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.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Last Ride

The next Equestrian Challenge Question is to talk about a ride that impacted your life.  One particular ride keeps jumping into my head, insisting that I should think no further, this is the ride I need to write about- so I'm going to go with it.

Do you ever have a moment where you can feel that something bad is going to happen, and you suddenly convince yourself that the car coming at you is going to crash, or the wind outside is really a serial killer coming after you, or there is a ghost living in your basement?  I have these once in a while, but they rarely come true.  I say rarely, because this is one ride when I had a feeling that- well, you'll find out.

Honey was my first horse and I loved her.  I am tempted to put in an analogy here, to show how much she meant to me, but the simple fact is that I loved her.  If you've ever truly loved a horse, you know what I mean.  If not, (and I don't intend this to be mean) but you wouldn't appreciate the analogy anyway.

She got sick in the middle of January 2008, and I couldn't figure it out.  She had colic, over and over again.  I had the vet out many times to see her and they would treat her colic.  Once she was stable, they left.  By the beginning of February, she wouldn't go three days without ending up rolling on the ground, nipping at her sides.  I don't want to go into much further detail today, but she had trouble eating more than a partial flake of hay at a time without getting colic.  I checked on her about fifteen times a day, giving her bits of hay at each time.  She lost weight anyway, and I had stopped riding her.

Finally, she had been doing a bit better for a few days and I decided to take her out for an easy ride.  She was amenable, eager even as we went out.  We walked the whole way, going for a gentle ride around a bike path near the barn.  It was less than a mile total.

The sun was setting over fields dotted with snow, the temperature unseasonably warm for Minnesota.  I looked at the golden light, the sparkle in her mane, and I got this deep, gut feeling.  And I was right.

Two days later, Honey died.  She carried me faithfully and with her usual cheerful demeanor, but I just knew that this was our last ride together.  I will remember that ride forever for how beautiful the day was, how calm and lovely Honey was, and for getting to have a last ride on my beloved mare.

Friday, February 22, 2013

My Best Riding

Question 3: My Best Riding.

I'm not sure how to answer this question.  I don't show, so I don't have an official, "You scored X at this event, which is your best score yet."  Since I don't have that, I'll talk about a time that I rode through something where I could have fallen off that also shows how I worked through an issue successfully.

Some background is necessary before getting to the best riding part, which unfortunately is not some of my best riding.  I was on a trail ride with Rocky and Bear, but no other riders.  We got to a part of the trail that enters the woods from a meadow.  Rocky was uneasy, but I asked him to keep going anyway.  We began to cross a sandy strip of trail when he spun and bolted.   I stayed on for the 180 degree spin and when he rocketed off, leaving deep gouges in the sand where he used his hind end to launch us away from "danger."

I lost my right stirrup in the process but did my best to resettle myself in the saddle as we flew across the small meadow.  After the meadow, there is a hill that we have cantered up before and then we run down a fence line.  The fence line comes to a corner after about 120 yards, and taking this corner would bring us back to the barn.  As we galloped across the meadow, I realized that I did not want to try to stop him after going up the hill.  There is only about 15 feet of flat space before the hill would drop off to our right, and a fence would be to our left.

My right arm is stronger than my left, and I began to try to pull Rocky's head around so we could circle and slow down.  Instead, he shook his head and kept going.  I continued to try to tug his head around, but he gave a little buck now.  Having lost my right stirrup earlier, I had nothing to brace against to try to pull him around, and instead fell hard to the ground, where I slid several feet across the grass.  I had cuts from the grass on my face, and for a few days after I had trouble lifting my right leg due to falling hard on my right hip.

Cut to about a month later, and I am riding to that same sandy spot on the trail, this time with another girl at my barn and my mom.  This spot now caused some fear for me, as Rocky had never pulled a 180 degree turn-and-bolt on me before and I was loathe to repeat the experience.  I took some deep, calming breaths and settled into the saddle.

We got past the sandy part and started down the little gravelly hill.  He huffed, spun, and started to trot back up the hill.  Again, I lost my right stirrup and the bumpiness of his trot bounced me to the side.  He couldn't quite run up the hill as my mom and Tapper were coming down it. I shoved myself back into the saddle and managed to stop him at the top of the hill.

He tried to fight me a bit, but I pulled him into a trotting circle and yelled at him for being so naughty.  He immediately stopped fighting me and, when I asked, halted.

The girl we were with told me that she would have smacked her horse for misbehaving so badly.  I had thought about it, but as soon as I raised my voice and told him he was bad, he looked guilty and stopped resisting me.  For the rest of the ride, he was angelic, doing everything I asked as willingly as he could.  I think this counts as an example of my best riding because I did not fall off and I was not too harsh with Rocky, even though I was scared.

After that, I was much less fearful of riding across that bit of sandy trail, and he didn't try to spin and run again.  It reminded me that he does care about me and will try to make it up to me when he knows he's done something wrong.  I became more confident in scolding and correcting him, knowing that he will not flip out or try to hurt me on purpose. The best riding, I think, comes from an understanding and sensitivity to your horse and how they operate, which I achieved on this ride by not smacking him.  He didn't need that strong of a punishment to get the message that he was not allowed to take off whenever he thought he might be scared.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Riding Goals

The second of the Equestrian Challenge questions asks what my riding goals are, but it doesn't specify a time frame.  I'll make one up, and say that these will be my goals for this year.

This year, there are some new skills I'd like to learn.  Ideally, I would take riding lessons but money is looking pretty tight for the next year.  I just bought a house, and the monthly payments on it are $120 a month more than anticipated, which is going to squeeze our money bags quite a bit.  Justin is looking at getting a new job, and if he does, we'll be able to breathe easier about the larger mortgage amount.  I digress.

Since I likely won't be able to take lessons, I'm not sure how I am going to figure out how to do this stuff.  However, I would like Rocky and I to:
-Side pass
-Do rollbacks
-Travel with collection when I ask for it
-Perform flying lead changes
-Open and shut a gate without dismounting, perhaps even gracefully?
-Become more confident at walking over things (bridges, things he hasn't seen before, etc) This is the one desensitization area that Rocky tends to struggle on
-I also want to participate in at least one ACTHA event this year, and perform well.

I am really excited about ACTHA, but again, my budget worries me a bit.  Still, it seems like a great organization and a lot of fun.  In case you are unaware, ACTHA is the American Competitive Trail Horse Association.  You do a 6 mile trail ride with roughly one natural obstacle per mile.  Each obstacle is judged and has a time limit.  There are a wide variety of available obstacles, including bridge crossing, going through a gate (some of my goals sounding familiar?), cantering, standing still while a "wild animal" crosses your path, and many more.

I have never been seriously interesting in participating in a horse show, but this sounds like the kind of competition I could get on board with. I love trail riding and this would be a great way to give myself riding goals that relate to my interest, improve what I'm doing, and have fun.  There are no horse breed restrictions, and all of the horses have to trot out sound at the end of the ride.  It seems humane, with no harsh training methods or easy cheats.

The goals of ACTHA rides seem to be have fun, be safe, and win a ribbon (or belt buckle, or cash...) if you can.  Each ride also donates the proceeds to a charity of the ride host's choosing.

Those are my riding goals this year.  Basically, I want to prepare Rocky and I to be successful at an ACTHA ride, and then see how it goes at the real deal.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Equestrian Questions

I found a list of "Equestrian Challenge Questions" on someone else's blog, and while I am on hiatus from the barn, I thought I would do them.  Some of the questions are geared toward English riders or riders who compete, but I'll adapt those ones to suit my style. There are 30 questions total, and the first one is...

When and Why you Started Riding

I started riding real horses when I was about seven years old.  Before that, I galloped down the dirt road by my house on Thunder.  Thunder also took me back into the woods, along a creek and across little wooden bridges. Thunder was usually a beautiful black horse, but sometimes he was other colors, too. He jumped twigs across our path like a champion, and could out run anything, except my sister.  She was four years older than me, so her horse was pretty fast. Whenever they passed us, I would pretend that Thunder and I were taking it easy, not that my shorter kid legs couldn't keep up with my sister's longer legs.

As I got a little older, my sister tried to convince me that my bike could be a horse, too.  I wasn't too excited about learning to ride a bike, but eventually I learned.  After that, I could pedal super fast and then coast with my eyes closed, feeling the wind rush past my face and pretending that Thunder was causing it. He was a good horse, until having an imaginary horse just wasn't good enough anymore.

Then I started taking riding lessons from a lady named Patti, who had a program called Horses for Hearts.  She did group lessons where she taught safety, grooming, and eventually, riding.  They were group lessons, but I only remember being there with a group for the first time we went.  That was the day I raised my hand to ask if we would be galloping that day.  I was seven.  Patti started to chuckle until she saw how serious I was.  I was worried about it but thought it would be exciting; I wanted to know if it was on the agenda.  She choked back a smile and told me no, no galloping today.

The horse I took lessons on was a Welsh Mountain pony aptly named Snowball.  Snowball was technically gray, but I would call her white.  Most of her coat was white, except for her black nose.  She was round and sweet, a perfect child's beginner pony.  As I learned more about steering and control, I was able to ride Pepper a few times, her slightly bigger Pony of the Americas.  My sister got to ride Reggie, and I was super jealous of her.  Reggie was a tall, elegant black Tennessee Walking horse.  I thought he was the most beautiful horse, and quietly pined to ride him.  He was for older kids though, and I never got the chance.
Me on Snowball, my sister on Reggie
When I was about nine, Patti had to sell her horses because her husband said that she was spending too much time with them and not enough time with him.  I don't remember ever meeting him, but I hated that he did that to her.  My nine year old self vowed that, if I ever got married, my husband would never do that to me.  My mom tried to explain to me about compromises, and that they had a son together so getting a divorce should be a last resort.  I just shook my head.  Horses were in my blood, I needed them in my life, and I knew if it came to a choice between my husband and my horses... well, I knew which way I was headed.

Before I married Justin, I had my horse conversation with him.  Patti's story stuck with me as such a tragedy, I couldn't get married without making sure that Justin would know exactly what he was signing up for.  I told him that I would be willing to make compromises, and work things out to the best of my ability, but the horses would stay. I told him that he could never tell me to get rid of them, and if he did, he probably wouldn't like my answer.  I was scared to have this conversation, but more scared of not having it and regretting not being more clear down the road. He told me he understood, he loved that I was so passionate about horses, and that he would always support me in having them.

I have loved horses since before I can remember. I read every horse book my elementary school library had, and even convinced the librarian to purchase more. I was a lucky girl that my parents were able to give me riding lessons starting at such a young age, and I am a lucky woman to still have a horse in my life.  His name isn't Thunder anymore, but he's beautiful, black and best of all- real.

The Things that are Keeping Me Up at Night

Yesterday, I became the proud owner of my very own house.  I barely slept last night.

I stared at the ceiling in my rented bedroom, terrified that in the morning, I would buy the wrong paint colors.

Not just the wrong colors, but terrible colors that I would regret for years to come, but be unable to afford to fix.  I spent $280 at Menards today, buying paints and stain and painter's tape and steel wool and tiny rollers and varnish and I really, really hope it all works beautifully.

We are painting all of the ceilings of the main floor of our house, as well as the downstairs bedroom/office, and then as much more ceiling as we have paint.  This is actually called "ceiling white," paint designed to be on the ceiling of rooms.  I didn't know they made that.

The back wall of the dining room and living room are going to be Brilliant Blue, color 51B-6 at Pittsburgh Paints. (All of our actual colors come from this company.)  The rest of the dining room, living room, both entry ways, and the hallway between the kitchen/living room/master bedroom are going to be Haunting Hue, 51A-1.  Brilliant Blue is a deep, sortof royal blue and Haunting Hue is a pale, misty blue.

The kitchen is going to be Songbird, a cheerful medium shade of blue. 52A-2.  The cabinets are going to be stripped and painted white.

Then, to make our bedroom special and its own space, we moved out of the blue zone.  And into... brown. With yellow.  The brown is chocolatey, 24C-5, but called Chippendale.  You know, for all of the strip teases that happen in the bedroom.  That will be the color of the little wall nook between our closets, and one wall.  The rest will be the warm yellow of Lazy Daizy, 13A-3.  We have a lot of art with sunflowers, and I think it'll look really good in our room.

We are also going to refinish our antique mahogany dining room table and chairs.  It has needed to be redone for over ten years, and we are finally going to do it.  I also plan on reupholstering the dining room chairs, and found a beautiful creamy microfiber fabric that would look lovely.  Unfortunately, people keep telling me that our pet hair and future children are going to ruin the creamy fabric and that I should choose something else.  I just keep picturing the chairs with the fabric that I found, which was what I had in mind before even going to the fabric store.  I guess I could go with something else, but I really like the idea of the soft, pale fabric.  I think it would look beautiful, and pet hair can be taken off, right?

I should probably choose something else.  Or should I say, screw it, if it gets ruined I'll fix it later?

These are the things that keep me up at night.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Dog Parks

This year I have been introduced to something new, at least for me: dog parks!  I had heard of them before, but I had never gone to one before this year.  We have been experiencing really cold weather (-20 to -30 degrees F) and the footing at the barn has been very icy.  Between those two things and my schedule, I haven't gone up to do anything with Rocky in a while. Rocky is pretty content in his pasture stuffing his face full of hay, but that means that Bear has lost his main outlet to really run around.  

We have a small fenced in backyard, and we take him for walks, but he doesn't get to really run or play as hard as he needs to in order to get tired.  Various people told me about a dog park about 5 minutes from my house, and I finally decided to take him there and try it out. I purchased a Chuck It, threw a leash in the car and gave it a go.  

In case you haven't heard of them, a Chuck It is a device that is used to throw tennis balls further than a person normally can. Basically, it elongates your arm and makes the tennis ball go a long distance for maximum run-time from your dog.  The only down side is that they have to get used to the change in distance; they're looking for the ball to land about 40 yards away normally, but with this device it goes 80 to 100 yards. Once they figure it out, they are quite happy to tear off after the ball.

We arrived at the park to find a bouncy, happy young red and white Husky running around.  Cato greeted us with a grin and an invitation to play. Bear wasn't quite sure what to make of this friendly, energetic dog for a few minutes, until they had properly introduced themselves.  After a few minutes of checking out his surroundings, Bear began to play enthusiastically with his new friend.  Cato would run as hard as he could, with Bear racing after him.  They played a lot of chase, and Bear tried to herd Cato as they ran.  Cato didn't seem to mind, and galloped around gleefully.  

Within twenty minutes, Bear was panting and starting to slow down.  We played for a bit longer, then were going to head out. Cato left before us, and then another guy came with a pure white husky.  She was a bit heavy for her size, but the guy invited us to stay.  He told me that she "isn't aggressive" and just wants Bear to chase her.  I figured that was perfect for Bear as he greatly enjoys chasing.  Within a few minutes, however, it became clear that this dog was not like Cato.  She curled her lips back, exposing her fangs while she snapped at him.  I yelled at her and her owner made some noises.  I decided to give her another chance.

The second time she snapped at Bear, I put his leash on him and left.  She didn't actually bite him, but left some saliva on his shoulders.  She would play nicely for a few minutes, then spin and snap with her teeth bared. Bear put his ears back and tail down, darting away looking scared.  After his great experience with Cato, I didn't want his idea of the dog park ruined by this snarly dog.  Coupled with my desire to keep him from getting hurt, we quickly exited the park.

Since then, we have been back several times and had good results every time.  I haven't seen that chubby white husky again, (which, if you have an overweight husky, you're doing something wrong.  Those dogs LIVE to run), but we did get to see Cato again today.  Other times we have gone and met new dogs, sometimes it's only us there and we play ball.  

Bear now looks forward to going to the dog park almost as much as he loves going to the barn.  It's something that we are going to keep going forward, getting him real exercise and socializing with other dogs. 

Have you ever taken your dog to a dog park?  What was your experience?