March 2005

Winter Update

Okay, it's been horrendously long since I updated this blog. For a long time, I just wasn't working with the horses much. Then there were big updates that I kept thinking I should post, but I never did. So, finally, I'm getting caught up!

The first thing you may notice is that there are two horses, instead of three, in the page header. Don't worry -- nothing bad happened to sweet Quincy. She is alive and well... and living in southern Washington.

When we got Quincy, we got her specifically to be pasture maven. Unfortunately, she wasn't -- three-year-old Blue ran the group. Not only did she not keep Blue in line, but she didn't really get along with either of the other horses. She is a GREAT people horse, but she has absolutely no use for her own kind. That made feeding and other trips to the paddock constant challenges in management. Still, we really loved her.

In January, several things came to a head at one time. Jay and I had decided to try to get pregnant. Because a baby would preclude a puppy for a long time, we got a nine-week-old Great Pyr pup. Overwhelmed by the typical-but-constant demands of a puppy, I was not prepared to handle an unexpectedly long freeze in which I had to deal with ice on the ground and frozen water for the horses. I seriously debated whether I wanted to stay in horses at all, especially since having a baby would all-but-end my free time (and money).

My friends suggested selling all but one horse, pointing out that I had really jumped in unprepared. Who would I sell? Blue was the logical choice, but he and I share a special bond, and I just can't sell him (hopefully, ever!). Guin is both Jay's horse and the best choice for getting us started riding again, so it wouldn't make sense to sell her. That left Quincy -- but she was essentially unadoptable, and there was NO way I was going to risk having her end up at auction (or the slaughterhouse). It was at that time, when I was most overwhelmed that a friend suggested retiring Quincy. She told me that there are people who take in horses that are of retirement age and provide a place to let them live out their lives. I did some research and found a place almost immediately.

Still, I was pretty conflicted about letting her go. I truly love her, and I worried that I was betraying her by rehoming her. I still worry about it, but I do know she is very happy and very spoiled in her new home. She has several new human friends who dote on her. One is even a distance walker, who takes her for long walks. They say she gets so excited that she acts like a two year old sometimes!

I miss her.

Of course rehoming Quincy didn't fix the baby/horses conundrum. Events in February, combined with the experience of raising my new pup, made that choice for me. In late January or February, Jay and I started taking riding lessons at Cherry Creek Equestrian Center, down in Duvall. I was worried that in our overweight, out-of-shape condition, we would get so sore that we wouldn't have fun. Instead, our instructor, Brandy, progressed at exactly the right pace, and we had a blast. At the same time, we decided to send the remaining horses out for professional training. Finally, I was doing what I should have done from the beginning -- I was taking baby steps. And I was making progress.

For the first time since I got the horses, my dream of someday riding in endurance seemed truly achievable. My experience with my pup, Aslan, was making my baby aspirations seem LESS achievable. I was terribly overwhelmed by him, and I just had to face the fact that I have too much going on in my life to be a good mother. So baby was officially out, and horses were officially in.

February was unseasonably warm and sunny here in western Washington. Seriously so. It rained twice. The rest of the month was sunny and in the 60s. Oh, except for the week in the 70s!! Because of the incredible weather, I actually spent some time working with Blue and Guin. Despite my rare, inconsistent training, I see some good changes in the horses since December.

Blue has become a lot friendlier. He was never mean, but he didn't really have much use for humans. At some point this winter, I really began to concentrate on reinforcing him for allowing me to touch, kiss and cuddle his head. He caught on quickly to the behavior, and over time I began to see a change in his overall attitude. He comes looking for me now, and while I don't think he loves having his head hugged, he's certainly tolerant of it. He has met a lot new people recently, and they have commented on how friendly he is. That's huge to me.

I've done more "real" work with Guin. I was under the impression that she was more trained than she has turned out to be. I'm guessing that, prior to us, she had fewer than a dozen rides. It turns out that she has never had a bit in her mouth, she barrels right through the Monty Roberts halter she was previously ridden in, and she has absolutely NO CLUE what any rein cues mean... not left, not right, not stop. So it turns out that I have two completely green horses.

I've done some ground work with her... though not enough... I'm ancy to RIDE one of my horses, damn it... but mostly I've been trying to get her started under saddle. I borrowed a couple of saddles from a neighbor to use temporarily, and they fit okay. Not great, but okay. I demoed a Barefoot Treeless and two dressage saddles, none of which worked out. I have a Specialized Saddle brand saddle on order for a demo now. I really hope it works out! On the bridle front, I have fitted her with a bridle and level one Myler bit, but I haven't worked her in it yet. In the meantime I've been using a Bitless Bridle on her. I thought I'd love it, but I don't. In a situation like this, where she isn't trained to be "light," it puts too much pressure on her head and poll.

Anyway, besides tack fitting, I've spent some time teaching her to stand to be mounted. I knew from our little bareback experience back in the fall that she tends to swing her hips away from the mounting block. Standing at the mounting block while I prepare to mount, while I shift weight on and off, etc., is great experience for preparing her to be ridden regularly.

In the middle of February, I took the horses off the property. Up until then, they had been in the paddock and in the little riding ring almost exclusively. That, I discovered, had been a mistake. When they got off the property, it was all new... and scary. It wasn't hard to click them past all the scary stuff, and after their first time in each new location, they were much more relaxed in subsequent visits, but I realized that trying to turn horses who were so isolated into steady trail horses was going to be almost insurmountable.

So I talked to Brandy, our riding instructor. We decided to move the horses down to CCEC. She would help me train them, and in exchange, I would help her train a couple of her youngsters. Cool!! I would have access to all the CCEC resources, and they would get to graze in huge pastures and socialize with dozens of other horses. Needless to say, I jumped on the chance.

And that's where we are now. Quincy has moved to southern Washington, and Blue and Guin live (for the summer at least) down at CCEC. Ironically, now that they live 8 miles away, I spend tons more time with them than I did when they were 100 ft. outside my door.


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