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.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Today when I walked up the drive to pull Solomon out of his pasture, he was PLAYING. He was playing with the Little Bay Gelding. He was dancing around, tossing his head, and letting LBG know what was what.
When I approached close enough for him to pay attention to me, he came right to the gate, eager to come out. He ducked his head right into the halter, followed me out the gate, and spun his rump around nice and quick, which was exactly what he was supposed to do. He is even getting good at turning himself when I ask him to before going through the gate.
We walked right to the trailer, which I loaded him into without any problems. He walked right on in and then easily followed my directions. He stuck his nose in the haynet, hoping for some sprigs of oat hay. I gave him some, given what a good boy he was. He backed out nice and slowly, carefully placing each foot. He has improved with the trailer. It's nice and normal for him now.
After his feet were picked and his coat was curried and brushed, Bo had me put the saddle blanket on his back inside out and curry out some old hair. Solomon wasn't sure about the sound but he was a good boy about it.
Next, it was time for me to put the bridle on him.
First Bo had me practice with his head, bending it down and towards me so I could put my left hand over his head between his ears while my right hand cradled his mouth. This made him a little nervous because he thought I might be getting ready to give him a tube of yucky medication.
I kept at it though, slow and steady, and got him to let me stick my thumb in the corner of his grey, velvety mouth without jerking his head away. He kept wanting to just rest his head on my shoulder, silly boy.
Next I picked up the bridle and reins, draping the reins over my right shoulder and holding the bridle in my right hand. Solomon relaxed.
"Oh," he seemed to think, "it's just the bridle! Well that's not so bad."
He obediently bent his head down for me, stretched out his lips, and picked the bit up in his mouth. What a good Sol-Sol!
Bo put the saddle on, though he had me cinch Solly up, and off we went to the roundpen.
Solomon was pretty sensitive today, and I was a little concerned, but things ended up going just great!
Now, I want to add another disclaimer. I've said it before, but it bears repeating- Bo isn't going for perfect equitation, he's training Solomon. Often I'll catch him in an awkward position, but make no mistake about it- he's a good rider. He's just focusing on teaching Solomon the things he needs to know, which sometimes requires exaggerated body movements, or moving one's legs and back in funny ways. Sol is a real handful still, and he has so much to learn. Today he not only loped for the first time in at least a year (and maybe for the first time ever with a competent, kind rider) but Bo was also working on getting him to properly frame up... that is, keep his nose down, round his back, and use his rear end.
We did not use a martingale today. Solomon was not as soft as he was the last time... but that may be because he got to go faster and got impatient with having to slow down again. We'll have a better idea the next time we work him, at which point we'll use a martingale and we'll lope him undersaddle.
So, first there was walking, which was nice and calm. Solomon didn't so much as pin an ear or flick his tail at the walk in the roundpen this time.
Then there was trotting. He really really wants to raise his head up when he trots.

And then there was the canter!

Solomon seems to really actually like loping- he doesn't tend to want to stop once he gets going, in fact.
He did really well today and I think we are finding some of his joy. He got that look on his face... you can't really see it in the video here, but it's the look he gets when he plays, or when he thinks something is amusing.
There is a lot we need to work on, however-
He holds his head high and hollows his back. This has been a problem with him for many more years than I have had him. He needs to hold his head down and round his back, which leads to-
He needs to use his hind end more. A lot more. He puts too much weight and torque on his front end.
He needs to not collapse his shoulder while turning. He slumps his shoulder and wants to pivot on the forehand instead of on his hind end.
He needs to stop when told.
He needs to listen to his rider and be careful with his own body.
Today we got him, eventually, to frame up properly from time to time.
He did quite well for his first lope under saddle in at least a year.
We got very little in the way of ear pinning or tail swishing. He was actually excited to do the work.
He is getting in much better condition.
He is really starting to listen and learn.
He is starting to believe that we won't spur him bloody or yank his head around hard.

He wanted to just go faster and faster and faster. Without listening as much as he should. But wow did he go!

There were a couple of interesting things at play.
One, when asked to collect while trotting or cantering, he tends to seem to want to be on the bit, English style... he pulls too much. We want him to be supple and we want him to be soft. There's nothing wrong with English, but it seems like every method of training people have tried with him has not been done well. The way he responds to leg cues in the roundpen is also a little English... the way he leans into the inside leg, curving more than a Western horse would.

But then at the same time one can see his poor gymkhana/barrel racing training come into play... where he hurls himself onward, head up, just getting more and more forward, paying no attention to his posture or even really his safety. How he collapses his inside shoulder when turning, which puts an incredible amount of strain on his front legs. We NEED to break him of this habit. We need him in condition, and we need him using his body properly in order to be safe, otherwise he'll end up hurting himself, and quite possibly his rider too. If he is loping at a high speed and asked to turn, but he collapses his shoulder and pivots on his fore, even if he doesn't hurt his cannon bone there's a good chance he'll lose his balance and go down.
BUT. He's a fast learner. He's still really confused, but once he really clearly understands what he's being asked to do, and once he becomes convinced that he should listen and do it, I think that he will learn. He gets frustrated and angry easily, but he isn't mean. Anger is the tool he used to survive for a long time, and he still expects to need to use that tool, but he is slowly learning that life isn't so bad now. That Bo is telling him the truth.
Now, when Bo asked him to back in the roundpen, it just blew his mind. He couldn't handle it. His head was tossing, his mouth was chomping, and he was prancing like a charro horse. Could be he was trained to prance like that at one point, though I use the term "trained" pretty loosely. Or it could be that he was just really upset.
So then it was time for Mister Barn Wall again. Oh, that did not go so well, but there were sidepasses and there was backing, and the lesson with Mister Barn Wall was kept pretty short.
Later I brought up the possibility that he'll start to get upset when he gets near the barn, and sometime soon we're going to tie him at Mister Barn Wall so he can spend a bit of time just chilling out... varying the experience will hopefully stop him from anticipating so much. He isn't being beaten or yanked on at the wall... it's just a math problem he hasn't figured out yet, and it is not something he wants to learn. This, and a consistent, immediate halt, are probably going to be the most difficult things to train into him. But we'll get there.
After Mister Barn Wall, it was time to end things on a positive note, so Bo let Solomon trot up and down the fenceline. Solomon liked that, though he wasn't so into having to keep his nose down... but what he REALLY wanted to do was lope!
Bo said if he let him lope at this point with no consistent stop, he'd end up in Lake County.
but maybe in 5 or 6 more lessons.

Solomon worked up a sweat! When we were done, I took off his bridle and undid his saddle, looping up the various leathers and cinches, then Bo picked up the saddle and put it in the trailer tack room. I COULD remove Sol's saddle, but it is heavy and hard on my back... his old saddle, now sold because it didn't fit well enough, was very light. The saddle we are using on him now is not so light, but very nice.

After getting a brush and a rubdown, I unhooked Solomon from the trailer. At this point it was raining. The weather was great today... horses can break down in part because of high heat and humidity where they cannot properly cool their bodies off. They cool off via perspiration, but if it's just too hot, or too hot and humid, sweating isn't going to work well enough. It's riskier, especially for a horse who isn't in great condition. Today was nice and cool, which made the work much more bearable, though Solomon was still quite hot!

Anyway, I picked up the feed pan, which got him all excited. Nicker nicker nicker. He put himself away in a stall, and then came back out again, following me to the car. He had to oversee the pouring of the senior feed, you see... and he wanted to get to it as soon as possible.

I think it may have been a bit of a tactical error on my part, letting him come "help" me put the feed in his pan. It DID give me an opportunity to back him, which he will do perfectly well if there are goodies involved. All it took was me saying "back, back!" and waving my hand once, and he did it so nicely. You would think, given that he knows the word, that this would translate to the saddle, but psychologically he has a really hard time handling that.

Anyway, I opened the trunk and started administering the feed. Of course a big grey head snaked over my shoulder and he started trying to nom the feed as I poured it. I waved him off, so then he curved his head around the other side of me and tried to steal the bag of feed! "UUUUUUH" I said to him, and he backed off. A little bit. Heh.

So I carried the pan over to the grass and let him eat. Ah, bliss!

He wanted to graze after having consumed his feed, but it was really starting to come down, so I took him back to his pasture.

He did his typical Solomon thing by planting his feet and locking his legs several times to tell me that he didn't want to go back in yet. I think this is just one of the ways he expresses himself, and while he is getting better and better at walking again when I tell him to, I am not sure I'll ever completely break him of the habit. It doesn't stop him from having to go where he's being asked to go. Not the worst vice in the world. I'll take that over rearing and striking any day! Usually it just takes a "come on Solomon" and some pulling and he gives in and starts walking again.

So he went back into his pasture. Again, he was really good with the gate. He wasn't too happy about it, though.

He let me know about it, even going so far as to paw at the gate a bit and shove it with is big grey head.

He also, however, was quite affectionate with the Little Bay Gelding, nuzzling his neck and leaning his shoulder on his butt. LBG was not so nippy today. At least, not while I was watching. Solomon still has lots of little nip-wrinkles on his butt... but he prefers to be in with LBG. Go figure.

So, today Solomon got to lope a little, and he liked it. This was a good day! And with all the rain, perhaps the grass will stay green a little longer. I know someone who will be happy about that!

1 comment:

all-canadian said...

That picture of Bo and Sol that is kind of angled from the front is gorgeous! If that were my horse I'd be framing that one.

And really... who would have thought that the sweet old-seeming abused horse that you pampered when you had time would become what he is now? He's looking so good.