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, June 30, 2009

Called the vet today

Today I called up L___ at the vet's office to give her an update on Solomon.
She was so happy to hear about the great advances we've made!
She kept saying "really?" and I would tell her "yeah, he roundpens now!" "No way, I can't imagine Solomon doing that!" It was a great conversation and I was so proud of my boy for all the things he has learned. She told me she was really proud of me and all I'd done with this horse. Yay!

A little post on Horse Grooming Supplies

On the horse grooming supplies forum, there's a big row over punching a horse in the face if he bites you. Bo asked me to get involved, so I posted this:

Well, I'd say the first thing is to make certain that the horse knows and accepts you as the clear leader, and feels confident in you enough to not feel the need to challenge you to such an extreme degree. Does your horse trust you? Or does he feel insecure?
Is he biting because he is mean, or is he biting because his environment is stressing him out? Do you spend a lot of time on the ground with your horse, learning to communicate with him? Do you observe how your horse acts with other horses? Do you know how to move your horse out of your path when you walk, with no tack or halter involved? This is very important, though it might not seem like much. Pushing a horse away with body language is a major part of herd dynamics.
If you tell your horse "no," does he believe you?
Do you keep an eye on your horse, and watch their mood?
I know there are SOME horses who like to surprise a person and nail them with a bite without warning. But the question is why? Why does your horse feel the need to do that? A nip or a bite is a form of communication. They are trying to TELL you something, and it is important to find the underlying issue, not just punch the horse in the face.
If there is a big problem, the issue will come out one way or another.

My horse bit me once. At the time he was locked in a 9 by 9 stall fetlock deep in his own feces and urine. I didn't own him at the time, of course. He was in a barn that was a fake rescue. I went there to volunteer, not knowing the truth about the place, and fell in love with him, even though he was pretty sour on people. I just saw something in his eye.

Why did he nip me?

He nipped me because he was trapped and miserable. I was the only person who pulled him out of that hellhole so he could walk around. I was the only person who gave him positive attention. And on that day, I was standing and leaning on the stall door instead of bringing him out. When he bit me, I convinced him that I meant business, oh for sure. But looking back, he was pleading. He was telling me "I am going crazy in here, please, PLEASE get me out of here." He was starting to get regular feeding and he was starting to hope again. Ever see an animal sure that he is going to die? Ever bring an animal back from that? So as he started to feel better, he started to let his needs be known more.

So you need to look at the horses environment. And you need to consider what is going on in the horse's head. You need to consider what's going on in your own head, and how you interact with your horse. You need to consider how your horse views you, and why. Most communication between horses in a herd does not come to a big physical altercation. Most of it is an ear, or a tail, or pody positions between horses.

If you are at the point where your horse is biting and you are punching, then your relationship is that of two people who are screaming at each other. Not a good partnership. It needs to be ramped DOWN, not UP. The behavior should be addressed, yes, but one must think a little deeper afterward and address the underlying issue.

Learn to play act. Learn to, at first, yell and lunge at the horse, use bravado to convince him you mean it, back him away from you. And THEN, go back to groundwork. Go back to just spending time with your horse. Take a break from just tacking up and riding and develop a relationship on the ground with him. Watch him. Let him watch you. Learn how he asks, learn how he tells, learn how to ask him, learn how to tell him. In time, working with him, working with moving him around you with more and more subtle cues, you can work beyond this issue, and if you keep it up, you can avoid the relationship slipping in the future. Stop rushing things. Stop putting everything on a schedule where THIS and THIS and THIS has to happen NOW. This is a living, breathing being with feelings and thoughts and agendas of his own, not an ATV.

Some of this I learned myself. Some of it I learned from Bo. None of his horses have ever bit me. He has taught me how to set clear boundaries with the horse before it can get to that point... and his horses have been raised to not act like that.

As for Solomon, my boy, who nipped me once... I moved him to a big boarding stable with a 90 acre pasture. He had friends and he was no longer trapped. Other horses teach manners quite well, and not feeling caged, panicked, sick, and miserable worked wonders.

That's from October of last year.

Now I can pour molasses on my hands and let him lick it off, even between my fingers.

So yeah. You don't have to punch your horse in the face. You do have to have patience and take time, lots and lots of time, you have to realize that the relationship between you and your horse is about both of you, not just you. You have to really really learn to speak the horse's language. And you have to accept that it will take as long as it takes.

Monday, June 29, 2009

To tide you over

I might go up to the ranch tomorrow or Weds. Depends on my back, which isn't bad, but it's feeling that ride.

To tide you over, say hello and goodbye to Reiny Day, who has been sold. This is my friend S______ on her first ride in 10 years, and her first ever Western ride.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Always pack extra clothes *or* don't ride tired.

Today I had a great ride on Solomon!
He was in a bit of a grumpy mood, but he was a good boy and he did his job very well.

It had been a while since I had been up. Solomon was excited to see me!

he had a big day ahead of him. A big hot day!

After getting fly sprayed, bushed, and having his feet picked, Solomon did a bit of roundpenning.


And trotting:

Still ewe necked, but his head is starting to come down at times when he is trotting. He did not get cantered today, because I decided it was just too hot.

This did not stop him from lodging some complaints, however!

Next, Bo showed me how to stretch Solomon's legs. Solomon was very good for this- in the past he would occasionally get upset when someone else stretched his legs. He would paw a bit. He has gained a lot of flexibility however, and I think with slow, careful work and care he will gain some more!

After that Bo showed me some equine massage tips. Solomon appreciated this rather a lot.

Next, he had me rub a saddle blanket all over Solomon, toss it on him, and let him sniff it. Solomon stood nice and quiet in the round pen, though we did not restrain him in any way.

Next we let him sniff the saddle, and put it on him. Solomon tensed up for a moment or two when it went on his back. I think it was anticipation, not pain, because once he figured out that the saddle wasn't hurting him, he settled down and didn't care.

Here Bo is, talking about how a horse will anticipate.

Bo did a little conducting while Solomon sang an aria.

After I ran cool water over the bit, we bridled Solly. He didn't have a problem with that either, except that he grabbed the bit in his teeth instead of just taking it all the way into his mouth today. Anyway, we talked him into letting go pretty quickly.

Next we got some spurs, and I gently prodded his sides with them in various spots, to see which areas made him stress out. In the middle of his sides down near his belly he gets worried. Of course I did not hurt him, and prodded myself with the spurs before touching him with them, to get a feel for what was gentle and what was not.

Then it was time for doing a little bit of lateral flex. We gave Solomon the puzzle of one rein tied back. If he was supple and bent his head, it went slack. If he fought it, there was resistance. We found that he does not bend as well on his right side as he does on his left.

After we got lateral flex, we went for vertical. This is when Solomon got stressed out. Lowering his head would relieve pressure, but he was a little afraid. He has a hard time letting go. He fears hard, rough hands. He was biting his lip a bit and holding himself taut. He zoned out and wasn't responsive for a little while, but with a lot of petting and soothing I got him to come back to himself and relax. He lowered his head. Not a great picture, but I was busy.

After that, Bo hopped up on Solomon. He has a torn ligament in his knee. Maybe he shouldn't be riding. But I have a chronic back injury that might need surgery again. So what are we going to do, just give up? Naw.

Solomon was grumpers but compliant. Grumpypants are not so bad when the horse does not try to hurt you and does what he is asked to do. He was pretty much giving feedback, and I think the feedback was "It's hot and I haven't had to do anything for a week, what gives?"

But he did fine.

So then we brought the mounting block into the roundpen. YAY! I talked Bo into raising the stirrups up so that I could mount in a more gentle fashion.
The lack of stirrup use is our compromise. Bo teaches the ranch kids who come out to his place to ride bareback with a halter. He teaches balance, he teaches them how to read the horse, and how to have kind hands. Saddled and bridles are something that they graduate to.

Unfortunately, I can't really physically handle bareback yet. There isn't quite enough stability for me. And that is not fair to the horse either. Balance is important, and I am well aware that I am not small. It is very important for me to be balanced and gentle on my boy's back. We must take care of each other.

So I ride without stirrups. I actually prefer it that way. I don't like stirrups. And this way, I develop those important core muscles, and I learn to balance myself.

Solomon was grumpy, like I said, and did a bit of winging out, so we moved him next to a panel and I gave him some reassuring rubs and pettin's before I got on. It is not ideal, but Solomon is Solomon and sometimes he just needs a bit of babying. But again, we take care of each other.

Today I didn't have as much of a problem with leaning back. Bo did not put as much pressure on me to raise this hand or use that leg right this moment. I told him I'd be a bit calmer riding if Solomon and I got to just work it out between us a bit, and if I could just ride and explore a little bit. Of course, he is an excellent instructor. Balancing the needs of the horse and the rider is a delicate thing, and no one is going to know right away what techniques work best. As the rides progress, he will put more demands on me. But today was a day for Solomon and I to learn to communicate with each other.

One thing that Solomon did exceptionally well (for him) today was stopping! Yes, grumpypants and all. I raised one rein and then quickly released while stiffening my body, stretching my legs forward, and saying "ho." And he did! He usually would take maybe a step or so, or maybe a half step. And he stopped.

Here he is, getting a pet for stopping like a horse who is not totally green, yay Solly!

I am still working on not stretching my leg back behind me to give a leg cue. Not sure where that's coming from. I also focused hard on getting quieter hands. Solomon relaxed immediately. I do not yank the reins I don't think, and I keep them very loose, but I need to make certain that my hands do not move around.

In some bellydancing, you are supposed to envision your ribs sitting on a table, immobile, while your hips move. When you are riding, you move your hips with the motion, but you have to picture your hands almost as not being a part of you at all, but rather a part of the horse, so they do not move unless you are giving a cue. This is especially important with a highly sensitive horse like Solomon.

Thankfully he is also very kind.

See these eyes?

These are the eyes of a being who takes care of me.

Yes, this was a very good ride, and I was very happy!

It was 106 in the shade at the end of the ride, however, and I was very tired.
I did not push off the saddle as much as I should have.
I got off the horse, but my shirt did not.

Bo unhooked me (my horse is so tall I couldn't really reach it) aaaaand I did not have a spare shirt in my car. A spare shirt and spare pants are going in my trunk tonight, I tell you what.

I did not get scared or upset. I couldn't stop laughing, because this is SO something that would happen to me, you know?

So then I had to figure out what to do. I had an hour and a half drive home, after all.

Necessity is the mother of invention. Or is it the father?
Anyway, necessity's bastard child was a big rectangle of blue cotton that I use to dry my horse off when I wash him in the cold months. I pulled out a knife and made some holes for my head and arms.

Solomon had his own editorial comments to add... probably about the carrots I had for him. I don't normally hand treat, but today he so earned it.

And hey, I could totally go riding in Afghanistan. If they let women ride horses there.

So the moral of the story is twofold:

1. Stop riding before you get too tired, and

2. Pack extra clothes in your car.

After his ride, I took Solomon and gave him a bath. He was only sweaty under the saddle pad and girth, though that area was universally soaked. He enjoyed the bath, but HATED having his poll and face get wet. I washed him there anyway, as he had some leather oil stains.

Once that was over, I took him back to his pasture, but he did NOT want to go! He said "no mom no no no I want to stay out here and keep doing stuff!" I thought he was hot and tired! Well, I WAS hot and tired for sure, so back he went. He walked in, the little bay gelding chewed on his butt, and he came right back to the gate and tried to push it open. When that didn't work, he stomped at it. It's okay boy, I'll be back.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Going nuts here!

The other night my back went out for no discernible reason. Spasms exacerbated the issue. I'm feeling better today than I was yesterday, and tomorrow I should be well enough to go to the barn, but I have other commitments. So I won't get to see my boy until Sunday! Waaah!
I'm going to get twitchy and drive my household nuts, haha!
And Solomon needs his workouts. I really want to iron out that mistaking "walk" for "whoa" thing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A hur hur hur

"I'm listening to you mom, but I'm also listening to those people over there."

"What are they doing with that yearling???"

Some folks came up to look at a yearling that is boarding at the ranch. They bought her!

Lunging went, eh, okay today. Solomon got a much longer workout than last time. He was confusing "walk" and "whoa," though I try to enunciate clearly and exaggerate the phonetics. I'm not certain why he's doing it. It's either a strange new thing, I'm not communicating clearly enough (quite possible) or he is saying "can we STOP now please mom?"
He also was sluggish about going into the lope and then he wouldn't stay there, but I did not push him because it was really hot. Horses break down a lot more easily in the heat. And mostly we are concentrating on walk/jog and whoa. I like to try to get a look at him in all three of his gaits though.
He is still ewe-necked wit his head high in the faster gaits. When he walks it's low and relaxed though.

In general, Solomon is getting really soft. He gives and listens, he follows, and he gives a lot of soft, friendly little blows with his nose. Not snorts, just... it's hard to explain, but it's one of the ways he's sweet and giving.


*heads off to barn*

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bonding Day.

Upon arriving at the ranch, I was greeted with this:

Today Solomon was a very soft and good hoss.

There were people there shopping for horses all day (I think Reiny Day has been sold!) so Sol and I were left to our own devices again.

First I lunged him! We are really learning how to communicate with each other. I am learning how to tell Sol to do things, and he is learning how to listen. He transitioned between walk, trot, and canter beautifully today. He also rolled back on the fence very well. The one thing he did not do well was whoa. He wanted to come all the way in again, like he used to do. I think he was feeling cuddly or something, but of course I didn't let him.

After I lunged him, we went for a walk! I was busy leading and could not get any photographs of this part, but we ran a barrel pattern on the ground, just for fun. There are some traffic cones set up out there, and we wove around them. Solomon actually did a really good job with it.

Then I took him through the wood milling area. We walked over a tarp (Solomon says "yawn" to that,) between logs and wood piles, over some really soft sawdust in a pile (he was very careful on that) and then over a big huge log. He was a little worried about the log but he trusted me and stepped over it. He did drag his back feet over it a little bit, but didn't scrape himself up, and I was very proud of how brave he was. He'll make a good trail horse yet! He is getting a lot more willing.

So after he did the obstacle course with me, he was rewarded by going to our special place.

Look at the size of that butt!

Solomon would wander a bit to graze, but he always came back to me to check in. A quick sniff with his velvety nose, a gentle nuzzle, or a little thieving.

Hat thief!!!

This is why I can't get a straw hat. He would crush it.

And now, your moment of zen. Warning- dull, but soothing.

On the way back, the herd came thundering up to the fence. Pooh Bear was in with them. Pooh Bear is a gelding raised (I do believe) on the ranch, but sold some years ago. His owners are out of town on personal business, so he is boarding at the ranch for a little while. He also has decided that the big pasture herd is HIS and NO ONE ELSE'S. Solomon was all about matching him pose for pose, but he was pretty willing to listen to me as well. If he hadn't been, it would have been the halter for him. By the way, despite what I say to Solomon, the horses are NOT for suckers- they are very fine horses.

The alpha boy in all his glory. He looks like a Fashion Star Filly. I mean his legs don't look like they have socks, they look dusted with gold, and his eyes look like they are made of amber.

How cool is that?

But yeah, very protective.

Here is Solomon, eating his grain pan. Hrm. I think he might be getting a wee bit fat. I will need to watch him! Perhaps it is just time for more work.

At the end of the day I went into the pasture with him.

He had to tell Poco Joe in no uncertain terms that I was HIS human.

But mostly he was a sweetheart and he enjoyed his massage so much that he dozed off.

Okay, two more pictures because I think he is such a pretty boy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

We RODE together!

First off, I have a cautionary tale for you all.
Horses are big, powerful, and deadly animals. They have huge hearts and gentle natures but we must never forget how powerful they are.
Case in point:
This is a hoof rasp.

You might notice that it's snapped in half.

It was a kick from Leo that did it. A bone could have snapped just as easily.
I think the theory is that a wasp stung him. He also scraped his face a bit on the trailer.

The culprit, who is not vicious:

I didn't get a picture today, but yesterday Solomon was hot-shod. Remember my blog entry that showed the farrier with the forge, shaping the shoe to the horse's foot?
Well Solly had that done on all four feet.
It looks so good. It feels good too.
I think Solomon feels good.
He was nickering up a storm at me when I went to see him.

When I took him into the roundpen, he was very responsive. His movement was free and easy, and when I "kissed him up," which is to say I make a kissy noise with my lips to signal him to go into the canter, he immediately leapt into it! Normally I have to really push him to canter. Not today. Today he was Mister Happy Obedient Horse. He was good in the chute with his backing, he was good at standing, heck, he was good at everything.

So Bo got on Solomon's back, and he was a good, mellow boy. After a little ride, he dismounted and had me hold Sol while he helped a boarder with her trailer. Solomon got so bored.

When Bo came back in the roundpen, he was carrying the mounting block. He had me hand my camera to Dede.
"Does this mean I get to ride my boy?" I asked.
"It sure does."

I was so happy when I got on Sol's back (after hearing Bo murmur to him to take good care of me) that I almost cried. I didn't have riding boots and didn't put my feet in the stirrups. I mixed up left and right and didn't have the best form. I was too big for the saddle. Was a newbie rider, really. But I was so happy. And Solomon was so good. So very very very good. He was so patient with me. He got confused and a bit upset a couple times, but just trotted a couple steps and made a face. The rest of the time he was relaxed and calm. And it just felt so good and right. Bo says we'll need to do at least 10 more rides like that before doing anything else. I'd do a hundred and be filled with joy.

After the ride, Solomon cuddled me with his big, gentle grey head, breathing softly in my hair. He stood so quietly for his bath, just enjoying the sensation of the cool water on his skin. No fear.

He so earned his grain pan today!

End to a 10 year dry spell

Hey hey,
I'm waiting on permission (or denial, which is also totally okay) to post photos of my friend up here.
Anyway, I met S____ at a party a few weeks back, and I came to find out that she used to do three day eventing, but hadn't gotten to be around horses for the past 10 years. Well! This was tragic, for horse people should be able to experience horses. Soooo we went up to the ranch. One thing I had noticed at the party- I didn't see her smile once. It was a little goal of mine to get her to smile, and smile she did, yay!
She got to RIDE! She'd never tried Western before. Switching disciplines, especially after no riding for 10 years, is very challenging, but she did so well. She started out bareback with a halter, then with a bridle, then with a saddle. She started out in the roundpen, but at the end of the riding session she was CANTERING down the fenceline! She looked so great.
I walked with her and Reiny Day, who was her steed for the day. Reiny Day decided it would be entertaining to put his mouth on my shoulder and keep it there. I walked at least a quarter of a mile that day. Maybe a little more. I was pretty proud of that. At first it hurt, but I pushed through the pain, and my body loosened up a bit. I was surprised at how far I could walk. It was easier to do it while talking about Western riding theory and encouraging horse and rider. I realized that I learned a bit!
Solomon was a good and kind boy, following me around, nickering, and generally just being agreeable.
He got his feed pan, of course.

And we went to our special place out behind the big pasture. He won't go there unless he's with me, but he gets all happy and excited and wants to trot with me when he figures out that we are heading up there. There's virgin grass up there, and while it's mostly dead now, still, it's virgin grass!

After the riding, we went to a dinner party that S_____'s mom put on. My shirt was covered in mud stains, but everyone was polite about it, hah. One person there played polo when she was younger, and another used to trail ride, so I had something to chat with them about.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Horse Expo!

Well, traffic was so bad that it took me many hours to get to the expo. :( I missed out on a lot, but I did get to see some stuff! Some good, some bad, some amusing.

I got to see a haflinger breed show. I love haffies.
Not entirely certain what disciplines some people were showing off, heh, but they all had fun!

Pony soccer?


Driving miss daisy!

Tarp navigating and mane farming. I mean wow that is a lovely mane!

And the ever popular sport of mouth-yanking.

Some of the horses at the sale barn were cute, calm, and loved. This clyde was one such horse.

Okay, I have heard the arguments for soring a horse's mouth. "Raspberries," they call it. It's a shortcut. Yeah it forces the horse to mind the big more... because the corner of the horse's mouth has been rubbed into raw bleeding flesh! No, no, I am not okay with this practice. This horse was sweet but looked so sad.

Another lighter thing:

And now another thing that made me really mad. This little baby zebra was for sale. Zebras are not horses, not at all. But what made me mad was the photograph of a kid, maybe 8 or so, sitting on the back of this baby. NO NO NO. No you do not put a kid (no helmet, don't remember if she had shoes) on the back of a zebra at all, but you also don't put that kind of weight on a foal either! It's just a baby! I wish I could have gotten a photo of the picture, but that would not have been subtle.

Yes, the zebra was calling a lot.

Okay, back to positive.
Sacramento county has a search and rescue unit that includes some horse and rider pairs.

Hah, look at that snazzy orange!

And my camera died right at the beginning of the Magnificent 7 show. Of course. :(

Here's the daddy of Magic's baby!

After the camera died, a drill team came out and did awesome stuff, but then a cow got loose into the arena somehow. One girl went after the cow, flag and all. The flag never dipped! Magic's babydaddy ended up getting said bovine back in the pen then.
The show itself was cool- all very talented horsemen and horses. It was such a boy's club though. If I were healthy, not disabled, and had the cash and talent, I'd try to train up and enter. But that's not happening. Still it was fun to watch! There was a scary moment though, when a horse slipped and fell on his side, with his rider. The horse stood right back up and waited for his rider. A bunch of people seemed to teleport to the scene, but the rider walked away from it. Lucky guy- a young lady from Hossmoor is in a come after having had her horse fall on her. I'm glad no one was hurt in this event.

When I first headed up, I was stressed, hurting, and in a panic. But I still went, and I am glad I did!