Wednesday, February 27, 2008
My horse hunting frenzy may or may not be news to my husband. Either he is oblivious to the pad of paper next to my laptop where I've scribbled notes about this buckskin mare or that roan gelding or he has chosen to ignore it all. But who does he think is calling me at all hours of the day (or evening)? He doesn't even seem remotely suspicious when I answer the phone and then slink away into another room to chat. Can he not overhear me interrogating sellers in a hushed whisper? Then again, maybe he is eavesdropping but he's just ignoring what he hears. After all, he did tell me not even to start looking for another horse "for a while."
But what does that really mean to a horsewoman with an empty corral? "A while" could translate into a few days.
Wait until I inform him that I want to make a 3-hour trip to look at about a half-dozen prospects on this one ranch. That ought to thrill him.
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Monday, February 25, 2008
He usually lives out in a big paddock with a large shelter with mats underneath the roof. But it's open to the elements, otherwise.
The covered corrals have mats and shavings. Oh. And my husband temporarily installed a big, huge square of thick plywood across the front of Lexi's old corral. Why? Because she was The Golden Princess, and my husband felt she needed extra shelter from the wind and rain. Wally's corral had no such partition.
Naturally, what do I do? I put Wally in Lexi's old pen for bedtime, because I wanted to pamper him a little. The first night went well. He rolled in the shavings and seemed to appreciate the coziness. He was even nice enough not to stretch his head over the white vinyl fence boards and chew on the bare plywood partition. Even still, trust me: I was up at the proverbial crack o' dawn to shuttle him back into his turnout paddock before the spell wore off and he morphed back into his usual destructive self.
Last night, the storm was over but the ground in the turnout paddock was still quite damp, and one of Wally's front shoes was already loose. So I figured, "Why not tempt fate once more?"
I put him up in Lexi's old pen again.
My husband said to me, "Are you sure you want to put him in there, and not in his own covered corral, the one with the wire fencing on the inside?"
Nah. What could go wrong?
I found out at oh, around 2:30 a.m. My bad arm was really bothering me, so I couldn't sleep, anyway. I was half-asleep when my husband sat bolt upright in bed and said, "I think Wally's kicking!"
What? My Wally? The bad boy who's undergoing a change of heart?
Then I heard the crash. IT WAS LOUD!!!
I ran outside in the moonlight, clad in a unlikely outfit of flannel pajamas and muckboots. Wally was standing up, but the plywood partition was cracked in half. And one of the vinyl boards-- the center one-- was split into several pieces. I took Wally out and checked him over. He was coated in shavings. Tthey clung to his long flaxen tail. He seemed a bit dazed. In the dim light I could see that he had some minor scrapes visible on one of his hind white stockings. My conclusion? He'd become cast, got his hind leg over/under/between the rails and kicked violently to free himself. In this instance, it was a good thing that the vinyl was fragile enough to break. Many years ago my mom's best Trakehner mare got cast in her box stall and fractured her sesamoid attempting to right herself. She was never sound for riding after that.
Needless to say, this morning I made another trip to the fence company. They're conveniently located a few blocks from my house, which is a good thing because I think I've already replaced every one of the vinyl post caps. Wally thinks it's fun to pluck them off the top of the posts when he's bored and use them as hockey pucks. Thus far the gals who work the front desk haven't yet said, "So, what's that big Paint horse of yours done this time?" Because, don't ya' know, I always have a story to go with my order request.
When I began my Wally Saga, the blonde lady with the calculator said, "Well, at least you don't have pipe corrals. The other night my girlfriend's horse got cast and I had to go over and help her. We had to unbolt the clamps holding the panels together in order to get him loose."
So I guess I should be grateful for small favors.
Luckily I got out of there for only $4.20. There was a sale on used vinyl fence parts, and there was a board just the right length. How fortuitous! It popped back into the slots and Lexi's old corral was as good as new.
However, how much you want to bet that if there's another storm Wally will be spending the night IN HIS OWN COVERED CORRAL, the one that's fenced in like a prison, so that he can't get his legs wrapped around the fence boards?
An even better option? I'll put his waterproof rain sheet over the top of his blanket and just leave him in the paddock. After all, he is a tough guy, right?
Next up: I secretly begin my hunt for another horse so as not to upset my husband, who has this silly notion that I'll learn to appreciate having just one horse. Uh-huh. Right. Like does he not know what kind of horsewoman he's been married to for 25 years?
Thursday, February 21, 2008
"It's just no good anymore since you went away... Number One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do..."
I don't think it's natural for horses to live a solitary life. Yet it may take me a while to find another horse. Just so you don't string me up for animal cruelty, Wally isn't neighing constantly (except when I come out the back door), he isn't pacing in his paddock, and heaven knows he hasn't lost his appetite. But I can tell he misses having another horse at home. Why? Because he's suddenly become more friendly. Heck, he's almost downright dependent on me, which is actually a good thing.
You see, when I got Wally he'd been expelled from a large Paint show barn. I can't blame the trainer. She inherited Wally from some clients who appeared on her doorstep, Wally in tow. Right away the trainer could tell Wally and the young girl weren't a good match: the kid was timid and Wally was a bit of a bully. And, since he is a big, rangy thing it was next to impossible to collect him into the extremely slow-legged lope necessary to win in the show pen. But someone had tried, and that had soured the flashy red horse.
"When Wally came here, he was an angry little man," the trainer told me.
And that's how I got him. He was beautifully schooled and as comfortable to ride as sitting on a sofa. But he was downright obnoxious on the ground.
Wally needed to find an enjoyable job that he could do successfully.
Fortunately, Wally loves trail riding. He taps into that swaggering bravado of his when he's out on the trail and that makes him very brave. He approaches anything unfamiliar (today it was a pair of pigs dozing in the sun) with an attitude of, "What the heck is that?" He rarely spooks. Instead he investigates.
So now that Lexi is gone, Wally is revealing that some of his aloofness was merely a big bluff. He knows his boundaries now. Thanks to some no-nonsense work in the paddock, where I used the space like a round pen, Wally will retreat from "my space". But he also realizes that treats abound when you're a good boy. Where Lexi was quite fanatical about carrots, Wally thinks peppermints are divine. I keep some in my pocket just as little rewards for when I can tell that he's thought about his actions and behaved himself.
He'll never make Citizen of the Year. But with this one-on-one therapy he could rise to the status of reformed felon.
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Monday, February 18, 2008
I'm sure you're wondering, "Why did Cindy sell her golden girl?"
I sold her for the most common of reasons: She simply was not the right horse for me any more. One of the hardest aspects of life with horses is accepting that sometimes a horse you love is no longer a good match. Such was the case with Lexi.
When I bought her, I had just begun riding again after my jumping accident (the one that left me with chronic pain and some paralysis in my right arm). Because I'd loved competing so much, I guess I imagined myself competing again. Of course I wasn't up to showing in any sort of jumping event, but I figured I could show in amateur western horsemanship and pleasure classes. So when I saw Lexi, and tried her out, I fell in love. She was exquisitely trained and had an extensive show record. She was the horse for me! I eagerly shelled out the money for her. It was the most I'd ever paid for a horse.
Then reality sunk in. There was this endless list of "stuff" that I needed to buy in order to compete, and it was all very, very expensive. Even when I liquidated all of my hunt seat paraphernalia, I was still thousands of $$$$ away from having all of the accoutrements required to dive right into the western show pen. So that dream faded away. Quickly.
Still, I enjoyed riding Lexi in the arena at my parents' small ranch. OccasionallyI'd take Lexi out on the trails, and she was great. But when I bought this new house, and began to go on more rigorous, adventuresome trail rides through hills and... *gasp!*... rivers... Lexi began to express her dislike for such excursions. As I've shared here before, crossing rivers and streams is not high on Lexi's list of "Things I'd like to do Today." I could tell that being a 4-wheel drive Humvee was not her role in life. She was, as her name implied, a Lexus.
So she's now with someone who will take her back into the show ring. I'm sure Lexi will still stroll around town on the trails once in a while, but her primary role will be that of a show ring princess.
When I saw the buyer's trainer sit on Lexi, and bridle her up and work her like a western pleasure horse, I knew I had made the correct decision. Lexi seemed so relaxed and confident in her job. Even better? The trainer is the woman who bred and raised Lexi; she owned Lexi's sire, too. And the buyer has loved Lexi since she was a baby, often envisioning her as the epitome of her ideal horse.
All's well that ends well, I suppose. Of course, Wally seems a bit lonesome and I'm now in the predicament of trying to find another horse. But at least this time I'll have a clear understanding of what kind of horse I'm looking for, and I'm confident that my riding goals aren't going to change.
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Saturday, February 16, 2008
The other question I'm faced with comes directly from my husband. He takes one look at the scraps of leftover hay in Wally and Lexi's corrals and asks me, "Why don't they eat it all?"
I know the answer to that one. It's because I feed Wally and Lexi too much. Since they know there will always be more, they pick and choose just what they'll eat. You know, sort of like a buffet. Or a potluck. They nibble off the tenderest ends of each stem of hay, gulp down the alfalfa leaves, and abandon the rest.
They can be standing in a paddock littered with hay scraps yet they seem so danged hungry when I come out the back door to feed them their pellets and supplements at lunchtime.
"Look!" Wally says to Lexi, "There she is! She hasn't forgotten us, after all! And... and... she's bringing CARROTS!!!"
And just so you know, my horses are not fat. They're never going to be contestants on the equine version of "America's Biggest Losers." But they are pleasantly plump, and I suppose they simply decline to eat any hay that is not up to their high standards of fine dining.
Wally and Lexi are similar to a high falutin' couple who dine out at high-priced, 4-star restaurants. "Oh, dear," Lexi might say, dabbing the corner of her mouth with her linen napkin, "I'm afraid the prime rib is a bit over-done this evening."
Wally would respond by adding, "Yes, and I shant eat any more of the foie gras. It's... bland."
Okay, so maybe my imagination gets the best of me. Maybe my horses are just picky eaters.
Regardless of how your own horses approach feeding time, you can have some fun answering trivia questions about hay. Just click on this link to a Horse Channel quiz:
Quiz on Fun Feed Facts
In an hour or so it'll be time for Wally and Lexi to get their lunch. Have the whisk broom handy.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
You won my heart
When I saw you pushing
That full muck cart.
Roses are red,
Alfalfa is green.
Buy me a truck
And make me your queen.
Woo me with wine,
Treat me with candy.
But around the barn
Are you truly handy?
I know you're not a cowboy
But I love you still
Because you didn't faint
When you saw the feed store bill.
You are my one true Valentine
(I knew it from the start)
Because you weren't just handsome
You were also very smart.
You never made the error
(A dangerous one, of course)
Of asking me to choose between
You or my dear horse.
If you have your own Valentine "ditty" to share, or if you'd like to leave a comment, just click "comments" below.
Have a happy Valentine's Day! And if you find yourself overrun with those candy hearts, give a handful to your favorite horse.
Monday, February 11, 2008
At the horse show yesterday I had the joy of coaching two of my young riding students. They were both aboard very nice hunter ponies. Well, let me backtrack a little.
One pony, the tubby silvery white mare, was a sweetheart. The little black Welsh gelding was, well... Let's just say that he began the day being his usual self. In his first few jumping classes he'd break to the trot rather than maintain his canter past the in-gate.
He's so danged cute he's disarming. He has a thick, shaggy forelock that drapes over his big, almond eyes, making him look like a Hollywood Bad Boy.
About midday a spectator mentioned that he was probably a "green pony."
His young rider-- whom I believe is naturally gifted and quite gutsy-- is very, very competitive. Missing a chance at a blue ribbon because her pony was uncooperative was not sitting well with her. She wrinkled her freckled nose in response and replied, "No, he's not green. He's a brat."
I could tell she was beginning to feel demoralized.
That's when Auntie Cindy (that would be me) had a little talk with her about the rewards of perservering in the face of great odds, and how we shouldn't give up just because we aren't winning blue ribbons. We have to see challenges as opportunities to grow as horsemen and horsewomen. You know, the ol' Rah-Rah Speech.
But I do truly believe it all.
Horse shows can really teach us so much about how to maintain our composure. They teach us how to find the courage to dust off our boots once more and get back into that arena.
This little girl did just that. And she finished the day by winning both the short stirrup equitation flat class and the division's equitation over fences class. Even I was impressed by how she literally gritted her teeth and physically pushed that little black pony around the corners with her outside leg. That crafty little munchkin kept cantering past the in-gate.
I was proud of her. Not only did she learn invaluable horsemanship skills, but she also got a crash course on Real Life Skills: Don't ever admit defeat. At least not until the last class of the day.
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Sunday, February 10, 2008
Besides, not too many hours from now I have to hitch up my trailer and haul the lesson pony I use to a local horse show for one of my riding students. I'm also meeting up at the show with two other kids that I teach, so I'll have three anxious, nervous, but wildly determined horse crazy young girls to coach for the day.
I'll make sure to eat a good breakfast.
The fact that I was working on the book edit today-- and giving riding lessons-- and that I have the horse show on Sunday means that neither Wally nor Lexi will get ridden this weekend. That means my rides on Monday will be "interesting." Both of my horses are so fit and the weather has (fortunately) been so pleasant lately that they have tons of energy. Of course, that is why God made longe lines, right?
By the way, I continue to enjoy the comments and emails you've contributed. When I wrote about how my horses dealt with the llamas in town I had no idea that many of your horses have also partaken of Introduction to Llamas, 101. Must say, though, I had to laugh at a reader who wrote that her horse is petrified of dairy cows. That makes trail riding rather adventuresome as she lives in the heart of Dairy Cow Land: Wisconsin. Truly, she shouldn't feel embarrassed about that fact. Both of my horses are well-trained western riding horses yet neither one of them can figure out what to do with a steer. The options they consider include whirling and exiting the scene, snorting in abject disapproval, prancing sideways, and remaining frozen in place. Needless to say, I try to avoid riding up to the neighborhood equestrian park when the PRCA rodeo is in town.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
As you can see by this photo of my sister and me, we both (*cough*) bought a few things. I couldn't resist a pair of boots-- hey, they were $30. below retail, and trust me, I know retail boot prices!-- and I got a cute and comfy t-shirt, a cap, a jar of incredibly delicious horse cookies (or so Wally and Lexi tell me), and a pair of western spurs.
I couldn't tell you what all my sister, Jill, bought, because she always out-shops me. I can't keep up with her.
Some of the things I won't buy at Equine Affaire or any other horse expo?
- The latest incarnation of a bit.
- Any gizmo that promises to train my horse to the highest levels of _______________ (fill in the blank).
- Any miracle cure that promises to be a cure for anything and everything that can afflict a horse. I mean, really. Just one scoop of Wonder Tonic and everything from bowed tendon to navicular to Crazy Mare Syndrome evaporates? Uh-huh.
- Super expensive bright shiny gaudy horse jewelry. Any super expensive shiny jewelry comes from my husband. It's in our marriage contract.
Otherwise, I can pretty much be swayed to buy any product that makes my life with horses easier... especially if it's marked below retail.
If you'd like to see what other shoppers nabbed at Equine Affaire last week, click on this link: Cindy Stalks Shoppers at Equine Affaire. I had a lot of fun taking a peek inside the bags of other horse lovers at the grand expo.
And if you'd like to share any great buys you've scored at a horse expo-- or if you have any other comments-- please share them by clicking on "comments" below or emailing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Fortunately, there is only one llama herd that resides right alongside the horse trail. And I can avoid it entirely. In fact, I have to choose to confront the Land O' Llamas by crossing the main street in town and riding headlong into Llamaville. But since I enjoy a challenge-- and I'm never one to back down from daring myself to do anything-- I occasionally pick a day to saddle up and force my two horses to face their worst fear: the llamas.
Wally does the Snort and Stare. He arches his neck in his best impersonation of an Arabian halter stallion, pricks his ears forward at the head llama (a robust chocolate brown creature), and attempts to stare down the beasties. It isn't reassurance that Wally wants from me. It seems more likely that he wants me to pat his neck and tell him, "You're the man, Wally, you're the man."
Once Wally feels that he has intimidated the llamas, explaining that they are critters beneath his lordly rule, he continues on down the trail. He's strutting, mind you, but he carries onward.
Lexi, on the other hand, just can't quite make sense out of the llamas. I don't try to push her past the long-necked, doe-eyed animals. Instead I allow her plenty of time to inspect them. She doesn't give any indication of turning her golden hindend in the opposite direction and fleeing, which I find incredibly reassuring. But she doesn't budge, either. So we stand. And I wait. A long time. Eventually Lexi will begin to lick the bit in her mouth, turn her head away from the llamas and look across the street or back at me. That's my cue that she's "okay" with the llamas. We can take a few steps forward, and I stroke her neck with my hand. And then we stop again (because a llama can look oh-so-different from oh-so-many angles). And I wait. A long time. Then when Lexi's body language tells me she's secure that the llamas are secure behind their enclosure, we take a few more steps down the trail.
You can see that when I'm doing llama duty it can result in a lengthy trail ride.
But at least my horses are getting exposed to everything. If I ever have to ride herd on Noah's ark I'll be ready.
Do you have any interesting, unusual or exciting trail riding encounters that you'd like to share? Just email me at: email@example.com or click on "comments" below.
Saturday, February 2, 2008
If I happen to leave that bottle of medicated soap tilted ever so slightly, watch out! By the next morning a lava flow of orange goo has trickled over my best set of brushes.
Don't even get me started on anything in liquid form that is applied to a horse's hooves. It always ends up "applied" to every other item in the tack box.
Apparently I'm not the only one who is baffled by the abundance of goo that permeates the horse world. You can read what your fellow horse lovers discovered when they dared to venture into the deep, dark depths of their tack boxes in this humorous article on Horse Channel:
Tack Box Treasure Hunt
Not only is there goo galore in these tack boxes, but also some funny finds: doughnuts, a horde of hairnets and some moldy oldy bridle parts. The comments that follow the article are insightful as well. Just click on "view comments" and you can read about a missing camera re-discovered years later in someone else's tack box and a wad of keys that don't unlock anything. Some tack boxes are treasure troves, it seems.
After you read that article, feel free to search through your tack box. Is the inside of your tack box also gummed up with goo? Leave your findings in the "submit a comment" section following the article. Who knows, your response could end up in the pages of an upcoming issue of Horse Illustrated!
Meanwhile, I'll be washing my hands to rid them of gunky horse stuff residue. Again.
Friday, February 1, 2008
Once again, I feel like I should be participating in some sort of support group, like maybe the High Horse Owners Anonymous Group. Why? Because I see people on their extremely docile horses dottering down the trails like they're sleepwalking. My horses, on the other hand, begin that way but then if something sets them off I'm suddenly sitting on top of Secretariat in the stretch run of the 1973 Belmont.
This has only been happening lately. I blame that on a combination of things: the icky weather, my writing work and the distraction of housework.
The other day I rode Wally for several blocks at the walk and jog. He was being quite gentlemanly. I got to the corner of the main street in town (a 4-lane thoroughfare), paused, and pushed the Walk/Don't Walk button. Wally waited patiently and then we walked a few blocks alongside all that traffic. Wally barely flicked an ear at semi-trucks and cars zipping past him. When we were almost home we met up with a group of riders. Several of them were mounted on huge draft-crosses (which always elicit a certain amount of curiosity from Wally). After I chatted with the riders for a few moments, I rode on, leaving them behind.
Wally began to prance. His long flaxen tail flipped upwards like an Arabian stallion. He snorted a sound through his nostrils that I can only describe as a cross between a Hoover vacuum cleaner and an elephant. Part of me tried to figure out why he was putting on such a display. Was it to impress his equine friends he'd just met? Or was it because he was still frisky? The other part of me simply wanted to stay on!
Once I rode through his little rambunctious outburst, I made him canter up and down the length of horse trail that runs along my property. That seemed to cool his jets.
As for Lexi, she has remained quite the well-mannered lady... on the ground. But I've been so busy that I haven't had time yet to ride her now that her foot is well. I've been leaving her turned out all day or longeing her for a few minutes in the arena near my house. I keep thinking, "I've got to set aside some time so I can start riding her again."
That hasn't happened yet.
So while she's very well behaved on the longe line, and listens to my voice commands, I can tell by the zeal in her eyes that she's ready to launch into hyper-mode. She doesn't give the impression of a champion western pleasure horse. An onlooker would think I was holding the lead rope of a NFR barrel racing winner. Or a palomino race horse (is there such a thing?)
I love owning two horses and keeping them at home. But honestly, I can spend most of the day raking, mucking, feeding and watering, cleaning tack, sweeping the tackroom floor and grooming the horses. Combined with my writing work-- and those unavoidable indoor household chores-- I'm not left with enough time to actually ride two horses. Plus, sometimes I'm simply too tired!
I'm beginning to realize that my horses are getting too much food and not enough exercise. They're fat and sassy. And yet, ironically, because of all the hands-on work that owning two horses in your backyard entails, I believe I'm getting too much work and not enough food to compensate. Maybe I'll have to whip up a batch of macaroni and cheese for my dinner tonight and tackle the longeing and trail riding once again tomorrow.