Sunday, March 30, 2008
We'd succeeded in cantering nicely to the left and I was just about to end our schooling session by cantering to the right.
And then my neighbor, who lives in one of the homes that borders the arena, let her pair of Labrador retrievers out to roam the hillside. Because the arena is set down in a sort of flood control plain, the dogs cavorting on the hill must've looked to Wyatt as if they were flying.
You know, just the sort of incomprehensible sight a greenbroke 3-year-old needs to see. *Sigh*
I lost his attention completely. He tuned out my hand and leg aids, which is always a disconcerting feeling. He began to snort like a dragon with his tail raised above his back. Then he headed toward the gate at a big, lofty trot. Naturally, I tried to deter him, but it soon became abundantly clear that Wyatt did not steer as well as I had thought... at least not when flying dogs were pursuing him.
Now, generally speaking, when I was younger-- and didn't have about $20,000 of computerized medical equipment implanted in my body-- I'd have stayed on and ridden through the distraction by circling, bending and/or galloping forward. But today discretion was the better part of valor. I gave Wyatt about 90 seconds to cool his jets. When it was evident he'd mentally checked out, I dismounted. Quickly. And then I introduced him to one of the most important tools of working with a young, green horse: The MRL (also known as the Mid-Ride Longe). In my opinion there is no shame in the MRL. It allows the horse to work through its anxiety or residual friskiness without me struggling to get him back into work mode. In about 5 minutes Wyatt had relaxed enough that I could climb back aboard and safely finish my ride. I've never been so determined to canter a horse around an arena on its right lead! Although the circles in the corners weren't quite as round as I'd like, there's always another day to polish them. Once Wyatt comprehended that he had to canter forward from my leg, give to my hand and circle when requested, and hold his right lead, I pulled him up, gave him a pat, and called it a day.
Tomorrow we'll repeat the whole lesson once more, minus the flying dogs. And without an MRL. I hope.
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Friday, March 28, 2008
My horses, on the other hand, are much more industrious when they're bored. Their list of leisure time activities include-- but are not limited to-- the following:
* Attempting to overturn their water tubs
* Removing fly masks
* Adding dental impressions to anything made of leather
* Trimming new foliage on the trees surrounding their paddocks
* Popping the caps off the fenceposts of their corrals (always a favorite pastime!)
* Testing the strength of the velcro tabs on any boots or leg wraps
* Checking latches on gates (just to see if they can escape this time)
* Unraveling braided lead ropes
Fortunately, Wally is a simple creature. I've discovered that he will spend hours playing with his set of big orange CAUTION cones. He'll hold one of his big plastic cones in his teeth, flip it up and down, bob his head enthusiastically, and then toss it a few feet. Then he trots after it only to pick it up again for another round of Cone Tossing. He reminds me of my sister's Jack Russell terrier going after a chew toy. Unfortunately, the cones don't last long under these circumstances, which means I have to make regularly scheduled trips to my local hardware store. Pretty soon I'm going to be known as The Cone Lady.
Wyatt, on the other hand, is unimpressed with Cone Tossing. He has some mild interest in his Jolly Ball, but he'd rather play a game of tag. Not with me, mind you, but with the horses that pass by on the trail that runs right below our property. I always know someone is riding by because Wyatt's white tail will flip up, he'll arch his neck and he'll trot the length of the paddock with a lofty gait that makes me think that if he had a dose of warmblood in him he might have had a career as a dressage horse.
My horses get plenty of exercise. And they each have the luxury of turnout time. Yet I find it interesting that if I stand back and observe them during the day, they do spend a lot of time figuring out things to do when they're bored. Apparently, they're quite capable of making their own fun. Now, if I could only get them to do housework...
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Wally was a real trooper. My formerly disgruntled ex-western pleasure show horse has found his niche: Trail Horse Extraordinaire.
But actually getting him to the trail ride... Not so much fun.
You see, Natalie and I decided to carpool-- or "trailer pool"-- because gasoline is just about $4.00 a gallon out here. She has a slant load and Wally had only been hauled in a slant before I bought him (I have a straight load trailer), so I figured, what the heck: Wally could ride with her horse. Not so easy. Wally hopped right in and he was happy as a clam. But once we got to the trail head at the park, it became obvious that there wasn't quite enough room for him to step back a foot, pivot on his hind end, and turn around to walk out. Instead he'd have to back out, which required him to step off her trailer with his hind feet into nothingness. She doesn't have a ramp. That scared poor Walter. If you could see him backing down the ramp of my straight load, you'd understand: He backs out cautiously and slowly, with little itty bitty baby steps. The task of blindly backing out of Natalie's step up trailer was simply too challenging. Not ones to resort to extreme measures, Natalie and I took our time with Wally until he finally got up the courage to dangle one hind hoof out into space (all of about a 6-inch drop, by the way), and hop down.
Then we rode. And then we cooled out our horses, gave them some snacks and plenty to drink and we re-loaded. Wally once again hopped right in and we were confident that the unloading lesson was learned. Yeah, right.
When we got back to my house, Wally once again looked at us as if we were crazy. He simply wasn't budging. He'd start to put his hind hoof out, then immediately re-think that idea. And he couldn't turn enough to lead out head first.
Finally Natalie said, "Cindy, I don't know what to do!"
Apparently, the prospect of Wally living in her trailer didn't appeal to her. Then I got an idea. We had some sandbags lining the horse trail in front of our house to prevent run-off during the rains. I hoisted a few beneath the back of the trailer, making a pair of soft yet supportive "steps" for Wally. Natalie and I tried again. She gave Wally the command to "back" at his front end while I was at his hind end, reassuring him that I wasn't going to let him descend into oblivion. Finally, he stepped down with one brave hind hoof, felt the sand bag, and then came out.
Victory at last!
By not panicking and resorting to yanking and whacking on Wally, we got him out of the trailer. And the moral of this story? Don't assume that your horse fits in a trailer just because he can get in the trailer. It needs to be roomy enough that he can also comfortably get out of the trailer.
Needless to say, next trip I'm hauling Wally in my straight load trailer.
And now I'm off to ride Wyatt in the arena before Easter dinner. My sister, Jill, is coming to watch. She has yet to see Wyatt, and her first introduction will be watching me attempt to canter him around the entire arena. He trotted a lot of nice circles on Friday. And he longed great! So we'll see how this goes. Stay tuned!
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Okay, I lied. He longed a lot better than he did at home in the turnout paddock, where the feed bucket kept luring him into the distant corner (dragging me behind him). In the arena, he longes fine. Or he did yesterday. Today, as I was leading Wyatt into the arena, who should come riding out of the arena but my neighbor and fellow equestrian author Audrey Pavia! Here's a link to a recent article about her on Horse Channel:
Audrey's Latest Gig
Anyway, so Audrey comes riding out and Wyatt is mesmerized by the fact that:
A) there's yet another horse in the world he has never met before
B) there's a gate in the arena railing (translation: Thanks to the invention of The Gate, once a horse is in the arena, a horse can also exit the arena)
I then begin longeing Wyatt. All is going well until he decided-- in the way that only a 3-year-old can decide-- that perhaps he'd longed enough and the gate was a far more attractive option than continuing on going in circles at the canter. He made a beeline to the gate, with me behind him.
Yet since he was bitted up, I had far more control of his body than he anticipated. Score one point for the human.
This game of, "Oh yes I can!" repeated itself a few more times until Wyatt got the message that, "Oh no you can't!" And then we finished our longeing session and he got a lot of pats. Then I climbed on and we worked on bending and circling at the walk and trot. Very mundane stuff but ultimately extremely important basics. Add a few halts and some backing up (with a baby you don't want to over-do going backwards before you've fully mastered GOING FORWARD) and we were done for the day. I know, not very exciting, but I knew that when I bought Wyatt this was a long-term project. As in don't expect much until June.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Sunday, March 16, 2008
I bought a horse today. I know. It happened kind of fast. And I blame it all on my sister, Jill. See, she emailed me a bunch of online horse ads (like from Dreamhorse, Horsetopia, equine.com, etc.) complete with her acerbic comments on each horse's conformation, price and training level or lack thereof. One of her favorites was a 3-year-old buckskin and white tobiano paint gelding. At first I ignored Jill's email, because I'd investigated that same horse previously and his online photo was... not impressive.
Well, now there was a different photo posted with his ad and he looked quite cute. So I called. Turns out the horse was still owned by the people who'd bred him. His dam was still on site. He'd originally been kept as the husband's personal horse (he's a recently retired firefighter) but he really decided that horseback riding was not his cup o' tea and the gelding had not been getting much use lately. With hay prices skyrocketing, it was hard to justify keeping the horse, especially when they had other foals on the ground that needed to be raised and trained.
So once again: ROAD TRIP!
This time, though, Ron only had to drive me about 90 minutes to the high desert. It was a pretty drive. There was a light dusting of snow still on the ground from last night's storm, and it was brisk and breezy. But the Joshua trees (these unusual, dramatic-looking cactus) looked stunning against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains.
I'll spare you a detailed recounting. But in a nutshell, as soon as I saw the young paint in the roundpen, how he moved, how he stood patiently to be groomed and tacked up, I knew I wanted him. I asked to ride him in a simple loose-ring snaffle and a pair of split reins, so I could figure out just how much he knew and how much he didn't yet know. He was very green, but understood the basics of moving away from leg pressure and maintaining a pace. I really liked that he willingly went forward, even though he was a bit on the lazy side (I consider laziness a bonus in a 3-year-0ld). Plus he was very smooth to ride. After a 20-minute ride in the round pen I took him on a trail ride across the desert. I rode with the seller's niece, who was aboard a feisty older mare. The gelding, on the other hand, cruised along on a loose rein. He didn't seem to mind whether we stayed on the marked trail (a gravelly dirt road that seemed to go to nowhere) or wandered through the creosote bushes and sage brush. When we returned to the barn I asked to see him load into the horse trailer.
He hopped in like a champ.
Since I had rushed out there to beat another buyer who was coming for a second look, I decided I had to make a decision. But it was an easy one. The sellers seemed to think I was the better home, too, which made me feel good.
"You make him look so good when you ride him," the seller's husband said. "You bring out the best in him."
So I gave them a deposit and I'm picking him up tomorrow.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
The first big show I ever rode in was held during the Orange County Fair. I boarded my own little horse at the fairgrounds, which was located just inland from the beach here in Southern California. Though it was July, the cool ocean breezes made for perfect horse show weather and I decided that I couldn't miss an opportunity to join in with the festivities. But I couldn't possibly ride Honeybee, my scruffy, barely civilized sorrel mare. Instead I set my sights on showing Smoky, a coal black gelding who, rumor was, had been professionally trained as a western pleasure and trail class horse. Though he was definitely out of shape and out of practice (I remember his bony, angular frame and his unruly mane), I brokered an agreement with his owner: I'd muck his stall and work him regularly in exchange for being allowed to show him in the 14 & Under Trail class.
Being an industrious 13-year-old, I spent hours with Smoky. I shampooed and curried him until his ebony coat glowed with a midnight blue sheen. I finally got the dreadlocks out of his tail. And I could almost get him to step directly from the walk into the lope, something I figured would be required for the rail work portion of the class.
As the county fair got underway and the horse show approached, I became so excited about my debut! I settled on what to wear: my black Wrangler jeans, a checkered red blouse and a bolo tie. I scrounged around and borrowed assorted western show tack from the other boarders. In retrospect, nothing Smoky and I wore matched. But that really didn't matter because, as you can imagine, I knew next to nothing about showing in a trail class. All I knew was that I wanted to be a part of the atmosphere of a nationally rated horse show.
When the show day came, I warmed up in the schooling area with all the other riders. Some part of me recognized that Smoky and I looked like foreigners among the sleek, royally bred Quarter horses, Paints and Appaloosas that seemed to glide along at the jog and lope. Their riders were so sophisticated, so poised. And then there was me: flogging Smoky with the end of my romal reins with one hand to get him into the lope, and holding onto the brim of my straw hat (that I'd spray painted white, by the way) with the other hand.
When the class was called to order I rode Smoky through the in-gate with the rest of the competitors. I don't remember much about the rail work or the trail obstacles, but I do clearly recall gazing up into the grandstands and being enthralled by how many people were sitting there, watching me. I was on stage, and my performance was taking place on the back of a horse. How cool was that? I'm sure that's when I was officially hooked on horse shows.
The fact that I got fifth out of five riders didn't dim my enthusiasm. I clutched that huge pink ribbon and trotted Smoky back to the barn, and breathlessly recounted the entire experience to anyone who'd listen. Though I've certainly won more prestigous ribbons during my life with horses, that inconsequential piece of pink satin changed my world.
On the home page of Horse Channel you'll find a short article about horse show memories. It's part of Horse Illustrated's "HI Spy" series, where we ask readers to contribute their thoughts and experiences. You can read the article and contribute your comments by clicking here:
Favorite Horse Show Memories
I hope you have something to share. Some of your comments may end up in a future issue of Horse Illustrated magazine!
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
"In the latest installment of Cindy Goes Horse Shopping, we follow our heroine as she coerces her husband into driving her 100 miles north of Los Angeles to a small town that barely registers on Mapquest."
Last night my husband and I could hardly sleep. Ron was concerned about getting on the notorious Southern California freeway system before dawn in order to avoid the usual bumper-to-bumper melee. I was simply too excited to sleep. I was so sure that several glorious trail riding prospects awaited me several hours away!
Well, I was wrong.
We drove through the pre-dawn darkness, hauling an empty trailer, certain that it'd return with cargo. I cradled an envelope of cash that represented my entire horse buying budget. I really felt that I'd researched the horses I was going to see: the photos were nice, the seller provided all kinds of details and, as an added bonus, they were a bit negotiable on the prices due to the lackluster market.
After almost 3 hours on the road, we arrived. Right away I knew I was going to be disappointed. I saw the two mares at the top of my list standing in a large dirt paddock and thought, "Oh no, that can't be them!"They really didn't look much like their photos. But we'd come all that way so I decided to remain optimistic.
When the two girls were pulled out of their paddock, it was obvious that the one mare was not much bigger than a large pony, so I didn't bother to ride her. The other was stout enough, but when I climbed onboard she was very uncomfortable at the lope. In an adjacent pasture was the one gelding I was interested in. He had a sweet face and carried himself like a sound, athletic horse that could really trek down the trails. But when I climbed in the saddle and tried to work him in the arena, he revealed an annoying tendency to fall in on the turns. Badly. Though I reasoned I could fix that with some arena work, there was no denying that this was not destined to be a love affair. I didn't want to spend my bundle of cash on him. I made a respectable offer, which the seller declined. So the trailer went home empty.
Once again I'll use the analogy of comparing horse shopping to dating. Today it was like going on a much anticipated blind date that fell far short of expectations. Wally's just going to have to be patient, because I'm not having much luck finding him a stable mate.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
This is a photo of the horse I tried out today. I dragged my sister along and made her serve as Official Horse Inspector (she notices everything) and as impromptu photographer. As you can see, he's sort of Wally-esque in his markings and conformation, although he's nearly black while Wally is coppery red.
This is the best horse I've tried so far: he was very comfortable to ride, moved nicely off my leg and was light in the bridle and neck-reined. Even better? He loves to be petted and fussed with. "He needs someone wh0 wants to be his mom," the seller said.
The only reason I didn't plunk down a deposit on this horse is because my husband has volunteered to drive me 200 miles to a ranch on Tuesday to look at several horses there. He even offered to tow the horse trailer along! So you know what that means: He's already resigned himself to the fact that I'm buying a horse on Tuesday... unless I've been entirely misled by the seller. However, if I don't find a horse that I fall in love with, there's always the black and white fellow I rode today. I consider him "Option B."
I'm enjoying reading the comments about my horse hunting expeditions. It was suggested that there should be a horse expo sort of set-up where serious buyers could try-out horses, and sellers could hand out their contact information. It wouldn't be an auction, but a chance to network. Another good idea? To make buying a horse like speed dating. That would work for me. Truly, I can tell by asking 5 questions if someone's horse is worth looking at:
1.How much basic training has your horse had? (I must always ask this as I'm still perplexed by how many trail horses are ridden western in curb bits when they have never been taught to neck rein or move away from leg pressure).
2. Is your horse serviceably sound? (What I really mean is, "Do your horse's front feet match, or does it look as if its front legs belong to two different horses?")
3. How would you describe your horse's disposition? (In other words, "Where does your horse rate on the Wally Scale of Obnoxious Ground Manners?").
4. You say your horse goes out on trail. In general, what sort of trails do you ride on? (This is a loaded question, as this line of questioning includes the deal breaker: "Does your horse willingly cross water?").
5. Would you say that your horse is comfortable to ride? (With my physical problems in my neck and right arm, I can't ride a horse that's like sitting atop a bouncing bucket of rocks).
If the seller responds favorably to my questions, then I ask for a video. Unlike one of my readers, I haven't yet gotten a video of runaway horses, but I have gotten a video of a lame horse.
As for the horses I'm seeing on Tuesday? I haven't previewed any videos, but I have seen some very appealing snapshots. I realize the long drive is a gamble, but with 4 potential horses to look at in one place, it's worth the trip... I hope.
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Thursday, March 6, 2008
Many of you seem to agree with me, based on the comments I get from readers. I suppose hunting for another horse would be enjoyable if all the potential horses could be gathered up in one spot so I could peruse them in one day. You know, so that I could hop on the roan gelding first, then climb on the bay filly next, then watch the barely broke pinto have a spin in the round pen. But it's not like that. Instead I make endless phone calls chatting with nameless strangers about their horses. And while I live in a very horsey community, for some reason just about every horse I'm remotely interested in-- based on ads in print or online-- happen to live at least 75 miles away. I can't wait to get my phone bill.
Since I'm not into making road trips that I'm fairly confident will end up being wild goose chases (wild horse chases?), I always ask for additional photos and perhaps a video. I want to see the horse actually doing something, like moving so I can see if it's lame. Or being ridden so that I know that it's broke. I guess it's like online dating. Everyone looks fetching and debonaire in formal attire and all spiffied up, but what's their everyday appearance? Do they play sports or are they couch potatoes? Do they have any outside interests so they get out and about, or are they reclusive homebodies?
A video can reveal so much about people and horses: their mannerisms, the way they relate to their environment, how they interact with people. For example, biting the person next to you is not a welcome trait in horses or people.
So for these long-distance horses, I'm going to continue to ask for a video. Even a YouTube snippet is fine. And I realize that many times my query will be met with a lengthy pause, followed by a sigh, as if cranking up the video camera is similar to undergoing a root canal. But in today's economy, when horse prices are flat and my gasoline is priceless, asking for a video doesn't seem like a ridiculous request.
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Monday, March 3, 2008
That's right. I said my sister rode her Thoroughbred hunter... although you'd hardly recognize him in his western saddle and bridle.
Natalie was aboard one of her foundation Quarter horses and served as our trail guide, since she'd been to this particular park before. Our destination? Bonelli Park, a rather rugged area in Los Angeles County that includes barely maintained fire roads, a number of water crossings, a pair of dark tunnels that skulked beneath underpasses, and a wooden bridge. Ultimately the trails traverse over several hilltops, around a lake, through a campground and alongside a municipal airport. Needless to say, it was a 3-hour adventure.
The trail head started at a riding stable and right off we had to ride through a dark, dank tunnel. I was lagging behind on Wally, trying to decide whether I wanted to wear my jacket or simply tether it to my western saddle. Meanwhile, Jill and Natalie entered the tunnel... only to exit backwards, thanks to meeting a group of mountain bikers coming toward them head-on inside the tunnel. Their two horses weren't too happy about being asked to go inside the tunnel again. Brave, macho Wally took the lead instead. I know he's never been through a tunnel. But he pumped himself up and stepped into the darkness. I gave him a big pat and we all headed up the trail, a trio of happy horsewomen.
So that I don't revisit the entire ride, I'll just summarize and say that our day included the following:
~ Encountering the entire spectrum of Mountain Biker Etiquette, ranging from one lone biker pleasantly calling out, "Hello, biker behind you," to another group led by an extreme pedaler who thought merely tinkling a little tin bell was enough warning before he rode his troop up Wally's rear end. (Thankfully Wally is officially Spook Proof about bicyclists).
~ Crossing muddy standing water that was up to our horses' chests; crossing clear running water that was slowly eroding the trail; and crossing trickling water that coursed through a tiny valley of sandstone and granite. Go ahead. Ask my sister how much fun it was to be astride Topper while he was trying to balance his little Thoroughbred feet on a boulder of wet sandstone. Ah yes, nothing like the unmistakable sound of aluminum shoes slooooooowly slipping down an abrasive surface!
~ Reaching an abrupt end to the trail at the back of the lake's dam, where the original trail that snaked high atop the earthen spillway had collapsed, requiring us to create our own detour. That was the moment that Natalie pulled her grulla gelding to a stop, pointed to some hikers in the distance and said, "We want to be over there." To whit I said, "But we are here, and I see no way to get there." Fast forward ahead and the three of us were starring in our own version of that long downhill scene in The Man From Snowy River.
~ Enjoying nature at its best: wildflowers in full bloom (wild mustard and lupine), clear March weather and an abundance of bunnies, squirrels and blue jays. Also enjoying nature? The naked man we rode up on. Yup, that's right: We were quietly riding through a verdant cluster of oak trees, the sound of our horses' hooves muffled by a carpet of golden leaves and acorns, when the trail took us alongside the river. The ever watchful Topper noticed the fellow first, and then we all did. And there he was, bathing in the river, him and his bar of soap."Well, that's something I've never seen before," Natalie said.
Our trail ride ended back at the riding stable. We hosed off our horses and let them have a long drink before we loaded them back up to head home. No sooner had Jill started up the truck than I turned to her and said, "So. At what point did you think you were going to die?"
We both started laughing so hard we had to sit in the parking lot for a minute. And guess what? We're already planning another ride. But at a different site. One without a lot of mountain bikers. And preferably without nude sunbathers.
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Saturday, March 1, 2008
For starters, I have trouble with old fashioned word problems:
If alfalfa is about $17 a bale, and a bale of 50/50 alfalfa & orchard grass is about $20 a bale, but Wally only eats the best part of each flake and wastes the rest, how much money do I NOT have left over once I break down in frustration and simply feed him oat hay pellets at $9.75 per 50-lb. bag?
Then there are annoying simple equations that I can't avoid:
New Bridle - Broken Rein + Repair Cost = Hide Receipt from Husband
I don't even try to do division. It's just too scary. For example, Wally got shod last week. I won't share the grand total for his shiny shoes but suffice it to say that just once--- ONCE-- in my life I'd like to waltz into a shoe store, point out some fancy footwear for myself that costs as much as Wally's, and state confidently, "I shall have those!"
Instead, as the farrier works on Wally, I'm doing a division problem in my head, trying to ascertain the value of X (with X representing the current open market price for steel and aluminum per ounce). "Hmmm...." I figure, "at the price I'm paying, divided by four shoes, and then that divided by six nails per shoe..."
With my brain a-swirl with numbers, it's odd that I found this latest quiz on Horse Channel intriguing:
Horse Quiz with Mind Numbing Numbers
You might know all the answers, but I took it and felt much like I did in Basic Math 005: I only got one answer correct. Now, if it had been a quiz about how many horses appeared in the collected works of Truman Capote, then I would've scored 100%.