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.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The big, cold day!

I dressed with care that morning, donning three layers of shirts and two layers of pants, knee-high socks and my ever-present boots. I'd read on weatherundersground.com that it would be 25 degrees at the ranch at 7am. I took my time getting ready. As it turns out, this was probably a good idea because it ended up being 20 degrees at 7am, and I hadn't thought to bring a scarf.
Now, the Bay Area rarely reaches freezing temperatures. It is always something of a shock to go outside and find that everything is dusted in white frost. To find ice on one's windshield, well, that's rather shocking. I do not own an ice scraper. As a San Francisco Bay Area resident, it does not generally occur to me that such a thing even exists, let alone that I might have need of one at some point. I spent a long time blasting the heating vents at my windshield, as there was a pretty good layer on ice on it. Later DeDe told me that you can pour tepid water on it to melt it, but never hot, as hot would crack your glass. Eek!
Eventually between the heater, my sleeve, and the windshield wipers, I was able to get on my way. There was frost everywhere for the entire drive up. Frost in every shadow. Frost on every west-facing hillside. It was an odd contrast- white ice to the right and green grass to the left. I know that in many places people are getting inches and inches of snow right now, but here in the land of fire and mud, ice is kind of rare.
It makes the world glitter like it has been dusted with billions of tiny diamonds.

Once I got to the ranch, I chatted a bit wiht Bo and DeDe.
Walking out to where Sol lives, I idly tossed a rock into the pond. Instead of splooshing, it clacked, then it skidded across the surface. Frozen! Of course it was frozen. It just didn't occur to me that water would freeze out here. In fact, Bo and DeDe had gone around and broken the ice on all the troughs.
Then pulled my horse out of his pasture. There is a cute gelding there whose name I haven't memorized yet, but who has just recently come back home from being leased out. He is afraid of Solomon, probably because Solomon is a grey and he is not used to grey horses. Well, that's fine if it means that nobody is getting beat up! And advantageous, since this fellow sometimes crowds you at the gate. He is just scared enough of Ol' Solly that we are about to go through without any drama.
I let Solomon graze for a short while on the frost-covered grass, and laughed as he sneezed at the cold wetness of it. Then I took him down to the Patience Tree and gave him his usual quick hoof-picking and grooming. He got a little feed pan with senior feed and a touch of alfalfa leavings. Then it was time for work!

And work we did.

Bo had me gather up the thick white cotton rope he's having me practice with, and he brought out the two thinner black ropes that he turned into ground driving reins. But first he had a little exercise for me to do with him. He told me, "Ev, you're going to need to trust me here," which was no problem, as I do trust him.
So we did a bit of role-playing, where I played the horse and he played the human. He took the lead like in one hand, and I took the other end of it. He had me close my eyes and we walked. The first time we sort of meandered and he said "well, how was that?"
"Oh it was fine," I replied.
"Not a lot of guidance though, was there?" he asked me.
"Not really... wait, who was supposed to be leading?" I asked him.
"There you go, that's it exactly!"

So then he had me close my eyes again, and he lead me around with a much more consistent hand and presence. I found myself feeling a little bit more relaxed because I wasn't having to guess where I was supposed to go as much. Bo explained that horses can be the same way. We work on going softer and softer with our cues, but they still need to be CLEAR enough for the horse to know what is being asked of him, and to feel confident about it. If he feels secure, he'll feel a lot happier.

I don't remember if I talked about this last time, but I find that I am much better at being firm and clear with Kizim than I am with Solomon. This is in part because if I am not really firm (not unkind, just firm) with her, she'll just drop her head and eat. But it is also because Solomon is my baby. I have been spoiling him. And I also tend to look to him for support a lot more. I take much more of an attitude of trusting partnership with him, but at times I do him a disservice, because at times he does need me to be a lot more clear and firm so that he is not confused, and so that he has a clear idea of what he should be doing and where he should be going. If I keep this in mind, I think he will feel more secure with me. There's more to it than that, way more, but it's a starting point.

My biggest sticking point is getting Solomon to take me seriously and move out. It's a matter of feel, it's a matter of TIMING, and it's a matter of projecting the right kind of energy with him. In part because I have clung to him for support so many times, it is very hard for me to tell him to move away from me and mean it. I spent more time moving him in circles away from me today, learning where to focus my intent. Lightly tapping his hide with the tips of my fingernails on his shoulder and his neck, clicking and kissing at him until he moved away. That took a while, but it started to work. I tried applying more energy to his shoulder, and more energy to his neck. I worked on lightening up the cue until it was no longer effective, and then carefully ramping it up a bit more until it worked again. The next step was to get him to continue to move off so that I could drive him.

That, I did not do quite so well with. But in time I think we'll get it to work.

Bo got him out there and moving, and I worked on driving him a bit.

Then Bo had me drop Sol's line, and he demonstrated something to me. He walked around in a circle with me, then he took my wrist and spun me around him. He asked me to try, and I took his wrist and hauled with my arm, moving around him as I moved him around me.

"No, no, see that's exactly what you're doing with Solomon," Bo told me, and he spun me around again.
"Now what am I using to move you, instead of my arm?"
"Your shoulders?" I ventured.
"I'm using my whole body. And I'm backing up a tiny bit then keeping still. You can't give ground or move, they are the one that is supposed to be moving around you."

So I tried again, and that time I think I did manage to do what Bo had done. And it was easier! I was more balanced, and I could tell that I was more clear in my cue.

Bo worked on Solomon a bit, and it was clear that Solly had picked up on the game. He not only spun inwards when Bo asked him to, but he even got a little excited and hopped from one side to the other, spinning on his hind feet with his fronts in the air!

So, Solomon understood what was being asked of him a lot more, and I understood more about how to ask it.

I got him to do it, too! I got him to turn many times, which was a big improvement from the last time when he just ran in to me and pivoted on his fore. Somehow once they got the camera out there, however, I couldn't do it. Hah! And then I needed Bo to drive him out again. I did manage to get another spin or two out of Solly before I was done.

But here you can see me driving him some more. Oh, and I didn't hit myself with the rope nearly as much this time, heheh.

Look at him, pretty well framed up with a nice long stride!

I'm not good enough with the ropes or the cues yet to use two lines. I'd get us both all tangled up, not good! Bo, however, has been doing this for a long time, so he worked Sol on the two lines.

First, there was hooking him up. Solomon was not entirely sure about that. But Solomon obeys Bo. He knows the game is up with him.

My ewe-necked boy. I think that as we continue to do this, especially when we finally get him dragging something heavy around, he will learn to put his head down more. It will be easier for him to work and pull things with his head down. This positioning, where you picture yourself as the point in a kind of triangle, is great for this kind of from the side ground driving. It's good for having your horse pull a plough. And it's good for giving very strong and clear turning cues to a horse who is very new to it all.

It takes a lot of deftness and timing to get the ropes in the right spot... one straight to you, and one behind the hocks. Solomon is interested in something here. All this trotting is very good for him.

And here he is turning. He's still rather unsure of things, but he does a pretty good job of it.

Trucking along, nice and steady.

Another turn! I really need to wash his tail. But he is getting the picture here.

And here is a whoa!

Bo says that he's kicking himself. He says that he should have done this right when we first got Solomon up to the ranch and were still trying to teach him to be a riding horse. Because after all the tricks we tried with Mister Barn Wall and the backing chute, what he really needed from the start was some ground driving to teach him what a backup really is. And we are doing all of this stuff with just a halter!

Here Solomon is really getting into it...

By the end of the lesson, Solly was just plain done in. He had been exposed to a lot of stuff, and his brain was just full. He wasn't sweaty at all, just mentally done for the day. He was also, I noticed, being especially careful to not crowd anybody. Even me. He was very calm and relaxed. He'd gotten clear leadership, and he felt safe and secure. Nobody had to beat on him or get him all worked up. He just understood his job a little better, and had learned to trust the people telling him to do it more.

Meanwhile, DeDe decided to let Shin loose for a bit. Shin is a 27 year old thoroughbred, and he was quite ribby when he first got to the ranch. He was also barely able to hobble around.

"Ev," Bo asked me, "what did coming up to the ranch do for you?"
"Well Bo, it made me a lot healthier both mentally and physically."
"Right, it was a positive change in environment for you."
"Yeah, it really was."
"Well then," he said to me, grinning, "why can't it be the same for horses?"

And then there was Shin.

After Shin decided to deign to get caught again, we all went into the house for hot drinks and lunch. DeDe looked at me and asked, "Ev, did you bring yourself any snacks today?"

I allowed that I hadn't, but that I'd had some venison for breakfast.

So while Bo and I talked about horsemanship, DeDe fixed us all a wonderful lunch. I had cheese and ham and a couple of slices of persimmon. Persimmon is one of those fruits that has to be perfectly ripe or it'll make your mouth go numb. This fruit was perfectly ripe, however, and to me it tasted like honey. Thank you so much, DeDe!

I hadn't realized how hungry I was, or how much I needed my mug of hot tea. The cold really eats at you, though.

So then I went out, caught Solomon, put him away, and pulled Kizim out of her stall. She gets pretty excited when she sees me, despite me making her do work. I think we do get along pretty well. She even spins her butt out of the way when we go through gates. I say hello to her on the way to Solomon's pasture, and she always nickers and follows me, giving me tragic eyes when she realizes that I'm not pulling her out yet.

We take walks together. Sometimes they're short and sometimes they're long. That day, I took her to the back of the property, where we navigated the wood yard. At one point I stood on a stump and had her stand next to me. She stood for me and was a good girl, but I decided to also be good and resist the temptation to hop on.

I took her to the steep dry pond, and we picked our way down into it then ran back out. She jumped a log for me, and then she was excited so we ran together for a little while.

I am not sure if she really enjoys the running (well, okay, she trots because I can't run fast enough for her to bother cantering) or if she is anticipating because it has kind of become a part of our routine. It might also be that once we have run for a while I get a bit of an asthma attack, which means I have to stop moving and then she gets to steal some bites of grass. Hah!

After we took our walk, I picked her feet, which she was very good about. Compared to Solomon's feet, her hooves are so HUGE. Kizim really is much better suited for me as a riding horse. Her build is very heavy and sound. The fact that she does not have much "go" is nice at this point too. Eventually, Bo says, he'll put me back on Teddy Bear at times, as she is a much more forward horse. But for now Kizim is what I need.

So after grooming and brushing, Bo told me that I got to do everything myself this time. He was working Sissy, who was on a break from work for a while because she ran through a fence. So it was my responsibility to roundpen Kizim, put the bareback pad on her, mount her, and ride her.

This made me feel quite proud. I liked the little responsibilities. And I knew that Kizim would be a good girl for me.

I took Kizim into the roundpen, and she did have some ants in her pants! Bo said to me, "now you be sure and work her well in the roundpen before you get on her!" and he was right. She was quite willing to trot for me. She even spun fast and got in a buck or two! I turned to Bo and asked, "do you think I can get her to go into a canter?" At the word "canter," she did just that! I'd never gotten her to canter before! But this time, she burst right into it. I managed to get her to canter for me a few times in both directions. I said "good girrrrrrl!" in a happy low voice, and she answered me with a nicker. It wasn't a really long roundpenning session, but I did it long enough for her to decide that maybe she didn't want to run around so much, and that just walking sounded pretty good.

Then I cinched her up in the bareback pad. I had Bo check it to make sure I had it tight enough but not too tight. Then he left again, and it was up to me to mount her.

Kizim was a really really good girl for me. I can't really stress this enough. She really is finding a work ethic. At least, when I leave her standing somewhere, she says there! She stood still while I went and got the mounting block. She stood still while I got up on it and tested a bit by stretching one leg over her. She stood still when I hopped on. After a few moments she did walk in a small circle, but that was okay because she and I got to stretch out and get used to each other a bit. Then she stood for me while I tried to get myself nice and balanced.

I have to own that I didn't balance quite as well today as I did the last time I rode. I'm not entirely sure why that is, but I didn't. I still have trouble holding my hands the right way on the stuff lead rope, but my biggest difficulty is keeping my heels down and my toes up. There is a lot of coordination that goes into that. And with Kizim, especially since I'm not great with my seat or with cues yet, to keep her moving I need to do that very very gentle tap tap tap with my heels and calves in time to the walk I want her to do. The problem is that for some reason today I couldn't get a steady rhythm going, and I couldn't even tap both my feet together at the same time! Every time I tried to get my heels down and my toes up, I'd lose my balance a bit, Kizim would stop in her tracks, and I'd pitch forward. Hah. She'd go one step, and stop. Two steps, and stop.

Well, I will certainly learn, in time, to balance when presented with a sudden stop! And Kizim, that sweet mare, she was just taking care of me really. She could tell I wasn't balanced well. And I wasn't communicating well. So she'd stop.

Okay yeah, she isn't really all about doing a bunch of hard work, either, but what we were doing was really easy stuff. Bo sometimes rode around the outside of the roundpen on Sissy, and Kizim would lock on to the two of them and follow. I worked on steering, which sometimes I was successful at and sometimes not. I worked on balance. On moving with the horse without thinking about it much. Bo told me he was going to keep me on that horse for as long as I could stand it. "You need hours in the saddle, Ev," he told me, and I got a full half hour that day.

About halfway through, DeDe came out and started to direct me a bit while Bo went off to work with Sissy. DeDe has a different teaching method, and I found that combining the two of them, Bo's and DeDe's, gives an even better and fuller picture. She was great as well, giving me clear goals, letting me know what I was doing and not doing, encouraging me to keep working at it, to flap my lower legs and not my upper legs, and to not let Kizim buffalo me.

I did something I'd never done before! I decided to try asking Kizim to back up. And she did! She backed immediately, smoothly, and in a straight line. I backed her up 5 or 6 steps and then stopped, amazed, and said "hey, hey did you see that? I backed her! I even MEANT to do that! Ya know, on purpose! And she did it!" I was quite proud.

Finally Bo peered out of the trailer and said "okay Ev, you're getting tired, time to stop!"

I dismounted, which I admit I did a little bit more limply than I thought I would, and gave Kizim a lot of head skritches. I took off her pad and rubbed some of the indentations in her hair out. She didn't sweat at all. It was very easy work for her! I put her away and gave her some cuddles and a kiss on the nose afterward.

I left as the sun began to set. I can't think of a better way to have spent my day. Thank you, Bo and DeDe!

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