Monday, February 25, 2013

The Headless Horse Goes Here and There, and Fast and Slow

Dawn and I did more "headless" horse this morning.  We did two exercises using the "headless" technique - I'm trying to turn it into a habit instead of just something I have to actively think about to do.  Dawn and I did "go there" and "fast and slow".  "Go there" involves my sending us to a particular spot, or object, somewhere in the ring, by using only my eyes and focus and "sending" "our" hind legs there, by treating them as if they were my own legs and feeling them.  The effect, if successful, is that the horse does what you're thinking as if it were his/her own idea.  Dawn and I did things like "Hind legs, take us to the coffee cup on the windowsill of the viewing room (and touch the cup with your nose)".  When she got there, she actually touched the cup (which was at about the height of her ears) with her nose!  "Hind legs, take us to the blue barrel in the corner." When we got there, Dawn asked me "now, why are we at this blue barrel?" "Hind legs, take us to the cone I'm looking at."  It was really less like my telling the hind legs to do something than like my using Dawn's hind legs as my own. We had a lot of fun with that.

"Fast and slow" is the same sort of thing. Dawn and I did transitions and shortening/lengthening within a gait, just by my thinking and feeling the hind legs into a different gait, or taking shorter or longer strides. I was able to vary our stride length at the trot, at any point in the ring, or after any particular number of steps, just by thinking/feeling "our" hind legs doing it.  Dawn was very forward and energetic, and this was a great exercise to maintain our connection and feel as we worked.

Red had a much better day today - no lungeing going on.  Part of the ride we were by ourselves, and part we were with one other rider on her mare.  We did headless horse, and as I expected, we found it easy to do together.  "Go there" was no problem, and he also found "fast/slow" to be fairly easy, although we didn't too much of that as most of our work was steady medium trot and some canter.  His soundness seems to be improving, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed about that.

Pie and I also had a very good ride.  We had the arena to ourselves, which improves my concentration. We struggled a bit with "go there" - Pie's aim isn't always quite where I'm trying to have him go, but I expect we'll improve as we do more of it.  He's very good at "fast and slow", although we need to work some more on the softness of the changes.  His bending into corners today was excellent - I think headless horse is helping us a lot with that, mainly because my posture is upright and focus up and out, and I'm actively thinking about how the hind legs are stepping into and through the corners.  And his canter work just gets better and better - his departures were very nice, he was balancing well around the corners and we even did some large circles without bulging or falling out of canter.

Headless horse is a great way to gauge the degree to which the horse and I are connected by live feel, so we can act as one.  I only use aids - reins, leg or seat - to give the horse guidance if the feel alone doesn't do the trick. I'm hoping headless horse will become our usual, continuous way of working together.  Headless horse does a good job of correcting my errors of posture and focus and keeps me thinking about the feel, all the time.

All horses were lavishly praised, and they seemed to feel pretty pleased with themselves.  It was a very good day with horses.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Red Loses It (for a Little While), and Pie is Perfect

Dawn had the day off.  I rode both Red and Pie in the afternoon.  Red and I faced some challenges.  When we went into the arena, both big door were open to the outside - it was a beautiful winter day, with temperatures in the low 30sF, no wind, and bright sun.  Red did a very nice walk warm up, and I focussed on "riding a headless horse" as described in my last post - it worked like a charm with him - we did turns, figures, and even walk pirouettes just with my eyes and focus up and my horse hind legs. At one point he was very alert about something outside the doors - I didn't see anything - and was both attracted to the doors and wanting to move away when we got there.  We just kept working and eased up on the doors - that worked well.

Then two other boarders came into the ring and started lungeing/doing groundwork with their horses at both ends of the ring.  That left us very little space to work in, as our arena is quite small.  I'm not generally comfortable passing on my horse along the wall with a horse being lunged so close that there's almost no room to pass, particularly if the horse isn't under complete control.  One boarder was vigorously snapping a lunge whip to get her horse to go, and the other was using a lariet rope to slap on her leg to get her horse to move - I guess their horses needed that in order to move out.  Red, I expect due to some bad experiences in his past, gets extremely worried - even frightened - when whips or ropes are loudly snapped or slapped - he isn't yet able to distinguish between someone doing that to another horse and doing it to him.  He was quite concerned, and we parked ourselves in a corner since there was really no where else to go.  We stood there for a bit, and, although he was trying so hard to hold it together for me, his anxiety level got to the point that he gave a mini-rear - the reins were not tight - to tell me that he just couldn't cope any more.  I dismounted and stood there for a moment, but that didn't reduce his anxiety - he started swinging around me and although he didn't run into me, he was very upset.  If I'd had somewhere to keep him moving under saddle - doing circles or small figures to keep his mind occupied - he might have been OK, although maybe not.  With our small arena, it just wasn't an option.

Since he was so upset, I took him out of the arena and we walked up and down the barn aisle with the big door to the arena closed.  Just getting close to the door when the whip and rope were snapping, even with the door closed, made him so nervous that we had to go back down the aisle again.  Once the boarders were done making noises, I took him back into the arena and remounted.  He was nervous for a while but was able to stay with me and work, and his focus improved as we went.  We did our usual canter straightline work and then moved on to trot - he was very forward and engaged and worked well.  I told him what a good boy he was and put him away.  (Later, after I rode Pie, I took Red back into the arena and hand-walked him around - his eyes were big but he was very good, and I hope it reassured him somewhat.)  I felt bad that I'd allowed him to be put into a situation that was too much for him to cope with - this is the first melt-down he's had in almost a year, and a first at the new barn - but I was very pleased with how he recovered from it.  His trust in me at this point is strong, but it still will only take him so far, particularly if I have no way to direct him while allowing him to move his body - we were basically trapped in a corner.

Neither of the other boarders seemed to notice that we'd had a problem, or if they noticed, to care, despite Red's visible agitation.  That was a little discouraging, but I guess they had their own agendas and were going to pursue them no matter what.  I'll just have to be sure to look out for my horse and my own safety without assuming that others will be look out for me and my horse - that's useful learning for me, even if a bit sad.

Then I rode Pie.  Neither of the boarders who'd caused Red and I problems were in the ring any more. Pie was very, very good.  I again worked on riding the headless horse.  Pie's trot work was excellent - forward, with good bend and impulsion - and his canter work was outstanding.  On both leads, we had the best departures from trot we've ever had - he just stepped easily into canter the instant I thought it - and he sustained the canter on both leads around and around the ring, stepping deeply into the corners with no real effort on my part - he made an excellent headless horse.  After that ride, I felt a bit better - tomorrow is another day . . .

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Riding a Headless Horse

Today I rode a headless horse . . .

Now that might take some explanation . . .

I know that one of my worst riding faults has been staring at my horse's head as I ride - this puts my focus and weight down on the horse's forehand, making it hard for the the horse to carry itself properly.  It also means that I'm not looking where I'm intending to go, which makes it hard for me to give the horse direction and hard for the horse to figure out what I want.  It tends to result in riding too much with my hands, which is a fault of its own.  Looking at my horse's head is a fault I've been working very hard to correct, and fixing my posture and focus to achieve this is something I work on during every ride.  It takes a long time to establish new habits, particularly when you're trying to break an old habit of long standing.

Today, in addition to working on keeping my posture open and erect, with my chin and focus up, I tried something in addition - riding a headless horse.  Dawn and I worked on this during our early-morning ride (the boys are having a well-deserved day off).  (Dawn walked away from me when I went to bring her in, so that's back to normal.) To do this, I imagined that I was moving around the arena, using her hind legs as my legs, and with my eyes and focus being her eyes and focus.  So all she had was hind legs - no head. This was very much a matter of thinking about, and feeling, only what her hind legs were doing and paying little or no attention to the front half of the horse and especially paying no attention at all to the head.  All I did with my hands and shoulders was to provide a stable place for her to find a soft contact, and to give direction if any was needed in addition to the moving we were doing with "our" hind legs, guided by "our" eyes and focus.  If I were a creature composed of her hind legs and my eyes and focus,    I certainly wouldn't be able to look down - I'd have to look where I was going or else I was going to trip and fall down.

The exercise was remarkably successful.  All I had to do was change my focus and send "our" legs somewhere, and there they went.  All I had to do to change speed within a gait or change gaits was to bring up my energy and take "our" legs into the new speed or gait.  This worked even for halting, or for staying halted.  Most remarkably - I was surprised by this - it worked for backing, on a completely loose rein, and with no change of my posture and no cues - I just thought about "our" legs stepping backwards, and backwards they went.

It was a pretty magical experience.  Now I have to try riding a "headless" Red and a "headless" Pie . . .

Friday, February 22, 2013

Dawn Comes to Me, and Three Great Horses on Friday

We had a few inches of snow last night, and the horses enjoyed it - it make the footing just a little bit better.  When I got to the barn in the early morning, and went to get Dawn, I saw Dawn and a couple of other mares galloping across the pasture.  As I walked out, the mares stopped, and Dawn turned and walked towards me, and kept on coming, passing a hay bale on the way.  She stopped a couple of yards away from me, ears up, and waited for me to come up to her and put her halter on.  This was pretty unusual - Dawn usually ignores me, and sometimes walks off when I approach, and occasionally is grumpy enough that she will snap in my direction as I put on her halter.  Today she seemed happy to see me.  We then made our usual detour to the water tank and she had a nice drink - I always do this when I get her from the pasture in case she's thirsty before our ride.

We went on to have an outstanding ride - Dawn had the day off yesterday.  We did lots of trot work, including shortening and lengthening, and series of small circles up the long sides of the arena.  I tried to give her my best position - eyes up and posture erect, minimal posting and keeping my elbows back and close to my body.  At the end of our ride, she gave me some of the most engaged, soft medium trot we've ever had down one long side. When we reached the end of the arena, we walked and then halted and I got right off and thanked her for working so hard.

In the afternoon, Red and Pie both gave me their best too.  Red and I did our usual walk warm up, and then I let him choose how long we did our up-the-middle canter warm ups.  He opted to canter the length of the arena about five times and then he continued around the corner in trot - he was ready to trot.  This was quicker than usual, and his trot work was the easiest it has been for him in a while - he stretched out fairly quickly.  His medium trot after he warmed up felt very good - lots of elevation and drive - and we also did some canter work that was good as well. We did a number of sets of canter as well as trot.  There was no head shaking, and he was soft and engaged throughout.  I told him what an excellent Red he was.

Pie and I mostly had the arena to ourselves today, except for one person who was lungeing for a while. I worked on my posture and keeping my eyes up - when I did this consistently he stayed soft, and forward, and bent well into the corners.  His canter work was as good as the trot.  There was one patch of snow in the ground just inside one of the arena doors that worried him for a while, but I ignored it and we kept working closer and closer to it without forcing the issue and by the end of our ride he could have cared less about it - I just let him figure it out for himself. At the end of our ride, we worked on shortening and lengthening the trot, just off my energy level.  He did very well on this, once he stopped doing more than I asked and walking or halting instead of just shortening the trot. Pie is extremely smart, and is prone to anticipating what we're going to do next if I establish any pattern - he wants to please so much.  When he starts anticipating, it's usually a sign that I've been doing things in the same order or making turns or transitions at the same places. We worked on him not getting ahead of me, and staying with me and waiting for my direction - or maybe we worked on my staying ahead of him and giving him leadership. I mixed up the patterns - when we cantered or trotted, whether we shortened or lengthened in a particular spot, where we turned.  He did very, very well, and I told him so, and the fact that we were by ourselves in the ring helped me keep my focus.

Both Red and Pie will follow me at my direction, or stop and stand and wait for me - I just hold my hand up and ask them to wait - to do something in the arena - I'm pleased with their attentiveness and willingness.

Another fine day with three great horses!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

On Listening to Horses, and More Fun with the Boys

I had another really nice day with my horses.  This morning, Dawn got the morning off, since I was busy in the early morning when I usually ride her - I try to ride her then when there are few or no horses in the arena, as she can be very aggressive towards the other horses, attempting to kick them if they get anywhere near - and her personal "bubble" is quite large, which makes it hard to ride with others in the small indoor arena.

I did stop by the barn in the late morning to check on her - she was standing grumpily by the fence, not eating hay.  I wondered what was up.  I went out to check on her, and she right away showed me what the problem was - as I approached, she bit the blanket on her left shoulder a couple of times.  I checked it out, fending off her attempts to bite me, and there was indeed a problem.  Her fleece, which was on under her blanket, had slid back and twisted and was too tight across her shoulder.  I put a halter on her and led her to the fence to take the fleece off.  This involved taking off her blanket first, then the fleece.  The neckline of the fleece had left a big ridge along her shoulder, which I rubbed until she told me it felt better.  Then I put her blanket back on - she really didn't need the extra fleece layer today - and let her go, and she happily marched off to eat hay.  Poor girl - glad I was there to make it better.

When I was walking through the indoor, one boarder was there doing some groundwork with her horse.  She said that he had recently started shaking his head and asked if I had any idea what that could be about.  I said I didn't know, but that it could be that he was trying to release a cramp or tightness in his neck somewhere.  I started feeling around on his neck, and sure enough he had a number of very tight, sore places.  I started rubbing and massaging and next thing we knew he was yawning, lolling his tongue, stretching out his neck and body and just enjoying the whole thing.  He had some very sore spots that I had to be careful with.  Then he demanded that I massage his shoulders, ribcage and hip area - he continued to yawn and stretch - he was clearly really enjoying the whole thing.  When he said he'd had enough, he shook out his neck and head and seemed to feel better.  Now my knowledge of equine massage is pretty limited - I just rub and apply pressure where the horse seems to want it - this horse was pretty demonstrative about what he wanted.  It was really fun to see him respond, and it'll be interesting to see if the head shaking improves.

In the afternoon, Red and Pie and I had a good time together.  I was there at bring in time, and got to see the horses carefully and slowly picking their way across the frozen, chopped up ground - not much moving around possible out there.

Red and I had a very fine ride, and after our usual vigorous 15-minute walk warm up.  We had the ring to ourselves for most of our ride.  He was very forward, having lots of pent-up energy.  This time, as we started our faster work, I let him make some decisions about how we would warm up.  His choice was to turn down the center line of the arena, and canter to the end and then come back to trot and then walk before he had to turn - he clearly wanted to warm up on a straight line and I told him that was fine with me.  We did a number of repetitions of this, and he choose to mostly use the left lead, although he did some right lead canter as well.  After a number of lengths, he felt comfortable continuing in trot around the turn.  Today, in contrast to yesterday, he was stiffer tracking left - I expect the soreness in each hock varies from day to day.  He did some really excellent trot and canter work, and I only got one head-shake on the first right lead canter departure.  His trot work at medium trot was very good - lots of drive and power and very good softness - I try to make sure he's using himself correctly and not inverting and falling on the forehand.  His canter work had a lot of elevation and power.  He had more difficulty doing a slower, more collected trot, but by the end of our ride he was more comfortable and able to do it without going "flat" - flatness of gaits can be an indication of hock discomfort - and also did some nice medium trot work stretching down on a longer rein.  I told him what an excellent horse he was, many times.

Pie and I also had an excellent ride under less than ideal conditions.  There were at least 4 other riders at all times, including one young rider on a pony jumping a small figure 8 course, and then doing canter work - in our very small arena, that's a lot of people.  At the end of our ride, someone came in and started lungeing a feisty little mare at one end.  Pie was nervous with all the traffic, but listened well to me and kept right on trucking.  He was very forward as well, and did some very nice trot and canter work.  As he relaxed, we were able to do some loose rein work, and he started to offer some good softness and engagement.  We ended with some slower sitting trot work, where he was able to stay relaxed and soft.  He also was told many times what a good boy he was.

You can't ask for better than that!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dawn is Golden and the Boys Calm Down

Today was a very good three-horse day.

The last time I rode Dawn was a week ago today.  First I tweaked my back, then she was very sore from her trim.  So today, we finally rode again.  It was very cold this morning - wind chills below zero - but the horrible wind from yesterday had mostly died down and the sun was shining brightly.  I retrieved Dawn from turnout - she was coping well with the cold - funny how that happens the day after she's been stuck inside - and brought her inside.  It was just barely 20F in the indoor - about at my limit for riding.

I wasn't at all sure how Dawn would be today - she'd had 6 days off, it was very cold and the horses haven't really been able to move around much in turnout due to the ice and hard-frozen, chopped up ground.  So just to be safe, I put her on the lunge line first.  Dawn and I have a deal about lungeing and other groundwork - if she's a maniac or there's bucking and kicking out, we work until she can listen to me, relax a bit and nicely do what I ask in terms of transitions - but if she's calm and listens to me, we can stop.  Although Dawn can certainly have her moments, today she was golden.  She walked nicely until I asked for trot and stopped trotting and halted as soon as I stopped - I don't stand still in the middle when I lunge but move with the horse to convey the level of energy I want.  Same thing in the other direction.  It might as well have been 80 degrees as far as her behavior went.  She was simply telling me that no lungeing was necessary. What a good mare!

We only lunged for a couple of minutes, and then I just got on. We then did about 20 minutes of walk/trot work - she was very alert and forward, but completely responsive.  We were then interrupted for a few minutes by the arena being dragged, and I got back on for some more trot work - I don't want her to think that the drag coming is the signal that we're done working - but we didn't work long as I don't want her to get sore again and need to see how she does.  I told her what an outstanding mare she was and turned her back out.

It had warmed up considerably outside by the afternoon and it actually made it over 30F in the indoor arena.  I had very nice rides on both Red and Pie.  Both boys were really interested in moving out, since they've got no way to do any real moving around outside.  Red was very forward, and we did quite a bit of canter work, which is sometimes easier for him than trotting.  We even did some continuous canter work on his right lead, which is often more difficult for him, but it felt pretty nice today.  His canter on both leads had quite a bit of lift and drive today.  We also did a fair amount of trotting - he was somewhat stiffer on the diagonal tracking right.  There was some had shaking today at various moments - I'm not entirely sure what it means but I think it means that he's feeling feisty and excited - it's perhaps his equivalent of (and far preferable to) high-energy bucks, and since the head shaking isn't a problem for me as he keeps right on working I don't really mind.  When we were done, I told him what an excellent Red man he was.

Pie was also quite forward today, although not nervous or spooky like yesterday.  He did some very nice trot and canter work, including a good amount of sustained canter in both directions - he was moving very well and able to carry himself repeatedly around corners and turns without falling on the forehand/falling out of canter.  His trot was also quite forward - he's never going to be a long-strided horse but he was offering what he could and it felt very nice.  He also was told what a excellent Pie he was.

Even though it's still winter, and likely to be so for some time, I'll take a day like today any time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Boys are Feisty

The temperature nose dived from yesterday to today.  Yesterday it was 47F, and the high today was about 15F with howling winds and wind chills that were at zero or below all day.  I brought Dawn in fairly early in the morning - she was very cold despite having a fleece on under her heavy blanket.  Red and Pie were fine and had no interest in coming in.

It made it up to the low 20s in the indoor this afternoon, so I managed to get in two good rides on Red and Pie.  I rode Red briefly at the walk bareback yesterday in the warm temperatures as he was still slightly tentative on the concrete - I wouldn't have ridden him except that he was insistent - he stood at his stall door and nickered until I took him out.  Pie and I had a nice ride as well yesterday.  It was nice to ride with the arena doors wide open - not so claustrophobic.

With the cold and wind today - the wind was gusting to 45mph - the boys were much feistier.  The wind was howling and screaming around the barn, the metal doors were banging and crashing, dirt was hitting the sides of the arena and the rafters and roof were even groaning.  And the horses haven't been able to move around the pasture much in turnout - the ground is hard with icy patches and they have to pick their way through it - no running and playing possible.

Red seemed fine on the concrete today, so I rode him.  He was remarkably good, considering that we hadn't had a real ride in almost a week.  He took the noises in stride, although he was very alert.  His trot and canter work were very good, and he was only a little bit gimpy at the trot at the start.  The only sign he gave of pent-up energy was some head shaking and snaking during some of our trot work.  I just ignored all that and we kept right on working and it quickly went away.  We only trotted and cantered for about 15 minutes, after our 15-minute walk warm up, because I wanted to see how his hoof comfort would hold up before doing more tomorrow.  I told him that he was a very good horse.

Pie was very high with energy and also somewhat spooky and worried when we came out.  The noises and banging concerned him a bit.  We had one pretty good dropped-butt scoot when the doors slammed behind him early in our ride, but we just kept right on working.  We did lots of trot and canter work, and he was very forward.  It took quite a while to get him to relax and settle, but he did once he'd been able to move and work off some of his excess energy.  By the end, his head had dropped and he was much more relaxed and less worried.  I told him what a fine boy he was.

It was a good horse day, although I'm a bit sore - I managed to fall on the ice in my driveway this morning when I took the dog out, and landed on my tail and lower back and hands.  But I'm only a little bruised and riding didn't hurt much at all.  A nice hot bath is in order, though . . .

Monday, February 18, 2013

New Farrier? and a Comments on Horses for Sale

Some of you, in the comments on the last post, asked why I kept using my farrier/trimmer if I wasn't happy about how he was trimming my horses.  (Update - Dawn's doing a bit better and Red is now rideable.  Pie continues to be just fine - he's Pie, after all.)  That's a very good question.  I often hang on to situations/relationships/habits/you name it, even when it's clear to everyone else that doing so isn't a good idea - some misguided sense of loyalty, perhaps, or just plain old inertia, or perhaps fear that doing something else would be worse.

Anyway, I have a line on another farrier.  He's used by a couple of people at my barn, and they seem very satisfied.  They're knowledgeable horse owners (there's plenty at my barn who aren't), knowledgeable about hooves and hoof care, and all their horses are barefoot.  This guy apparently comes every 6 weeks like clockwork, and does the least he needs to in terms of trimming.  He also apparently does a good bit of continuing ed, which I like.  Although he's not strictly a barefoot trimmer - he does shoeing as well, including specialty corrective shoeing - he seems to work well with these clients and their horses.  One of the owners at my barn is going to introduce us by e-mail, and I'll ask him to look at my horses, and maybe do a touch-up if needed, when he comes out in about three and a half weeks - Dawn and Red are likely to need nothing but Pie will have grown some foot by then.  If I like him, I'll get on his regular schedule and bid goodbye to my existing farrier/trimmer.

* * * * * *
Now, for some fun - thanks to all those who commented on the three horses for sale that I posted as hypothetical purchases.  I have some thoughts on these three, but there are a couple of posts I did back during the Great Horse Search that set out how I went about it - here they are:

Questions to ask (scroll down in the post for the questions)
Honesty in sellers, telephone interviewing and follow-up questions

Horse number 1 -  This horse would be my leading candidate from the three I posted.  He's very nicely build - square and well-proportioned.  I like his shoulder, head and neck and hind leg angles.  Can't see his body at all, so that would be a question.  From what I can see of his feet, they look pretty good - big and well-shaped.  He's actually built quite a bit like Red.  His breeding is good - he's performance bred and he looks athletic.  Questions, in addition to getting a full set of conformation shots as well as video (although he's close enough to me I'd probably just visit) would probably start with his history.  He's at a big dealer - I don't know this dealer and would want to do some checking on his reputation - I generally steer clear of dealers but can deal with one if I know more about him.  The horse was purchased from his original owner - why did the original owner sell?  The price is pretty low for a horse of his age and breeding unless there's something else going on - the dealer would have gotten him for even less - I'd want to poke around and try to find out what that is.  Temperament and disposition in a performance bred horse like this would be a question.  Some of them are too catty and hot for me - Red's on the borderline for this, but his puppy-dog personality makes a big difference now that we're bonded.  Also, this guy is lightly built, or looks that way - I would need to see him in person and how he moves - his lightness of bone may be fine with his light build, or maybe not.  I wouldn't be surprised if there's a chronic soundness issue here, or holes in training, but would have to see what I could find out.

I do like his expression, what I can see of it - he looks sweet.  Since I'm not looking to compete, that goes a long way with me.

Horse number 2 -  I used to be a big mare person, but the older I get the more I like the boys.  But she's a very pretty mare - I especially like her expression in the photo - she looks alert but relaxed.  I'm always suspicious when the horse is only shown in the pasture, and not under saddle.  Her conformation looks good - maybe a little long in the back - and her feet look nice to the extent we can see them.  Real conformation shots are needed - why don't people put these up in the first place?  Her breeding is good for me, and she seems to have lots of mileage and experience.  With her, it would be a matter of what she really looks and moves like, and why they're selling her.

Horse number 3 -  I like this guy a lot - he reminds me of Pie (and Cake plus Pie is very tempting).  His personality and willingness seem great - there are lots of photos of him doing various things on their website.  His sire and dam are also on the website, which is good, and since he's with his breeders good information would be available.  I have some issues with his conformation and movement from the photos I've looked at.  I like his bone and substance, and the feet look good.  His breeding is quite attractive. He looks fairly straight in the shoulder and long in the neck and body, and tends to stand under himself - he might not be that comfortable to ride.  He's a bit straight in the hock and stifle and appears to travel on the forehand - I expect he's downhill although it's hard to see with the saddle.  Good conformation shots would be needed.  The big question here is why they're selling him - they have lots of horses, so why keep others and sell him?  He's had a lot of experience and is probably a pretty solid working horse - he might be a great horse if you were willing to tolerate some conformation defects.  I expect he might make a dandy trail or husband horse.  I always try to keep in mind that there are horses with perfect conformation who go lame and horses with defects who stay sound.

If I were looking (which I'm not), I'd probably make calls on all three of these horses.

And, just for fun, here's another one for your vicarious horse-shopping pleasure - for once, not a red horse:

Horse number 4.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Finally, a Ride

Last Tuesday, sometime during the day, I tweaked my back.  I had three very good rides, and did all my regular chores, but noticed that as the day was going on I was getting stiffer.  By the evening, I was pretty sore and tight through my back.  I used to have, regular, terrible back trouble, but it's been much less of a problem since I've been riding more, with proper posture - I think my core is stronger now.  By Wednesday evening, I was still stiff, but the stretching I was doing constantly seemed to be improving things.  So no riding Wednesday or Thursday morning.  Thursday afternoon all three horses got trims.  My farrier/trimmer is a good guy, but I have to supervise him closely to be sure he doesn't mess too much with the feet or take too much off.  He's pretty good now about not messing with the soles - our ground and arena are very abrasive, and my horses pretty much self-maintain their soles, and frogs rarely need much.  Dawn usually hardly needs trims - just a touch up, and Red only needs a bit as well. Pie grows an enormous amount of foot, even in the winter - he's got very hard, thick hoof walls and they don't wear much, and they grow a lot.

My farrier's usually been pretty good lately about not over-trimming, but this time he was a little too aggressive.  Pie was fine - he's always fine - but Red was slightly sore behind and Dawn was very, very sore behind and couldn't hardly walk on the concrete barn aisle.  I was pretty unhappy - the problem with both Dawn and Red wasn't so much the trim as the bevelling he put on the hind toes.  Dawn has thin soles, and her toes really don't tolerate much if any bevelling.

All three horses got Friday off, although I could have ridden Pie, and both Dawn and Red got some bute.  Saturday, Dawn wasn't much better although Red was improving.  More bute for both of them.  Again, I could have ridden Pie, but our neighborhood chili party was that night, so no time for that.  Sunday, today, Dawn was still sore although somewhat better on the hard surfaces, so I went out and bought some Venice turpentine and painted it on her soles (not frogs or heels), and she got one more gram of bute - I don't like giving bute that many days in a row, but she really needed it.  She also came in early so she could be on the softer shavings in her stall - the ground outside is frozen hard.   She seemed happier by the time I left this afternoon.

Red was still slightly sore, although improved.  I could have ridden him at the walk in the soft arena footing, but decided to give him a Venice turpentine treatment and one more day off.  No bute, he didn't need it.  He wasn't happy about having to go back in his stall and did a lot of looking at me and nickering.  Pie got ridden - he'd had four days off but was as good as gold.  We had a very nice ride at all three gaits, and he was very forward and responsive.  His canter work was particularly nice - I worked on "thinking us light" - this helped my back too - and he responded in kind.  My back seems to have tolerated the ride very well so far - keeping fingers crossed.

Tomorrow, I expect Red will be rideable.  Dawn will probably take more time - I'm extremely annoyed with my farrier/trimmer and will have to watch him even more closely next time.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Some Fun Looking at Horses for Sale . . .

Do you ever, for fun, look at sale ads for horses on line?  I like to do this sometimes, and although it's fun, it's also a little sad, since I can't have the horses I find, or even go see them - I already have three fine horses to ride and more would (probably) be too much.

But occasionally I do some searching on the horse sale sites . . .   Those of you who were around for the Great Horse Search in 2010 - that resulted in my getting both Pie and Red - will remember that I had fairly specific search criteria in terms of conformation.  I also have fairly strong opinions about QH pedigrees, and what I do and don't like to see in them.  I wanted a QH (there are plenty of other nice horses, but QHs are most familiar and comfortable to me) - registered only so I'd know the bloodlines - either mare or gelding, color/markings not important, between 4 and 12 years old, between 14.3 and 15.3 hands, and for sale for under $5,000.  I'm generally not interested in horses bred to win in halter, and horses bred/trained for Western pleasure are of little interest to me - I don't fancy the build or bloodlines there for the most part.  I'm not in the market for a competitive cutting, reining or barrel horse, but those bloodlines are fine. Horses bred for all-round ranch work appeal to me. Some of these opinions, maybe most of them, are just biases, but I'm fine with that - it made the search easier.  I'm looking for an intelligent, willing and athletic horse, with excellent soundness and conformation, starting from the feet up (bad feet are an automatic disqualification) - every horse has good points and bad points but I'd like a good overall package.  The horse had to be started under saddle, and the more experienced the horse, the better. And, even when I found horses to consider, I did a fairly extensive e-mail and phone follow up to get a lot more information and photos.  I  was always looking to find a reason - particularly related to conformation or soundness - to say no.

So, just for fun, and assuming that I was in the market for another horse, here are three candidates for your consideration - let's have some fun.  In the days of my horse search, all three of these might have been candidates for some follow up.

Horse number 1

Horse number 2

Horse number 3

Tell me what you think, and I'll tell you what my questions might be about each horse - and see if you notice what I did about horse number 3's name . . .

Monday, February 11, 2013

Three Superstars

I am convinced that I have three of the most wonderful horses that exist.  All three were superstars today under somewhat challenging conditions.  It wasn't that cold today - around freezing, but the wind was ferocious - it was steadily 20-25 mph with gusts to 45.  Darn unpleasant.  The recent snow/rain/somewhat thaw left the corners of the ring flooded and there were cones marking the edges of the flooded areas.  The metal arena doors - two sets - were banging and crashing.  The arena roof, when it's windy, makes a loud buzzing noise, and today the buzzing was extremely loud.  There were points when the wind was so bad it was howling and screaming around the corners of the arena.

I was alone in the arena for all three of my rides - it's my favorite way to ride.  I enjoy socializing at the barn, but not when I'm riding - that's for me and my horses, and I tend to lose my concentration (and the horses therefore lose theirs) if there are too many people in the ring, and being alone also means we can go whereever we want at whatever gait.  Today was ideal - each ride, we were by ourselves, and the arena was freshly dragged before my rides on Red and Pie this afternoon.   Every footprint in the arena this afternoon came from the three of us.  None of my horses cared that they were alone - this is huge progress for Red.  Dawn and Pie both had to deal with some distractions - Dawn with the tractor and spreader coming and going and doors opening and closing, and Pie with someone coming and going to get a horse from outside, and opening and shutting doors.  All three horses had had a day off yesterday.

This morning, despite the noise and distractions, Dawn acted as though it were 80 degrees and nothing much was going on.  She was soft, and relaxed, and responsive, and just plain wonderful.  She did one small scoot when the arena doors loudly banged right behind her, but we just kept on riding and after a few strides her relaxed trot was back.  For Dawn to be able to cope with weird stuff in the arena, and loud noises, is enormous progress for her - she was with me and for me throughout today and I told her what a wonderful and special mare she is - she knows it already and accepted the tribute with graciousness.

Red came to me as a nervous and reactive horse.  Today he dealt with the challenges like a champ - riding alone without other horses used to be a big issue for him but he now takes it in stride.  He was listening to the noises, but that was OK and we just went about our business - there was one point where the wind was really screaming, but although he was slightly worried, he stayed right with me and we just kept right on working.  He's struggling right now with the first couple of walk/trot transitions - I'm working on not giving him anything to brace against, rather than holding him to keep him from sticking his head up in the air and balking - some bend to the left with the right rein relaxed may help.  We'll keep working on this - it's partly his worry about his hocks hurting - and I expect pretty soon it'll just disappear.  Poor fellow, he's sore when we start our trot work and I bet that feeds into it.  I let him choose the degree of engagement and stride length for a while at trot.  Today we also did some canter work on both leads after a while - this seemed to help him stretch out and be more comfortable, and the trot after that was much better.  I told him that he was amazing - he agrees.

Pie and I also had an exceptionally fine ride.  I hand walked him around the arena first in both directions - when things are to his left he tends to worry more - this may be a permanent neurological effect of the Lyme disease.  In fact I did this with all three horses - there were wet areas with cones and also banging doors, to approach and examine.  No one was overly concerned, but everyone appreciated the chance to look a bit before we rode.  Pie and I worked today on him not "diving" at all three gaits.  Pie came to me as horse who held his head and neck inverted - upside down.  We've been working on softness and relaxed carriage, but his first impulse has been to go very low and even behind the vertical with his head when asked to soften.  It's time to get this adjusted - I don't believe in messing a lot with a horse's head position, but Pie's was interfering with his ability to move, and he was falling on the forehand as a result.  So today I started asking him to keep his head and neck a bit higher, so he didn't dive or fall behind the vertical.  To do this, I kept my hands somewhat higher than I have been doing - that's all.  He figured it out pretty quickly, and we had some wonderful work at all three gaits, with softness, but no diving.  His bending was the best we've had yet, and his canter work was wonderful - he was able to do the corners and sustain the canter better than ever since he wasn't falling on the forehand by going too low and falling behind the vertical.  I also told him he was outstanding - he seemed satisfied.

I couldn't be more delighted with all three of them.  All four of us have our challenges from time to time, but we're a pretty happy crew and enjoy our work together, and our time together when we're not working.  People sometimes ask me which horse I like best - it's an impossible question to answer - they're all special because they're each precisely and exactly who they are, different and delightful in their own ways.  The relationship I have with each of them is deep, and full of trust and respect - in both directions - and the fact that they're each so different in personality makes it even finer - they are each so real and present to me it's hard to describe the intensity of our relationships.

Days like today make everything good - horses are about life, and life is about horses.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fun on a Snow Day

It's been snowing pretty hard for a good part of the day - the original forecast was that we would get 1-2 inchs, but it now looks like we're getting more like 6-8 inches.  This is good in a way, because our snow this winter has been way below normal, which isn't good for next year's growing season.  The roads were terrible, and getting worse, but with my truck in 4-wheel drive that didn't really matter - I was at the barn this afternoon as usual.  There was only one person there when I got there and she left right after that - I had to ask her not to turn the arena lights off on me - she didn't see that I was in there through the doors.

Dawn had a day off today.  Red and Pie and I had the place to ourselves - when this happens our small indoor arena is plenty big enough and it's a lot of fun.  I'd bought a new toy, and we spent some time playing with that.  Remember my dream about riding with a pinch of mane?  As an approximation of that, I bought a neck ring - that's how Shadowfax in the Lord of the Rings movies was ridden - to try out with Red and Pie - Dawn and I may even give it a whirl.  Here's the one I got (I know nothing about Julie Goodnight and don't recommend or not recommend her or her methods or equipment) - I like that it has a breakaway and that it has a loop to attach to the saddle horn so it can't end up around your horse's ears if they put their head down, and if you're riding without it it just stays put.

Red and I rode first.  He was great with the neck ring as we were warming up at the walk - as I expected he caught on right away.  It took a bit for me to figure out how to organize my reins, and the dressage whip I carry when I ride him and Pie, while also holding the neck ring.  Getting the neck ring the right length took some adjusting, and I found the best arrangement of reins (loose but not drooping), neck ring and dressage whip was to hold the ring and outside rein in one hand and the inside rein and dressage whip in the other - I wasn't using the reins at the walk, but wanted them to be available.

Red did turns, side pass, backing, circles and leg yield just about perfectly with the neck ring alone, along with my weight, leg and focus.  It was a lot of fun.  When I asked for trot, I did it at first on a loose rein, and he fussed and balked.  I then asked him for softness with the reins and asked for trot, and he did it although he was pretty stiff for a while.  When he's stiff, he tends to want to put his head up and brace on the bit - this is really what he's doing when he balks - he's falling on the forehand when he does this and avoiding really using his hind end, to spare his hocks, which are sore.  Eventually he warmed up and did some nice long and also more collected trot work - I feel sorry that he's sore but the exercise is good to keep his joints moving as his hocks finally get to the point of fusing the lower joints.

At the trot, both he and Pie lost a good part of their responsiveness to the neck ring - Pie wasn't quite as sensitive to it at the walk as Red had been, and took some time to figure out backing but improved rapidly.  I think this is more an issue with me than them - I think it means that I'm more skilled at riding with my weight, focus and energy at the walk and less so at the higher gaits, where I tend to rely more on my hands.  The neck ring is a good "tell" - it shows where I need to work.  At trot and canter, I need to stop riding the head - a big challenge for me, and probably lots of other people as well.

Pie and I also did some very good trot/canter/trot work on both leads - he has trouble with the tight corners, so I had him do canter down the long sides, trot around the ends and canter again at the next long side.  His transitions got to be pretty nice, and he was bending pretty well on a loose rein - I tried to avoid too much rein aid except gently rubbing the inside rein on his neck to help him move to the outside.  He even volunteered to canter all the way around a few times and it was very nice.

Pretty good for a snow day!  There was even more snow when I went back out to my truck, but it plowed right through everything without a complaint.

Sending out good wishes to all those in the northeast who will be affected by the big storm this weekend - I was in Boston for the Blizzard of '78 - almost 30 inches of snow just ten days after a 20-inch snow - it was chaos for over a week.  Those events are memorable, but also scary and challenging.  Hope everyone does well - stay warm and safe!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Dream

I rarely dream about horses or riding, maybe because I spend so much time with my horses almost every day.  But last night I had a dream about horses . . .

The dream had several parts.  First, I was riding Pie around inside my house - the ceilings and rooms had expanded to accommodate us.  I was steering him using only a pinch of mane - it was pretty magical.  Later in the dream, I was riding him at the barn and doing the same thing - although I had his bridle on, I wasn't using the reins and was using the pinch of mane.  Same magical feeling.

Then there was another part to the dream.  I was out in a pasture with lots of horses, and going from one pasture to the next.  I was looking at and motioning to the horses to follow along with me, and they did.  Also magical.  Then there was an odd bit, as often happens in dreams.  A fancy car drove up around and through the horses - there was a driveway or pavement now - and turned in through a fancy, chateau-type gate.  One horse slipped through the gate with the car, and I knew I would have to go back later to get the horse, since the driver of the car didn't know anything about horses.  And there the dream ended.

Today it was finally up to about 25F in the indoor arena, and I could ride - the past several days it's made it up into the teens at best.  Wind chills hovered around zero all day outside, but the sun seems to have made a difference.

Dawn and I had a short lungeing session so she could stretch her legs - she'd come in a bit early today - when I went to get her in the pasture she was at the gate, huddled up with her eyes squinted.  She did some bucking and kicking, and was pretty high energy for a bit, but then she just didn't want to lunge.  This is a new thing for her - she used to go around pretty much on automatic, but now she's looking for a signal that she can stop, and she disengages and turns to face me.  I made sure that she went back out and that we got a stop that I had requested, but I didn't ask her to do a lot more.  She calmed down pretty quickly, and my rule with her is that if you're calm, you don't have to do more.  I also expect that she's a bit sore in the hocks, so the tight circle of lungeing may be uncomfortable.  Tomorrow I'm hoping to ride her - she's had four days off.

Red had had two days off, but he was as good as gold - maybe even better.  He was soft and responsive and relaxed from the get-go.  We did a proper 15-minute walk warm up with lots of turns and also some lateral work.  And here's the really outstanding part - he did perfect walk/trot transitions from the first ask - this has been an issue for us as he tends to leap into canter.  I think my postural improvements made a difference, and I was also keeping my contact very soft.  He did some very nice sustained trot work.  We do need to work on getting him to stretch down and relax in the top line - he's still being careful about how he moves and tends to stay fairly upright, although soft.

And, guess what?  The pinch of mane thing worked pretty darn well with Red - he's so responsive and sensitive that he's always trying to figure out what you might be asking.  We did circles, turns and figures at the walk, using just the pinch of mane - although I was still doing my stepping to the outside and turning the way I was going, and he may have been reading that as well.  It was pretty neat.

Pie and I also had a really excellent walk/trot/canter ride - he'd had three days off - with good bend, softness and forward - every time my eyes came down he could lose his straightness or bend, and as soon as I looked up and opened my posture, the straightness and bend came back.  He did slip once cantering around a corner - he's still figuring out how to carry himself in our tight arena.  Pie wasn't too sure about the mane-pinch steering thing, but he did something else for me that was special.

When I'm done riding Pie, I often get off Pie and have him stand in the middle of the arena while I put things away - cones or poles.  Today I was putting cones away, and he stood there like a champ while I collected and put away cones.  But then all I have to do is to motion to him and he starts following me around as I put away the rest of the cones.  It's really very sweet, and is just like the horses in the pasture in my dream.

What dreams have you had about horses, and have the dreams come true?