Punks Kid Rock is the registered name of my American Quarter horse gelding, Rocky. This blog chronicles our adventures together,
as well as stories from my horse past and, occasionally, a tidbit from my non horse life.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Side Passing Mister Attitude

 When I took Rocky out of the pasture, he gave this plow a distrustful sideways glance, shifting his weight away from it while still following me obediently.  I took him over and he blew snortily at it, then started to really smell it.  Within seconds he was nuzzling the plow and taking experimental nibbles. Apparently the horse-eating plow became a possibly edible fixture.  This is the Rocky I know and love, though; he can be unsure of something, but after examining it he quickly determines that it's okay.

Because he calmed down so fast after being worried about the plow, I decided to take him out for a trail ride.  Sometimes when we are out on the trail, I don't feel like Rocky is really "with" me.   He does what I ask him to, but his mind is elsewhere.  I spoke with Silver about it, asking for guidance.  She told me what I already knew about moving his feet, but I explained that doing figure 8's is not enough to engage his thinking brain.  He knows how to do figure 8's well enough that he can trot through them with minimal effort.

Next she suggested doing roll backs down her fence line, until I explained that we don't know how to do those. She told me that once we have enough snow on the ground to have decent footing, she'll run Rocky and I through our paces to see where we're at, then work with us from there.  I'm excited about that upcoming opportunity.

Still, I got myself thinking about things I can do with Rocky out on the trail that will help him tune in to me rather than space out.  Here is what I came up with:

Can you tell what we're doing? It's not very polished yet, but it definitely gets Rocky's brain working.  We have been able to do the building blocks for this for a while, but I haven't progressed to side passing until recently.  From the ground, I have been able to get him to yield his hind and fore quarters, crossing his inside leg over his outside one as he steps.  He pivots around one foot nicely, doing 360 degree circles as he yields.  Previously, I had done some work in getting him to side pass from the ground, and he was doing okay.  I wasn't consistent enough for it to really stick, but when I started up again recently he had some memory of our earlier work. 

So far, he does better moving to the right than left as that was our first lesson.  He wants to move forward and gets confused that he is not supposed to go forward or backwards.  The last time I took him out, he was able to get 3 good steps at a time.  Like I said, it's a work in progress but it was great out on the trails.  Whenever I felt his mind wander, I would ask him to yield his hindquarters, then sometimes try for a step or two of side passing.  It worked, and we went exploring through the brush trying to find the trail we took with Silver the last time we were out with her.  After 20 minutes of searching and slapping through scrub bushes, I gave up and returned to the well marked path. 

He had been perfectly happy to tromp around searching for the trail, and was equally enthusiastic to return home- so he thought.  Instead, we continued on known trails to get back into the woods on the other side of the property.  We went through the woods here, and I didn't often have to stop and ask Rocky for his attention.  We even went up the super steep hill that I had refused to ride up or down with Silver last time. At the bottom of the hill when I stopped to take this picture, a grouse exploded up from the grove to our right, and flew away with snapping wings.  Rocky jumped in place with surprise, and then calmed down within a second or two. 

I took a few seconds to gather myself after the grouse had left, then asked him to go up the hill.  He went without hesitation.  I gripped his mane, leaned forward and let him do his thing.  His front feet slipped twice, but he caught himself without trouble and continued hauling us up.
 This is the view along the back of the pasture line, the "main artery" if you will to other trails.  Bear is waiting patiently for us up ahead, and we practiced side passing down this fence line.

At the end of the ride, Rocky's nose was frosty and his neck was steaming.  I covered him with a cooler until he was mostly dry, then put his blanket back on him. 

 Oh, and he stuck his head through some pine branches a few times.  I think he was going for a medicine hat look...but, you know, the photo negative version.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Arena Fun!

I'm not feeling overly ambitious today, so instead of a traditional post where I throw in a fair amount of words, I'm just going to throw out some pictures I took the last time I was at the barn.  Rocky and I played in the arena.  Enjoy!
Trying to see if anything in this corner is edible.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Mister Attitude

A few posts ago I talked about how Rocky was getting cranky working in the arena.   What I didn't mention is that he was also becoming increasingly irritable when I was saddling him up.

About a week ago Rocky was flatting his ears and angrily swishing his tail when I went to throw his new saddle on him.  Now, this saddle should fit him perfectly; I went to great lengths to make sure of it.  I started to panic a bit, thinking that maybe it didn't fit him, I would have to get him ANOTHER new saddle and that I didn't have the money to do that.

I felt Rocky's back for pain, and he was fine except for his shoulders- he did seem to have some pain at the tops of his withers.  I had Silver double check what I had done, including my saddle fit.  She agreed that his shoulders were a bit sore, but couldn't find anything wrong with his saddle fit.   A few days later, I checked his back and shoulders for pain right outside of the pasture.  Nothing.  I checked again at the tie post, and again, no pain response.

I had Silver come over (she is so helpful!) and double check that indeed, Rocky had no pain anywhere throughout his ribs, back, and withers.  He started cranking his ears back and swishing his tail as she did it, which he had done a bit with me but was doing more of now.   She concluded that he had no ouchy spots- he didn't flinch or do anything to indicate he was hurting- but instead, he has an attitude problem.  He was giving her the evil eyed, flattened ear look while she was just petting his back.

I was surprised.  Rocky normally has a good reason for being irritable, he has never been so crabby for no reason other than his attitude.   Last night, I think I figured out why.

Like most things Horse, there was more than one reason for his behavior.  I'm going to back up through time here, to explain a bit more about Rocky's past.  Specifically, his past with other horses.

As a young colt, Rocky grew up with his dam and maybe one or two other horses.   He spent most of his time on his own, or vaguely socializing with some other horses. When he was two and a half years old, his breeder/trainer Rite moved him to a barn with an indoor arena so that she could start riding him during the winter, and so he could be completely weaned from being with his dam.  Her property was not large enough to provide a real separation between them.

At the new barn, Rocky was picked on by the other horses to the point that they ended up putting him in an outdoor arena they weren't using.  By himself.   He didn't mind that, he got every scrap of hay they threw in there for him and he could still see other horses.   Then I bought him.

I took Rocky to college with me, where he was suddenly in the most social situation of his life.  There were 8 other horses there and no unused pastures to put him in by himself.  By this time he was three, and spent his first month at college standing off to the side in the pasture, unsure of how to interact with all of these strange horses.  He finally started to warm up to some of them, including a very tall Thoroughbred.  Sunny was sweet, but he stood at about 16.3hh to Rocky's almost 14.3hh.

When Sunny started trying to play with Rocky, Rocky was game until Sunny would rear.  Then the height difference became all that much more apparent, and Rocky would give up.   Over time, Rocky started to learn how to really play.  His front feet left the ground a little bit more each time Sunny would rear.   By the time I graduated college, Rocky had figured out how to be a member of a herd.  He was affable with everyone, not understanding when another horse didn't like him, but he was to the middle or low end of the hierarchy.

Fast forward to about a month ago.  Due to Rocky's cheerful nature with other horses, he was allowed to move into a mares-only pasture.  The mares in this pasture are low-end of the totem pole animals, and in this venue, Rocky seems to have found his stride.  He's the dominant horse in his pasture for the first time in his life.

Do you see where I'm going with this?  Pretty soon after his move into this new pasture where suddenly, the happy-go-lucky fellow is King has made Rocky reevaluate his place in society.   He knows how to boss other horses around now, pinning his ears or swishing his tail to put them into place.  Sound familiar?

Yeah.  He's testing me. Am I really boss, or should he take over?  Because if he takes over, he doesn't want to work- so don't you dare put that saddle on him!

When I had Silver do the final pain test, she told me that he has an attitude problem, and that I should be asking more from him.  She's right.  However, I'm getting to the end of my knowledge zone again.  We now have plans to do a lesson once there is snow on the ground so that the footing isn't so hard, and we can see where Rocky and I are at in our horsemanship journey.

After I had the confirmation of "no pain all attitude," and especially now that I am realizing the hierarchy test Rocky is putting me through, I am going to start paying more attention to making sure he isn't being insubordinate.  He is a quiet horse, which lends itself to laziness and not wanting to work.

I finished saddling Rocky up and started lunging him, confident that his ear pinning was something I could correct him for doing, and not something I needed to worry about causing him pain.  I asked him to trot, and he flipped his tail at me, tossing his head as if to say, "Screw you lady, I don't wanna."  I snapped the lunge whip out so it smacked his rump, and he leaped forward in shock.  He flicked his tail at me again, his ears going back in protest.   I repeated my cue to go left at a trot, and raised the whip in warning.  His eyes lost their fuck-you glare, he flew out around the circle and watched me to make sure he caught my next cue.

The rest of the session was very much him saying, "Yes, ma'am!"  It doesn't take a lot to put him in place, Rocky is still at heart a middle of the pack horse.  Mister Attitude just got a little big for his britches, that's all.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fun Post Tuesday! AKA, the Post with lots of Pictures

Well folks, today I am going to take you on a journey.  A photographic journey of my last trip to the barn.  Okay, I didn't document everything- but if I did, it would probably get pretty boring.  Anyway.  Starting with...
The drive up! I pass these awesome little mountains/big hills on my way to the barn. Majestic, no?  Also, it gives you a weather forecast: snowy, gray, and a little chilly.  Next, we take Rocky out of the pasture!  But wait, who is that cute little horse with him?  I'll give you a minute to think about it... (and by "think about it," I mean, read one of my recent blog posts... hint, hint).

If you guessed Ella, you'd be right!  She's in her yearling awkward growth spurt phase, and she's dirty from not being brushed, but I still think she's adorable.  Also, she looks like she's not purebred Quarter horse.  She has an awful lot of white, especially going up her hind legs.  Perhaps she has some Paint in her?

I didn't take any pictures of grooming or tacking up Rocky, you'll just have to take my word for it that it happened.  And then...
Silver on Walker, a horse she bred, raised and trained.  Can you tell what breed he is?

We headed out!  Silver took us brush whacking around her property, and Rocky loved it.  Bear was in 7th Heaven, too, and happily galomped (it's a real word. Think about a dog running and trotting gleefully through snow, not always gracefully but with joy. There ya go) along with us.  At one point, we came to a super steep hill.  I remembered this hill from summers past, and hadn't felt comfortable going down it then.  Like I said, it's really steep but it also has smoothish rocks sticking out of the ground on the steepest part, which makes for slippery footing.  I warned Silver of them but she decided to cowboy down the hill anyway.  Walker handled it quite well, although they slid 2 or 3 times.  I didn't feel comfortable doing that, so I dismounted and slid down the hill next to Rocky.
He was great about it, I had been worried he would try to climb into my lap but instead he slowly ooched his way down next to me.  I slid more than he did, really, and used him for support.  Good horse!  Then we continued on some of the open trails, and saw two deer.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get pictures of them.
Bear following Silver and Walker
We tromped around these woods for a bit and then started back for home.  Silver decided she wanted to grunt up that steep hill, so we split ways for a few minutes.  Rocky became more nervous and excitable after leaving Walker's presence, but he still listened to me.  When coming around to the meet up, I was able to snap these photos:
Find the horse and rider!

This one is a lot easier to see them.

If you don't see the horse and rider in this photo, you may need to get your eyes checked ;)
We met up in this valley and headed back on familiar trails.  Rocky was a trooper, but when we got back he was tired.

Good horse, good ride, cold thighs!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Micro Esteem

I have a degree in psychology, and I am trying to get good at noticing micro expressions.  Sometimes. (A micro expression is a tiny flash of emotion that people unconsciously will do, and is referred to in as a non verbal means of communication.)  So yeah, micro expressions.  Learning to read them, meaning notice that someone made the expression, figure out what emotion was shown, and then use that information to better understand what the person is truly thinking versus what they are literally saying. It can be very helpful at my job.  I work with teenagers at a residential treatment facility, and sometimes catching a micro expression and commenting on the feeling behind it can get you into more honest conversations with people.

For example, I was talking to an 18 year old male client, and I told him that he seems to be a sensitive person.  He flashed the expression for scorn and then smoothed it away in a heartbeat, because as humans we tend to not want to insult others.  He tried to be polite and say something about how "that's possible."  But his face told me he not only didn't believe he is a sensitive person, but his initial gut reaction was to be scornful of the very idea of being sensitive.  I pointed this out to him, and explained what I meant by sensitive.  After my explanation, he admitted that he can be emotionally sensitive- which is why he puts up protective "walls" around his feelings.  But I digress.

The point is, learning to read and respond to micro expressions at my work place has been helpful.  Not so in my person life.  I.E., with my mom.  I often wish that I could just not notice what my mom thinks about things.  I want to take what she is verbally saying at face value, and ignore her body language.

This is where I explain why I mentioned my degree in psychology at the beginning of this post.  It's because I can make excuses for other people's behavior all day long.  I'm good at it, at explaining it, rationalizing why someone might be doing what they are doing, etc.   Having insight into others is a double edged sword.  I can rationalize that my mom has a lot of things going on in her life right now that are really stressful, so if she looks at me with that "you look fat" face, or "you need to stop gaining weight" look, it's only because her mom is floundering downhill with Alzheimer's.  

The thing is, right now I feel like my mom thinks I'm fat, she doesn't like or understand my husband (he doesn't like going outside very much! He plays video games- a lot. Eep!), and she doesn't like my dog (he's "aggressive" and "doesn't understand" the word "come." Uh, yeah, he does, sometimes he chooses to ignore you, or stare at you blankly.  He does get it, though. She is upset that he likes to come when you are using a high pitched, read: happy tone of voice.  She "doesn't play that game," meaning using a different tone of voice to call him.  Nope, she puts a shock collar on her dog so that if he doesn't come, she can shock him.  Different strokes for different folks, I guess).

The thinking I'm fat thing... to be fair, I am overweight. I finally got myself some new bras yesterday because they were half off, and I don't like to spend money on myself, but I found out I went up two bra sizes.  Thank God I don't have that horrible 4 boob thing going on anymore, but up two sizes? I was grateful she wasn't there with me, not because I feel that terrible about my new bra size, but because her presence would have made me feel ashamed.  Even though she is overweight, too.  Women are tough on each other.

It's why I almost didn't get my new coat, because nothing seemed to look good on me yesterday- at least to her.  She gave me the once over, a half hearted "that's nice, but isn't that just like the other coat you have?"  Her face screamed that she was not impressed.  Nope, not really. I confirmed this when I brought it home to show Justin, and asked him if he thought it was the same as my other jacket.  He looked at me like I was crazy and said no, the two coats were completely different. (By the way, I love my husband).  This coat has a tie around the waist, which actually gives me a waist.  I think I look good in it.

I tried on this dress, it was lacy, black, and sexy.  I put my new Spanx on under it, the first Spanx I have ever purchased, and went, "Wow! My butt looks smooth! My sides are nipped in! I've got some cleavage going- which, what is the point of having big boobs if you never show them off- and the skirt is a decent enough length that I don't look slutty!"  I came out of the dressing room, as my mom had told me she wanted to see. Haltingly, she told me, "Oh, cute. Yeah."  And nodded.  She looked at me a few seconds longer, then asked, "Did you see yourself in a full length mirror?"  Who wants to be cute in a dress designed to be sexy, with a v neckline and black lace?  Um, yeah, I saw myself in a full length mirror.  I thought that my husband would love this dress, and want to get me out of it at his earliest opportunity.

I couldn't buy it then, not with the way she looked at me in it.  Her micro expressions were all negative, all condemning my cleavage and curvy (but now smoothly curvy- thanks Spanx!) torso. I did buy some boots that she wasn't overly impressed with either, but dammit, I can wear these every day.  And I like them. The dress would be a date-night dress, and we can only afford so many of those.  I suggested wearing the boots with skinny jeans, and she quickly told me, "Or just like that," meaning with pants over them.  Apparently I look bad in skinny jeans, too.

When I told my husband about it, wanting his honest opinion, he told me that the boots look good this morning (with skinny jeans, thankyouverymuch) and that he thinks I'm sexy anyway.  But that dress sounded good.

I did get $75 in Kohl's cash so I think I am going back to buy that dress on Monday.  Sexy date night, here I come! Negative micro expressions be damned.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Holiday Love

With the Holidays fast approaching, many of us are trying to figure out how to stretch our paychecks into gifts for our loved ones.  I am always so tempted to spend more than every cent I have making sure I got something good enough for those I care about, and I know it's a habit for a lot of people.  Credit card companies just love Black Friday, and pretty much the entire month of December.

Here's the thing: money spent does not equal love felt.  As Josh Turner says, "Time is love."    Y'know those coupons you gave your parents when you were little, for hugs or doing the dishes?  Or those coupons you give to your significant other for things like doing the dishes for a week... or having whatever kind of sex they want that night?

As an adult, those coupons feel like cheating.  They don't cost you anything but the ink and paper they come on, the credit card company sees no benefit, and it is so easy to never fulfill them.  The coupons get shuffled off somewhere, never to be used.  However, if Time = Love, and you really want to give someone something they need... those coupons are great.  Who needs scented candles that may or may not smell good to you? Or someone else to buy you lotion- which may or may not smell good to you, if it doesn't give you a rash.

Fulfilling those coupons takes real commitment. Effort, even.  The giftee may blow them off at first, thinking that you don't mean it and didn't want to spend money on them.  It's easy to let that happen, but don't.  Call, Facebook, email, whatever, and ask them when you can fulfill that coupon.  The best gifts are the ones where you spend time with them while doing them a favor.

  • Plant their garden- buy the plants, plan how they are going to be placed, and put them in.
  • Go out to lunch or dinner, restaurant and time of their choice
  • Watch their kids for an evening, or take them and the kids out bowling, swimming, etc. and help supervise
  • Change the oil on their car, and if they don't know how, teach them how to do it
  • Mow the lawn/rake the leaves/shovel the snow
  • Clean their house- vacuum, dust, sweep, mop.  Help with spring cleaning, tackling that one room in everyone's house that is usually called the "storage room," but is basically a giant junk drawer
  • Massages, hair cuts, manicure/pedicure, or another special talent you have- treat them with it
  •  A night out on the town, whether that's bar hopping, going to a movie, taking a spin in the boat, etc
  • Baked goods delivered once a month for the next year- everyone loves homemade bread, brownies, and baklava
Several of the ones I have listed involve doing something at the person's house.  Hand them a glass of their favorite beverage, tell them to take a seat and then chat while you work.   Just remember, time is love. Not money.

Lets not kill anyone this Black Friday, okay? I know getting $300 off a TV is a great deal, but seriously, this is crazy!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Arena vs. Trails

The last two times I rode Rocky in the arena, he was sluggish.  The first of those two times, he seemed tired and I figured that he was because he had been switched to a different pasture the day before.  Getting acquainted with his new pasture mates, figuring out the pecking order and exploring the new area probably didn't lend itself to a "full nights sleep."

When I squeezed with my legs, he would pin his ears before reluctantly following my cue.  His steps lacked energy and his canter felt all wrong.  When I let him stop and rest, he seemed sleepy.  So I figured he was tired, crabby, and didn't want to be pushed.  I gave a mental shrug and let it go.

The next time I went up to ride, a few days after this last incident, I took him out on the trails first.  I rode along the outside of the arena, and when he was given the opportunity to head down the trail, he went with no real cue from me.  Rocky seemed happy to head out on the trails with renewed energy.  I soon discovered he had too much of the wrong type of energy.   He was hesitant to go unless Bear took the lead, but Bear was more interested in guarding our rear.  When I asked him to trot he sprang forward, head up and ears perked alertly.  He huffed as we went, and scanned the area with his head higher than normal.

Rocky tends to keep his head fairly level with his withers, through no training of mine but as his natural, comfortable head set.  When his head stays up with his ears sharply perked forward, he's on high alert. I took note and let him trot for a minute, hoping to burn off at least of little of his nerves.  At one point, he stopped in his tracks and stared into the woods.  I asked him to flex his head around and he did, then spooked a few seconds later.  We turned in a circle until he stopped himself, his nose still near my toes.  Flexing is truly a wonderful thing, and I am never more grateful for learning it than at the times when it keeps me from being on a horse running for the hills in terror.

I flexed his nose to my toes in both directions until he seemed more settled, then asked him to continue.  He was hesitant still, and seemed to be nervous.  I think it may be the changing seasons, plus my lack of desensitizing lately that has brought us back to this point. I ended up getting off where there were two boards over a weird hole in the ground.  I sent Rocky around this obstacle in both directions, and once he tried to scoot away from the hole in fear.  I was glad my feet were firmly planted on the ground!

After a few minutes he relaxed with the hole and let me mount up. I decided to turn around, not wanting to keep pushing him when he wasn't settling properly.  I rode him through brush on the way back, trying to keep him occupied as he still was on his toes.  He huffed his way through it no problem, but at any moment it felt like he was going to spook, bolt, or slam on the brakes.  When we got back to the barn yard, his nerves dropped.  When we entered the arena, the ear pinning and shuffling gait took over again.

He lacked enthusiasm and his canter still felt off, even though he had seemed fine on the trails.  I finally asked Silver to watch us go, just in case he was lame somewhere that I wasn't noticing.  He hadn't been tender when I groomed him, and I checked his spine and ribs to make sure nothing was out of place there.  He was fine, no "ouchy" spots.

I got him to canter while Silver observed, and she confirmed what I had suspected: he was fine, just arena sour. Now, I had only ridden him in the arena the last two or three times I had been out, before that it was a decently long stretch of trail rides.   In all of her wisdom, Silver pointed out, "Let's be honest, we work our horses harder in the arena than we ever do on the trails."

It rang true, and I figured out that I needed to do a few things differently.  First, do several sessions in a row that consist for the most part of desensitizing.  Not the half hearted, short lived concessions I had been making, but genuinely working on it.  Second, do as much work with Rocky as I could outside of the arena.  If we did need to work inside the fence, I would not tolerate his nasty attitude.  Everybody is allowed to have a bad day but his behavior would surely escalate if I allowed him to dictate what we do by him being nasty.  That's a good way to teach a good horse to be mean.

It made me wonder about horses that are worked exclusively in an arena.  A horse that Silver bought had been in training to be a reiner, and was terribly arena sour.  She hated being in it.   The mare doesn't mind now, but she had been worked only in an arena for almost a year.  The naturally sweet mare had become nasty with it, until given the opportunity to get out of the arena and to do more than stops and spins.

There is a dressage horse at my barn that doesn't seem to mind working in the arena all the time.  His owner has taken him out on the trails once or twice a year, but he spends most of his time learning to be graceful within the arena.   He puffs his way around with enthusiasm, and seems to enjoy the work he is given.

I think it comes down to having the right horse for the job you want to do.  Silver's mare could have been a great reiner, she has the bloodlines and the conformation for it.  She doesn't love that job, though.  The dressage gelding had become known at his last home as "dangerous," and would dump riders.  He never got turned out, though, and now that he is turned out 24/7 and not a lesson horse, he's an absolute snuggle bunny.  (And by bunny, I mean huge Warmblood).

Rocky likes going for trail rides, and I feel lucky that I have a horse that enjoys the same things I do. 
Rocky says hi :)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ella Update

Alright, I have made my decision: I am going to email Ella's owner to ask about working with her.  My plan is to ask to be paid something, but likely not very much.  If the owner doesn't want to pay me anything, I will still work with her if he allows it.  I talked to Silver about it, and she told me her experiences in working with Ella when she takes her out for trims.

The last time, Ella reared once and then was fine.   For a mostly untouched yearling, I'd say she's doing really well.  Silver said that Ella was very easy to teach how to lead when bringing her up from the pasture.  Essentially, she is a golden opportunity just sitting around waiting for someone to take notice.  I'm taking notice!

I haven't ever worked with a horse this young before, so if I do I am excited about all of the things I'm going to learn. I hope I can do her justice, and not "screw her up." That was one of my hesitations before, doubting myself and being realistic that I am in no way a professional trainer.  However, as I told someone the other day, I have been working with horses for 18 years, and that's almost 75% of my life. (Yes, I did the math.)  I will make mistakes, ask for help, and do some things wrong. 

I anticipate getting frustrated, not knowing the next step, and possibly getting hurt- either physically, emotionally, or both.  I also think that each of those experiences will teach me a lot, and I don't think I can continue to grow as a horseman without stretching myself.  Most days, I can handle Rocky just fine.  I still have more to learn with him, but we have gotten to the point where he doesn't *have* to have more training.  He could maintain exactly where he is most of the time and be totally fine.

Ella doesn't have that luxury.  She gets older every day, and I don't see anything about her situation changing any time soon.  This is one of those times that a horse is not in danger, neglected, or otherwise treated badly.  She simply isn't worked with, has no knowledge of how to work with people or worthwhile skills.  I have thought about getting involved in rescuing horses to lend a hand teaching basic manners, and this is a great opportunity for me to test my skills.  Hopefully this can be a mutually beneficial arrangement.

If anyone has suggestions for things I should say in my email to Ella's owner, I'm all ears.  I don't want to mislead her owner into thinking that I am 1. incompetent or 2. a professional.  I'm somewhere in the middle, and I also want to be sensitive to his feelings so that I don't sound like I look down on him for not coming to the barn more often or learning the skills to train his horses himself.  My goal is to be honest, tactful, and helpful.

Monday, November 5, 2012


When she first arrived at my barn, the 3 month old filly had never been outside before, except for her trip from her stall to the trailer.  She was an "oops" baby, and a young man purchased her dam plus one out of the kindness of his heart.  He saw the chestnut mare locked in a stall and decided that he could afford to buy her, releasing her and her foal from their stalled prison.

My barn owner, Silver, decided to keep them in a stall with a run for a while, allowing both mare and foal to acclimate to the outdoors before placing them in a pasture.  The filly was so excited, she ran straight through the stall and out the end of the run, bucking and leaping with joy.  She was caught without much trouble and returned to the run, where she learned what a fence means.  Her dam was cautious about being friendly, having learned that humans can lock her away without a thought.

Ella, however, was not so reserved.  When she saw people, she came right over to say hello.   She sniffed my hand delicately, then let me run my fingers through her soft, fluffy coat.  Her eyes were warm and interested, not at all afraid to have a stranger rub her neck.   Ella stuck her nose up to smell my face, and we exchanged breaths until she was satisfied.

When she was freshly at the barn, I remember admiring her markings.  She was a soft sorrel color, and I figured she would deepen into her dam's coppery hue.  She has four white socks, the hind ones rising above her hocks in the front, and the front ones coming to her knees.  With her wide blaze, I could see what she would look like as an adult, her white legs and face would be quite striking to see.

I was wrong.  Ella did not shed out her baby coat to match her mother's chestnut one. Instead, she turned butter yellow with a thick white mane and tail.  This little angel I was falling for turned out to be palomino, the color of my first beloved mare.  If I could afford it, I would have bought her months ago, when I still thought she would be chestnut and her mane was only wispy curls above her neck.

Her owner doesn't do anything with her.   Ella just turned a year old this fall- more evidence of her being an oops baby.  The owner doesn't drive, so he relies on friends to bring him to the barn.  Silver says she usually only sees him when he drops off board checks once a month.  He did put Ella's dam into training with Silver, to get her riding.  I've seen him out a few times to tool around on her, but the last time he was out he planned to get on her after not seeing her for a few months.  He didn't know how to put the saddle on, and when my mom went to help, cautioned her that "the mare has already bucked today."

He isn't a bad person, he simply isn't able to or doesn't put time into his horses, into learning to be a horseman. They are now out in a pasture with other horses, where they receive all of the vet and farrier care they need.  I itch to take Ella out, teach her to be a good young horse that leads, stands quietly for Silver to trim her, and start ground work that will make teaching her to carry a rider someday so much easier.  I could even pony her behind Rocky, a good exercise for him and for her, getting her out on the trails to explore more of the world.

Right now, she's a mostly unhandled yearling.  Every other month, Silver takes her out for a trim but otherwise, she's a pasture puff.  Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think she should be in any sort of intense training.   However, it's much easier to put manners into a young horse than into a large, adult horse who has had plenty of time to decide how things should be on their own.

I debate what I should do about this situation.  For several months, I avoided Ella's pasture because I was becoming increasingly attached to her, and again, I simply can't afford another horse.  I don't know what the owner's plans for her are, or if he has even considered her future.  Right now, my guess is that she is going to be a fairly tall palomino Quarter horse mare, not registered (to my knowledge, anyway), with decent conformation and a good temperament.  I think she could really be worth something, if she had even basic training to fall back on.  She's going to look flashy once all of her growing is said and done, and she seems to have a laid back, calm attitude.

I wonder if he would have any interest in paying me to work with Ella, but I suspect he may not.  Like I said before, he did put her dam into training but hasn't done anything with either of them since.  I keep telling myself that I should stay out of their business and mind my own, but now Rocky has been put in her pasture. I can't avoid seeing her anymore, and it tugs at my heartstrings to think of all the potential being wasted with this filly right now.

I read Fugly Horse of the Day, I know what happens to unregistered, untrained yearlings if their owners' financial situation changes.  My other worry is falling in love with her, only to have her disappear after I've worked with her and spent a good deal of time with her.  I think I may ask if he would be interested in paying me almost anything to put some training on her, and if he ever decides to sell her, that I would "help" him find someone appropriate for her.  I have no problem with Ella going to someone who is going to love and care for her, so I think that may be my best bet.

Thoughts?  Have you ever been in a similar situation, and what did you do?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Difficult Conversations

Welcome, Mugwump Chronicle Readers! (and all others, of course.)  Mugwump featured a past blog post I wrote on her blog today, and one of the reader comments inspired me to write a follow up.  The original blog can be found here.  It's titled "Lemons," and is about my experience of buying Rocky, falling in love with him, and then realizing that he has HYPP N/H after receiving his registration papers from the friend I bought him from.  One of the Mugwump readers asked if I ever talked to "Rite," my friend who sold me Rocky, about not disclosing his HYPP status to me prepurchase.  Here is the answer:

When I got Rocky's registration papers in the mail and saw the dreaded "HYPP N/H" letters on the side, my heart sank.  One of the people I boarded with at the time had been concerned that her horse was HYPP positive, and had mentioned a few things about it.  Essentially, I knew that it wasn't good but not any concrete details.  I headed to the internet and did some research to learn what exactly I was dealing with.

I was still grieving the loss of my first horse just three months earlier, so seeing that my new horse I had already started falling in love with may have a seizure and drop dead was terrifying.  For a while, I sat and cried with my laptop, wondering what I should do.  I didn't want to return Rocky; HYPP notwithstanding, he was exactly what I wanted in a horse and my rational brain knew that horses can have accidents or other sudden medical issues.  I had learned that fact all too well with the untimely death of my first horse.

I felt such rage at Rite, for misleading me, for breeding Rocky in the first place, for continuing to breed his HYPP N/H sire at will.  I thought about how she feeds all of her horses a rich alfalfa diet, and came to the conclusion that she did not have the same panic response that I did.  The potassium in alfalfa can set off HYPP symptoms, but she didn't seem to either know or be bothered by that knowledge.

Finally, when I had processed the situation enough on my own to not send a nasty, horrible email, I did send one.  I don't remember exactly what I said, but I tried to keep my feelings in check the best I could.  I asked if Rocky had ever had HYPP symptoms, what they were and how severe they were if he had experienced them. I think I commented about being surprised to see that he was a carrier on his papers, and that it would have been nice to know earlier.

She responded by saying that he'd never been symptomatic, nor had Checkers, his sire.  Rite explained that if he were to have an attack, it would look like "he was standing on his tippy toes" with his hind end, and that it would go away after a little bit.  I stared at that email for a long time.  I didn't know what to say; she knew enough about HYPP to know that it would be a muscle seizure, but apparently not enough to know that he could choke to death?  Obviously choking to death would be a worst case scenario, but it has happened.

I finally decided that nothing I could say to her was likely to make a difference. She was an adult, had made her choices and chooses to believe that HYPP is not a big deal.   Rite recently talked about gelding Checkers, and I was very supportive of the idea.  Other than that, I chose not to pursue the matter any further.  I think that Rite honestly believes HYPP is not a real problem, so she thought she was acting fairly. 

In many ways I have been very lucky to have Rocky.  He has a great mind, tries hard, is sweet and steady.  A good deal of those traits come from his breeding, as both Amber (his dam) and Checkers are good minded, calm, and try to please their rider.  He also came with the upbringing I wanted, having received all proper vaccinations and farrier care.   Rocky was also desensitized from a young age, again adding to his value as a trail horse for me.

Rocky's good traits that he got from Rite added to my decision to let this thing lie.  I couldn't see any good come from "having it out" with Rite, and at the end of the day, I love and want my horse. 

If you had been in my shoes, what would you have done?  What do you think the "right" course of action would be? 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hunting Season Riding

I went for a trail ride last Saturday, but it had to be shorter than I'd like due to hunting season.  The neighbors on one side of the barn hunt grouse on their trails in the fall, making those trails off limits right now.  Bow hunting season for deer has opened as well, and we weren't sure if the deer hunters nearby were bow or rifle hunters.  Either way, we didn't want holes poked through us or our noble steeds.

I have thought about getting blaze orange stuff to put on Rocky, because he is so dark and potentially "deer like." Although, if you follow one of the first three rules of hunter safety, you always have to be sure of your target and what is behind it.  How many people follow that, I don't know, but based on the number of hunting accidents every year I'd rather be safe than sorry.  If you are a trail rider, do you put blaze orange on yourself or your horse during hunting seasons?  Do you have another method of ensuring nearby people can see you/your horse/dog and identify you as "non game"?  I should get a bell to put on Bear when we are out, although he does a great job of sticking close to me.

 See? We were going for a canter, and Bear flew after us.  My mom and I were riding with one of the other boarders at our barn, and I think she got worried about Bear running with us because she yelled out "Dog!" I forgot to tell her that Rocky is not bothered by Bear at all, in fact, seems to enjoy running with him.

This is us before Bear joined in the run, and while the picture is a little blurrier than I'd like, I think it turned out pretty well. I had wanted a picture of Rocky and I cantering, so I made my mom sit on Tapper and take pictures of us.  We only cantered past twice, but the first picture was not very good.  Rocky had his nose out about as far as he could, and generally looked like a moose about to tip over. Not exactly my graceful, collected horse, which reminds me that we should really work on vertical flexing at the poll some more. And collection.  That's the joy of horses though, there is always something more to learn, refine, and enjoy.  Happy trails!

On a side note, I wanted to show you all this sculpture that my mom gave me. It's called "Waitin' on the Boss" and is one of my favorite gifts that I've ever received.  If you love it as much as I do, you can buy it (or other horse sculptures similar to it) from here.  The dog looks so much like Bear, and the way the horse is calmly waiting with one hind leg cocked is something I have seen Rocky do many times.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

New Saddle!

I got a new saddle two weeks ago.  My "old" one (which was only about a year and a half old) refused to stay off of Rocky's withers.  I used a crupper for most of that year and a half, a leather strap that attached to the back of the saddle and went around the base of his tail to hold the saddle in place. You can sort of see it in this photo, a little knot of extra leather. 
I didn't like how the crupper was pulling on his tail, wearing a path in the fur along his spine where the crupper would lay. I let it go though, until one day Rocky pulled out the D-ring on the back of the saddle that the crupper was clipped onto.  He had spooked, clamping down with his tail as he scooted away from the terrifying tarp laying on the ground, and when the dust settled the crupper was laying on the ground, still attached to the D-ring from his saddle.  It made my saddle nearly unusable, as without the crupper his saddle slid inexorably forward until I was riding on his shoulders- not a comfortable position for either of us.

 I took my saddle to a repair shop, where they replaced the rubbery strap that used to hold the D-ring in place with a leather one.  It seemed like a good solution, so I went back to using my saddle the same way I had before.  Except, the new leather strap stretched.  And stretched.  And stretched some more.  I had to make a new hole on the crupper to shorten it enough to make up for the slack created by the new leather piece.  I became increasingly distressed doing this, as it made me realize how much pressure the crupper had to be putting on Rocky's tail and spine.  To make it worse, the crupper wasn't even mine, it was an equipment loan from my barn owner.  

I finally decided that I was not going to continue to torque Rocky's spine to hold his saddle in place, especially when it wasn't working very well anyway.  I arranged for my mom to drive Rocky and I two hours away from the barn to visit a tack shop that regularly boasts over 300 saddles.  They have a round pen on site and saddle fitters, so they can help you find the right saddle.  I spent about an hour cleaning my saddle, breast collar, and saddle pad so that I could hopefully trade them in for a good price. 

Once we got to the store, it took us four hours of shopping and two rounds of saddle fitting to find two saddles (out of that 300...) that would fit both Rocky and I.  While riding, one of those two saddles started to rub my calves in an uncomfortable way, so it was an easy choice to go with the one I bought.  It was an expensive purchase for me, but I think owing my parents is worth it.  My new saddle stays in place without any additional hardware, comfortably fits Rocky and is a pleasure to ride in.  Without further ado:
I needed to get a new saddle pad, too. My old one was too small.

It has a "rough" leather seat, which feels more secure to me than my smooth one did. Who knew?!

Gotta love all of that cushion. 
You can see a large 'tunnel' of sorts in the saddle above Rocky's spine.  It's large enough to stick your arm into it, and creates air flow so he doesn't overheat.  It feels good to know that, not only am I no longer pulling on his spine, he has a saddle that actually cushions and airs out his back.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Career path

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I've determined that I fall into a category of people; at least, I'm assuming there are more like me out there. It's a big planet.  The "I Don't Have a Dream" people.  Less popular than those who "Do Have a Dream," but still a fairly large contingent I would bet.

Specifically, I have no real sense of passion for what I want my career to be. I'm moderately satisfied with the position I have, but as I look to the future I keep thinking, "I don't want to be here forever."  I look at higher positions within the company I work for, and feel no desire to climb that particular ladder.

Frustratingly, I seem to be either over or under qualified for most jobs in my area.  With two Bachelor degrees, one in Psychology and the other in Liberal Arts for the Human Services, there isn't a lot for me.  Most jobs require a high school diploma, and pay around $10 an hour. Other jobs want a Master's or Doctorate degree, and pay closer to $20 and up, depending.   Does that make me doomed to creep along in my job, earning a 3% raise every November?

I honestly feel stuck. If I want to get paid more in a psychology field, it's pretty much a given that I will need to get a higher degree.  Which requires paying out even more in loans and going back to school, neither of which appeals to me.  My other option appears to be wading into a different industry entirely, for which I have almost nothing on paper that qualifies me for it and therefore would reduce me to the $10/hour earning range.  We can't afford to lose any income at this point, and $10/hour is not going to pay our bills.

If I had a strong sense of what I wanted to do, I would figure out a way to make it happen.  This brings me back to the "I Don't Have a Dream" issue; I am drifting in a sea of uncertainty.

Today I thought about becoming a furniture saleslady. I thought I could listen attentively to what people are looking for, make helpful suggestions and generally be successful.

Yesterday, I debated the merits of becoming a horse trainer, apprenticing myself to my barn owner for a while to help her with clients, then build my own reputation.

I have also thought about becoming a social worker, a high school counselor, an aide to the elderly, a customer care representative, an administrative assistant, a security guard, a police officer, a baker, and occasionally I day dream about being a stay-at-home mom.  Even though I have no children and we would be broke.

About once a week I sort through different career websites, trolling for anything that looks like something I may want to do, full time, that I'm qualified for, with a decent work schedule, that pays more than I make right now.  Yeah.  So far, pretty much zilch.

I applied for two jobs today, and we'll see what response I get.  One is in the same office Justin works for, which would be great for the schedule, pay, and ride sharing with my husband.  The other I am fairly uncertain about, and is for an activities coordinator at an elderly living center.

One thing that does interest me is doing animal assisted therapy, using horses with people.  However, that would require a higher degree and certification in that type of therapy.  Additionally, while there is a place nearby that does it, they only run during the summer.

Oh Great Internet Universe, what should I do? It's getting a bit disheartening.

Friday, September 21, 2012


The last time I was at the barn with my mom, it didn't go very well.  There were two main issues, one of which was my sister and the other was my dog.  I don't want to go into the whole thing with my sister, but I do want to talk about what happened with Bear.

I see Bear's behaviors one way, and my mom sees them another way.  When I am at the barn with Bear, and my mom/her dog, Dexter, are not there, I have no issues with Bear.  He listens to me, plays nice with the other barn dogs, and generally behaves himself.  When Dexter is there, Bear wants to play.  The two dogs have grown up together, a month apart in age, and Bear loves to play with Dexter.  Dexter has mellowed more so than Bear has in this department, and sometimes just flops on the ground rather than running around.  Now, here is one area my mom and I have differing opinions.  Bear will stand over/near Dexter and "chew" (gently, without hurting) Dexter's cheeks, nudging him and then standing back.  He will do this several times.  My mom sees this as Bear asserting his dominance over Dexter, and yells at him every time he tries to do it- which is fairly frequently.  I see it as Bear trying to play with Dexter, giving him space to get up, and then asking again to play.  Does it have some dominance aspect to it? Yes, but when they play I see Bear allowing Dexter to chase him/push him down, which is a passive role.

It seems to me that Bear is willing to switch roles from "dominant" to "submissive," but often Dexter chooses to lay on the ground.  Sometimes when Bear asks him to play, he does get up and play.  Sometimes, he doesn't.  To me, there isn't a clear boundary of when it is okay for Bear to ask Dexter to play, and when it isn't.  To me, Bear gets yelled at a lot for trying to play with Dexter.  To my mom, Bear is constantly trying to assert dominance over Dexter so she yells at him.

Bear is not an aggressive dog in protecting himself.  I have seen dogs snarl/bark/intimidate Bear, and he runs away with his tail between his legs.  He isn't trying to be Pack Leader, at least from what I have seen.  However, he is protective of me and others that he cares about.  When a dog runs up to me, he comes over and inserts himself between me and the other dog.  If it's a dog he knows, like Dexter, he is casual about it and easily lets me pet Dexter.  If it's a strange dog, he rumbles deep in his throat, his tail goes up and he thrusts his chest out at the other dog.  Essentially, he is saying "She's mine, I don't know you, back off." When I tell him it's okay and make a point of petting the other dog with him, he relaxes and nothing more happens.

The last time we were at the barn, one of the barn dogs was acting dominant toward Dexter.  I didn't see what happened, I only heard the dogs' voices.  I heard Crusher (the barn dog) make a dominant sound, and then seconds later I heard Bear's rumble.   There was a flurry of barking, then my mom yelling at them. Bear came to me when I called, and my mom started to tell me that Bear 'attacked' Crusher. I tried to tell her that he was being protective, but she then began insisting that Bear had meant to attack the other dog. (By the way it sounded and Bear's typical behavior, he didn't bite or try to bite the other dog. I think he ran up to Crusher in an assertive way while rumbling, as that is what I have seen Bear do before.) To be fair, I didn't see what happened at that moment.  Here's what happened after, though: I put Bear on my lead rope and tied him near Rocky.  I was done with him being yelled at and didn't want him interacting with the other dogs anymore.  He accepted this just fine. 

I kept Bear on the lead the rest of the time at the barn, as I was finishing up anyway.  During that time, Crusher behaved assertively toward Dexter, to the point that I heard Crusher rumble at Dexter and possibly push him down.  My mom then yelled at Crusher and put Dexter in her car.  Crusher then hovered outside the car, and my mom had to urge him away from the car. 

To me, that proves that Crusher was probably trying to push Dexter around, Bear saw it and intervened to protect his buddy. 

My mom believes Bear was acting aggressively toward Crusher, because Bear is an aggressive/dominant dog.  I believe Bear thought he was protecting Dexter from Crusher, and so he postured in a dominant way.  Can Bear be dominant? Yes, of course. He can also be submissive- he regularly submits to one of the other barn dogs, and is quite humble about it.  Again, I only see Bear's dominant/aggressive side come out when he believes he is protecting someone else.  It's in his breeding as a German Shepherd to do that, but he has always listened to me and backed down when doing so.  I have never seen him genuinely attack anything, only posture and rumble which tends to be intimidating enough.

Which of us is correct?  Obviously I think I am, but either way, I am tired of Bear being yelled at.  For a while he didn't even want to come in the barn, and would hide by my car unless I was going out for a trail ride.  I have worked to make his last several times at the barn more positive, he has started to regain confidence in entering the barn again.

My plan for the future is to tie him up while Dexter is there, unless we are going for a trail ride.  That way Dexter can get away from him, lay down all he wants and Bear doesn't get yelled at- for trying to play or asserting dominance, whichever way you look at it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Back to Basics

Rocky has been spooking more lately than he has over the summer.  I think it's because I have focused my attention on sensitizing him to my cues without putting much (if any) time into desensitizing him to the world at large.  He was so steady for me this summer, I think I took his calm nature for granted rather than doing upkeep on him like I should have been.  He hasn't done anything major, but I want to nip this in the bud before he gets worse. 

The last time I took him out for a trail ride, he spooked a few times at some grouse that flew up and away from us in some pines. At first he just stopped and snorted, side stepping a little but otherwise just watching the trees intently.  Bear helped out by trotting over to where the grouse had been, sniffing around and then looking at me to see where I wanted to go next. He's a good dog.  Later, a grouse flew up from somewhere behind us and Rocky scooted forward a few feet in alarm before coming to a stop mostly on his own- my reflexes were a bit behind. Oops.

Overall, he still did what he was supposed to do as far as not taking off in a mad panic, but he still wasn't as quiet as I like him to be.  My barn owner has put up a horse obstacle course designed for desensitizing, so Rocky and I have been spending a good chunk of time with that.  So far, she has hung a tarp between two trees that has been cut in strips, so it flaps in the wind or hangs there, depending on the weather.   There is also a line hung with plastic bottles that rattle and bounce off the horse as they move through it.  Two tires that can be stepped through or around make up one of the last obstacles.  Rocky doesn't like them but he really doesn't like the last one- a tarp that has been stapled to parallel boards.  He is positive that tarp is going to swallow him whole or something equally disastrous will happen.

We spent a good hour and a half on the ground tarp a few days ago.   He stops, scoots backwards, snorts heavily, and generally exhibits great distrust of that obstacle.  By the end of that time, I was getting him to back over the boards with some success.  He drags his feet terribly when he backs up, so it was a good exercise in encouraging him to actually LIFT his feet up.  A few times he would drag the tarp thing toward him with his backwards shuffle, and his eyes would get big as he hustled off it.

 It's a work in progress, but we'll get there.

Friday, August 17, 2012


I have to write a fast post this morning but I wanted to send this one out as it has been on my mind. There are several things that people do while driving that make me want to rip their hair out. Namely:
1. Not using turn lanes properly.  If you are turning and there is a turn lane available, you have to move your vehicle ALL THE WAY into the lane, slow down, and turn.  It sounds simple, but there are a lot of people who ignore turn lanes completely, or slowly wander halfway into the lane so that no one can really go past them.
2. Weaving back and forth in their lane. It looks like you are drunk or a terrible driver, and it makes me worry that you are suddenly going to smash into something (me) or go off the road.  Drive straight, please.
3. Not using turn signals, suddenly slowing down and making a turn. Even worse, not using a turn signal, wandering to a stop (!) and then slooooooowly making your turn. Come on, other people have places to go without trying to figure out what the heck you're doing.
4. Driving 10 mph below the speed limit until getting to a place where I can pass you.  Then speeding up to go 10 over. Seriously?
5. Almost hitting me as I pass you. LOOK AROUND before changing lanes, please.

I'm sure there's more, and I may add them later.  For now, please be a good driver.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Rocky likes to stick his nose out.  He generally travels in a long, spread out manner, his nose leading the charge.  He moves like that even in the pasture, so it's just his natural way of getting from A to B.  Most of the time, especially as he's been growing up, I have ignored his stuck out nose.  Okay, to be fair, I didn't know how to ask him NOT to root his nose, but I also didn't want to push him into travelling in a frame (or collected) before his growing body could handle it.  There are so many differing opinions about how to push or not push young horses!  General consensus, however, is that a 6 year old is just tipping past "young horse" into "mature horse" territory.

We're there.  Rocky turned 6 this spring, and sometimes I can't believe that I have already owned him for 3 years.  This last year, I have started working with him using Clinton Anderson's methods, and have seen a lot of improvement from both of us.  The biggest thing so far (for me, anyway) has been flexing him horizontally- asking him to bend his nose to touch my boot while I'm on him.  He has been getting lighter and lighter about doing this, and each time I ride him I let him warm up to it, but then I can ask him to flex with just a couple of fingers. It's awesome.

Last fall, I started learning how to ask him to "vertically flex from the poll-" to tip his nose towards his chest when I pick up with the reins. Now, for my stuck out nose horse, tipping his nose towards his chest did not initially make much sense.  To ask for it, you put the horse in a snaffle bit that would be uncomfortable but not painful for the horse to lean against. Then you pick up first with one rein, sliding your hand toward the bit and pulling back to hold steady pressure on the horse's mouth.  You do the same with the other rein until the horse has steady backwards pressure on his mouth, again enough to make them uncomfortable but not enough to be painful.  

Then you wait, hands holding reins on your thighs until the horse is standing still and they figure out to give to you.  You're waiting for them to bump their nose in, giving to the bit for just a second.  Then you release the pressure, rewarding them for that give.  The first time Rocky and I did this last fall, my arms were shaking from holding his big head. He didn't get it, and stood for probably 20 minutes at a time pulling against the pressure. It didn't help that the bit I was using was too thick, giving him too much to lean against.  I now have a snaffle that isn't thick, with nice copper inlay. Alright, it's my mom's bit that she isn't using right now, but I digress.

That's where we started, Rocky leaning against the bit for 20 minutes or so before giving me the slightest nose bob.  Of course, you can't try something just once and expect them to get it... so I ended up sitting in the arena looking like I wasn't doing much for over an hour. Ah, horse training.

Since then we have much improved, I forget to practice but Rocky is a smart horse and quickly picks up where we left off.  Thank goodness for forgiving horses! 

Yesterday he started flexing vertically from his poll when I would just pick up the reins.  He wasn't consistent about it yet, but lightness is coming into it.  He's finally started to really *get* it, and he definitely had his thinking cap on.  I am pretty sure his 'thinking cap' pushes his ears out, because when he is really concentrating, his ears go out to the side and his eyebrows wrinkle. It's not really a pretty look... but I love it because I know how hard he's trying to do what I'm asking.

We got the vertical flexion at a standstill, and even started working on it at a walk! I had to put my spurs on to help him figure out that he now needs to move and flex at the same time, but it didn't take him long to start to catch on.  We worked on it until he started getting it fairly consistently in the arena, then went for a short trail ride.  He gave really nicely even out on the trails! 

After the ride was over, he was tired but happy. 

On a side note, I just spent about half an hour trying to get my phone to connect to the computer so I could put the picture I took of Rocky at the end of this post. It's not working and I'm getting mad at it, so I'm going to post a different picture.

**UPDATE: I just realized that the photo I uploaded here previously is one that I put in a different post.  Oops! Here's a new photo instead:
Rocky and I going through some water!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Sometimes, I don't "like" things on Facebook that have already been "liked" a lot, because I feel as though my "like" is no longer special.

I am currently sitting perched on the edge of my office chair so that Bennett can stay sleeping behind me without interruption.  Fox has decided to join us on the chair, and is curled up on the back.  Okay, he just slid down behind me to cuddle with Bennett. I think they're licking each other behind my back.

I work today.  I started coughing a minute ago, and felt like I was going to throw up.  Just a bit anxious...

I work the next 6 days in a row, and I am really needing to concentrate on one day at a time.  Heck, right now, one is overwhelming. I hate this feeling so much.

Last night, my uncle shipped out to Afghanistan for two months. I feel really selfish being this anxious and worried about my job, when he is risking his life over in another country.  He has four beautiful children and a loving wife here.  Seeing him off wasn't as heart wrenching as I thought it would be, at least at first.  We made the kind of desperately casual small talk one makes in these situations, talking about fishing, the weather, and such. He showed us where he works, walked us around the building and told us what everything does.  He has a sign in his office that says "DO NOT DISCUSS SECRETS ON THE TELEPHONE." It reminded me of some sort of elite club where girls whisper behind their hands and then giggle when anyone walks by.

The worst part about him leaving was watching mothers pulling their wailing children out of the building where everyone was gathered to say good bye.  Kids don't have that "we are in public so don't make a scene" sensor.  They screamed like the rest of us wanted to.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Deer shack!

In my last post I mentioned fulfilling the childhood dream of riding at my family's cabin, also known as the "Deer Shack." It was the first time my mom and I trailered out for a ride on our own.  We got going about half an hour behind schedule (which is usually right on time in the horse world...) and it took us about 45 minutes to an hour to get to the cabin from the barn.

We tacked up and I did some ground work with Rocky before mounting up, as he was a bit snorty at things around the cabin.  After some lunging and sending exercises, his thinking brain was back on so we headed out.  My mom and I brought our dogs to come along, and they were very excited to go out on the trail.  Dexter, my mom's black lab/newfoundland mix, likes to cut into the woods or run ahead, checking things out.  Bear moves between my mom and I, guarding us from the sides and rear.  It's a good system, and the horses like the feeling of security.

We got out on the four wheeler trail after crossing a meadow, and Rocky was in the lead with a confident stride.  Normally when we go out on trail rides with a group, Rocky ends up in the back and middle of the pack.   He's not a fast guy, in fact, there have been jokes made about how slow he can be.  Tapper is slower than Rocky is- to the point that we can turn around and ride back to where Tapper is plodding along.

We did that for a bit, and then we came upon a stand of young poplar trees.  Rocky stopped and his head shot up, eyes wide. He then began to side step.  I asked him to flex and he refused, mouth and neck hardened against my ask so that he could stare into the trees.  At this point I'm getting worried, because he is clearly alarmed at the trees and is resistant to following my directions.  I look over, and Tapper has also frozen, his eyes showing white.

Tapper has been generally unflappable to this point, so the fact that his front feet are planted and he looks like someone just told him he will never get grain again made me go "aww shit..." I then look at my mother... who is trying to look over Tapper's head to see what he is scared of.  She looks mildly concerned, but more curious about what's going on.

I take all of this in and realize that one of these horses is going to try to flee the scene very soon, and when one goes, the other will be with him like a shot.  I start pulling harder on my rein to get Rocky to flex, and tell my mom that she should flex Tapper, too.  She goes, "oh, yeah, he does seem kind of scared..."

At this point, I'm scared.  My mom can't afford to get hurt, and I would really rather not get hurt myself.  My response to her casual statement?

"NO! You need to flex him NOW!!"  It made my mom jump, and she quickly began to pull Tapper's nose in to her boot.  At about that time, Rocky finally gave me his face a bit so we stood there and flexed our horses until they were at least responsive to us. After they had relaxed a bit, I explained to my mom that when Rocky is really scared, I can feel his heart beat through the saddle.  This was one of those times, and I could tell that Tapper was ready to panic, too.

We had a good laugh about it later, joking about my mom "getting us killed" by trying to figure out what the horses were so scared of rather than addressing their fear.

The rest of the ride went well, but we had to hurry back as the skies were starting to get stormy dark.  We made it back in time for a few sprinkles to start, but we decided to take some quick pictures anyway.

Rocky, Bear and I. You can see the storm coming in the back ground!
Bear and Dexter were tired boys on the drive home!

It was a good trip, and I can't wait to do it again!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Crazy Summer

Hey All,
This summer has been crazy/busy and among other things, my home computer is on the fritz.  Makes writing blogs challenging, to say the least.

A quick update, I have taken Rocky on several trip trail rides (trailering somewhere for a couple hours, then going back home) and he has been excellent!  We fulfilled a life long dream of mine just this week; I took him, my mom and her horse Tapper up to our deer shack.  We rode the four wheeler trails and returned home in one piece!

I have been working a different position at work which has been very stressful.  I'm not sure how much longer I will be in this position, as I am helping out a different group and there is no specific "out" date.  Another reason my blogs have fallen to the wayside.

How have your summers been so far?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Emergency Plans

Earlier this week, my area was inundated with a torrential downpour of rain.   Some places got up to 10 inches of rain in 24 hours.  There was a lot of flooding, which is very unusual for us- the last time we had a flood of any seriousness was in 1972.  I called in to work, as I was unable to cross two brand new rivers on the one road I had to take into town.   I began to worry about Rocky after I heard about some other road closings that effectively closed off any access I might have to him.

It occurred to me for the first time that there would be nothing I could do if the barn I board him at were to flood badly enough for the horses to need to be evacuated.  Saying that, I don't mean to sound naive, but my area rarely has "evacuation" type weather.  No tornados, hurricanes, or -until now- floods.  Sure we have some hard winters, but that is easily solved with hay and a good winter blanket.  Plus, Rocky grows a thick coat so he doesn't often need a blanket anyway.  (My favorite is the thick fur that grows behind his ears; it's downy soft but makes his ears look all cute and small because of the amount of fuzz.)

It took me a while to manage to contact my barn owner the day of the flooding, but once I caught her on the phone she reasurred me that the horses were all okay.  I was able to breathe much easier after that, but for a while I had been trying mightily not to panic.  This was the type of random, suddenly dangerous situation that you can't do anything about when it happens. Our meterologists didn't even know the storm was going to be as bad as it was, how were we supposed to plan for it?

The thing is, I don't know what I would have done even if I had known.  I lucked out in many ways, but it made me wonder what people in other parts of the country have planned for major weather events such as the one that inspired this post.  Do you have a place that you know you can take your animals in the event of a flood/tornado/hurricane/other extreme weather?  Would you try to leave your area, or dig in and hope for the best?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

2012 Walkabout Tour!

This last weekend I took the opportunity to go to Clinton Anderson's 2012 Walkabout Tour in Des Moines, Iowa.  It was a blast! The states I saw represented (for sure) included: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin, Illinois, and even Florida!  Overall the tour was great, watching Clinton work with the problem horses is the best part to me. His timing is pretty much perfect, and it's clear by how fast the horses he is working with improve that he is communicating clearly with them.  Side note: the problem horses Clinton works with are all local horses that their owners applied to have used as demonstration horses at the tour.

For those of you who have never been to or heard of the CA Walkabout Tour, here's the general schedule:
Day 1
9-9:15 am: Clinton performs groundwork with Diez, a horse he has trained and takes on his tour. It's impressive to watch as they move together gracefully. This year this demonstration didn't happen, and it was hinted that Diez was having a problem.
9:15-10:30 am: Clinton talks about his Method, gives the audience his philosophy and explains where he came from and what his Method is about.
10:30-11 am: Break/Autograph signing
11-12:30 pm: Clinton round pens a disrespectful/pushy horse. This time, it was a really lazy paint horse of some type that the owner bought because he is beautiful.  I think he had blue eyes, and was named "Gus."  He was using his shoulders to push his owner around, literally turning his head and moving into her with his chest. She obligingly moved for him.  She said that Gus' issue was kicking out when he decided he'd had enough of lunging or round penning.  He never kicked out at Clinton, but I was much more concerned with the way Gus moved his owner around. Clinton set clear boundaries with the fellow, and while Gus tried to slow down a lot he wasn't aggressive in the round pen.
12:30-1:30 pm: Lunch
1:30-3 pm: Problem horse #2, generally has issues under saddle that the owner is worried about.  This year, the mare was brought in because she liked to move out quickly and I think she had bucked or something.  She was a pretty buckskin mare, and was another good example of a horse moving their owner all about the arena. The mare had no respect for the human at the end of her lead rope and did generally as she pleased.  Clinton did ground work with her, teaching her to lunge respectfully.
3-3:30 pm- Break/Autograph signing
3:30- 5 pm: Clinton rides Diez, showing off what you can achieve if you follow his Method.  They do reining patterns, back in circles, side pass all around the arena, etc.  They did do this, but I noticed a few steps of Diez's where he seemed a little off.  It didn't appear to be anything major.

I'm going to cut this post off here, but I will talk about Day 2 soon, including the gorgeous Tennessee Walker I drooled over :).