June 2005

June 1 , 2005

Lest you think I've been lax in updating the blog, I haven't. I've been lax in visiting the horses! <cough> Today was the first day I've been out in, like, ten days -- and I saw Guin for less than five minutes. Just a quick walk to the pasture and a couple of pats. Didn't even see Blue. On the plus side, I caught a garter snake. I love snakes.

Brandy is selling the barn. Theoretically, we're going to be staying there until she sells, but there's no way to know how long that will be. There will be just a few horses left, so we'll probably move the horses closer, which is good, because there won't be staff to do the routine tasks.

She's also selling her horses. I wish, wish, wish I could buy Sid, one of her three-year-old PMU foals. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him. He's a complete character... fits in very well with the rest of my goofy menagerie. I also wish we could buy Smokey, the horse Jay rode in his last lesson -- and the horse I first cantered on. That definitely won't happen though. She had people trying to buy her as soon as Brandy announced she was selling.

Seriously, what we really, truly need is a dead-broke trail horse to both teach my horses how to be calm, reliable trail horses and to give Jay a safe, predictable trail mount. Maybe in a few months, we'll be able to look into that. Right now we can't afford it.

Oh -- worst part of Brandy selling the barn is that this is our final month for riding lessons. I'm majorly bummed about that. There aren't many instructors who are willing or able to work with overweight riders. I think I'll be okay for now, but I don't know what Jay will do.

June 5 , 2005

Had a great lesson today. There were two high points. First, there was a potentially dangerous incident in which Jay came off his horse (no, that wasn't the high point) and the mare ran, helter-skelter, around the arena. Guin spooked a bit, and thought about bucking, but, even though she was frightened, she held it together for me. Brandy gave her huge kudos when all was said and done. (Jay wasn't hurt at all.)

When Jay first came off, Brandy called to me to dismount. Must riders would have easily sprung off, landed on their feet, and been able to control any spook from the ground. I'm neither that agile nor that coordinated. Plodding and clumsy are better adjectives for me. Anyway, I knew it would be safer for me to dismount, but I also knew Guin was on edge. So I chose to stay on board until she had calmed.

Guin holding it together like that was high point number one. High point number two was riding without stirrups. I purposely to chose at a walk for the vast majority of today's lesson. Her chiropractic appointment is on Wednesday, and I just wanted to take it easy until then. After she and I settled in, I first tried just lengthening my stirrups. My theory was, I would just raise my toes to be "without stirrups," but if I needed them, all I'd have to do would be to reach for them. That didn't really work. Brandy told me to drop just one stirrup. I did, but it felt unbalanced, so I kicked my feet out of both.

And I was fine!

I really wasn't concerned about walking without stirrups... but I was super concerned about being able to trot without them. Three times though, I asked for a slow trot, she gave it to me, and it was great! I wasn't remotely unbalanced.

The really cool thing was that each time, Guin did something a tiny bit different that made each trot a tiny bit more challenging. I joked that she was shaping me to ride her.

So this did a lot to boost my confidence about riding without stirrups. I so very much want to be able to ride bareback. I also want to develop an independent seat, which would be a huge step toward making me a better rider.

It occurred to me this week that really need to get on the ball with Blue because I'm not going to have the facility resources (and Brandy) to help me much longer. So I set a goal to be riding him by the end of this month. I asked Brandy what I needed to do to accomplish that goal, and she said to become the best rider I can be.

June 6 , 2005

I went to the barn for a "horse spoiling" day. I had no plans to bring them in out of the pasture... Just wanted to go out, make sure Blue was still cool with being "caught" by me, and give my kids lots and lots of treats just for being wonderful.

I stopped by the mare pasture and saw Miss Guin first. Sweet girl. I thanked her for the wonderful ride the day before and gave her some treats and scritchies. Then I made the rest of the long trek to the mixed-herd pasture where Blue is. No worries about him running from me -- he approached me before I could get to him. (It just baffles me that when the staff goes out there, he runs them in circles.) He was pushy and a little cranky, but completely fine with me handling him all over, including kissing and hugging his face.

After giving Blue some attention, I decided to try to feed Sid some treats. Sid is a great horse, but in the last few months, he has developed an aversion to being caught. He's way worse than Blue. (Well, maybe not in the staff's opinion.) It has been a couple of months since anyone has caught him. He doesn't even have to see a halter -- just a person is enough to send him trotting away.

Well, he was grazing nearby, so I walked to within ten or fifteen feet and called to him. He looked up suspiciously. I had big treats, so I started tossing them to him. (No, he doesn't catch.) I wasted several, but eventually he found one -- and seemed really surprised. He turned toward me and waited. I tossed another, which he actively searched for.

He took a step toward me, and I clicked and held out a treat on my hand. Ooh, that was scary. I turned sideways to him and held the treat as far away from me as I could. He reached out as far as he could and lipped it out of my hand. Yay! We did that again, and I clicked him for reaching for it.

Within just a couple of minutes, he had approached me and was letting me stroke his neck or head for a click and treat. I was so happy. Our "session" got cut short them, though, because Blue finally got fed up with someone else getting his clicks and treats. He didn't behave rudely, but when he came over, so did about six other horses. In trying to get them all to go away, I managed to get Sid shooed away too. Blue stuck to me like glue and demanded more treats. Cheeky brat.

I indulged him a bit, clicking and treating him for happy ears, and then I made the long trek back to the barn. Guin was waiting at the gate to the mare pasture, so I stopped off and gave her a few more treats and hugs on the way.

I need to go down tomorrow and actually work with one or both of them. Guin has a chiropractic appointment Wednesday, so I probably ought to work with her tomorrow. I really want to ride her without stirrups again!

June 7 , 2005

I rode Guin in a bareback pad today. I wasn't sure how she'd react to being ridden bareback, so I asked Sophie to help me. She held Guin's head while I mounted to be certain she move off until I was settled, and then led her one circuit of the arena. Boy, my heart is beating faster just thinking about it! It wasn't that it was that scary -- it was really a non-event -- but it was a big step for me.

Guin was fine with being ridden bareback. After that first circuit, I took over and rode her for just five or ten minutes. We walked mostly, trotted a little. It felt odd at first... and it was definitely not as secure as riding in a saddle... but I did okay. I don't think I'd be balanced trotting on a circle (or just a curve) or at anything but a slow trot. The wavered one time today -- when she trotted a little faster than she had been.

I also remembered how I learned to ride bareback when I was a kid. I didn't just jump on and ride off into the sunset... I did exactly this. I rode a little bit each day, gradually adding speed, hills, and other challenges, and gradually developing balance, skill, and muscle memory. I know that seems perfectly obvious, but it just seemed so startlingly clear today. (I also did my share of falling off. Not really looking forward to that part.)

June 8 , 2005

Guin had her appointment with the chiropractor today. The barn had recommended this chiropractor, but I was a tiny bit trepidatious, because I didn't know her background. Thankfully, she's employed by the best vet clinic in the area and is a vet chiropractor. Most of her practice is chiropractor work, so I teased her about having a vet degree to fall back on in lean times.

The vet found three vertebrae subluxations. One was in her lower neck, and she hypothesized that it was the cause of her transitory lameness in her left front leg (which she saw a hint of when I trotted her out during the initial exam). Two vertebrae were out back near her pelvis. On the plus side though, the vet said that Guin wasn't at all muscle sore from compensating.

The vet made adjustments and then gave me some exercises to have Guin do. She was glad to see that she was clicker trained, and wants me to use a target to do some neck stretches with her. I'll also start working on the giving to the bit exercises that Alex taught in her last clinic. They too exercise the neck.

For the vertebrae near her pelvis, the vet wants her to do belly lifts and pelvis tucks. Those are done by stimulating muscles under her belly and on the back of her legs. I want to see if I can click the reaction and get her to do it with just a light touch (or a verbal cue), because the stimulation doesn't look incredibly comfortable. Besides, teaching her to do it on her own would help her carry herself properly under saddle later.

June 10 , 2005

It was a nice morning here, so I made the trek to the pasture to see Blue. I wanted to bring him to the barn to lunge him, but I also knew it would be a heck of a lot of work to do so. When I headed out I hadn't made up my mind about whether I would go to the effort of bringing him in, but I took treats and a target into the pasture with me, in case I decided to stay out there.

The horses were, predictably, as far from the gate as they could be. (Why do they do that whenever I walk down there?) Blue was in the thick of the herd, and Sid was grazing with Mac off to a side. So I headed over to Sid first. Sid saw me coming, and his first reaction was to leave. I had treated him only once before, and this time I had Blue's halter on my shoulder, so I wasn't surprised. But when I angled off instead of pursuing him, he turned and approached me. Wow! He came right up to get his treats. This is a smart horse.

Unfortunately, the whole herd has me figured out. I was mobbed right away... barely got to give Sid anything. It takes real persistence to get the other horses to leave me alone, and Sid hasn't learned to ignore those actions from me. Blue, on the other hand, isn't really phased. I couldn't shed him if I wanted to.

Hard to believe there's no one in this barn who can catch him.

Anyway, I haltered Blue, and we walked to the gate. The other horses didn't bother to follow us once he was haltered. I weighed the pros and cons of taking Blue to the barn and finally decided to just work there in the pasture.

First we worked on targeting. I first did "neck exercises" that the chiropractor had recommended for Guin. Then we spent extra time doing gives of the jaw, poll, and neck on each side. Initially I used the target to get the gives, rather than pressure and release. But then I moved right into gives cued by pressure on the lead rope. My goal was to get him used to the motion first, and then add the negative reinforcement aspect, so he'd already be accustomed to offering the correct answer. We got some really good gives, though he needs a lot more repetition to develop the lightness I'd like to see.

After we worked on targeting and gives, we worked a little bit on "Grownups are Talking." I give lots and lots of unearned treats, especially when I'm visiting in the pasture, and he has gotten pretty pushy about looking for treats. He wasn't thrilled with the game, but the pushiness certainly lessened. This too is a game we ought to play frequently.

That's pretty much all we did, though I gave him some treats for letting me scritch and hug all over his body. If we'd gone to the barn, I would have saddled and lunged him, but I think what we did in the pasture was just as important and helpful. One neat thing was, for much of the targeting work -- up until I did the pressure-based gives -- Blue wasn't wearing his halter. I took it off because I didn't want to risk having him leave with the halter and lead rope on. He had no intention of leaving though. I'm the source of way too much fun and good stuff. He didn't leave until the end of the session when I took off his halter, gave him a good hug, and told him all done.

June 12 , 2005

I had a terrific, and enlightening, day at the barn today. First, I had a great lesson. Jay worked all night, so it was just me and Leslie. Guin was up, but I decided to ride Smokey in the lesson. (Heck, I can ride Guin any time.) I worked on guiding her with leg cues (to which she is extremely sensitive) and getting her to bend through her turns. Then at the end we did a little bit of cantering. Fun!

During the lesson Brandy paid me the nicest compliment. She said that it was unheard of for her not to harp on vertical position and seat, but that she just never had to do that with me. She said she doesn't tell me that often enough but she ought to because I have a really nice seat. Isn't that cool?!

The compliments continued later. I put a bareback pad on Guin and rode her a bit. Brandy liked my seat there too, especially the movement in my back. (She also said she was proud of me for having the confidence to try this.) I felt really comfortable at the walk, but really uncomfortable at the trot, so we did very, very little of that. It was odd -- not sure what was different this time. Maybe it was because I had just spent time riding Smokey, or maybe she was moving differently after her chiropractic adjustment. I want to saddle Guin next time and do some work both with and without stirrups.

After riding, I hung around and chatted with Lesley (who is an absolute doll). We were talking about sports that we're suited or not suited for. I absolutely can't swing a golf club... short arms and a big chest. I took to downhill skiing like a duck to water, however. Brandy came into the conversation at that point and made a comment about me being naturally athletic.

That totally blew my mind. I assure that no one in my life has ever called me athletic. I've certainly never seen myself as athletic. I'm afraid that "fat" and "clumsy" and "out of shape" are more my self image. When I was working out regularly a couple of years ago I saw myself as strong... but not athletic. Anyway, Brandy said I'm a natural rider with good balance. I tell you, it just blew my mind. Sure was nice to hear though.

I really need to get back to working out, so I can lose some weight and get back the body image I had a couple of years ago. I liked it when I felt strong and fit. Maybe I really do have hopes of becoming the kind of rider I dream of being.

June 13 , 2005

What an amazing day (tragic verdict in the Michael Jackson case aside)! Sophie managed to catch Blue, so I got to work with him up at the barn. I went in with a plan and a RULE: I absolutely, positively, under no circumstances would be allowed to get on his back. I wanted to work at the mounting block today, but I didn't want to risk falling into the "everything is going soooo well, let's just go one step further..." trap. Nope. I was determined to make progress but to stop before I overfaced him.

And guess what -- I did it.

We really did a ton today. He was waiting for me when I got there, so we went right to the crossties, and I groomed him. Not his favorite activity, but he was pretty good anyway. He seemed to be in a really good mood. He was pushy for treats, but was really focused and engaged. How nice!

After I groomed him, I unhooked the crossties and did some targeting. Unlike Guin, he didn't even try to leave to go exploring. (How is it that he's better trained than she is?) After targeting, I did a few gives to pressure, but he was soooo light it could hardly be termed a give. Lovely!

I put him back in cross ties and tacked him up. He doesn't love having a saddle put on -- not the reaching over but the weight on his back -- but he's fine with cinching the girth. He played a lot with the bit when I put it in, but he ate treats easily enough.

I took him into the indoor arena and lunged him. That's another area where he's sooo much better than Guin. I started with the stirrups completely up, and then gradually lowered them until they were all the way down. He was a bit spookier when going one direction than the other, but the stirrups didn't seem to bother him a whit. And he has an absolutely beautiful trot. I clicked him when he would lower his head and drive from behind. Gorgeous!

After lunging, I introduced him to the mounting block. As far as I know, he has never seen one. I believe he was used solely as a trail horse and mounted from the ground. I expected him to be ancy around the block, at least when I started climbing up it and hovering over him. Nah. He just stood there, even when I banged on the steps or even banged on his saddle!

Now, I actually wasn't thrilled about that. Everything was going too perfectly. That makes me think he's saving it all up for a big problem! Fortunately, I found a hole. When I put my foot in the stirrup, he skittered a bit. It seems his reaction to weight in the stirrup is to walk back a step or two. So, good. I have something concrete to work on that will also ensure he gets lots of reinforcement for behavior I want at the mounting block.

I worked a while, and then quit, untacked him, groomed him, and popped him in a stall. It was a really successful day. I can't wait to do it again!!! Maybe next time, we'll progress to the point that I can get a leg over him. I'll want someone there at his head when I do that though, just in case he gets nervous. I'm not going to rush it. I may need to another session of just working at the mounting block before I actually mount him. It isn't like he can be too highly reinforced for good manners at the mounting block!

June 14 , 2005

Today was a mixed bag. Blue was a completely different horse. He was nervous, couldn't relax, couldn't focus. He was grabby. More than grabby. Beyond the pushiness to try to get treats, when he took treats, he was all teeth. His eyes were wild. I quickly gave up trying to work with him and just tried to calm him down, but it was no go. I finally untacked him and walked him back to the pasture.

I talked with Catherine afterwards, and she said the problem had actually started the day before. He was fine when I put him in his stall, but when they went to get him to take him back to pasture, he completely freaked when anyone went in his stall. It took them like 20 minutes to get him haltered -- and on the way down to the pasture, he dumped Anna on her butt. What the hell? They said that he was no better on the trip up today, and he was still spazzy in the stall. What could have caused all that?

Poor Blue horse. I'm going to give him a day or two off, and then go visit him in the pasture again before bringing him up. I hope he's okay. I wish I knew what would cause him to act like that.

On the other side of the coin, the trail ride with Guin was an absolute blast! There were three of us -- me, Tanja, and Bettina. Lesley decided not to ride this time. Just as well, because we were running short of saddles. I really wish Guin's saddle would come in. I ordered it at the beginning of May! Theoretically, it's shipping this week. (Please, please, please.)

To get to the trail head, we led the horses down past the pastures and through a tunnel under the road. The tunnel sounds freaky with the cars and rucks zooming overhead. Guin tossed her head, but didn't hesitate to follow me through. Then we walked to the trailhead where there's a mounting block. Technically, we could ride from the barn, but there's one gate in the middle that would be really difficult to open from horseback. I don't think I could remount from the ground either.

Once we got to the trail head, we got mounted. Guin was a little excited, and Tanja had to hold her head so she would stand at the mounting block. Once I was mounted, I had to wait for the others. Bettina had quite a bit of trouble with Sofa, and finally she and Tanja switched horses. Good thing because Sofa actually reared twice! Tanja is an excellent rider and wasn't even remotely flustered, so it was really cool to watch. Guin was ancy and hard to handle while we were waiting, and I was kind of worried she was going to buck or do something silly that would send us into the river. But once we got going, everyone settled down and was fine.

Guin actually led the way on the way out. I thought that was funny, since we didn't knwo how she'd react (nor did we know where we were going). She was so happy. I kept her at a walk, which didn't thrill her, but she loved bing outin the new area.

She spooked only once -- at a horse-eating log that jumped out at her. (At least that's her story.) I was actually glad that she spooked, because I wanted to know what she'd do, and I wanted to know if I could handle it. We both did great. I think she has the makings of a great trail horse.

We brought up the rear on the way back, and she slowed considerably in the last five minutes. It was like she suddenly said, "Hey, I'm tired!" I considered riding her under the road, but decided we wouldn't push that on this first trip.

She was great. We were both tired, sore, and happy afterwards, which just ain't a half bad way to be after such a good day.

June 16, 2005

I dreamed about Quincy last night. I dreamed that I went to visit her. She was happy and energetic but I cried because I missed her so very much. I woke up crying.

June 18, 2005

We went on another trail ride this afternoon. This time there were five of us: me, Tanja, Bettina, Lesley, and Jay. It was sunnier and warmer this time, which was pleasant on the ride, but hot during all the walking! I walked a little more today, but I was less tired. I guess there's hope that even I can get into shape for this.

I rode Guin again, and Jay rode Sofa. Tanja rode Watson in a bareback pad! Man, I'd like to ride that well. She was terrific. Miss Guin did fabulously again, traveling happily in any position in line. She would have liked to have moved faster than I wanted to, but since Jay was there we kept it at a walk.

I rode in a western saddle which fits her all right, but doesn't fit me well. The seat is shaped funny and always makes me sore, and the stirrups don't shorten enough for me. Hey, it's not my fault I'm short! I did okay, but I wasn't super comfortable.

Jay had trouble keeping Sofa at a walk, and wasn't steady enough to trot. He needs a lot of arena work. He said he had fun though. I told him I'd give him a lesson on Guin tomorrow if he was up for it, but I think he's going to pass this week. I kept him out all day today, and he needs some downtime.

I stopped by Blue's pasture today and checked on him. He was back to his old self, eyes calm and gentle, not even remotely bitey. I didn't have time to do anything with him, but I think he would have been fine. I might bring him up to the arena tomorrow, if Jay doesn't want to ride Guin. That will give Guin at least one day off.

I'd really like to get Guin out on the trails by herself -- that's how I rode most of the time as a kid, and I'm enough of a hermit to yearn for that now. Actually, if I'm being completely honest, having other people there makes me nervous -- not for me, but for them! I worry about them constantly, especially Jay. I really don't enjoy riding with other people very much for that reason.

June 21, 2005

I gave Blue another mounting block lesson today. Just to make sure that his issues aren't related to the staff, I fetched him from and to the pasture myself. He met me at the gate, happy to see me.

He was his typical self when I groomed and saddled him. He probably could have found something more interesting to do, but as long as I coughed up a treat every now and then and didn't tickle his belly, he was content enough to stand there.

For whatever reason, I didn't bother to bridle him, just worked him in his halter. We did a little "stand on the mat," but the majority of our session was basic mounting block work. He's really lining up with it nicely! As long as he keeps his feet still, I will do multiple reps... up and down the steps, leaning over him, touching all over him, messing with the saddle. All with a pretty high rate of reinforcement. When he moves his feet though, he has to "start over" and walk around and line up again.

I made a bit of progress. I hadn't touched him on the far side before, or leaned all the way over him. I got a few reps of putting a foot in the stirrup and adding a tiny amount of weight to it. I would have liked to have gotten further with that, but hey, it takes as long as it takes, right?

June 22, 2005

Guin had a follow-up chiropractor appointment this morning. The doctor said her neck is fine, and only one vertebrae in her lower back was bothering her. Hopefully, I can get her to do the belly lifts and pelvic tucks and keep that from bothering her much.

I might, by the way, have to rethink the idea that Guin is enjoying the riding. When I went to get her this morning, she actually ran away from me in the pasture. She has never done that before! She isn't sore -- I had the vet check -- but she sure wasn't happy about coming to the barn today.


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