Hi, I'm Ev. I'm training to become a horsewoman. These are my adventures and misadventures. I'm green as hell, but so far, so good. I'm now learning from Bo (and sometimes his wife DeDe) at D&D Ranch in Pope Valley. I am extremely lucky to have this opportunity, I feel quite blessed, and I feel that they, and horses, have really turned my life around.
Solomon is my baby- a big old flea bitten grey Appendix gelding who is very kind and way too smart! I love him so very much. He is a rescue and was meant to be co-owned rehabbed, and maybe rehomed to a good home. He turned out to be over 25 years old with injuries that ultimately do not make him riding sound, so he is retired.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

In which Solomon is mostly a really good boy!

When I got to the ranch today, there were a lot of people around.
One of the new boarders is a trainer, and she has a young horse. This is her (the horse's) first time with a bit in her mouth!

This baby was a very good, calm girl. A Quarterhorse with no reason to fear people.

She seemed to take the bit as a strange puzzle.

After I drenched Solomon with fly spray (and sprayed the big grey TB as well, of course) I let him loose to graze.

There isn't as much yummy green grass to eat any more. Everything is turning into stickers.

Some of the horses were hanging around the watercooler, probably gossiping.

I wish this had some out clearer. The baby had her head between Magic's back legs for some reason, haha!

Of course when I walked over, the baby had to say hi!

I believe this eye belongs to Breezie, who is the alpha mare of the pasture.

The flies never let up, despite careful poop control, pesticides on the manure, and fly traps. I remember how bad it was at the place I got Sol from, and I am grateful that Bo and Dede are so careful and clean.

Meanwhile, Solomon was still saying Om Nom Nom.

Though he did take a break to come say hi!

I wandered around for a while, taking photos of some of the plant life on the ranch. First, the grass is brown and dead, but these pretty purple wildflowers have popped up. I don't think the horses eat them.

There are also lovely flowers and trees all over that Dede has planted. She is really building an impressive garden out there, mostly comprised of salvia varieties and butterfly bushes, though there are also roses, sunflowers, and other lovely plants.

That last picture totally reminds me of those flower puzzles that you buy because you think "oh this is pretty and it will be fun to do," but then you realize that all the flowers look the same and it's a big pain in the butt. If you are OCD like my mother and I, however, you'll still finish it. But a little bit RESENTFULLY, especially when you realize the dog has eaten two pieces.

Uhm. Anyway. Right, HORSES.

So after a while I got bored, and Solomon tried to get into the hay barn, at which point I had to put on my Scary Mom Face and use my Growly I'm-Gonna-Eat-Ya voice and chase his giant white spotty butt out of there before he could get into the feed. Twice. So that was the end of break time!

"Hey self," I thought to myself, "everyone is gone! EVERYONE! We're all alone? What would be the safest thing we could do? That's boring, let's not do that."

So I decided we'd practice standing at the mounting block.

Now, Solomon was a butt going to the round pen. I had already lunged him briefly earlier, and now we were going BACK to the WORK PLACE, oh noes!

So he did his classic leg-locking stubborn-face thing. I used my growlyvoice again, and he got moving.

Then he decided it was time to be an absolute SAINT. I don't know what decided him on it, but he was such a good boy. I mean, here:

And then here:

Haha, scary death horse indeed!

At one point he did move forward (of course when a couple of boarders showed up at the gate) a couple of steps, but stopped and calmed down again. At another point he took a step forward and I said "BACK" and he took one step back again. Very good! He let me lean on him, and he got so calm. I could feel his spine hollow or round depending on where his head was- it makes a HUGE difference. Huge. High head- can't feel his spine. Low head- pooointy back. I did not put weight on his spine, instead focusing on either side of his back. I rested most of my weight on him like this, and he responded by slowly lowering his head... then I felt his breaths get longer and deeper, longer and deeper. I think he might have dozed off a bit. I also put my leg over his back at least a dozen times. The one time he did move I decided to practice my emergency dismount and swung down around his neck off the block.

How panicked was Solomon after all this?

Yeah, he's doing what you think he's doing. Welcome to my life with Solomon. He does that every single time I brush his hindquarters too. horses are honest, what can I say? But look, he is staying exactly where I told him to stay!

It was getting late at this point, so Solomon went back to his pasture. He has gotten this habit of freezing at the pipe paddocks lately, especially when he doesn't want to go back to his pasture yet. I got after him this time. Bo says, "with horses, you ask, then you ask again, and then you TELL." So after asking Solomon to keep walking, and asking more firmly, I chased his butt in a circle once and made him keep walking. I am getting a little better at establishing my role as leader with Solomon, and he was very good after that, walking with me briskly and being a model gate navigator. He went through behind me, he swung his butt around to let me close the gate safely, he walked away from the gate with me, and stopped the moment I stopped, no verbal command needed. When I let him go, he went for a drink. I think his water is getting changed in the morning, or maybe it was tonight, which is why it's low. You can see that he gets it kind of messy.

I love how he sticks his tongue into the water!

Solomon is a silent sipper. Some horses drink noisily, some drink stealthily, some are dainty, and some stick their whole heads in!

Okay, this isn't quite so dainty!

Solomon makes a lot of faces:

He is yawning and stretching his jaw here. Horses use their jaws so much throughout the day.

Quick contrast:

Yep, that's my boy.

Solomon really didn't want to be put away for the day yet. He smacked the gate with his head, he pawed at it, and he even grabbed the halter out of my hands!

Heeeeee, tongue!

"Let me OUT, mom!"

He does not have a buddy in there today for some reason. I think that's part of why he doesn't want to be in there- he doesn't like being alone, though he's dealing with is much better now than he was at first. That pasture is his, in his mind.

I THINK this is Remmy next door, but I am not entirely certain. Still learning to sort all those bay boys out! Heh, I sound like I'm a 12 year old playing with Breyer horses here. But you know what? I had a good day today. And I didn't get into TOO much trouble...

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Riding boots

Today a box arrived in the mail. It was from an online friend- a pair of riding boots. They are black and shiny and new. They fit.
Last night I dreamed that I rode Solomon. That a bunch of people were against it but we all went to the forest, away from people's property and liability concerns, and went for a nice ride, where Solomon was good and quiet and we were one.
When I woke up this morning, I tried so hard to go back to sleep again.

Friday, May 29, 2009

"But... he's short!"

Okay, I have a tiiiiny little rant I'm going to spout off here.
I'm looking into therapeutic riding programs at the moment. Most of them have a 180 pound (or less!) weight limit. Well, I CAN see that if they have all small lightweight horses, little 800 pound arabs and the like... and I can see being hesitant to take on heavier adults since they would be harder for the humans to handle, weightwise...
But I think people also underestimate the strength of their horses. My vet, one of the most respected in the bay area, said that most normal horses can easily handle 250 pounds.
Now to my big pet peeve- people assuming that a SHORT horse is a WEAK horse... or even a light one!
Take Fjords for example.
They average around 900 to 1200 pounds. There are many who are easily heavier than that. A 1300 pound Fjord is not unusual. But they are SHORT. So people assume that they couldn't handle a larger rider.
Look, tall horses? They're a product of selective breeding. And being tall doesn't mean a horse is sturdy. They can have spindly legs. They can have long backs. They can be a heck of a lot more lightweight than a Fjord. A short, stocky, short-backed horse is going to be a lot more likely to be able to carry a heavy rider. I know that when it comes to SHOWING in certain English disciplines, a tall rider on a short horse is poo-poohed, but unless your legs are so long that they are somehow interfering with the stride of the horse, and you are just hacking around, so what?
Also, not all larger people are tall! Why would you put a 5'3" tall woman on an 18.2hh Belgian draft? That's the first horse I rode as an adult, by the way. The owner had to shove my butt up into the saddle and catch me when I needed to dismount... catch me while standing ON THE MOUNTING BLOCK. And you can get a big, heavy horse who is not build for load-bearing too.

Okay, these images do not belong to me. The first one is from worldofhorses.co.uk.

Look at that tank! Look at that strong, powerful, sturdy build! This is a horse who is much closer to the build of a true wild horse.

Now here's a photo from www.biology-blog.com.

Here's a pure thoroughbred horse. Build to race. Looong legs for a long stride. They can be like greyhounds. Is this a build that is best suited for a heavy rider? Just because they are tall?

While most horses who are healthy and sound can comfortably carry a lot more than they are given credit for, people really need to get over the "height = carrying capacity" thing. And, to a lesser extent, the "25% rule." It's a rough guideline and it does not at all take into account the build or breed of the horse. People take it as gospel (though you also see people defending 20% or 30% just as much) and it is not.

Look at the Icelandic horse. They are called "ponies" by a lot of the rest of the world, though they're horses. That's another height thing. Anyway, classic Icelandics are bred and built to tolt big adult men over lava fields.

Just... get over the height thing, people, okay?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Solomon backs up!

Today it was a little hot, but not too bad. I was feeling kind of down, but it was good to see my boy, good to see Bo and DeDe, and to meet a returning boarder and friend of Bo and Dede. She was a very sweet lady and I am glad I got to meet her. Solomon is no longer the tall horse on the ranch, nor is he the only grey- one of the new horses boarding at the ranch is also a grey, and he is a TB. He's a little taller than Solomon, and his wither is much more of a shark fin.
We talked about TB brains and how TBs tend to learn. TB stubbornness and TB force of personality. I love my boy, but mindwise I wish he were an Icelandic!

Anyway, I'm going to be fly spraying the new grey horse. :) He is a sweet and stately old guy.

After grooming we did some walking through the chute, and then walking him into the chute with the gate closed, then backing him out again. When we backed out the last time, I took Solomon's halter off, but that's where his horsey brain failed and instead of going around the pipe paddocks, he went back into the chute and begged me to open the gate. Heh. Then when I opened the gate he DID go around the pipe paddocks, circling around behind the hay barn (and nonchalantly walking right past some tack room construction with a table saw) to get to his tree.

Solly grazed way down the fence line...

Where Teddybear squealed and kicked the fence. Solomon, however, was not phased and did not even lift his head up from grazing. He couldn't figure out how to go around the chute, but he understood that Teddy Bear couldn't reach him through the fence.

When he started grazing back up the fence, he stopped by to check in on me and sniff me. He also had to grab a mouthful of grass, since he was there and all.

It's weird not seeing his eyes, still. But those flies are so bad that when you shoo them off his legs, blood wells up from their biting. No way am I taking off that mask for the day. He gets it off for riding however. I might have to invest in one of those under-bridle fly bonnets.

Solomon also got some tail-skritches, which he loves. He'll lift his tail up into them, and if you move your hand to the side, his tail will follow. He' like a cat that way.

We filed off that bit of hoof that was cracked, to check it out, and so Bo could show me what it was. Solomon is due for a trim pretty soon. We found that the crack wasn't deep, but that there was also some old bruising under there.

See the purple on the yellow part of the hoof in the back? It's along the crack AND near the bottom of the hoof.

So today his lesson "undersaddle" was bareback and short. Today we decided to see how he would handle backing up.

First, we put something new on him. We're still trying different things out. When Sol gets upset he tends to gape and chomp a whole lot, so today we tried a Western version of a noseband. Here you can see Bo demonstrating the "two finger" rule. You want two fingers of space at the bottom, both so you know the horse can easily breathe, and so you can get the bit in his mouth afterwards!

Solly was unimpressed.

Next was the bridle. I put it in his mouth today. I put molasses on the bit, which Solomon readily took in his mouth. We adjusted it so it wasn't pulling too hard on the corners of his mouth, but so it was high enough for him to pack easily with his tongue. Then I held out my fingers, which had molasses on them. Solomon dutifully licked every last sticky bit off, even between each finger. What an altruist!

Generally Solomon responds pretty well to this bit. He does not ignore it like the snaffle. Maybe at some point we'll go back to the snaffle, though I actually am not really sure he likes it.

So we took Sol to the chute again. At this point he was sick of that particular routine, and didn't want to go in and out a bunch of times on the ground. I had to kind of shoo him in, though he backed out readily enough. So then it was time for the big test- riding him in and backing him out. Brave jet pilot Bo was willing to take the (many) risks to give it a try. Thanks Bo!

So first Bo wanted to try backing him outside of the chute. The first challenge was getting on his back. That took a while. Sol did NOT want to be ridden. No sir. It took a lot of time to position him next to the fence that Bo was perched on. Then we had to convince him to hold still, which we eventually did. It was interesting to see the moment when Sol gave in. The second time Bo mounted him, when he gently laid his leg over Solomon, I could actually see and feel (since I was holding on to Sol's butt and shoulder, heh) the moment when he decided to let Bo on... he leaned towards him instead of trying to swing away. But then when he was asked to back, he fell apart. He does two big things- he tosses his head up high, high enough to hit an unsuspecting person in the nose. Bad bad bad. Less bad, but also not good, he tucks his chin in, evading the bit behind the vertical.

You can see him gaping and chomping too. But today we learned something big! This is not physical pain that he is expressing, when he is asked to back. It is mental distress. It is an emotional issue for him. How did we figure this out? Bo rode him into the chute, and then backed him out.

Look at that! Look at the loose rein. Look at how readily and calmly Solomon backs out.

But once he is completely out of the chute, if you ask him to back up more, without a fence on either side of him, he falls apart again. He just can't handle it. Not yet. So next time we are adding another panel. The chute will be twice as long. I think about 24 feet.

So Solomon understands going back in the chute. If we back him with someone riding him and a bridle in the chute enough, hopefully the lightbulb will go off and he will understand the guidance that we are trying to give him... that the commands Bo gives mean "back up in a straight line." And, just as important, that it is OK and safe for him to do so.

We may well end up doing this, walking, and some light trotting for the next year. That might be how long it will take. But as the nice new boarder lady with the TB says, "there's no rush- you aren't going to the Olympics or anything!"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I miss my boy

Back is starting to get better, and I was considering going up today, but I think I'll be visiting the ranch tomorrow instead. Have to go up then though, as board is due!
I miss Solomon, but Bo says to not feel guilty and go throwing my back out, that he's doing just fine. He is fast friends with Poco Joe, since the LBG has graduated to the big pasture. I've seen Sol and Poco Joe swat flies off each other's faces, and I have not seen any squealing or ear pinning. It's good.
I think today I might be able to make it up to Hossmoor. It has been a couple of months and I have been just terrible because I have not visited once. I won't be able to do much, but maybe I can say hello to the horses and the barn owner there.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Today is a percocet day.
I really need to remember that, while yes, I am severely overweight, that fitness is not the biggest issue. I have a permanent injury and if I aggravate it too much, it will get worse, not better. Which means that, much as I would love to act like I am a normal person who is out of shape, I really can't. Because then the next day I need help sitting up or walking to the bathroom. And there's always the potential that I'll end up needing surgery again.

But damn it, I need quality of life.

So I need to find a balance, and to figure out what I did yesterday that made my back hurt so much today. And not do it.

It's not the "oh my muscles are sore" ache. It's the moving wrong and being brought to your knees because you don't have a choice in the matter "I am injured" pain.

But still, yesterday I felt strong.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

So many people!

Today when I got to the ranch, Bluesky of the fugly board was riding with Bo! She was riding a young mare she'd never met before, and Bo was riding her mare. She was smiling up a storm and she did really really well from what I could see. They went up into the hills a bit, and all over the ranch. It looked like a lot of fun!

There are a couple of other new boarders, and they were also riding around.

Solomon had been in the big pasture with the other geldings and some of the mares. Here he is with some of the other horses.

Bo tells me that he was protecting a 3 year old filly from another horse the other day. He is so obsessed with the young ones. He really loves the fillies, but he'll take a colt if there aren't any girls around. He was out swatting flies with Poco Joe later in the day.

One of the geldings, and I think it was Remmy, but I am not entirely certain, decided that the halter was just the coolest toy ever, and he tried to steal it from me!

That didn't work and another horses ended up chasing him off.

I took Solomon out of the big pasture and with all the activity going on, we headed for the hills! We walked to a part of the property that neither of us had really been to before. It is not an area the horses tend to wander to much even when they are loose, so there was lots of tall virgin grass. After we reached a certain point, Solomon froze up for a little bit, doing that TB brace-n-stare. Hey, I'll take brace-n-stare over teleporting sideways or wheeling and running any day. After a short while (and more than a little coaxing) he got over it and let me guide him through the New Place. When we got to the end of the road, I decided that a little "Hildago Moment" was in order, and set him loose. He followed me closely until we got to a point where he could see the herd and other familiar landmarks. Then he let me walk off, though he did keep a close eye on me. Solomon enjoyed that long grass, let me tell you!

When I pulled Solomon in, I noticed a bit of weirdness with his hoof. I forgot to mention it to Bo. :/

I think it is probably just needing a trim in a week or so. But it is kinda strange that it's got that peeling crack up at the top there. I was not too worried because it is a horizontal crack. It's the vertical cracks that are dangerous.

I ate a piece of fruit and let Solomon lick the juices off my fingers. He is so very gentle and careful with things like that!

I tried to show off Solomon's trailer loading and unloading skills to Bluesky. Never try to show your animals off, haha! He did great loading but not so great unloading. He anticipates and wants to step off already, so he tends to overreach and clip his tow on the edge of the ramp, or trip on it a bit. I need to control his backing more, and get him to do it more slowly, carefully, and in a straighter line. We worked on that a bit. After the first stumble Solomon loaded fine but didn't want to back out. Argh. Well, some days are better than others, and we'll get there. I need to steer him more clearly, and we'll work on that as well.

Solomon also didn't really want to back out of the chute. I eventually got him doing it when there were no other people around and he was focusing on me more. After a few times I switched the leadrope around a bit so it was tied on his halter like reins. Then I climbed on the side of the pen and backed him. He's so tall that I can't hold the impromptu "reins" up high enough from the ground and over the bars. And yeah, the temptation to get on his back was high, but it would have been dumb so I did not do it. Even though I really wanted to.

Next, Bo saddled and bridled Solly, took him out to a meadow, and got on his back. Here they are, watching Bluesky ride away. Look- Bo is smiling a bit! He does actually smile a lot, I just never seem to catch it on film.

Solomon did quite well at the walk, but he also trotted very readily (sometimes NOT when he was asked to) and was hard to bring back down to a walk. And while he did frame up a bit at the trot, mostly he did his ewe-neck thing.

But for the most part his trotting was very smooth. It looked like a comfortable ride. So long as he doesn't get excited, he's smooth. He was nicely framed up most of the time walking, too.

Here they are, calming down after the ride. Awwh!

After the ride, I hosed Solomon down. He stood very nice and still for it. I took a video but it was so boring I decided to not bother uploading it, haha. But you know what? I am so glad he is relaxing into getting hosed down. No pawing or evading today. :D

After the bath, Solly got his grain pan. He wanted every last crumb!

And then he went back in the big pasture...

...where wandered around...

...sniffing the ground for the perfect spot...

...to roll!

Haha, all the majesty and dignity of the equine, gone in an instant!

So Bo and I went in for tea and relaxation. It had been such a busy day for him. We talked about Solomon and why he acted the way he did under saddle. Is it attitude? Is he spoiled? Is he sore? Is it issues because of his past? Does he just feel like saying "I don't wanna" a lot? We are still evaluating. Right now we are focusing on getting him to just walk, to go from a trot to a walk, and to stop consistently on command. No loping. Will he ever be a suitable horse for me to ride? I don't know. In time, we will see. Maybe yes, maybe no. It makes my heart ache to think that no might be the answer, but we have to be realistic and we have to be safe. Well, relatively. Horses are very dangerous animals, after all. Not because they mean to be... they are just so big, and they are prey animals with hardwired flight instincts, and some fight instincts as well.

So after resting, we went out and did some ranch work. Bo did most of it, but I did muck out three stalls.

"Ah, ranch life," said Bo. "Kind of makes the city look a little better, eh?"

"Nope," I replied, and he chuckled.

I wish I were not injured. I would happily take a job as a stablehand. I'd rather swat flies and shovel horse poop than sit in a cubicle any day.

Next it was time to move horses around. I let a mare crowd me and started to try to halter her right at the gate.

"Oh you're SO BAD," Bo scolded, and it was with the exact same tone of voice that he says "don't you kick that baby!" to the horses. Heh. I made a gate mistake with Remmy too. I foresee a lot more gate etiquette lessons in my future, as well as more handing of different horses. I get used to handing Solomon and assuming that he won't crush me or the like, and I pick up bad habits. So now I am learning how to lead horses through gates with other people also leading horses. It is a little more complicated and it takes a lot more care, because you don't want two horses being led to interact. It is dangerous for the handlers, and the horses as well. We talked about (and carried out) making a space for the next person to enter a gate, NOT pausing, which can lead to a wreck.

Next, we fed and watered. Flies and bits of hay, bailing twine and hoses. Romantic ranch life! It's physically demanding work and there really aren't any days off, but I stand by my better than the city statement. It's honest work, and good for you. :p

Oh yeah, there was a wild Mule (okay I think of them as go-carts in my head) ride in there as well, involving Magic who was being a bit of a pain, and lots of fast driving and quick turns. WHEEEE! I was laughing- it was fun. Heh. Ranch rollercoaster!

Today I really went to the limit, physically. I will probably pay for it dearly tomorrow. But today I feel pretty strong. I even climbed some pretty tall pipe paddock walls! CLIMBING. Isn't it awesome? You can't really appreciate a lot of things, I think, until you have lost your ability to do them for a time. Solomon and I took a good walk together, and he lead quite well overall. The ride was positive and I learned about leading and working around multiple horses. It was a good day!

And now, your moment of zen:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Well, they're mine for sure now...

I forgot one thing!
My new glasses finally arrived yesterday. Today Solomon managed to smear horse snot across both lenses.
Yeeep, that's my boy.

Porch baby!

Note: this is the third horse post in a row that I am posting today. Be sure to scroll down and read the other two!

The foal needed her own post today. She was just full of cute.

Today there was a New Person OMG, and Dede was also on the porch, so Magic and her baby had to investigate. There was a pair of shoes on the porch that captured Magic's attention the whole time for some reason. The foal, however, wanted humanloves.

She is starting to lose some of her baby hair around her eyes, nose, and butt.

"Hi, give me loves!" After getting head pettings, she turned around to get butt skritches. She looooves butt skritches, but Dede told me to not give them to her every time she turns around, because otherwise she'll just turn her butt to anyone who comes along, and that's not good for a number of reasons.

Magic, in the meantime, played peek-a-boo.

And here Magic looks wise, or maybe like she has a secret.

Later in the day, the baby took a nap!