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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Happy Solly and saintly Teddy

Solomon is really starting to be happy here.
Yesterday I went to the gate and he came to me, nickering. He swung himself into the position I wanted him to be, followed me through the gate, and swung his butt around very quickly so that I could safely close the gate again. Bo says that a lot of bad accidents happen at gates, and that people don't talk about them and work with them enough when they are training a new horseperson.
I am really glad that he taught me about gates, because it's made it all much easier to deal with, and saved me from a lot of drama too. The Little Bay Gelding wants to follow his buddy out. Once he's out, he might not want to stick around though, hah! So I have learned to chase LBG off, but he has a habit of slinking back while I am haltering my boy, but hiding behind him so it's harder for me to move him off, and we need to go through the gate quickly and correctly. Solomon really understands proper gate etiquette, and now that he is listening to me well, he usually executes the maneuver flawlessly... at least at the beginning of the day! Sometimes at the end of the day he doesn't want to go back in yet, even after hard work, so he'll lock his legs for a moment, but only a short moment.
So today I pulled him out and took him up and down the trailer ramp.

Solomon now loads like a pro. If you do not own a trialer and truck, like I don't, and if you board, like I did, make some friends, maybe offer a little help with something, or a pie (Bo's suggestion, haha) to get someone you board with to let you practice loading and unloading your horse in their trailer. It will really help when you have an emergency.

I think Solomon has had plenty of trailering experience in the past... just for a while there a trailer always meant something bad was going to happen. And for a while I think he also didn't trailer alone. It was easier with a buddy I'm sure. But today I not only loaded and unloaded him multiple times, but I also unloaded him step by step, asking Solly to back up one pace and then stop, one pace and then stop. He didn't like standing completely on the ramp, but he did it for me. What a good boy! Bo also had me step backwards out the trailer with my horse, which was a lot harder! I was wishing for that almost 360 degree vision that horses have. But walking backwards down a ramp or off a step is hard and kinda scary. Remember that, it's true for your horse too!

It helps that the trailer is his happy place, where he gets groomed and where he can zone out and doze off. Here he is, standing and napping like a seasoned ranch horse.

While we were doing the loading and unloading, Bo and I discussed the safest spots in the trailer for when the horse does freak out. His trailer doesn't have a side door, so the safest place to be is in the sharpest corner, farthest back from the exit. The horse, if he is freaking out, is going to want to get OUT of the trailer, and you want to be as completely out of his path as possible. He might back up, or he might turn around and run out.

Then, while he was in the trailer with me, I unclipped my boy while I stood in the farthest corner. He looked at me and dipped his head repeatedly, as if to say "I'm being good momma, see? I'm obeying you and staying here!" He did look behind him out the back door a number of times, but he did not back out. So Bo told me to go to the other corner at the front of the trailer. As the trailer's front wall is at a diagonal (it has a little tack room built in) this meant that I was walking towards the back, which Solomon took as a cue that it was okay for him to back out. I think in a way it was harder for him to do it without guidance. I think he would have felt safer if I had been guiding him. And just as I suspected, he did not wait until he was fully off the ramp before he turned, though he did wait until his back feet were on the ground.
So then we went to see where he would go. What did Solomon want? What was in his head? I predicted that he would go to his favorite tree and graze, which he did eventually. First he stopped to try to say hi to the new gelding who is being boarded on the property. That gelding HATES other geldings it seems, and squealed up a storm. "oh crap!" thought Solomon, who quickly moved on. Then he went around a group of pipe paddocks and B-lined for his favorite tree. Yep. That's his happy place!

So I went and caught him and brought him in again, to pick his feet, brush him, and apply fly spray. He tossed his head violently up and town- his way of telling me he was upset because he thought it was grazing time now, not work time, and he hadn't been out there long enough. Tough cookies. He came along fine after lodging his complaint.
The flies are nasty this time of year. They put out traps at the ranch and keep things clean, but if you have horses, you will have flies. I found that on poor Teddy Bear they even bit her and were clustered around her bite, drinking her blood! Poor girl. I didn't know we had biting flies around here. Bo tells me that if the flies get hungry enough they will also eat a horse's hair. Ugh. Horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal, and the flies go straight for them. Man do I hate flies... I feel so badly for them!
Solomon does not like fly spray, but we have come to an understanding with it. If I spray anywhere at all close to his face, even his chest or his lower neck, I cover Solomon's eye. The mist from the sprayer blows in the breeze, and who wants pesticides in their eyes? It has to hurt. If your horse gets really nervous around fly spray, it is possible that this is the reason. It might be the sound, or it might be the feel of the stuff hitting their hair. It might even be the look of the bottle. With horses it can be hard to tell. But with Solomon, once I started being very very careful about his eyes, he stopped caring about the spray. I put it on his face of course, but I pour some on my hands and then rub it on. I still get a bit of head-tossing, but it is halfhearted.
So next we went into the roundpen. I started with the lead rope, but I didn't feel that we had a clear connection, and anyway I had to stop pretty quickly because he pooped. I didn't want him running over that and packing it into his feet, so I left him in the roundpen while I hunted down an apple picker. He was kind of uneasy about this... the roundpen is work time, and in the roundpen there is always someone telling him what to do. To be left to his own devices in there was not a part of The Program, and he felt pretty unsure of himself and eager to leave. He said, "am I working or am I not working? I don't know what to do!" But it is good for him to learn to go into work mode whenever he is asked to... though maybe work isn't exactly the right word. Pay attention, listen, and obey mode, as opposed to chill out mode. That may be a better description of it.
So when I came back in, I brought in the lunge whip, and we did a bit of roundpenning. I find myself being very active while roundpenning. I follow along in the middle of the circle. I even jog a bit. When he is trotting sometimes I move my feet to the beat of the pace I want him to keep. It seems to help him a bit, and it is certainly a good workout for me. In the way Bo does Rein Cow Horse stuff, you very lightly tap the horse's side to keep time to the beat of the pace you want the horse to take. So maybe you could call it practice. It might look a little silly though, haha!
After I was too tuckered out to work him much longer (and it was a warm day anyway) I put the ship away and opened the gate. "YAAAY FREEDOM AND GRAZING TIME!" Solomon exclaimed, in his horsey way of course. He came trotting to the gate, but this is where he is at his worst with gates, so it was training time still. I blocked his way and held a hand up, telling him "whoooa. Whoa."
"But but but MOOOOM" he said, ducking his head this way and that, trying to nuzzle me (uh, no, not in this situation, I don't want him pushing me through the gate and making a run for it, daaaangerous) and pushing the gate with his head, to beg me to let him through. When he wants through a gate, he shoves at it with his head. He even does this if the gate is already open and he isn't being allowed to exit, as it turns out. Pure communication.
But no, I would not let him through until he calmed down and stood quietly. Then I stepped aside and said "okay!"
Yaaaay grass! And the big herd that has the baby now, and and and! Solomon grazed under his favorite tree for a while, the warm winds ruffling his mane, and then when he got bored of that he came walking all the way across the property back to where I was sitting on a mounting block. He stuck his great grey head down to my chest and sniffed loudly four times, like a dog, in greeting, got a nose kiss and a cheek stroke, and then wandered off to explore. He checked out the garden and the front porch of the house. I was concerned that he would eat the plants, but he did not, and Bo said it was a really great sign. He was relaxed, his neck long and low, ears perked, exploring, curious, relaxed and happy. I filled up his grain pan, which he of course had to come over and supervise. Then he got to eat!
His chest is continuing to fill out, though it will never be big and wide like a lot of those beefy cowhorses you see. It's just not his build. But still, he's getting a lot more muscle.

I should really remember to just take his halter off altogether. I know better!

Eventually Solomon got bored enough to start causing trouble, going to the hay barn which he knows he shouldn't. I chased him off with a "GET OUTTA THERE!" which made him hightail it (literally) out of there. I'm pretty sure he knows he shouldn't go there, but horses will always test test test, and anyway it was full of hay. Then he was at the fenceline, and there was squealing, so he went back in his pasture for the day. He was no longer looking for food, just trouble, heh.

Next up was Jewel. She's the second mare in command in the big herd.

She was being a very bad girl out in the pasture, going after a baby, so she doesn't get to be out there for a while. She's quite herdbound and was rather unhappy with the whole thing.

I went in to brush her and pick her feet. Well, I got her front feet, but she was just too riled up for me to try for her rears- I touched her thigh and she cow-kicked. Not at me, because she would have landed if she had been aiming for me, but still, she doesn't know me well and I did not want to risk it. Bo says part of being a horseperson is constant risk assessment. Horses are very dangerous animals. Working with them is very risky. You have to constantly weigh and measure those risks. Given how upset this mare was at the time and how little she knew me, combined with my relative inexperience, I decided that picking those rear feet was not worth the risk today. Another day, I will do it.

Next I got to see Bo do some hoof trimming. And boy do I appreciate how easygoing Solomon is! Jewel was all worked up today, like I said, and she was freaking herself out a lot. She did a little sitting down and a little rearing. Those front feet got trimmed though! And Bo is quick and good at reading a horse, that is for sure. Jewel is only 4 and really really spirited. Bo says she has heart in spades. I think she just needs to get used to having been moved a little bit longer and she will calm down some. If there had been time, she would have stood tied for a couple hours, which would also have calmed her down. But there was other stuff to do.
Now, I don't want to give the wrong impression here. Jewel is not a mean horse, or a bad horse, though she was bad today. You have to break it down a bit. Physically she felt fine. Environmentally, she was in a different place, which distressed her. Psychologically, she was away from her herd, for a lot longer than she was comfortable with, and it just blew her mind.

Come to think of it, Leo also had to move out of the herd for running a horse through a fence... but I think he's friends with Jewel. Maybe the two of them will go into their own pasture together, as I think Leo is in solitary at the moment too. But I don't know- Bo and Dede have it all figured out. So we'll see what the end up doing.

Next, Bo trimmed the feet of Lilly. Lilly was a cutting horse, I think, and she was worked hard. When they got her, she was hurting and skin and bones. Her legs are really messed up. Bo says that he is all about rehabilitation. There will come a day when Lilly is having more bad times than good because her legs are so messed up... but for now she gets medications and she gets trimmed every two weeks (really, she needs it) and she has a mare to whom she is truly bonded. The two of them have to be together. And Lilly, she's never going to work again. She's retired. When she is just hurting too much, she will have to be put down, but for now she can live with dignity, and she is getting healthier while her pain is managed. she gets good food and plenty of it. She was trying hard to be a good girl, though it was difficult for her to stand on three legs for long enough to get trimmed. She is a very sweet girl though and does try her best. She did her job, as Bo puts it. She deserves a good life, however long the rest of it will be.

After her trim was done, I got to hand graze her. And she really was such a sweetheart.

Her pasture buddy, I think her name is Nikky? Still learning everyone's names here. She was out loose, and she follows wherever Lilly goes. When it was time for them to go in, I lead Lilly to her pasture, and Nikky followed in behind. Bo says they act like they are married, or are twin sisters. He tells me that they would be lost without each other.

So for the next part, I was too busy to take any pictures! Next, I dug up a halter big enough for Teddy Bear's head, and I lead her to the trailer to groom her. I picked my third horse's feet for the day, sprayed her down with fly spray (I need to remember to use less next time, as the stuff they use is $80 a gallon!) and brushed her. Bo tacked her up with a bridle and a bareback pad, and away to the roundpen we went!

Okay. So. This time I was riding, not being led. Or rather, I was attempting to ride.

I want to tell you right now that Teddy Bear should be sainted. The poor dear. I was so confusing. It was absolutely not her fault that I could not give clear directions and we ended up weaving around the roundpen like a drunk at 2am.

I thought, the last time when Bo was leading, that bareback was maybe not as hard as I thought. Well! Yes it is! Remember when I told you that in his style of Rein Cow Horse you keep time to the beat of the horse's movements with your feet? For a greenhorn like myself this was not easy, especially trying to also keep my balance bareback AND steer with the reins AND with my legs! I have a lot of fat on me, and it makes me less stable. Thankfully Teddy Bear is well padded with muscle and fat and my weight does not seem to bother her, even imbalanced she does fine. The lack of riding ability however, that was annoying to her I am sure. Eventually she ended up just following Bo because he, she knew, gave clear direction. As for me, I got a hip cramp. A HIP cramp! I didn't know that was possible, haha! And one of my biggest problems, aside from staying balanced bareback, is that I get TOO soft. I let the reins get longer and longer and I worry so much about hurting the horse that I don't signal clearly enough.


I did not fall off! I did manage to steer her from time to time. I did laugh and enjoy myself, though I felt bad that I wasn't a good rider. Teddy bear was a very good girl. I learned a lot about balance, and I got a very solid workout. Oh boy to I feel it in my leg muscles today. I rode a horse bareback without anyone leading her, and that was cool.

My back, however, is very unhappy with me. :/

The thing that I need to keep in mind, and that is hard for me to keep in mind, is that I am, myself, in rehabilitation. I keep thinking like an athlete. I keep thinking that I should be able to do things easily that I just can't do yet. But I couldn't even walk or sit in a chair two years ago. That is not something you just spring back from right away, no matter how much willpower you have and no matter how much you fight. If you give in, you will not recover. And if you don't work hard at it, you will not recover as much. But I decided that, after all I have been through and all I have survived, it would be silly of me to despair now because I can't just be a normal healthy fit person yet. I'm doing stuff I didn't think would ever be possible again. I don't know if I'll ever get better entirely, but I want to see what more I can do.

Today Bo talked with me about the contract. The unspoken agreement you have with your horse. I will take care of Solomon, give him what he needs, love him, be good to him, and in return he will let me do things I could never do on my own. He will listen and do what I ask, and he will help me to run like the wind. I need to take him and his needs into consideration, always. I must uphold my end of the contract. And if I do, if I take care of my horse, he will take care of me. And we will go to wonderful, amazing places together. Heck, we already have! Look at how much we have healed one another. It ameks the tears well up a bit just to think about it. A little less than a year ago, and I had no idea what would come of all this. How much my life would change. But here we are!

As for my riding, I told Bo, "I will get it down Bo, I will." It's going to take a lot of time and a lot of hard work, and heck, I might have to supplement my riding experience with other horses and other people a bit, because we only have so much time at the ranch and I have to make Solomon's training a priority. Well, both his training and mine are a priority, but I have power over my own future, and Solomon has none over his, so it is my responsibility as his owner to give him the best chance possible should something happen to me. So he has to be rideable, he has to be in shape. He has to learn to trust, to listen, and to obey under saddle. So Every day I am up there, he will work in the round pen. Twice a week he will get ridden, and once a week I will ride. And we will get there. We will.


spazfilly said...

I really admire your determination and confidence. I love reading your blog because it reminds me that no matter what our experience levels or physical limitations are, we can move beyond them. All it takes is the willingness to learn, which you and Sol both seem to have in abundance.

Anonymous said...

Hasn't it been a couple weeks since you rode last? I understand you have physical limitations, but you need to ride more than once every two or three weeks to get better at it. :) I understand Bo is busy too... It must be hard to coordinate things. Maybe every other trip you take up there, can you ride? With the exceptions of bad days of course... that way you have enough time to recover from the muscle pain, but it's short enough that your muscles REMEMBER the action and get used to it.

Evergrey said...

Oh yar, I am thinking once a week. Building up to perhaps more later. But right now we need me to get to the point where I won't just injure myself straight off the bat. Heh.

ariemay said...

ooo... I've had a hip cramp before. ouch.

keep up the good work!