am not a robot, which is probably a good thing since I work in a human services field.

There are so, so, SO many things I want to say, but I don't want to pull a Dooce, so I will stop here.

How does this relate to horses? Well, anyone who rides or interacts with a horse regularly is that horse's trainer. We can train them well or we can train them not-so-well. We can reward bad and good behavior; we can punish intentionally for undesirable behavior, or punish unintentionally because we are off balance or riding incorrectly (or have incorrect signals or body language with groundwork). Fairness is what is key. It's ok if our horses don't always understand what we are trying to tell them at first, but ideally they should always feel like we are on their side, and are giving them a fair shake. They should not be nervous or in fear because their trainer is playing "gotcha!".

We cannot fix what we don't know is "wrong" in someone's eyes, whether we agree with it or not, unless we are told and told clearly, and horses are no different. I want to be especially mindful of this when working with Miles. Now that we're past the getting-to-know-you stage and doing work at all 3 gaits, I want to be very careful about the signals I'm sending him. I KNOW there are things I let slide in the very beginning that I am more mindful of now. That doesn't mean I have to let him continue to do or not do certain things I don't like, but it does mean I need to be FAIR, and recognize he's not always doing things to be naughty (ugh, I need to face it that this boy rarely if ever does things JUST to be naughty;), but because he doesn't KNOW better-and why should he?

So, when correcting him, I need to keep this in mind always, and give him a message that's more "Oh, you silly thing, I know you want to look at that tractor every time we pass it, but let's try bending this way instead", and less "UGH Miles do you HAVE to give that corner your giraffe-neck full on attention EVERY time? ENOUGH already."

Attitude shapes behavior which shapes how we train and interact with our horses. I think, to this point, I've been pretty good about being mindful of this. However, the challenge is going to be 6 months or a year from now, when I might be feeling like he should KNOW something already-well maybe, maybe not. The point is, I need to look at myself first and ask, "What kind of training (managing} have I given him that would let him know either way?"

For now, though, it's FRIDAY, and I'm really looking forward to shaking this work-day off and spending the next couple of days hanging with my good boy. Happy Weekend everyone!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Did I ever tell you my horse is adorable?

So I lunged Miles tonight, working a LOT on trot to canter transitions, particularly to the right. He got his lead every time, which is GREAT, but tells me obviously I'm doing something to make him crooked under saddle since we have somewhat of an issue getting that lead. ANYWAY, he's a good boy, I suck, no big news there.

After lunging (which I did in his leather halter instead of a bridle or his rope halter, just to see if he's gotten any lighter-he has! Again, good boy:), I worked on flexing him (getting him to give to pressure by turning his head and softening). NOT the thing to do in a nice, wide, comfy leather halter, I realize.

I stood at his left side, behind his shoulder. I set my right hand on his rump and brought my left hand up just past his withers, where I would ask him to flex if I were on his back. Miles turned his head, looked at me, leaned on the halter, and shut his eyes. You guys, it was the cutest thing. He was all, "I'm tired after all those transitions, mom. Thanks for holding me up." It was so precious. I felt really, really bad when I had to bump on him and make him give and soften before I let him relax. Training is training, sigh.

It's just amazing to me how far my boy has come. From not being able to leave the barn and screaming for other horses, to being so relaxed by himself with me in the ring that he can fall asleep. Love love love. Love my boy.

Mini flex! Also that lovely, soft expression I see more and more of these days.

Cautionary Tale

So, I says to myself, I says I'm just stopping at the barn! Just for a minute, I says. Feed the horse, get the grime off him, maybe let him graze while I do some reading. Easy Peasy I says!

Who cares if I left my barn boots at home! Pshaw, when's the last time a horse stepped on me anyway.

This is where you picture my swollen, bruised footsie. It was actually grossing ME out to see my own dirty swollen foot every time I viewed my blog (and WHY did that picture have to load so large. Grrrrrr. Anyway, y'all are better off without the visual. I know I am.

In addition to acquiring balloon-foot, apparently wearing flip-flops to the barn will undo the lunch-hour pedicure I had a couple weeks ago, sigh.

Honestly, I was hoping for more of a rainbow of color. It's swollen though, ho boy is it swollen.

Actually, he never put his whole weight down (ahem, otherwise hello broken foot), but it was just enough to teach my idiot self a lesson. Thank GOD he's barefoot.

I'm really very good about safety equipment, usually. Helmet EVERY ride, gloves when lunging, etc etc etc. That'll learn me.

Today turned into a gorgeous day in Mid-Michigan, so I'm going out for a short ride (foot is better but still bigger than I'd like it to be. I hope I can get my boot on!). You can see how excited Miles is about this prospect.

You should've heard this one holler at me! I still don't know what all the fuss was about~Miles.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ridin' like a Ragdoll

So, I went out and bought His Highness a pair of Cavallo Simple Boots.

Sir was feeling ouchy on the gravel driveway and parking lot at the barn, both of which he has to navigate to get to the indoor and outdoor arenas, so Sir now has some first rate protection, WITH optional gel inserts, natch.

I had used them once before, just for 20 minutes or so in the outdoor arena, which is very deep and sandy, and they worked great. Today was spitting rain, muggy and BUGGY (have I complained about the bugs yet?), so we worked in the indoor ring, which has good footing but is considerably less deep.

So, as to be expected, Miles is lifting his front legs slightly higher with his new shoez. WOW did I feel the difference today! His trot almost felt passage-y - very bouncy/springy (in a good way), and I found myself posting slowly even though we were covering ground well. And boy, did I feel like I was alllll over the place. I pulled myself together, tried to unlock any areas (knees, hips) that felt stiff, get Miles driving more forward than up, and got us to a place that felt much better. How funny though! My thoroughbred with the flat kneed-daisy cutter trot has suspension, who knew? I think I'll be sore tomorrow, but that just shows how much more I should be riding and working out, sigh.

We had a bit of an issue with his right lead canter, which I figured would happen at some point. He's getting stronger and stronger though, so that will help, and I need to make sure he's either straight or slightly bent inside (neck AND body) before asking for the transition. His left lead continues to be a joy to ride and gets better and better. I could ride that canter all day....

Contact is coming along well, in that I'm finally asking for it rather than letting him tool around in a nice long and low frame. Time to get off that forehand. For most of the ride, until we started working on the right lead towards the end, he was great with the bit-some chewing, which is what I want, but no grinding or rooting (grabbing the bit and stretching his neck down), so I was super happy with that. I still can't wait to really work him in his english hackamore, just to see how he does with no bit at all.

The Belmont is being run in about 20 minutes-here's to a safe race! I've got no favorites this year. I have a love/hate relationship with racing anyway, which I'd love to write a post about sometime. Sure would be nice to see a Triple Crown Winner in my lifetime though:)

Hope everyone is having a great weekend! I'll leave you with one of my favorite pictures of Miles, looking towards the future in his first couple of days with me at his new home.

UPDATE: race is over, everyone appears to be OK, and the beautiful chestnut Drosselmeyer wins at 13-1!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Mosquitos Have Eaten Us Alive..Today in Pictures

UGH the mosquitos have been out in full force the last couple of days. My poor Miles decided to get himself as caked-in-mud as possible to escape their torment (smart boy). I totally should've gotten a before picture, but after about 2 solid hours of scraping, currying, brushing, picking, wiping and spraying I got my boy as pretty and shiny as could be without a full blown bath. I'm pretty proud of my handiwork if I do say so:) Miles is pretty thin-skinned (I know, a thoroughbred-what are the odds!!), but put up with all my (vigorous) grooming because I kept him busy munching hay and beet pulp mash the whole time:) Behold, my shiny beast as I let him wander around the (enclosed) barnyard after all "our" hard work.

His classic side profile

Again! In case you didn't appreciate him the first time:)

Hello Sir! You are handsome. You can see that I am also handsome, yes?

Let us be handsome together.

Another new friend! Do you see how shiny I am, small equine?

Enough with the pictures lady. You have not offered me foodstuffs in many minutes.

Look there! I see much grass for eating! You shall be allowed one more picture and then I'm out of here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Confession...and a Question

Ahem. My name is Sarah. I own and ride an OTTB. And I...don't have a trainer.
I know, I know!! It's wrong. It's so wrong.
Here's the thing; the money, it's tight. I want to be able to have a cushion (however small it might be) in case Miles gets hurt, or colics, or...whatever. We also have the aforementioned Herd, a few of whom are geriatric, and I want any extra dollars we might have to be set aside for them. Ugh, I hate money talk, so that's all I'm gonna say about that.
The other thing is...well, things are going well with Miles. Oh sure, I know we may have holes in our training, but we're progressing with no huge issues (omg did I actually write that? We're doomed now:). When I think back to our first rides, and how horribly he would drop his right shoulder, or wiggle and shimmy down the long side of the arena instead of marching in a nice, straight line, we have come So Far. I honestly credit Miles more than myself. Not to mention I've been ecstatic ever since we've been cantering in the outdoor arena...we are a horse and rider pair that can perform all three gaits, whoo hoo! It's the little things:)
Another thing is...I would have to seek out and find a trainer. My last trainer was and is amazing, but she works her butt off out of her barn, and can't travel all the way to mine for one lesson, which I understand. We have no trailer, so I can't go to her. I have a couple of contacts in the area for good dressage instructors, one of whom I adore and have worked with in the past but haven't spoken to in, oh, 10 years or so.
So these are my excuses, which are lame, I know. I KNOW I have position issues to work on...well, everyone does don't they? I'm sure there are things I could be doing to help support Miles more than I am. I do always try to error on the side of caution, and to maintain a soft, quiet position, but I miss those second set of eyes on the ground to help me.
In the beginning with Miles and his horrid ground manners, I summoned and utilized my previous 20 years of experience with horses (give or take;) naturally, but I also sought the advice of my friends at the barn-one of whom is incredibly knowledgeable and generous, and shared with me a TON of her Clinton Anderson information and equipment.
I had never really looked at any of the "Natural Horsemanship" guys before, mostly because they aren't necessarily geared towards the English world (although a horse with good ground manners should be universal in all disciplines!), but also because I had never had a horse who was so damn pushy on the ground before. It was a wakeup call, that's for sure. I honestly had no idea how to deal with this 16.2 hand high blockhead who kept crowding me. I would sort of sigh at him and try to shove him away with my elbow...yeah, THAT was effective (note-it was not effective).
Watching Clinton's DVDs and reading his material was a HUGE help. I'm not going to go into details, but his method WORKED for Miles and me, and definitely brought us closer as I became less exasperated with him and he grew to respect me and trust me.
I will also admit that I thought some of this Natural Horsemanship business (not just Clinton's method) was so much common sense. Weren't Clinton, Parelli, Lyons, Cameron, Cox et al just teaching what everyone knows to beginner horsemen and women? Well, no, not necessarily.
I will say I don't agree with all of Clinton's methods, and do not employ them all. While I love RFD TV just because I will watch any show with a horse in it, I think a LOT of these guys use their air time to hawk their carrot sticks, rope halters, DVDs, etc. Some of their shows are more infomercial than anything else.
Still, I imagine there are a lot of people out there like me, doing this on our own without a trainer. I am lucky to have a background in horses to help me, as well as the awesome people at my barn, but some people don't, or don't have "structured" training (eg taking lessons) in their past to fall back on.
Should that exclude them from horse ownership? In my opinion, not necessarily. In this day and age when soooooo many horses need homes, being a beginner shouldn't stop someone, AS LONG AS they have others around them that are experienced to help, and they are willing to learn. Ugh, it's a complicated subject for another day I suppose.
I also think it's really dumb to ask a question of my audience when I have one (maybe two!) beautiful, awesome readers, but Ima do it anyway. What is your opinion of the Natural Horsemanship trend? Good or bad? Do they do more good than harm, or vise versa? Are some better than others? Are they all selling snake oil? Or are they out there helping Jane and Joe Schmoe in a way that other well-known English trainers do not?
No judgement from me no matter what you say, promise! Unless you're mean to me, then I'll cry.