Sunday, January 31, 2010

Story For Another Day

Snake in the Class

I won't keep you in suspense. While my eggplant parm bakes and my onion soup simmers, I will take you back in time perhaps 30 years ago or so when I was still relatively young in my teaching career.

As I recall, it was a class of all boys--auto body students, if I am not mistaken. I had them in the afternoon, perhaps an hour before school let out, so they weren't exactly in the best frame of mind for English class. But, I taught them, and, I suppose, they learned.

One of the boys--I'll call him Joe--came into class one afternoon carrying a pillow case. "I have my pet snake with me today," he said. "I had to keep him in this pillow case in my other classes. Do you think I could let him stretch out on my desk for a while?"

The other guys kind of tittered and covered their mouths, waiting for me to scream or something. But I had a trick up my sleeve--I am not afraid of snakes. In fact, I kind of like them. "What kind of snake is it?" I asked.

Joe's eyes widened as the room grew silent. "It's a rainbow boa."

Knowing full well that boas are generally pretty quiet if they've been handled a lot, I said, "OK, but keep an eye on him, and I don't want anybody fooling around about this. If you and the snake disrupt the class, you'll have to put him back in the pillowcase."

Joe grinned, reached into his pillowcase and pulled out a glossy, soft brown snake, perhaps a bit under three feet long. He stretched it out on his desk while all the other students "oohed, and aahed. " I complimented him on what a beautiful snake it was and settled everyone down for the class lesson.

The student sitting next to Joe--how about calling him Bill--was totally distracted by the reptile. He took his pencil and with the eraser, gave the snake a little poke.

"Stop that, Bill," I warned. "Leave the snake alone."

Well, Bill, being a teenage boy, simply could not leave well enough alone. As soon as I moved away, he started poking the snake again. It all happened in a split second. The snake reared up, struck, and bit Bill solidly in the meat of his hand, right below his thumb!

"It bit me! It bit me!" Bill screeched.

I hurried over to see two distinct fang makes in Bill's hand. I'm pretty calm in emergencies, so I just said, very quietly, "Well I told you to leave him alone. Now look what's happened. I guess we'll have to send you to the nurse."

Joe hastily stuffed the poor snake back in the pillowcase while Bill looked on in growing panic. "It's not poisonous, is it? Am I going to die?"

Now, I know my snakes well enough to know that a boa is definitely not poisonous, but I wasn't going to let on. After all, Bill had gotten what he deserved and I figured he really needed to learn a lesson. "Gee, I don't know," I said, but I'm pretty sure the nurse will know. Here I'll send someone down with you just in case and she'll take care of you."

Bill and his escort vanished from the room, with Bill taking the lead. At this point, I'm not quite sure what happened in the classroom, but Joe was keeping his mouth shut, that's for sure. It was pretty clear his snake had never bitten anyone before and even he wasn't quite confident in the consequences.

Class went on for another fifteen minutes or so, and then, still a bit pale and nervous, Joe came back to the room with some bandaids on his hand.

"Well," I asked, "What did the nurse say?"

Joe grimaced, "She told me she didn't know if the snake was poisonous either, but she said she figured we'd know for sure in a half hour or so."

I have a feeling that was the last time Bill ever poked a snake.

I reminded the school nurse of this story years later, and she denied she'd ever do something like that to a kid, but I didn't believe her. Sometimes you just forget those moments of genius when you work in a school.

I never have.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saturday Humor

A Laugh Might Warm You Up

Since it's too cold to do much with the horses again, I decided to post a story inspired by Callie at The Midwest Horse Blog. She had written about wrong number phone calls and how funny they can sometimes be. That reminded me of many years ago when I was boarding my Russell R. at a small barn with my friend's horse, Dexter Medley.

This was years before cell phones, so to be safe, we decided we needed a phone installed in the tack room. My friend, N., agreed to take on having the bill sent to her house so we called the phone company. This should have been simple, but the phone company insisted that the phone had to be listed in the name of someone who lived on the premises. Since we didn't the only solution was to list it in the name of one of the horses. We chose Dexter and the bill was regularly sent o N's house in his name. When the new phone books came out, sure enough, there was a listing for Medley, Dexter.

That's when the calls started. Vendors would try to sell Mr. Medley wall to wall carpeting and newspaper subscriptions. Sometimes I'd tell them he couldn't come to the phone because he was out to pasture. Once, a salesman insisted he needed to speak to Mr. Medley personally. When I asked why, he told me Mr. Medley had called him and left a message for him to call back. Now I had seen Dexter play with a telephone in the sales barn before he was bought, but our phone was in a locked tack room and he didn't have the combination to the lock--good thing as if he'd opened the door and let Russell in there, it would have been a disaster. I let the salesman dangle for a bit before telling him Dexter was a horse. There was dead silence on the end of the line and then a quick "click" as he hung up. I hope his face was suitably red.

This went on for a while until my friend moved Dexter from the barn and they moved out of state. The phone still worked, but something got messed up with the billing and suddenly, neither one of us was getting charged for the service. I finally called up the phone company. A very relieved customer service rep said, "Oh, thank goodness you called. The bills kept coming back to us and we didn't know whom to contact."

"Well, my friends have moved, but I want to keep the phone," I replied, "So can you simply send the bill to me instead?"

"Well, that won't quite work. We will have to change the listing over to your name since Mr. Medley is no longer there. "

"Does it still need to be in the name of someone who lives here, " I asked. "I don't."

"Oh, yes. Whose name will you be assigning it to?"

"Uhm, well, I guess it will have to be Russell R."

"So that's a Mr. R. Russell, then?"

"Uhm, I suppose so. That would work." I then gave her my address for the billing.

She seemed quite pleased with all of this. "Now there are just a few formalitities. We need authorization from Mr. Medley to do this. I have some papers for him to sign. Do I send them to you?"

I may have coughed, "Well, that's not exactly going to work, you see, Mr. Medley is a horse and he can't write very well."

This time I definitely heard her gag. There was some talking going on in the background. Then she came back on. "I see. Well we need Mr. Russell's signature, then. I take it he's human."

"No, he's a horse too."

Dead silence....and more background talking. And then, "I can do this. You're not going to get me. I know what this is. You're one of the supervisors calling with a problem to see if I can do my job. That's what this is. I'll figure it out. Just hold on."

"No," I assured her patiently, trying hard not to laugh. "I'm serious. This is a real call." I then went on to try to explain how the phone company had insisted the phone be in a resident's name and since the only ones who lived here were horses, that we'd had no other option. As I went on, she must have been relaying the story to her co-workers because I could hear the giggles in the background.

It took some doing, but eventually, Russell had his own phone. I'm not sure how many times he was invited to subscribe to the New York Times, but I was always quite pleased to tell people to look him up in the phone book if they wanted to get in touch with me while I was out riding.

This is one of my fond memories, a tale to cherish--along with the story of how there is a record of a snake bite from my English class somewhere in the school nurse's office.

But that's a story for another day.

Wishing you sunshine.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Applying My Own Advice

And More Thoughts on Yesterday

Actually, the sun came out yesterday and in between bouts of really gusty wind, it was kind of nice out. So I managed to saddle up Tucker and give him a schooling session in the arena.

I am pretty sure something is bothering him in the hind end because he is crabby about canter, and is reluctant to keep going if I try to make a small circle--10-15 meters. What I get then is an up and down canter that feels as if it is going into a "stall" and then he finally does break gait. So, for now, I am not pushing it. The trot is fine and really feels nice. Since canter is a lateral gait, it does put more stress on one hind leg at a time, and that's when whatever it is shows up. I will continue to get him more fit in case it is his stifle and, weather permitting, have him built up enough so that a vet evaluation in another month or so will be worth the time and effort--and money.

Meanwhile, I applied nearly all the methods I mentioned yesterday, except I was not carrying my dressage whip as I had no intention of working hard enough to provoke anything as neither one of us is fit enough to do much. Also, Tucker very well understands the leg aids, and, when all is going well, responds when asked.

All in all, he was quite good that way. Canter was prompt but a little sticky once we got the gait and he did break on the right lead. But he was reasonable about striking off again, so I made no issue of it. I did numerous changes of direction and then ran through the lateral exercises.

There is no reason to drill him on any of these as he does them quite willingly. We did two sides of trot shoulder-in on each rein, two sides of travers, and then one leg yield in each direction at the trot, ending a shallow half pass in each direction. Tucker is just learning half pass so I do not expect him to really bend and sweep sideways yet, so I was very happy with his willing effort and some nice steps from the rail to the center line. Then we picked up the canter and we did a half pass on each rein as well. He is much better half passing to the right than the left, making me suspect his left hind might be the sore one. But he really tried, so that was just fine.

Then we did a good number of canter/trot/canter transitions on a large circle on both reins. This was the best exercise for "forward" as he got very sharp to my leg and was making some very nice departs. He also added a lot more energy to his strides, again a big plus.

Finally, we walked, halted did about four strides of reinback, trotted forward, halted and repeated the reinback with a good move off afterwards. This was exceptionally good because he was not at all resistant to the reinback and kept his head down and on the bit without one single question. It's been a problem in the past, but not yesterday.

I realized after my previous post that I'd said "what horses do wrong," and how that phrase might be scoffed at by so many riders who claim it is always the rider's fault. Sorry folks, but when a horse ignores a well executed aid or bucks when you put a leg on, that is the horse. Granted, it then becomes the rider's/trainer's job to figure out how to correct that and ride that horse better, but it was the horse that started the problem. In Tucker's case, I've had him ever since he was a yearling and there is nothing in his training history to undo, except perhaps for the ulcers. They well could have taught him how to balk, buck, and kick out to leg aids. It is quite possible that if I had been more aggressive back then and simply insisted that he work through his issues and go, no matter what, that he would not be so sensitive and frustrating now. But physical issues like that are not the rider's fault and, to my mind, making him work through pain is not necessarily how I prefer to train.

Some people do, however. And some horses are just fine with that. Somehow they cope with soreness, etc. with a stoic acceptance and just go about their jobs because they are told to to them by a dominant master. I have chosen another approach. It has "come back to bite me" more than once, I suppose, as I do tend to indulge my Boys' whims. (Remember Tucker and the water trough.) But I'd rather be a good listener. If, however, I find that Tucker does have spavins that need to fuse, and that hard work is the best solution, he will have to work despite his discomfort. When I was helping him recover from his stifle issue we trotted and trotted--including up and down hills--to build up his muscles even though it was hard work for both of us.

In the meantime, though, I prefer listening to my horse and letting his attitude guide my training. If the first canter depart is a little "rocky" and the next one is better, then I know he can manage, so we canter. If we try to do a smallish circle and he struggles, if a more moderate size works and I can't make the circle smaller without more struggle, then we simply don't have to ride small circles. There is nothing at stake now as I am not competing, so it's just fine.

Note here: When Chris, my previous trainer, was showing Tucker for me (before ulcer meds when he was dreadful in the warmups) he excused himself from a test when Tucker started to shut down in a canter circle. What's the big deal? Chris is a strong, determined, talented, excellent rider who will work a horse through most anything. For him to stop and leave the arena, telling me afterwards that "something is wrong with Tucker," said volumes. In that case, we had, as I recall, been battling an on/off front end lameness that eventually turned out to be a very well hidden hoof abscess that took months to resolve. Regardless, here was a rider perfectly capable of making nearly any horse perform who ended up listening to my horse's complaint.

Should I be any less sensitive?

Far too cold to ride today. The forecast was, I fear, accurate as winter is back in her most chilling glory. Hope your day is, at the very least, bright with sunshine. We can all use some.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

S'no Illusion

There Is Snow and What Horses Can Do Wrong

I woke up this morning to real snow--not an illusion. It's just a dusting, but the day promises to stay cold so it's not too likely I will ride very much.

So, I began to think about Jen's question in regard to getting Tucker forward and decided to offer my perspective. First, be warned--Tucker intimidates me sometimes. He is nearly 17h with a short back, a strong determination, an explosive attitude and one darn athletic buck. I worry, at this point in my life, of challenging him too much when he gets stubborn. In that sense, he is not a good horse for me to ride. Were I younger, and as fit and determined as I used to be, we'd probably be fine, but now I have to ride him with finesse and indulgence rather than demands.

All that being said, I also know that he is very sensitive and reacts very acutely to his own physical discomfort. So, whenever I have training issues, my first thought is that something is bothering him. Eliminating the pain from his ulcers was a key to fixing the bulk of my training problems. As you may recall, he was dreadful at horse shows and would often simply stop, or threaten to buck if I so much as put my leg on. He has also had some issues with his stifle and hocks--I suspect his hocks are bothering him a bit now. Usually, Adequan will ease the hock issues, but he may be developing some spavin and since I am not competing now, I would rather that fuse if possible, so I am not treating it. If I can manage, I my have his hocks xrayed to see what's going on in the spring. The key here is that when he does not want to work, I have to consider a physical issue as the primary cause.

The biggest issue is keeping him, and any horse, ahead of the leg. Once that is accomplished, as I've said, almost all the upper level exercises become relatively easy. This includes piaffe and passage. While I have never quite successfully fully trained a horse to do both, I have ridden the movements and in all cases, "Forward" is the key. The horse must want to keep moving, even when the rider restrains the forward movement. This is even true in the reinback and the halt, strange as it sounds.

Thus, one of the most important exercises you can do is repeated transitions. Usually, even the laziest, or most unresponsive horse will wake up and "go" when asked over and over to change his gait. Walk to trot, trot to walk, trot to canter, canter to trot, and eventually, walk to canter, over and over in less than half the arena, less, when you begin to develop some skill.

Frequent changes of direction and movement from one exercise to another also sharpen a horse to the aids. Riding in an endless circle or riding around and around on the track, doing nothing special just makes a horse "turn off" to your aids.

Adding some challenges to the ride helps as well. I love reading about Muriel's gymkhana exercises as dressage riders tend to forget how to have some fun like that, and there is much to be learned from such games. Add some trotting poles. How about a little jump, or something as simple as half passing up to a rail set on a jump standard or barrels for the rider to push off? Half pass along a pole, do a turn on the haunches or pirouette inside a square of rails. Weave in and out of a line of cones or some other obstacle. (One of our bloggers used a line of trees on the lawn--great idea.)

And what about just forgetting the rein contact sometimes and just going for it in a nice loose trot or canter around the arena? One master dressage trainer I used to ride with advocated galloping every dressage horse for at least four minutes a ride. Another master trainer had me do exactly that when my PJ started to shut down in a lesson.

But what about the horse that doesn't go off the leg? Here's where I run into trouble with Tucker, although when I am more fit than I am now, I will reestablish the rules. Here the key is the dressage whip. But the key is to use it well. As a rider, you have to decide just how much leg pressure you want to use to get the horse to respond. When I rode hunters, I wanted my horse very light to my leg. I like my dressage horses just a little less responsive, so that I can rest my leg on them and not have them react to that contact. Once I have decided just how much leg I want to used to get an answer, I apply that. If I don't get the response on the first "ask" I must use a tap of the whip immediately.

This gets a bit tricky if you have a bucker like Tucker. (Don't you love how that rhymes?) He will usually kick out. But, if I steel myself and my nerve, a quick rein correction and a repeat of the tap will pretty much convince him I mean business. The idea here is that the leg aid is not repeated, but backed up at once by an artificial aid that demands a response. You can also use a sharp kick, or a spur--something that demands instead of "asks." Once the horse goes, you transition back to the previous exercise and apply the leg aid again, expecting the response you wanted in the first place. It might take a few times, but most horses get the message quickly and start to work correctly off the leg.

Another method for helping establish forward is the lateral exercises. We've already discussed shoulder-in. Both that and travers displace one end of the horse from the other and make it very difficult for him to hold his body against the rider. By moving either the hind end or the front end to the side, you are now dealing with only "half a horse" and have a much better chance of getting his legs to move as you want them to. He cannot easily lock his back against you.

Using a bit of a leg yield out on a downward transition tends to keep the horse's feet moving so he is less likely to lose the forward feel. So, I might work on a circle doing walk-trot-walk transitions, each time doing a leg yield out on the downward so Tucker cannot shut down. I've used this a bit in the show arena in the corners as well to get him to step under better with his hind end, and it's a useful exercise to ride into the corner like that to engage the hind end before beginning a lengthened trot across the diagonal.

My goal, once the weather allows, is to really establish a sense of "forward" with Tucker, so I'm sure as time goes on I will come up with more ideas. For me, that is one of the fun things about riding. I have been blessed with having ridden with dozens of excellent international trainers over the years from New Zealand (Lockie, my favorite), Holland, Germany, France, Hungary, Russia, Great Britain, Argentina, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, and, of course the USA. I have had amazing opportunities in my riding career. I have, I am sure, forgotten more than I remember, but every time I get into the saddle and discover a new training issue to deal with, something one of those trainers told me seems to worm its way back into my brain and I figure out a solution. Sometimes too, sheer instinct comes into play and I just "do it."

Writing the blog really helps me think my methods through, as do your questions. So, thanks to all for your comments. Even after some forty plus years of riding, I still have a long way to go. I appreciate the help.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Whimp Out

A Chilly Day

I didn't do anything with the Boys today. By the time I had gone to the feed store and unloaded six bales of shavings and three bags of grain, I was kind of tired. Then I cleaned the stalls. Afterwards, I went out to poo pick the arena so it doesn't get ahead of me as it did while I was laid up.

Frankly, my knees are really bad right now. Getting on a horse was not too appealing, and it was close enough to evening feed that I just decided to let the Boys have another day off.

I was kind of chilly--not exactly cold, but not exactly too nice either. I'm not sure if that affects my knees or if I really, really need to go to the doctor. The problem there is that my insurance will no longer pay for the kind of treatment I get and, at the moment, I don't have enough money to pay for it without running up another credit card. I'll dose up on my glucosamine, try to take is easy--and yes, I wear braces on my knees--and just see how it goes. Could be that building up my leg muscles will help--or not.

Muriel asked me to explain the shoulder in. Please note that I am not a technical rider. I understand a lot of theory, but I ride mostly by feel, so my explanations come from how a movement feels to me rather than from an intellectual approach.

So, here goes. The shoulder in is a suppling exercise which, when done well, helps the horse correctly engage his hind end, and to my mind develops straightness, implusion, and the effect of the outside rein.

Riding a shoulder-in can be a little tricky, especially if the rider loses control of the outside rein and the horse begins to escape laterally by stepping too far over with the inside hind leg, creating a kind of leg yield on the line instead of a shoulder-in.

All this means that the outside rein is the most important aid. The rider brings the horse's shoulder to the inside with the outside rein until the outside front leg is in line with the inside hind leg. The hind legs remain straight on the track as the horse continues to go forward, bent slightly around the rider's leg at the girth. The rider's inside leg needs to drive the horse forward thinking, "I am pushing him into the outside rein." The rider's outside leg goes slightly behind the girth to keep the horse's hind end from going to the outside, holding it straight on the track.

While the rider's inside hand does help the horse bend to the inside, you need to think always of "forward" with that hand so you do not overbend the horse or encourage him to fall on the inside shoulder. While the shoulder is in off the track, it must always feel as if it is stepping forward.

The inside hind leg should now be engaged, stepping into the track of the outside shoulder and, as a result, stepping into the feel of the outside rein.

Now, I know Muriel is riding western and does not want to demand the same kind of rein contact we are looking for in dressage. I would guess the key would be to lead the horse's head and shoulder in with the reins and be very careful and aware of the leg aids. Inside leg at the girth to develop a bend and keep the forward, and outside leg slightly behind the girth to keep the horse's hindquarters on the track still moving straight. The front end/shoulder is moved over enough so the outside front leg and inside hind leg are on the same track. This should help the horse become more supple by creating flexibility in her body.

Anyone who wants to jump in here and comment, please feel free. I am sure doing some research would come up with some more technical explanations, but this is how I understand the shoulder-in when I ride it.

Actually, a lot of the upper level exercises are really not as hard as people think if the horse has been correctly taught to go on the aids. The key is always ride forward and then, when you apply a leg, rein, or seat aid, the horse will just go where you want him to with whatever part of his body you have asked to move.

Get the horse's feet moving and usually you can place them where you want them to be. The trouble starts when they don't move. hear that, Tucker?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Red Sky at Morning, Sailor's Take Warning

Red Sky at Night, Sailor's Delight

And a rainbow to boot. The bow was much brighter when I went out to feed the Boys last night. I dashed into the house to get the camera and by the time I was back outside, this is the faded version that greeted me. You have to look closely in the center of the picture to see it, but for the while it lasted, the rainbow was beautiful.

And so was the sunset. I treked over to the sandpit/lake across the road to get these shots. The lake is huge as you can see, and the sky matched perfectly.
The old adage was right. Today was a beautiful day. Still wet, however, with puddles all over the place, including the arena. Of course, there was the added attraction of mud everywhere, so Tucker had his own private turnout in the arena. I kept everyone out of the pasture as well, mostly again because of the mud.
But the day was sunny with enough breeze to dry things out quite a bit. It looks as if I can put all three Boys in the pasture/arena tomorrow.
I did not ride again today because I had a chiropractic adjustment. I was also approved for some physical therapy, so I'll be starting that either this week or next. Strangely, they only gave me six visits over the next 5 weeks or so, making it about 1 1/2 visits a week? Weird. But I just realized, my part time teaching job will star either the end of February or beginning of March, so if I do these six sessions and then take a break, it will be fine. It is very hard to do PT when I am teaching all day. I just don't have that two hour time slot to surrender. I'll talk to my therapists to see what they say.
I've left Tuck in for the night again. His shoe is still on. Scott called and will be coming to shoe sometime next week, so that will be good. I'm looking forward to seeing Mic, his dog, my play partner.
I didn't notice the sunset tonight. Funny how sometimes I just don't look.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rainy Days and Mondays

I Lunged Three Yesterday

When I went out to feed Sunday evening, I decided that since the footing was good and it was going to rain that I might as well take advantage of the situation.

I put the halter on Tucker first and took him out for a lunge session. Now, a word of explanation here: this lungeing is not exactly training as the horses are not in side reins. It is primarily for some controlled exercise. They still need to be obedient, but they can carry themselves in whatever posture they choose. Interestingly enough, both Toby and Tucker tend to drop their heads almost to the ground for the most part--a bit higher at canter--but they definitely prefer to stretch through the neck and topline. Chance varies, but he is certainly not head high and does relax nicely.

I set up a low jump of only a bit over a foot high just to give us some variety. After some nice work in both directions in all three gaits, I sent Tuck over the jump and he was soft and relaxed, even a little lazy, just the way I would like my hunter to approach a fence. Enough impulsion to make a nice jump, but totally calm and ratable on the approach. I praised him mightily.

All the while, both Toby and Chance were watching from the sidelines, right up at the arena fence. When I took Tuck out, Chance came over to me immediately, making it clear he wanted to do something too. So put the halter on him and in we went for a virtually identical session. Again, I had sideline observers, but I will say Tucker's interest was keener than Toby's. He was watching intently. I'm not sure if he was a little jealous, or just making sure Chance actually earned the praise I gave him.

Toby evaded me when I went to get him, letting me know he really didn't want to do anything, but a treat lured him in and I haltered him for his little session. When I led him into the arena, I told the other two Boys to watch to see how it's supposed to be done, making sure I was clear to explain that Toby is a master on the lines and they would well take some notes.

And indeed, Toby was the master. Although he did give a silly little buck during the first few strides of canter, he was wonderful. He moves beautifully foward, stays out with just a little tension on the line in my hand, and responds almost at once to all the commands. He was a little slow transitioning down from canter to trot, perhaps, but his lovely forward gaits are just fun to watch, so I didn't care. And the jump? Not quite as quiet about it as Tucker, but far better as far as both the energy on the approach and the overall effort in the air. He is an athletic jumper and had we pursued a jumping career, he would have been really good at it once he got over being spooky at new fences. But, he does use his back a lot and when I did jump him at over three feet, he tended to pop me out of the saddle. That's often the sign of athleticism, but it doesn't make for the best hunter/equitation horse. If you want to look nice going over a fence, it's a lot easier if you can pose yourself up there instead of having to work to stay on. *G*

But, I didn't jump Toby that much, so it is possible that with practice he would have leveled off a little. I know PJ did after he learned just how much effort it actually took to get over a fence and he stopped overjumping. But, that career is behind us now, so I can only speculate.

As the blog title indicates, it is a rainy Monday. Even if it does stop by afternoon as predicted, it will be too wet to do much. I've left Tucker in his stall for now and, if the rain stops, I'll turn him out in the arena for a bit of exercise.

Meanwhile, I will just sit here watching the rain and thinking of drier days.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Shall I Work A Horse?

Drippy Sunday

It's cloudy with mist, not exactly rain, but enough to keep my windshield wipers on the car going on intermittent--intermittently. I could do something with the Boys, but I'm just not too inspired.

Part of it is body awareness. I have discovered just about all the muscles and part of my body that I use when I ride. And some of them are sore. Of course, my stomach muscles have protested the exercise. No bad, but enough to notice. And my seatbones are somewhat sore. The treeless saddle is heaven to ride in, by the way, but even with all the flexion, riding still requires us to sit on parts of our seatbones we don't sit on normally. (Bicycle rider have issues too, so I am not suggesting that horseback riding is the only way to get sore. *lol*)

But, I have also discovered that my inner thighs are feeling it too. Interesting as that is a place I have never noticed before, except perhaps back in my hunter/jumper days if I was a little out of shape and did a vigorous jumping session. And, unfortunately for me, my knees are really feeling the added activity. I was acutally in pain when I was working Chance yesterday. While I am used to some discomfort, this was extra. I may need another treatment from my knee doctor, but I'll wait and see.

The barn work has made my arms/shoulders a little sore too, but since I really have not done a lot of dressage riding, I haven't noticed the riding affecting me there--yet. Riding Chance and working him down on the bit will probably push me over the edge, though. *G*

I keep remembering years ago reading that sports experts had tested all kinds of athletes and found that jockeys were the most "all around" fit, meaning that all their muscles were developed equally rather than just one or two parts of their bodies being fit. I think this also included their stamina, etc. Now I think I am beginning to understand. Riding really does test your body, both gross motor skills and fine motor skills--strength and finesse.

Think I might sit today out, but we'll see. We are supposed to get some heavy rain tonight, so I may regret not taking advantage of today's mist.

Guess I'll have to think about it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fine Footing

Chance in Need of Remedial Work

The footing was good despite the fact that it hardly got above freezing today. The paddocks and pasture did not turn to mud, so I left all three Boys to roam about as they wanted.

When I went out later to clean the stalls, they were out in the pasture just kind of hanging out. There is some loose hay there and they were nibbling at will. I always like seeing the Boys with something to eat, especially in the winter. If I could put out one of those big round bales, I might do it, but I am not sure of the logistics. With the mud I'm not sure a truck could get in there and a bale like that would be too big to move with my tractor--I think. I'm also not sure of the cost, but it's something to think about.

Toby was being very social but when he saw the halter and lead rope, he walked off, making it clear that while he did like my company, he had no interest in being ridden or worked. I tend to indulge him as he is essentially retired. I do like to keep him marginally fit, however as he is sound and healthy and is better off having a little exercise. If I do need him for something more strenuous, I spend 2-3 weeks preparing him with regular work. So far, it's been fine, but I don't think erratic legging up is the best thing for a horse. However since he has a long and extensive background of being super fit as an upper level dressage horse, I figure his physical body is in pretty good shape overall for an older horse.

That left me to choose Chance as my mount for the day. I brought him in, gave the other two Boys some alfalfa cubes to keep them happy and occupied and saddled Chance up.

We worked in the arena for perhaps 15 minutes or so. It is pretty clear that he is not really trained yet to go down and round. Although he will work down on to the bit with a lot of effort on my part, he doesn't yet do it naturally, nor does he stay there without a constant reminder. So we will have to do some remedial schooling over the next few weeks, weather permitting.

It's Ok, though, because I know it's not going to take a lot of time and effort to get him consistent. He has nice gaits and I was quite pleased that his right lead canter has relaxed a lot. He used to feel is if he was losing his balance and needed to be quick, but now he no longer rushes. The left lead is sitll more relaxed, but it's getting close to being a match.

Once we'd had a nice school, I took him out for a short ride in the woods. He was lovely, as he usually is. We did have to be careful, though as a lot of the top surface of soil under the leaves was still thawed over top of harder, frozen ground underneath making some slippery spots. We slid a little going down one little hill, so big deal, but it was a wake up call for us both. We moved a lot more carefully after that.

So, all in all, another nice day here at Follywoods. One horse a day is enough for now and may be enough for most days. It's nice and relaxing for us all.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Bit of Work

Riding Tucker Again

I rode Tucker in the arena today for a short work. I can definitely feel how much my stomach muscles must work even when I am simply riding on a longish rein.

As the last time, I did not ask for much more than forward work, and to my delight, Tucker was happy to comply. As a matter of fact, this time, when I asked for the right canter, he hardly protested at all. Just a little ear back, "Do I hafta?" and then into a forward canter.

I mostly focused on sitting up nice and straight but I can still feel myself sitting a little off to the right seat bone. Sometimes it's a consequence of how my horse moves under me, but it is my responsibility to sit straight in order to help him move straight.

I'd put up a little jump in the center of the arena, thinking it would prove a worthy diversion to keep the both of us from getting bored. The first time we headed for it at the trot, Tuck did a nice one stride evasion and went around it. So the next time, I made sure I kept him straight. He got just a tiny bit fractious, and we ended up jumping it rather awkwardly. No real problem, but I realized at that moment there was no point in trying to do it again as I was totally not in the right physical or mental frame of mind to work on getting it right. Had he been more quiet or willing to go over without my demands, perhaps we could have gone on, but I decided to stop then and there.

Once more, less was better.

Earlier in the day, I got a call from a friend who owns one of the farms just across the woods. She has a rider boarding there who is looking for someone to share some of her riding/horse interests. She is, apparently, an endurance rider and would like to explore the trails out back with a friend. That would be nice for me as not only will it encourage me to ride more, but I would have some company taking Chance out. (I'm not sure Tucker is quite settled enough out off the property, and Toby, though an excellent trail horse, is would have to be worked for a while to elevate his fitness enough for longer rides.) Chance, on the other hand, loves the trails, is young, and is fun!

So, I guess we'll see. I am definitely not and endurance rider, but going out with another rider does make the whole thing a lot more enjoyable. Perhaps it will be the incentive I need to get some more saddle time.

And a good reason to get more fit.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Not As Fit As I Wanna Be

Wonder How the Horses Feel?

My muscles were sore today. I only rode Tucker for about 25 minutes total, with five of those out in the woods...some of it walking. I really felt it in my stomach muscles. I wonder if Tucker's muscles noticed too.

It did not help that Chance was a bad boy this morning. He was bound and determined to come into the barn via Toby's stall at morning feed. I blocked the way. For a moment or two, he agreed, but then he decided to bolt on in. It may have been that Toby was on the way, heading for the same door, but STILL!! He knocked me over. I half fell in the soft shavings of Toby's stall, so no real damage done, although I probably will have a few sore spots.

So, I went back into the barn, picked up a lead rope, collected Chance from the aisle in front of his stall and led him back into Toby's stall for some remedial work. Since Toby was in there already, Chance semi-panicked again and ran out the door to the end of the lead and then stopped. I will not have one of my horses barge past me like that, I pulled him back in. At this point, Toby, ever the gentleman decided to give us room, backed away from his feed tub and went outside to wait until the session was over. I led Chance into the stall and then, one step at a time, slowly led him back out. Then, pausing every few strides to remind him of his manners on the lead, I took him to his own stall the long way around the barn. He was perfectly behaved, as I expect my horses to be, at that point, so I made him wait until I said it was OK to eat his breakfast and left it at that.

Sometimes even the best trained horses can be unpredictable. We are wise to remember that. Stressing manners every time you handle your horses is a valuable thing to keep in mind. I'll be a little more on top of things next time.

I went to breakfast with a friend, did some shopping on the way home and eventually headed out to the barn in the late afternoon.

Since I could still feel the aftereffects of my ride yesterday, I opted for a lunge session and worked Chance. He was excellent--obedient and responsive at all three gaits on both hands.

I thought about lungeing Tucker, but decided to spend the rest of my energy grooming the arena. Out I went on the tractor pulling the arena rake behind. I did drag the paddock a little on the way, but too much of it was frozen to accomplish a lot.

I must admit, I do enjoy seeing the arena after I've dragged it. But I must also admit I am REALLY glad I did not try to drive the tractor before this. The bouncing around does a number on my stomach muscles. Just what I needed, more exercise without riding.

I guess there is more than one way to get fit!! *G*

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What a Surprise!

How Dry I Am

Well, not exactly dry, but compared to yesterday, the arena footing was quite good this afternoon. It does need to be dragged/raked but another day of dry weather should put it in good enough condition for me to take the tractor out there without creating too many ruts I can't fix with the arena drag.

I took the opportunity to ride Tucker. All I expected was some nice forward walk, trot, and canter with a longish frame just touching the bit with a little roundness. That is exactly what I got. His trot was really nice on both reins, with a nice even stride. I have been a bit worried about that ever since his left hoof was injured when he lost that shoe. It took a long time for that soreness to work out and I was beginning to think perhaps his ankle might be bothering him.

This is the leg that had the club foot when he was born. His original owner opted for the ligament surgery and while that foot tends to grow a steeper angle than his right front, unless you know what you are looking for, it looks normal. (That is also why that foot is more likely to lose a shoe.) However, before I got him, he was injured at the adoption center. When he was delivered to me he had severe proud flesh on that ankle and had some extensive vet care in order to heal it up. Later, when I had him x-rayed the vet suggested that he saw some sign of bone changes and thought Tuck would have some soundness issues as time went on.

So every time I see an off step on that leg, I always worry. So far, so good, as today he felt even on both sides, with a nice forward stride.

All that being said, Tuck does show a bit of resistance to taking his right lead at the canter. And, when he is on that lead, he tends to want to drop his hind end to the inside of the track. This has been an issue before when his stifles or hocks were sore. With the long layoff, it can't be soreness due to overwork, so I am leaning towards one of three theories. First is that he has thrown something out or strained himself. Second, he is going through a problem with spavin that will either resolve over time as the joints fuse, or he will need some sort of intervention in the form of injections. Third, much of this is habit where he is anticipating some sort of discomfort and is just demostrating a learned behavior.

Interestingly enough, when I put him on the bit at the end of the ride for a very, very short little interval and asked for a few strides of right lead canter, he was fine. I'll just monitor this as I get him more fit. If, on the chance, it is his stifle, getting him fit and building up the muscles will help that. If it is the hocks, there is not much to do at the moment. My vet will be out in early spring for vaccinations, etc. so unless something dramatic happens between now and then, I will just see how developing some fitness for us both with work.

After the arena session, we went out to do the behind the barn trail. At one point Tuck got a little fractious. He settled, but I realized the trail was blocked by a rather strange fallen tree--a bent over nuded evergreen--and since I really couldn't tell how to get around it, I dismounted and we weaved our way in between the trees/briars/undergrowth to get home.

It was a nice afternoon and, at first, I thought perhaps I would take Chance out for a hack as well, but I decided to wait a little to see how I was really feeling after the adrenaline rush from riding Tucker had worn off. As I groomed him, I realized that was a smart decision. I was a lot more tired than I would have expected. (I had done the barn chores before I rode too.)

I have decided not to push myself too much at this point. Am I finally getting smart in my old age?

So far the weather forecast looks good for the next few days, so Chance will get his turn.

And maybe I will get the arena dragged.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Slippery When Wet

"Treachery, seek it out!" (Hamlet, Act V, ii)

The ground froze last night and as the day progressed, the top layer thawed again. The footing is very slippery on the top, and treacherous.

I put all three Boys out in the arena/pasture turnout for the day. With the sand, the arena is not as bad as the areas with just dirt/mud, and the pasture does have some grass to hold the surface. I gave them some good piles of hay out there to keep them occupied and they seemed quite content.

The arena was very sloppy, however, and never quite good enough for riding. And, I'm just as concerned about the trails as the surface layer is slick. I remember more than once almost going down with PJ in this kind of footing, and he was very wise about that kind of thing. It's just fine with me for now as I am getting plenty of exercise doing the barn work as pushing the wheelbarrow through the mud is rather a chore.

There was a huge flock of starlings hanging out in the woods today. I thought they were going to land in my yard to attack the bird feeder as they often do, but not so. They seemed to stay in the trees and pasture area instead. What was truly amazing was the sound they made whenever they took to the air. It was as if a tremendous gust of wind had whipped through with a whirr and a rush as loud as thunder. This happened several times in the morning and even later when I went out for afternoon feed.

Apparently, it had been going on all day, because it did not startle the Boys at all. Hundreds of birds all taking flight at once can be a bit daunting. I remember how dramatic it was when the geese used to take off from the pond at the last barn where I boarded. Eventually Toby and PJ learned to ignore it, but at first they would spook. I always remember that incredible sound and now, I was hearing it again, only this time from birds a tenth the size of the geese....mutiplied by at least a factor of 100, perhaps more.

I don't know if these are migrating flocks, but often I will wake up to find my lawn covered in black feathered starlings, devouring whatever food they can find. If I've filled the bird feeder, it's emptied in a matter of seconds. My going out will frighten them away, but if there's any food left, as soon as I disappear they are back in force. Then, some leader in the group decides it's time to go, and they take to the skies again---usually heading south. I wonder if this flock was one flying down from a more northern state where the Arctic cold had just been too much for them.

Ah, yes, the perplexing problem of trying to get a horse clean in the winter needs a bit of a postscript. First, I agree that I think the horses need their natural coat oils to keep warm and dry, so I am not keen on bathing--even if I could. I once had a trainer whose philosophy was to just kind of clean off the area where the saddle and girth were going to go and just forget about the rest when you were just schooling. Her point was there was no reason to waste hours trying to clean a horse who was just going to go back out the next day and roll in the mud when you really needed the time to ride before dark. *lol* Second, I do have a really good horse vacuum, and for more serious grooming it really does help. But it does not vacuum out that deeper layer of dirt and dust in the horse's undercoat. And, again, there is something about the texture of Toby's hair that the dirt just clings to, safe from the vacuum's efforts. I can get him clean enough to look OK as long as no one give him the "white glove test."

Meantime, I find the best cure is prevention, so I tend to like to keep at least a sheet on each Boy for most of the winter. But, how can you force your "kid" to wear a jacket on a warm, sunny afternoon in January when sunshine is such a welcome visitor?

I'll get them clean sooner or later, and for now, "later" is just fine by me.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Adjusting to Monday

And The Mud is Back!

I went to the chiropractor this morning to get evaluated for physical therapy to help strengthen my muscles again. I also got an adjustment, so that meant I really didn't want to ride the horses and undo it.

Afterwards, I did a bit of shopping and with an extra 20% off coupon bought some nice sweaters on sale. If anyone has a Kohl's nearby, you will know what I mean about sales. Most of the sweaters in the store were already 55% off with some even cheaper, so I ended up with four. It's been hard to stay warm this winter, so I will wear them all if the cold weather comes back.

Which leads to the mud. It was again in the upper 40'sF today, with sunshine after the rains of last night. The problem at the moment is that the ground is still frozen underneath, so the top layer is holding the water because it simply cannot drain through the frozen layers beneath.

Too bad, actually, because the freeze dried footing was really nice before the rain came. Now, my arena surface is about 4-5 inches of waterlogged sand, with a good number of puddles all over the place. If the ground were fully thawed, this would all soak in, but I don't have much hope of that. Elsewhere, there is a surface slippery layer.

I put Tucker in his stall for the night to keep him out of the mud, so he will be on restricted turnout again until things dry up a bit. But there is more rain in the forecast, so I am not too hopeful.

Meantime, Donna came over to help me do some more poo picking in the riding arena. I have more than half of it all cleaned up for now--until Tucker is out there again. The area not done is the end with the "lake" in it and I don't ride there most of the time anyhow. Until I get those depressions properly filled in, I only ride that far when it's really dry. That still lives me a riding area larger than a small dressage arena, so it's just fine for most work except possibly some of the upper level exercises that need to room. (a line of tempi changes or the canter or trot zig zag) Since I am not doing upper level stuff at the moment, I don't need the full arena.

I let the Boys go naked again for a few hours. They were really romping around when Donna got here--showing off, I think. Once again, Tucker sweated up in his blanket, so I took it off so he could air dry. Strangely enough, Chance was the only one who took the opportunity to roll.

Which leads to another pondering. I'm not sure why, but some horses have coats that are easier to clean than others. Toby and Tucker are both Thoroughbreds, but Tucker cleans up easily and Toby's coat holds the dirt. This was even true when he was young, so it has something to to with the texture of his natural coat. Chance is, like Toby, a chestnut, but he has an easy coat to clean as well, so it's not a matter of color. It's not length that matters either, as all three Boys have about the same amount of hair.

It used to frustrate me if I had a clinic with Toby in the winter. I would have to spend a lot of time grooming him, even using dry shampoo or hot towels to try to get him clean. And even then, a good slap on his rump would usually raise a cloud of dust. I do not have a place to give a horse a bath in the winter, so I make do.

I've just learned to accept the fact that a clean horse, turnout, and winter just don't make the perfect trio.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Rainy Day

It Had To Happen Sooner Or Later

As predicted, rain arrived today, although from my account it was a bit earlier than forecast--sometime before 11AM instead of at noon. I'm always amazed when the forecasts are so accurate anyhow, so what's one hour?

It is a cold rain too, with chilly temperatures hovering just above freezing.

I had some nice lightweight winter blankets on the Boys, so I simply put their rainsheets on over top. The extra insulation will help protect them from the chill, and it certainly does make me feel better. And isn't that what horse blankets are all about anyhow? Aside from a few exceptions, most horses would probably be just fine without blankets as long as they have enough food, water, and adequate shelter.

But, my Boys have sheets, blankets, rainwear, and bug wear. Of all, I do think they appreciate the bugwear, and on days like today, I would have to think they might appreciate the rainwear.

Then again, where were they when I got home from church? Sheltering in one of the three run in sheds? Nope? Out in the middle of the pasture on a hill, totally exposed to the elements. Go figure.

One of my trainers theorized that horses prefer being out in the open because it allows them the freedom to see all around them, satisfying their natural instincts to be ready to flee from danger. As well, they don't like the sound of the rain on the roof, or the wind creaking through the rafters very much so the barn is not a haven after all.

Beats me. All I know is that even with my own raingear on, standing outside in weather like this is miserable.

I'll have to wait to see how much thaw there is in the ground. If we end up with mud, then Tucker will once again be on restricted turnout. I do think I will be putting him in his stall for the night to let his feet dry out, however. I don't want him to lose a shoe if I can do anything about it.

The rain is not really heavy so far, so we may luck out. I guess one more time it's just a matter of "wait and see."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Starring Toby!

Off to the Woods Again

After about an hour of poo picking and old hay cleanup in the arena, I went back into the barn to get a lead rope thinking I'd take a short ride on Tucker.

Much to my surprise, Toby practically put his head into my hands for the lead rope, so I certainly could not ignore that invitation. I put the rope around his neck and took him in to saddle up. He seemed quite pleased to have been the chosen one for the day.

As yesterday, I elected the Tucker Trail, and let Toby stop at the salad bar--the pile of dirt with grass growing on it--for a snack and then moved on. According to the thermometer in my car, it was 51F today, but it felt a little cooler than that when I was out and about with the Boys. Still, I won't complain. It felt wonderful after all the cold.

Apparently, while Toby and I were out, Tucker was rolicking around the arena because when we got back, he was sweated and lathered under his lightweight blanket. I took it off--fortunately I had another dry one--and took him out for a lunge, hoping that moving about in the air would dry him off. He was good on the line, with just a little drifting in when he thought about being silly.

For MaryLou, I use two basic techniques for keeping my horses out on the circle. The first is simple body language. If I step forward towards the horse's shoulder as he starts to fall in, that will usually drive him back out. It's as if I am making an aggressive mover towards him, so he moves away. I also add the word, "Out!" as I do this, which helps that become an additional aid. I also can point the lunge whip at the horse's shoulder/neck area, and that too tends to drive him out.

If someone like Tucker is being silly and continues to fall in despite my moves, I will usually bring him in on a very small circle close to me where I can control his pace and physcially touch him with the whip on the shoulder, getting him to move away from the contact. Again, I use the command, "Out," along with the aid. Since I start all my horses's lungeing training close up like that establishing the basic understanding, this then becomes a remedial exercise and usually refocuses them on my directions.

There's really not much point in trying to drive a horse out if he is running around you like a hooligan or just stubbornly falling in, so I find it best to bring him in, regroup, apply a direct aid to drive him back out, and then let out the line again. Sometimes it might take repeated corrections, but usually he gets the idea and settles back down to a nice circle around me.

Lungeing and longlining are both a bit "remote control" ways of working your horse. Both can work well, but the close in work you do beforehand to establish the ground rules is really important.

Rain is predicted for tomorrow, so I may not be able to do much outdoors. It's OK, because to be honest, my muscles are a bit sore. I have to keep reminding myself that even though I have laid off working the horses for long stretches before, I was still usually doing all the barn chores, so I stayed moderately fit. This time, no chores to keep my muscles in action, so it's a little different.

And, oh, yes, did I tell you about my seatbones? Thank heavens for the Ansur treeless saddle. It is decidedly softer than any treed saddle I've ever been in. However, it is now quite apparent that normal sitting in chairs and such does not quite affect the "lower anatomy" the way sitting in a saddle does. I have more than a few stomach muscles to toughen up. *G*

Friday, January 15, 2010

Out and About

Fallen Trees

I did the barn work in short order. As the Boys are out as they choose, the stalls do not get too messy, so it was a relatively easy chore to clean them. Then I went out to the arena to do a more moderate bit of poo picking.

Most of the piles were easy to clean up and for the most part I have the west half of the arena clean, except for the still frozen side near the barn. Where the sun was shining on the surface, the footing was really quite nice. That gave me a good area for lungeing.

So, I saddled up Chance and lunged him for a short session, keeping in mind that he hasn't done any work for over a month. He was letter perfect and both reins with some lovely canter work, nice and relaxed on both reins. Once I was sure he was pretty settled, I tightened the girth and mounted up.

We headed out into the woods for a short trail ride. This is where the tree title comes in. About 100 feet out, well off to the right, a tree had fallen down. It was pale as all the bark was off and it had broken into several large pieces. Well, was it troll habitat? Monster hiding place? Whatever? To my surprise, Chance spooked.

Now, mind you a Chance spook is a sideways slither, a spin around to head back the way we came, and then a stand and look as if to say, "What the heck was that all about?" In short order we were back on our way without incident. Despite my having lunged him first, he did try to trot off a few times, but again, with Chance, no big deal. We rode the Tucker Trail without any more tree attacks. The footing was great and since it had warmed up quite a bit, it was a lovely ride.

When I got back it was still daylight so I put the halter on Tucker and took him into the arena for a lungeing session. On the right, all was well. He does put his nose on the ground and try to strike out at the lunge line--just for something extra to do, I guess--but he was obedient and forward. Then I switched to the left rein. The trot was fine, but when I asked for canter, it was an "event." He let out a few bucks and then took off in a gallop around me. He kicked up his heels a few more times and I just let him work off the steam until he finally settled down. I had to correct him for falling in on the circle and that took a bit of effort. I finally got a nice set of circles at the trot to finish up and called it a day.

We're not quite back to normal, but it was a good start. Aside from the fallen trees, all is well at Follywoods.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Don't Look If You Are Shy

Naked Horse Pics

It did get warm and sunny enought today to let the Boys go without their blankets for the afternoon. So here, for your viewing pleasure, the Naked Boys!
First, of course, is Toby. Trying to get a side shot is nearly impossible. So here he is, coming to check out the camera, nose first.

Tucker did pause in his curiousity. He had already rolled so he's dirty, but since there is no mud at the moment, it was easy to brush off. Ok, no comments about how round he is....*sigh*

And here's Chance. He looked the cleanest of all. I did get one side shot of him, but I was too far away. But this is better than a full in the camera nose shot anyhow. And he looks cute, so who's going to argue?
I did all the barn chores today which was fine. Then I decided to do some poo picking in the arena. Some of the manure is still frozen, but I managed to fill two wheelbarrows. Error! I should have stuck to one and left the second for another day. Frankly, I was pretty worn out, but I did clean up about half the arena--at least where I could get the stuff up. There is a section that stays pretty much in the shade along the barn side, so the footing never really did thaw. Elsewhere it was pretty good.
I came back into the house to rest for a few hours as I needed it. I had no idea how little stamina I actually have.
Then I went back out just before feeding time and brought Tucker in. I saddled him up and rode. That is if you call a total of perhaps three minutes. What a strange feeling! I was just a little insecure--not in my seat--but in my brain. It was as if I hadn't ridden in a year, not just over a month. Strange how aware of your body you become after you've had an injury or illness, or in this case, surgery. There is, I think, a sense of overprotectiveness, as if any unusual movement will somehow be a problem. I was a little nervous.
But Tucker was a sweetie. At first he moved off cautiously, as if he too were unsure. Then I patted him and reassured him and he strode off with a nice forward walk. We trotted a few circuits on each rein, but the footing was only good on the one side, so I had to be careful where we turned. After a bit more walk, I called it a day.
To be sure, I was very clear about thanking Tucker for giving me such a good, quiet first ride back and he seemed quite pleased to have been the chosen one.
Tomorrow, we'll see.
Tragedies like the earthquake in Haiti do make me think of all the blessings I have. Besides the horses and the dishwasher, already noted earlier, I have just come through a surgery without a lot of difficulty. Yesterday, I drove to the doctor's office myself and realized how easy and convenient it was to have medical care so readily available. We have at least four good hospitals less than an hour away, and doctor's offices all over the place. My primary care physician is only about 15 minutes away. There are also emergency clinics nearby, and a first aid squad for emergencies.
Those of us with such blessing on our doorsteps need to remember to count them now and then and say "Thank you," to whatever spirit you believe is watching over you.
So, "Thanks, Tucker for being my caretaker today," and "Thank you, God, for granting me this life."

It's 7 AM, Do You Know Where Your Dishwasher Is?

Mine Is Being Installed, At Last!
After my bout with Home Depot, the installer arrived this morning around 7 AM. This was an older gentleman who took all of five minutes to measure the opening for the dishwasher and then assured me he would get the new one installed.

The only problem might be that since there is some rust on my sink pipes, and he has to disconnect them I might get some leaks there. Since I do have a good plumber, I am not too worried about that at the moment. Hopefully it will be OK, but he did explain it all very clearly to me so I understood, and he did not treat me like an idiot.

Update: It is now 8 AM, the dishwasher is installed. It has run through a test cycle and seems to work perfectly. There was absolutely no problem with the fit. As a matter of fact there is about one quarter inch clearance on either side, so if I had modified the cabinets I would have an inch gap between the dishwasher and the wood. I am SO glad I didn't try to do anything!

This gentleman was originally from Europe where he was a mechanical engineer. This gives him the knowledge and experience to deal with all kinds of installations and he has the background to deal with any issues that might arise. He also is carrying a list of several other service calls he needs to make to fix something that the service guy who came the other day has done. At any rate, I have this gentleman's name and truck number and he told me that if I ever buy another appliance I should specifically ask that he be the deliveryman. What a delight to find a competent, respectful, and efficient worker. That's the kind of thing I really appreciate.

Which reminds me. The carpentry teacher from school who built my run-in shed and the addition to my barn is and always will be at the top of my list for competent, wonderful workmen. As an example, one day when he was here working, my phone rang. He was calling from the back yard to tell me he had to go to the dentist and that he was not deserting the job early. He told me he'd be back later to tidy up and would finish the job the next day. I never would have questioned him but he felt it was his responsibility to tell me. When he brought one of his students he'd hired for the summer to work with him, I made a point of telling the boy that all the carpentry skills he could learn from his teacher were important, but even more important was to learn about responsiblity to the customer. That is the way you create a good business and develop a good customer base. I would recommend my carpenter to anyone without question.

Plans to ride the horses or at least a horse later today when it warms up. For now, I am happy with the dishwasher situation...if the machine will finally go out of test mode and stop beeping.

PS: I have been following the news from Haiti, Makes my dishwasher seem like a trivial matter. But at the same time, it makes me realize how lucky I am to have a home where I can install a dishwasher. More later on this. Right now it is all too overwhelming to comprehend.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Squirrels Are Back in Force

How Come?

Apparently, grey tree squirrels do not hibernate. (I know those of you in Great Britain consider these critters as serious pests as they compete with the favored native red squirrel...but here in the US, they are cute little guys with no such competition problem.) Yet, for the bulk of the really cold weather, I only saw one at the little squirrel and bird feeders. Of course, I do not know if it was the same one, or a different squirrel at each siting.

Today, however, the feeders were visited by four squirrels. It was kind of fun to see the entire little group out there again as it almost made me feel as if winter really will end sometime. The temperatures are rising and will touch 40F by the end of the week, so that too is a plus. Still, I am puzzled by why I've only been seeing one squirrel when clearly there is a dray or scurry (I looked that up) of them living in my yard. Regardless, it was fun to see them bouncing about and clearly enjoying the corn and seeds.

The dishwasher saga continues as well. I was pretty determined when I called the store that I was going to get satisfaction one way or the other. If the machine really does not fit, then back it goes with a full refund. But, apparently, when I repeatedly measured my cabinet opening and kept coming up with the standard 24", the store rep finally asked how the installer had measured the opening. I told her I hadn't seen him measure it at all. If he did, I surely didn't see it.

I was also really annoyed with the fact that he had refused to take my old dishwasher away because, according to him, there is no way to to turn the water off to just the dishwasher, so it would leak all over the place when I turned the faucets on.

Lie. (Taking advantage of a woman syndrome here?? Wish I'd looked under the sink before he left to check myself as I did later.)

There is a separate cut off valve for the dishwasher connected to the hot water line. When I told the store rep that, it set her back. She started talking to the other reps in the store and finally decided I needed another installer to come out to put the dishwasher in. We are now scheduled again for Thursday--tomorrow, time yet to be determined.

If, indeed this model does not fit, then I will send it back, but I don't like the idea that someone has tried to pull a con job on me. From all I can tell, dishwashers are pretty standard in size, so most every model I'd buy should fit.

I guess tomorrow, I'll know for sure.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

No Snow This Morning (Illusory or Otherwise)

It's Getting Warmer

"Warm" is a relative term in the winter, as most of you horse bloggers know. So when I saw that the thermometer was reading right around freezing, at 32 F, there was a definite change in the air.

Curious that I spoke to a good friend on the phone yesterday about going out to the barn, and the topic slipped into the recent cold weather we'd been having. She noted that she had always thought winter was better than summer. In the summer, she observed, once you were outdoors there really wasn't much way to escape the heat. But at least in the winter, you could bundle up to escape the cold. But now that she has grown older, she's not so sure any more.

The topic always reminds of a Robert Frost poem:

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire
Some say ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
--Robert Frost

While the poem has several levels of meaning metaphorically comparing fire and ice to human emotions, I've always looks at the more superficial connection to which end of the world would be or ice? Summer or winter? This is a very simplistic view, but certainly relevant when my toes are cold or my head is sweating.

Of course, one of the benefits of winter is that there are no flies or mosquitoes to torment the Boys. I do have to keep on the lookout for ticks, however. I haven't noticed any sign of them since the deep freeze, but they do seem to be around for the more "moderate" winter days. Just where are my wild turkeys anyhow?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Snow Illusion

What Did I See?

I woke up this morning just before dawn. It seemed really white out, so I peered out the window and was totally convinced we had had a dusting of snow. I am sure I even saw light snow lying on the branches of the little evergreen bush just outside my bedroom window.

Sighing in resignation, I climbed back into bed to sleep until daylight.

Imagine my confusion when I woke about about an hour later to see absolutely no sign of snow anywhere!

I wake up quickly, so I am not prone to being one of those bleary eyed morning people. Now, I do wear contact lenses/glasses and last night I had taken my lenses out for one of their two weekly non-sleep in days, but I can see fairly well without either--at least well enough to see snow on some branches less than ten inches from my window.

I'm sure too that I was awake as I also made a trip to the bathroom after I saw the snow.

I am totally baffled. Had it not been for my distinct vision of the snow on the branches, I might suspect I had looked out in the pale light of dawn and been tricked by how washed out everything appeared to be. But those branches.....

Was I walking in a dream? Was I having a vision of the future? What the heck happened?

As the King said, "'Tis a puzzlement." (The King and I)

Broken from my illusion of the moring, I went out to feed the Boys. Everyone looks just fine, and I have to laugh that several times while I was out there, Toby actully went to eat some of his hay before he finished his pellets. When I tell you that hay is lovely, I mean it. Soft and grassy, with nice little clover flowers, all sweet and green. It must be quite tasty.

It is supposed to warm up by the end of the week, and by then I may have clearance from the doctor to get back to more normal activities. If that includes riding, I will definitely take advantage of the break in the Arctic air to get in the saddle at least for a little while.

Maybe a little riding will clear my head of these illusions!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Chilly Days

Warm Hearts and Contemplation

Still cold here, as it is over much of the nation. From the forecasts, the Arctic front will be leaving this week so we will be back to more tolerable winter cold instead. It's been a while.

I do think, though, that at least in New Jersey a deep freeze is part of nature's course and might have some benefits. I always think nature needs to take a nap now and then, settling down from the business of growing and producing. Even the water gets to stop for a while and just rest, aerated by being frozen into ice. Very few of the furry critters who semi-hibernate are out and about, so they too are nestled in their burrows getting a sleep. The full hibernating creatures must be in a deep sleep now, dreaming of sunny days and green fields.

And what about the bugs? Does the deep freeze kill off some of the pests planning on tormenting us during the summer? Do they all survive, or does the ice send them to bug heaven? And what about germs and fungus that thrive in the heat? Is winter a cleansing of them too?

We always worry about our warmblooded animals, though. I do not have dogs myself, and my cats are strictly indoor pets, but I do have two little strays outside since Mommycat seems to have decided to come back to stay--the canned food seems to be a big attraction to her. The black and white kitty--when I can catch a glimpse of him/her--still looks clean and healthy, so that's a plus. I've made sure there are blankets or cuddly spots for them in the garages where it seems they are settling in. Mommy does go to the barn quite a bit, so perhaps she is after the mice living there. The resident rats--not exactly my favorites--don't appear very often but I do see signs of tunnels and digging here and there, so I know they are around although I really do need to try to get rid of them. I have only known one cat in my lifetime that hunted rats, so I don't expect Mommy or Patches to take them on. I bought some poison I'll put out. There is a sense of guilt attached, but the rats are not exactly welcome residents, so I don't have much choice.

The horses seem fine. They are blanketed. The barn or shelter is always available, and I make sure they have plenty of hay and water. They get a pelleted feed three times a day and usually have free choice turnout. They seem to spend a lot of time out in the open, even when it's cold, although I've noticed a bit more sheltering from them when it's windy. I have a heater in the water tub and make sure it's full of fresh water every day.

When I go outside, I have to bundle up in my down coat, with a hat and gloves, and even at that, I'm pretty sure I couldn't stay outside for more than an hour or so, much less all day. But nature has a way of taking care of her outdoor creatures. My little birds have their own little down jackets and seem to really love my bird feeder. And as a friend noted, a real fur coat is one of the warmest things to wear, so I guess the furry critters do just fine too.

Winter is not my favorite season of the year, but it has its place in the world, and for its sake, the world seems quite able to cope with it.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Book Review

Led by the Grey

Peter DeCosemo, one of the original developers of the Ansur saddle, has written a novel, Led by the Grey. The story is centered around the Royal Household Cavalry horses in London and was in part inspired by a terrorist bombing in 1982 that killed four men and seven horses.

But the story goes far beyond a simple narrative of life with the cavalry as Peter weaves a complex fantasy in which horses talk, mythical creatures come to life, and a teenage boy discovers his own special courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

Peter's love and keen understanding of horses shines through every page as the reader is taken on an amazing tour of the London area on an engaging adventure. Nearly every chapter draws you on to the next as far as your imagination can take you.

I found myself captured by the story and emotionally drawn in to the characters and conflict. I ended up in tears more than once, caught up in the beautiful "personalities" of the horses, their wisdom, power, and devotion.

I do not often recommend books to people, but I think all my horse oriented blogger friends would really enjoy this one. Here is the website with all the ordering information:

I actually ended up spending much of the last two days reading Peter's book. I did visit the chiropractor this morning, but was locked in the pages for the better part of the day.

The Boys seem happy and content. Once again we were blessed with a load of really good hay, so they are certainly enjoying that. Everything is still frozen, but the sun today melted the little coating of snow we had the other day, so I am suspicious it's getting a little warmer out. At this point it's hard to tell as winter seems to have settled in with some pretty determined cold temperatures this year.
It is sort of sour grapes for me anyhow as I am not quite up to riding yet, so I don't really feel as if I am missing out on much. I could ride in the woods, but since none of the Boys have had any work since November, I'm not sure who would be well behaved enough to go out. Then again, they are trained horses, after all.
Theory: A trained horse should be rideable after weeks off. Actually, past experience with all the horses I've owned, has proven this to be true, but I am older now.
It has been over six weeks since my surgery to I am expecting some sort of physical clearance from my surgeon next week when I go to see him again. But I doubt that means instant transition back to sitting trot and heavy duty dressage.
Meantime, I'll just take some carrots out to the barn with me and stuff those cute horsey faces with treats. It's the least I can do.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Dang It!!

New Dishwasher Fitting Issues and the Pondering Continues

I was worried about the new dishwasher's height. Apparently, that's fine, but the width is a problem. The fit would be too tight in my cabinets as they are. I need to trim a bit off on each side before the machine can be installed. While the machine would fit, there would not be enough clearance for the door. Apparently if the washer shifted at all from its original position, then the new door would catch on the cabinet and be impossible to open.

The installer suggested sanding it down, but with what? I can't fit a standard sander in between the old washer and the cabinet. I am currently at a loss. There is plenty of cabinet to trim off without causing any problem. This is the moment for a handyman and I don't have one. I am going to have to sit back and think about this for a bit. The new dishwasher is on the back porch, still in the box, just waiting, tempting me terribly. They will come back to install it after I make the needed adjustments. *sigh* Bummer.

OK, while I ponder this new development, I will continue to some degree with yesterday's horse topic. Shannon's comment sparked a new angle about the perception of horse ownership by the "outside world."

Non horse people have a skewed view of horses, as I mentioned yesterday. Much of it comes from mass media's skewed presesentation of horses through the years. Shannon's comment that people always ask, "Can I come rider your horses?" is a typical example. Most horses in TV and the movies are saintly beasts, totally desensitized to all the activities around them and just as desensitized to novice riders bouncing around on their backs. While most horse rental places all also populated by such noble critters, most of our barns are not. At least mine certainly isn't. In fact, at the moment, I don't have a horse here I would put a novice rider on, and that includes Chance, who has a marvelous disposition.

We all train our horses to be sensitive, reactive and obedient to the aids. As noted yesterday, kicking, flopping and totally clueless non-horsemen in the saddle would spell sure disaster. And we need to remember that when temptation to actually let someone inexperienced sit in the saddle--should you ever fall prey to that notion. Seeing PJ gallop off with my cousin surely reminded me of the consequences.

But "Can I come ride?" is the least of the questions. How many times have you been asked, "Do your horses lie down when they sleep?" "Oh, do you race them?" "Doesn't it hurt when you put shoes on him?" "Don't they get cold? Do you have heat in the barn?" And, oh yes, "Do they have personalities? (Or something like that.)" I'm sure you can easily add to the list.

Of course, everyone you meet seems to have his or her own riding story. Once they discover you are a horseman, they need to share the tale of the time they went riding. Usually the story has some kind of disaster in it--runaway horse, they fell off, the horse wouldn't steer etc.--leaving you to wonder why they would even entertain the idea of riding one of your horses for an encore. I guess the social urge to bond with you in your passion by sharing their equine adventures is overwhelming, so you listen politely, making the appropriate sympathetic noises wondering if you sound just as sad when telling the visiting professional musician that you too used to play the clarinet. (An experience from my New Year's party...but at least I didn't go on about myself but just used the comment to develop a dialogue about his expertise and recent appointment to first chair soloist in his university orchestra.)

You don't much talk to non-horsemen about the real experiences of horse ownership as their faces quickly go blank at the mention of the amazing feeling of a flying change, but that's OK. If you're lucky, there is another horseperson somewhere in the house and you'll soon find the two of you off in some isolated corner away from the hubbub of the rest of the party talking about colic or something.

It's something the outside world just wouldn't understand.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Nearly There

And Then What?

One more week to go before the doctor should clear me to so some real work around here. I will be doing physical therapy to get back in shape, but just being able to pick the stalls when I want to will be a "thrill."

It's not that I particularly enjoy the barn work. Sometimes I even hate the effort, but I prefer to feel independent. My friend Donna, who is doing the chores for me, insists the loves it. It serves as therapy for her and is very soothing. I can understand that to some degree, but sometimes the chores really do become....well a chore. Still, there isn't much more satisfying than watching your content horse settle into a newly bedded stall with lots of fresh hay to eat. Absolute bliss....

Which reminds me of one of my pet peeves about the rest of the world's perception of us horsefolk. I can only remember ever seeing one TV commercial that showed what it's really like. I think the advertisement was for Dial soap. The scene showed a sweaty, dirty, tired, stringy haired but beautiful women finishing up the barn chores.

Otherwise, what do we see? Women in silky white dresses gallop along the beach on white horses, their hair (horse and woman) blowing in the wind. Pristinely coiffed and dressed slender blondes leading shining mounts--usually tacked up with some conglomeration of mixed bits and bridles. A handsome hero lifting his fair maiden up behind him on the back of a shimmering equine for a stroll through a misty meadow?

Dang. If I rode my horse in a silky white dress the first thing I would get would be some pretty dreadful chafes in places I shall not mention, and the white dress would be grimed with horse sweat and greened with horse drool.

Come on, folks!

The rich housewives of fantasy county have their well groomed show mounts handed to them so they can mount, canter over the two foot jumps and then walk away hardly brushing a strand of hay from their shiny boots. And even when you see someone working in the barn, they are always forking huge flakes of bright, fresh clean straw instead of soggy, heavy masses of used bedding.

And then there is the concept of riding. I can still remember a commercial where a little kid was given a pinto pony for a present. Immediately, he jumped on the horses back and galloped off across the field as his doting parents just stood there smiling. People are alway just mounting up and galloping off. When was the last time you did that? Even racetrack riders don't do that. It creates another false image. I can still remember allowing one of my male relatives to ride my PJ years ago. It started off OK, but within a moment, before I could say anything, he gave PJ a kick, and off they went. Picture a 16.2 h, retired FEI dressage horse responding to a kick? Fortuately, PJ also had good sense and was in the fenced in arena, so it was relatively easy to get him back under control. My fault for not giving clearer instructions before I let him ride, but the kick was just another symptom of the world's perception of horseback riding.

"Gone With the Wind" celebrates another misconception about riding. OK, I know people get hurt when they fall off horses. I've been hurt myself. But in the movies, a fall is usually fatal. First it was Scarlett's father as he tumbled off after a jump, and then it was her daughter. Artistic destiny, I suppose, but I've also rolled away safely from a number of falls myself, even over fences. On the other hand, with that kind of publicity about the dangers of riding, you'd think it might make the average "Let's go rent some horses" riders a little less bold about kicking?

Riding is a wonderful sport. Caring for horses is an amazingly rewarding experience. Both are hard work. Horses are glamorous, mysterious, mystical, and breathtakingly beautiful creatures, but owning one is often a sweaty, smelly, tiring experience.

Hey, Hollywood! Do you think someday you just might show it all like it really is?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Did I Tell You the Dishwasher's Dead?

One Thing On Top of Another

The appliance repairman informed me my dishwasher's drainage pump needed to be replaced. Since that was going to cost nearly $400, I figured it wasn't worth it. New dishwashers can be had for that, and for a bit more I could get something even better.

Of course, he ran one of the wash cycles part way through, so the tub is once again filled with water which I will have to again bail out. But I am saving that for an afternoon project as I'd already done it at least three times and the novelty has worn off.

I went to Home Depot and the salesman recommended another GE model as it was the one he had at home and was delighted with it. Hopefully, I will be as pleased.

I find buying appliances a rocky road. My friends have a dishwasher of another brand, highly recommended, that was so quiet running, I didn't even know it was on. But that brand is twice as expensive. If you read reviews on the Internet or something like Consumer Reports, you get all kinds of information, most of which is enough to make your head spin.

As far as I can tell, it's largely a matter of dumb luck if you end up with something you like, and even better dumb luck if you end up with something you love. Apparently, appliances have a limited life span. My refrigerator will be next, but it's been here for well over 20 years, so who am I to complain. The dishwasher? Maybe 15 or so, but that's one of those things that has all kinds of moving parts, hence more to go wrong. My washer and dryer? 25+, I guess. Now they are new, and I do not wash clothes as much as a family would, so I'm hoping they will last a long time yet.

The dishwasher comes on Friday. My only worry is that it will fit. It is a standard size, but it has to go under my countertop and all I can hope is that the counter is set at a standard height too. Meantime, I am washing dishes the old fashioned way, which is just fine. It's a task I am not fond of, which is why I have a dishwasher in the first place.

On the horse front, I pulled out my coil hose yesterday to refill the outdoor water tub and found the hose had sprung a leak. While still usable, I had to drape it over a bucket to catch the runoff. I bought some repair tape and the hose is now in the bathtub in the house awaiting my repair attempt.

I am pleased, though, to see that even after being filled to the brim, the water tub was well below half full again this morning. That means the Boys are drinking well--and about at the same rate they drink during the summer. I'm not sure at what temperature the tank heater keeps the water, but it seems to be a satisfying one. Considering how cold it's been, that's a good sign.

My second cutting hay is almost gone. I've been mixing it with the first cutting when I feed, but the Boys are being very picky. They are not going to be too happy over the next week or so as the older bales get used up. I'll end up with a lot more hay bedding than usual, I suppose. I'll have to see if my hay supplier will bring more of the second cutting in the next delivery as the Boys certainly do prefer it. It really is lovely hay.

I only have one more week before I see my doctor again. I am not sure that even if he gives me the OK that I will ride immediately. First, of course, is the problem of the frozen ground and the cold weather. But I also know that my muscles are very unfit and probably weak in places I need to ride. I hope to do some physical therapy as soon as possible to build myself back up first. But, I should be able to do some lungeing and long lining in the meantime.

It will be interesting to see how the Boys take to going back to work after such a long vacation.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


The Bedding Issue

I use pine shavings as bedding in the stalls. Old hay, if the Boys don't eat all of it, can also serve. Some of the bales of hay I get are not as appetizing as others, so at times, it ends up as bedding instead. But the shavings are the prime bedding.

There are several different suppliers, apparently, and I've found that the bedding from where I now buy my feed, though more expensive per bag--plastic bales, actually--is finer texture and offers more coverage than the bedding sold by the tack store--both in the same town, actually.

When I pulled into the feed store this morning, I noticed that the usual bags of bedding were not there, but there was another brand. I purchased my feed, and some bags of bedding. I looks like that wasn't the best decision for the day. The shavings were of the larger texture--not as absorbant, and the bags themselves were smaller. I would have made out better by going to the tack store, I think. Apparently the shipment of bedding was due at the feed store some time this afternoon.

I'll go back later in the week to see if I can get some of the finer stuff as I'd rather have that on hand. This stuff is OK, but I don't like it as much.

I used to supplement my bedding by taking the shavings from the carpentry shop at school. At one time I would average three good sized bags or more a week. But then the new teacher modified the collection system in the back room and instead of separating the very dusty sawdust from the planing machine's shavings, everything got mixed together and the stuff I got was far too dusty to be used as bedding for the Boys.

There are, I think, still some places where you can bag your own bedding at a lower price. Some stables buy the bedding loose in in bulk, which is also cheaper. Because my Boys do not get locked in their stalls every night, I usually don't need a lot of bedding, but this winter has been a little harder.

I'm a bit frustrated about my purchase today, but, as they say, "It is what it is." The important thing is that the Boys will be comfortable.

And in the end, that's all that really matters.