Friday, December 31, 2010

And this one makes it 50!

I was going to wait until tomorrow to write a new post, but then I realized that if I did one more for the year, it would make it an even 50. That's a big improvement over the 3 from 2009! I'm not one to make New Year’s resolutions; I prefer instead to take a look back at the past year to see what I have learned. Here we go!

1. I need to write! You may not need to or even want to read this blog, but I need to write it. Someday when (if) I grow up I am going to be a writer. I have several book ideas bouncing around in my head. There are scenes that play out in my head and keep me up at night. I need to make the time to sit down and write them out. I get busy with life and the book ideas get thrown on the back burner. This blog reminds me that I am a writer and that is what I should be doing. I am writing this post on the new home computer that I bought (financed) myself today. My last home computer fried its mother board a few months ago. I am starting a new job that will not allow me the freedom to write on their time (it's one of those "grown up" jobs). As I was walking out of the store today, still a little shell shocked from the money I had just agreed to spend I reminded myself "I am a writer!" Maybe the monthly payments are the kick in the butt I need to get the book started!

2. All that positive thinking mumbo jumbo I preach to my friends really does work! Two years ago I met a woman that changed my life. She was in the right place at just the right time. She was a life coach that taught Law of Attraction. I became her student and I have never been the same. The ironic thing is that a friend tried to show me the exact same information 8 years earlier, but I wasn't ready for it at the time. I must have been too busy being miserable. That basic premise for Law of Attraction is that you can create your destiny through your thoughts. Like attracts like - so if you think positive thoughts, you create a positive experience. If you think negative thoughts - you create a negative experience. In the past year I have made the choice to be happy, I finally understood that it was a choice I had to make and that only I could chose it for me. I then went on to create! At one point during the year I had decided that I no longer enjoyed my job. After complaining about it for a while I started to focus on what I wanted, instead of what I didn't want. I started looking for another job. Everyone around me told me how bad the job market was and that I was lucky to have the job I was at. I continued to believe that there was something better out there. I had a list of requirements for the new job -

1. It had to pay the same or more than the job I was at, I did not want to work for less.
2. It had to include medical benefits as the position I was at did not.
3. I wanted to work with customers - I needed to know that when I went home at night, I had made the world a better place, even if it was just for one person a day.
4. It had to be an American company that invested in the country I lived in. I grew very tired this year of my company's motto "It can be done cheaper in China!"
5. I did not want to commute any farther than I already was.
6. I wanted to work with "real" people again, ones with social skills!

So, let me tell you about the new job. I start on January 10th

1. The start pay is the same salary that I have been making for the last year.
2. It has a very comprehensive benefits package including; medical, dental, retirement, vision, short term and long term disability and a whole host of other things I may not even take advantage of!
3. I will be working directly with customers on the phone all day long! I will be working with them in a support position, my job is to make a system "seamless" for them.
4. It is an American company, started right here in my hometown. In the past 3 years they have grown 1100% and were named one of Puget Sound’s 100 best places to work. From what I have seen, they reinvest in the community and in their employees.
5. My new office is less than 6 miles from my house. I am actually considering riding the bus to work. The bus stop is less than a mile from my house; the bus would drop me off at the ferry terminal which is half a mile from the office. My mechanic said driving the diesel truck that short distance every day is a big no-no. The bus will only cost $50 per month. The bus schedule just so happens to work perfectly with my work schedule.
6. There are 100 employees at my new office. I had my first interview in the office's Tiki Lounge. The one person I know that works there just so happens to be a horse person! I have met a few of the people I will be working directly with; all of them seem to be very positive, outgoing and friendly.

3. Ok, enough about be - What about Grace? This year I learned what it means to do right by Grace. I finally let go of my agenda and focused more on the relationship with my beautiful mare. There was a time in the spring when I thought Grace may have ended up being a pasture pet for the rest of her life, and I was ok with that. I’ve learned that Grace could care less about ribbons, belt buckles, high points or trophies. She just wants to go out and experience the world – with me. Whether we are chasing a cow, exploring a new trail out in the forest, or hitting the perfect point of harmony in the arena, the one common denominator is that we are doing it together. We hit a new level of trust this year. There were many time when I was able to leave Grace alone and just let her do her job. Each time she rewarded me with new level of awe. I lost count of how many times this year I said out loud “I love this horse!” during a ride. There were also times when I asked Grace to do something that she was convinced she could not. I broke it down into smaller pieces, allowing her to build on her successes along the way. She trusted me and in the end is more balance, stronger and possibly for the first time in her life “sound”!

I look forward to 2011, knowing that whatever I put my mind to is already there waiting for me. Most of all I am looking forward to another year of adventures with Grace. There is no better feeling in the world than the moment she learns something new and then the excitement that follows when she figures out that she is good at it. I just so happen to be the privileged human that gets to sit on her back in those magical moments.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Somedays we are 17 hands tall!

“Scrape, scrape, scrape..” I could hear the distinct sound of Grace’s left hind toe dragging across the wet sand as we entered the arena. I absolutely hated that sound. It meant she wasn’t 100%. Sound – by the very definition of the word Grace wasn’t. On a draped rein, I walked her past the reflective sliding glass door of the club house at the edge of the arena. I could see that while her stride behind was even, it was short she was not stepping up underneath herself.

I knew I shouldn’t be this upset, at our last lesson Sarah confirmed that Grace’s hock was good, she wasn’t in pain. Grace had even held her last adjustment. It was just the muscles now that needed to get strong. We were once again fighting muscle memory. Grace had been off on her left hind for so long, she didn’t know how to use it correctly.

Grace seemed convinced that stepping up underneath herself and crossing over with her left hind was impossible! At least under saddle it was. She was getting the concept on the ground more consistently, but every time I added myself and the saddle back into the equation it all went out the window.

Today I had ditched the saddle and my spurs for the bareback pad and a dressage whip. In our last few rides I started to see the root of the problem. Grace still wasn’t moving off my leg. I was running out of excuses for her obstinance. For the last few months I had worked on my leg position. I was finally done fighting my body and brain, my legs hung long under my hips, my calves stayed in contact with my mare’s sides. After 20 years I had finally let go of the squatty potty equitation position. My low back was no longer hollow and tight. I was able to feel Grace’s hind end movements or lack there of.

As I guided Grace onto a large circle on one end of the vast arena I could already hear Sarah’s voice in my head “Use your outside aids to turn her.” I started to build a gentle wall with my right leg and rein. Grace’s step behind started to feel more even. She was now walking on more of a large square than a circle. I knew the next step would be to bring in my left leg; the challenge would be to do it without pulling on my left rein. I focused on keeping the contact on the outside wall, I closed my left leg. Grace immediately leaned into to the pressure of my inside leg; I instinctively curled up my spurless left heel and gave her a little kick. Irritated, Grace let out a grunt and swished her tail. Sarah’s voice jumped into my head again “DON’T bring your heel up like that! It throws you out of position!” I rebuilt the now lost outside wall of leg and hand, I placed my inside leg just behind Grace’s girth and added pressure. As soon as I felt Grace push into the pressure, I tickled her with the dressage whip behind my left leg. Grace let out a squeal as she leapt to the right, landing in a jigging gait somewhere between a walk and a jog. She was not happy, but she had moved her left hind leg over in response to the pressure.

I gave her a few seconds to settle down. I rebuilt the outside wall again, this time determined to keep it intact when I added the inside aid. This time when I added the inside leg, something clicked. I felt Grace’s hind end step up underneath me. Her stride was longer. I kept the contact elastic in the outside wall, following her head and neck as it dropped lower into the bridle. I started to time the pressure of the inside leg with the motion of Grace’s inside leg. And then it happened. Grace’s wither lifted up from underneath me. A walk past the clubhouse doors confirmed it, her stride behind was longer. My 15 hand mare was now 17 hands tall. Her foot falls were even and clean the scraping sound was gone. I smiled as the feeling of harmony spread over me; we were now in balance moving as one together.

After repeating the same exercise at the walk to the right it occurred to me that this was very basic dressage. Something that had eluded me for many years was fundamental training for every dressage queen that I assumed to be stuck on an eternal 20 meter circle. I took a deep breath, desperate to not lose the moment as I asked for the jog. The transition surprised me; the usual resistance and attitude were gone. Grace’s first step was so big; it almost threw me out of position. I softened my lower back so I could follow hers. As I allowed the jog to build into a trot, I began to regret my recent absence from the gym. My weakened abdominal muscles were not able to stay engaged over the now powerful rhythmic movements of my horse’s hind end. “Saddle tomorrow” I thought to myself “and I need to start running!”

We finished the ride with a lope in both directions. Grace gave me 5 strides in each direction before falling into the big explosive trot. That was a big improvement over her tendency to drop her back and run when she was tired. As we walked out of the arena gate, Grace gave a little jig. It was her “I feel really good right now” dance, usually reserved for after a barrel run or reining pattern.

The next day....

It was early in the day for a ride; Grace was still eating her breakfast. From what I had just seen on the weather report we had maybe an hour before the yellow and green images on the Doppler radar would mean rain over the north end of Bainbridge Island. I had plans to accompany mom to the city for her doctor’s appointment in the afternoon. After yesterday’s ride there was no way I was missing out on today. Belle and I trudged up the hill to get Grace. As she walked across her muddy pasture to join me, I could almost swear she was moving better behind. “No, can’t be” I said out loud. I had driven myself crazy in this exact same spot in the past, always trying to judge her level of soundness from outside the pasture.

We tacked up, this time with the saddle and spurs and headed to the arena. It was the Monday after Christmas, and while I was home from work, the rest of the world it seemed was not on holiday. I could hear the sounds of the morning commute on the nearby highway the closer we got to the arena. The sound of the carpenter’s hammers working furiously to finish the neighbor’s barn pounded out as Grace walked across the wet sand. As we walked a circle on a loose rein, it took me a few moments to notice that one sound was missing. There was no scrape coming from Grace’s left hind toe. We walked by the clubhouse doors on the loose rein; Grace’s stride behind was even and long. Right on cue Sarah’s voice jumped into my head “This mare needs to be in the bridle when you ride her. She gets 23 hours a day when she can do what she wants. Make her work during this one.”

We started out on a large circle to the left. Again I gently built the outside wall. As I closed the fingers on my right rein, Grace bent her neck to the right. I had to soften my feel; she was much more responsive to my aids today. After adding my outside leg to her right side, I said out loud “Inside Leg before hand”. When I brought in the inside leg Grace stepped up into a jog. I exhaled to get her to settle. What was she anticipating? Maybe the same thing that I was? I walked her into a small circle, using my outside aids to turn her off the wall. This time when I added my inside leg, it was there. Grace’s wither lifted the saddle up underneath me, she was 17 hands again. We hadn’t lost it, it wasn’t a fluke, we actually got somewhere during yesterday’s ride.

We continued to work both directions at the walk. Grace was starting to anticipate direction changes and no longer seemed to mind being asked to step underneath with her inside hind leg. I was grateful for the addition of the saddle when we worked up to the trot. I made the decision to post for a few circles, getting my weight out of her back. Grace seemed to float above the wet ground as she lengthened her stride. Who was this horse?

Now it was time for the acid test, could she stay this balanced at the lope? I guided Grace onto a smaller circle to the right at the trot. Keeping the outside wall intact, I asked her to step over and under with the inside leg. Grace’s cue for the lope has always been the release of the inside leg, the idea being that it allows her to step up with that inside leg and step off, as opposed to using an outside leg aid behind the girth to throw her onto that inside leg. It also keeps me as a rider in balance with my horse, all I have to do for the cue is to rotate my inside ankle slightly away from her body, instead of sliding my outside leg behind the girth, potentially moving the balance of my upper body forward at exactly the moment when my horse needs it out of her way.
I released my inside leg, Grace stepped into the lope. It was a clean smooth transition, not the big freaking deal she usually makes of it. I brought the inside leg back in, asking Grace to lift her back. In the past few weeks, this has been the breaking point where she drops her back and runs. Instead, she lifted her back and gave me 10 strides of the cleanest in the ground lope before falling back to a trot. I gave her a big pet and changed directions. The left lead, our nemesis! I didn’t want to give either of us much time to think about it, I asked again just as I had to the right. Grace stepped into the left lead lope like it was no big deal. I glanced down at her head and neck; she was straight, but not stiff. I added the inside leg and her back lifted. After 10 strides, I said “Whoa”. Grace stopped on her hind end and exhaled. I dropped the reins and make a big freaking deal out of her. As we danced out of the arena on a loose rein it occurred to me that I may never have the 1d time at a barrel race, win a championship at a horse show or even a high point belt buckle, but I will know what it feels like to be one with my horse, even if just for a few strides at a time.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas from Grace

Really people? A Santa hat? I heard my horse friends talking about this method of torture, but I never thought my owner would go this route.

Of course she is the same lady that dyes my mane and tail.

If you're going to put a stupid hat on me and take pictures, at least get my good side! Especially when I am having a good hair day!

Humpft! Still wearing the hat.
Oh well, Merry Christmas everyone!

- Grace

Monday, December 20, 2010

Grace's Dog "Belle"

I was going through my personal pictures on my work computer this morning. I couldn't help but realize that my dog Belle is in most of the pictures of Grace.

When Belle was a puppy I knew she needed a job, so I went out of my way to make sure she was with me when I fed Grace morning and night. Belle took her job very seriously, making sure to keep a close eye on me anytime I made a move for the front door. She soon moved on to accompanying Grace and I on rides.

Belle loves the trails as much as Grace does. When I pull onto the road where the trail head is, she gets all excited. Belle loves to take the lead when we head out on the trails. Grace used to get irritated with her, but she soon came to realized that the Boogey man is less likely to eat her if he has a small dog to snack on first.

"All safe and clear"

Belle going up the bank jump while Grace goes around

Belle loves water! She uses it to cool herself down. It doesn't matter how cold or wet it is outside, she will find a puddle and wallow like a little pig.

I keep a stack of towels in the truck!

Tuckered out after a trail ride. The best Blue Heeler is a tired Blue Heeler!

At home Belle is my "ground person"

She also thinks she is a horse. Here she is grazing along side Grace. Always fun later that night when her body remembers that she is indeed not a horse and she pukes up all the grass.

Belle makes a good cow in a pinch!

Yes, one day Grace and I broke all the rules and chased Belle like she was a cow. Belle thought it was the best game ever! I walked Grace up to Belle, dropped my hand down and said "get that dog!" Grace pinned her ears back and gave chase. Belle ran out of the arena, shocked that someone would dare to "herd" her. I called her back in and tried again. That was whens she figured out how much fun it was.

I swear the two of them are closer now since that day. Grace used to tolerate Belle, but now she has a use for her. Grace has even started sharing her grain with Belle at feeding time. Of course she might just be fattening her up for the Boogey man!

My girls!

A picture of Belle with Grace in the background.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I love pictures of Grace! I can never have enough of them. I can't stand pictures of myself, but for some reason I don't mind so much as long as Grace is in the picture.

Last night I had the super good fortune to have two photographers show up for cow night at Diamond Hill Ranch.

I love this picture that Nina took! Beautiful!

Pictures, like video are great for me to learn from. I heard Sarah saying all night that I needed to move Grace's shoulder over with my leg and not hand. I've been working on that at home and was really making some progress. For some reason when we get back on cows, it all goes out the window.

See - too much hand!

Someone needs help with her hair! If I am going to be committed to wearing a helmet for every ride, that doesn't mean I have to have bad hair. Someone help me figure this out!

Cassie took this one on Saturday. I know it wasn't from last night because I am wearing pink gloves (yet all my other clothes seem to be the same!). I know I didn't have gloves on last night because my hands froze!

There is where Grace says "Sit Down, Shut Up and Hold On!"

At the end of the night Sarah and I separated the cows by color.

Seriously girl - get some help with that hair!

Monday, December 13, 2010

3 Blanket Weekend

I was reminded this weekend why Grace has so many blankets She has at least 10 of them, all with different weights of denier and fill. That doesn’t include coolers or her magnetic sheet or the two blankets I sold last month. This weekend in the Pacific Northwest we experienced one of our “100 year” rainstorms,which was similar to the last 100 year storm we had only 2 years ago. In 48 hours we received almost 6 inches of rain with temperatures in the 50’s. Was it really only 3 weeks ago that we had snow and temperatures in the teens?

Blanket #1

Grace started the weekend off in her pink and black Duratech turnout blanket. She had been wearing her heavier purple Duratech until I switched it out Friday morning in preparation for the warmer weather. The rain started out light on Saturday morning. We hauled up to Diamond Hill Ranch for arena sorting. I was the only haul in for the session, which allowed us to have a lot of one on one time with the herd. The rain started to pick up during the few hours that we were at the barn. I left the trailer hooked up since there was a good chance we would be hauling out to ride again on Sunday.


By the time I fed Grace on Saturday night, it was in the 50’s and the rain was at a steady down pour. Instead of standing in her nice dry, clean, freshly bedded shelter, Grace chose to stand out in the rain. Her pink medium weight blanket was saturated. She was still dry underneath, but the blanket was heavy with rain. I pulled it off and put on her purple plaid turnout sheet. I then watched as the grabbed mouthfuls of hay and pulled it outside her shelter and dropped it into the mud. I dragged the hay back inside and threatened to stand there while she ate her dinner. Once she had her grain in front of her, she stayed put.

Blanket #2

We headed back up to the barn on Sunday morning after breakfast. Grace’s head and neck were soaked, but from the shavings in her tail it looked like she had slept inside her shelter. I had planned to do some ground work in the arena before tacking up. Since we had the place to ourselves I promised Grace she could roll once we got inside. My plan was to get her into the middle of the arena where the dirt was dry and it would be safe to roll. We were not two feet inside the gate before Grace was already down in the dirt! I made her get up and moved her to the center of the arena to let her finish her dirt bath. After a great ride and extra grooming time inside the dry barn, we headed back out in the rain to head for home.

Grace wondering why we are not working the cows on Sunday

By the time I pulled the trailer into the driveway, the rain had slowed down to a drizzle. It was still in the high 50’s. Grace’s mane and tail were full of arena dirt from her roll. I couldn’t take it anymore; I pulled out the hose while Grace grazed and started washing her tail. Since it wasn’t fairly warm out for December, I went ahead and washed her mane as well. The only problem was that she was still wearing her turnout sheet. When Grace lifted her head all the water went down her shoulder, underneath the blanket. Time for another blanket change. That was when I realized just how many blankets she has. I had to dig though a stack of hanging turnouts to get to the one I wanted. I’m almost disappointed that the rain has stopped.

We have at least another 3 days of blanket changes ready to go.

Blanket #3

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Trail Rides

Parking lot in Port Gamble

Grace and I were invited to go on a trail ride last Sunday. It was a friends birthday weekend and she wanted to celebrate it out on the trails. The best part was these were trails that no one in the group had ever been on before. They eventually connect to the trails that we usually haul out to, but I had never made it out that far.

At the trailer after the ride

There is a small tourist town where we parked to get onto the trail head. I had no idea we could park there until last weekend. The town is an old mill town and it was all decorated for the holidays. There were 7 of us that hit the trails. The trails are nice wide logging roads that are very well groomed. All the trees that had fallen in the recent winter storm had been cleared and there was very little mud. I was really fortunate that the group I was with was ok with letting Grace take the lead. We only walked on the ride, but she set out on such a fast pace that I had to stop several times to allow the group to catch up. It didn’t always used to be this way....

When I bought Grace as a 3 year old, she had only been worked in an arena. She was turned out during the day in a large pasture with a hill. She had no problem galloping up and down the hill with her sister Ginger, but she had never been ridden off the confines of a flat arena. The woman I bought her from was adamant that if I took Grace on a trail ride I would only “ruin” her. She pretty much told me I would “ruin” my horse if I did anything with her.

When we moved to another barn, I started to take Grace, who was now almost 5 out of the arena. Out first trip out was a ride down the barn’s driveway. It was on a steep hill and it became very clear that Grace had no clue how to walk down a hill with a rider on her back. She was very careful with each step she took, almost sitting down at one point on her hind end. It was a bit of a shock to me, every horse I had owned in the past thought nothing of hitting the trail. I grew up galloping up and down the steep hills; I just assumed it was natural for my horses.

We eventually moved on to a long narrow trail which was a short walk from the barn. It cut through a large piece of property. There was tall scotch broom on either side of the hill. That was the trail where Grace learned to lope. She hated to lope in the arena. As soon as I would ask for the lope, she would stop dead and back up across the arena. She had been punished at one point for going too fast and she was not going to make that mistake again. Out on the narrow trail I would let her long trot until she fell into a lope. There was no where for her to go, so I had no fear of her taking off. One time she spooked at something and jumped into the scotch broom. When got herself wedged up to her shoulders in the brush I was laughing so hard I almost couldn’t help her get out. By the end of that summer she was able to gallop that trail. She has also become more willing to lope in the arena.

The first time we went out to the trails in a group Grace kept getting left being the group. She would jig and jog to catch up. He walk was incredibly slow. The more we went out on the trails the more it improved. After I moved Grace to my house, we started to trail ride with Jeanni and Jasmine.
Jasmine is FAST! There is a stretch of trail where we would always gallop. I quickly learned to give Jeanni and Jasmine a head start so that Grace and I would not end up in the rooster tail of mud and dirt from Jasmine’s hind hoofs. Jasmine taught Grace that she could run. I am still trying to convince Grace that she doesn’t always have to run just because we are out on the trail. That’s a tough one because I enjoy the gallops and it takes me a little while to settle down after a good run. I really have to work to stay calm and think “WALK”, otherwise I spend the ride sending mixed signals to Grace (ok, walk now – but I really want to run – ok but we need to walk...). If I bring my dog Belle along she is no help at all. She knows the areas where we tend to open up and run. Belle will come up to Grace’s shoulder and bark at us as if to say “C’mon – let’s go!” One time I had planned to just lope and next thing I knew we were flying down the trail, the horse and dog feeding off each other’s energy, with me just along for the ride.

The last two group rides we’ve gone on have been at the walk. Grace is really good as long as she gets to take the lead. I know I need to address the jigging when she is behind another horse, but there are times I just want to enjoy a nice trail ride. Trail riding has been wonderful for Grace. We both enjoy it and she ends up working without even knowing it. Every time we haul out to the logging trails, I tell myself I need to do this more often. Grace and Belle agree!

Forgot to mention that Grace wore her sleigh bells!

What do you mean I have to hold still for a picture?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Someday I will get this!

I had a great lesson with Sarah on Friday and was reminded once again why she is my trainer! Sarah and I go way back, we rode at a Hunter/Jumper barn together almost 20 years ago. She was instrumental and helping with my last horse “Bailey”. It wouldn’t be out of line to say she saved him. She has also saved Grace many times over in the last 10 years.

Sarah is a Master Saddler; she also does body work, rehabs horses and is one hell of a trainer. She understands movement like no one else I have met before. If I think something is not quite right with Grace and I just can’t put my finger on it, Sarah will have it figured out in a matter of seconds. I have a ton of respect and admiration for her work.

I had a history of straying from Sarah. I say “had” because I believe I have learned my lesson. In the past my “agenda” has gotten me in a hurry which caused me to cut corners. This has ALWAYS resulted in my horse coming up lame, at which point I sulk back to Sarah, hand her the reins and say “Fix it!”

For the last year, I’ve stayed put and have for the most part worked on the exercises she has given me. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that at this time my horse looks and feels better than she ever has. So it surprised me one day last week when Grace looked off behind. I could tell right away just by the way that she was moving that it was her hip. I could also hear her left hind toe dragging in the wet arena sand when she worked at the trot. Grace’s stride was short behind; her movement just didn’t add up to her new and improved body.

I know from years of training with Sarah that for Grace to be sound, she needs to carry herself over her back when she works. As much as I would love to let her work long and low all the time, she tends to hollow her back and allow her hocks to go out behind her in that frame. When Grace stops using her body correctly and it isn’t long before she is lame. This is the area where I as the “amateur owner” struggle the most. Sometimes when I ask Grace to step up from behind, she says “I can’t possibly do that!” Her first reaction is to stop forward motion, swish her tail and grunt. This is when I usually back off and go on to something else. When I don’t back off and I ask again, she might slam on her brakes and throw in a little rear. At this point I am convinced that she “can’t possibly” do whatever it is that I am asking so I go on to something less complex.

This is where the trainer comes in! I had Sarah check Grace’s body before we worked on Friday. Sure enough her hips where out. After an adjustment, I put Grace on the lunge line so Sarah could see her move. She looked much better than she had earlier in the week. The toe drag and short step was gone.

I do an exercise on the lunge line where I ask Grace to come in on a smaller circle; I take her nose to the inside and ask her to step over with her inside hind leg. This is hard for her, Grace usually talks me out of it. Sarah confirmed that we need to continue this exercise and worked with me on when to ask for the collection, and when to give a release on a large circle.

Sarah introduced a new exercise under saddle. It was a serpentine at the lope, while staying on the same lead. I understood it in my brain at the lesson, but will admit I did not get it in my body. It required me to ride off my leg and not my hand at the lope. The exercise – when executed properly- will help Grace to use her body. Sarah rode Grace during the lesson and did the serpentine exercise with her. Now I saw that Grace could do it. When we ended the lesson on Friday, I knew what I needed to do in order to get the exercise right – use my leg at the lope. Once again my brain gets it, but the connection to my body is very slow. I learn by feeling, once I “get” it, I won’t lose it, but the process of getting it can take forever (10 years) sometimes.

On Saturday, Grace and I headed out to the large outdoor arena at home. I had one goal in mind, to nail down the lope exercise. After a really good warm up, I experienced 10 of the most frustrating minutes I think I have ever had on Grace’s back. I hit that point where I usually turn back, but this time I was determined to push though. I immediately understood why I don’t like to use my leg when I lope my mare. She drops her back and RUNS when I add leg. Grace knows to lift her back when leg is added, she did it just the night before at the lope when Sarah rode her. Knowing this only added to my frustration. I pressed on and tried again. My goal was to accomplish the exercise with leg, not hand. This is a bit of a challenge when my horse is running from my leg pressure. This was one of those moments that I am grateful that no one is around 99% of the time when I ride at home. I’m sure if someone had been watching they would have wondered who the beginner was and why her horse was running away with her. At one point while letting Grace catch her breath, I decided to just work on guiding her at the lope with my legs. I didn’t care if we were in a serpentine; I just wanted to get the feel of her moving off my leg pressure at the lope. I asked for the lope again, this time keeping Grace on a large circle. I asked her to move her hip to the right, then to the left. I only used my reins to guide her on the circle. Grace seemed to say “oh, that’s what you want, ok”. We then went on to the serpentine exercise. It was no big deal. Grace slowed down her lope and moved off my leg. I asked her to speed up coming out of the counter bend to help her keep the correct lead. Again it was easy and relaxed, no problem. I switched directions – again no big deal. As we cooled out I realized that it may have been the first time I have ever kept my leg on Grace at the lope and not backed off when she pitched a fit. Makes me wonder what the next 10 years will bring.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Connected Groundwork

I just got the ok from my boss to adjust my work schedule from 6:00am – 3:00pm for the winter. He said since I have been flexible with him (i.e. driving his kid around) he is willing to be flexible with me. My plan is to only do this on Mondays and Fridays so I can continue to go to the gym the other 3 days of the work week. I am in the process of interviewing for other jobs right now, so I will have to enjoy this schedule change while I can. I am really looking forward to getting more daylight time with Grace during the week.

This week I went back to doing ground work with Grace. I pulled out my Peggy Cummings
Connected Groundwork book and did a few of the exercises. Every time I start doing these exercises again, I always wonder why I stop doing them. I supposed it’s much easier just to throw a saddle on and head to the arena. I seem to forget how much impact these simple exercises have on both Grace and myself.

I find the Connected Groundwork calms me; I am almost forced to get into my body and tune out the rest of the world. It’s the best form of meditation I have found! The odd thing is that in the first few minutes, Grace actually gets a little crazy. I consider her to be a very calm horse. Things that upset other horses, she will usually not even notice. Yet, she consistently acts up when we start the Connected Groundwork. Last night she was convinced that the Boogeyman was in the woods nearby just waiting to eat her. I am starting to believe that the ground work does get her to connect to her body, which may actually be a scary place for her. Her calm demeanor may be her way of checking out. Grace did settle down after a few minutes, and then seemed to really enjoy the work.

Last night we worked on exercises that we could perform in a small space, small as in under the flood light off the house. This is where I am always surprised by how well the exercises work. The movements are small, and almost seem more like body work. No one breaks a sweat, yet I see big improvements in the way we both carry ourselves when we finish.

Grace’s body has changed so much over the last year. It still baffles me that a 13 year old horse’s body can change. Her posture is nothing like it was just 2 years ago. She does not appear to even have the same conformation. I really need to get some updated pictures to illustrate what I am trying to explain here. Grace’s back is wider than it used to be, this change has occurred only in the last 6 months. Her weakest point is still the lumbosacral area, but even that has greatly improved. Her back has lifted, and ties much better into her hip. I swear there are days that I think her back is shorter than it used to be!
The Connected Groundwork exercises have awakened a new awareness in me about how my movement and energy affects Grace. At one point last night I could feel her spine flex and bend under my hands. She was able to bend her ribcage in a way we have yet to accomplish under saddle. As much as I have hated the dark, wet, cold shorter days of winter, I have come to appreciate the time out of the saddle. We have a ways to go before Spring, so I should be able to establish a routine of groundwork before the temptation to just throw on the saddle and head out for a ride returns.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankful for Horse Poop!

Today is Friday. I haven’t ridden Grace since Sunday. 4 days in a row without a ride, I am seriously jonesing! We were hit with a winter storm on Monday. The snow that started to fall on Sunday when we were cow sorting, started to stick on Monday, the temperatures dropped, everything froze and our County came to a stand still. The temperatures finally came up above freezing yesterday – Thanksgiving. I had no idea I could get so excited about it being 33 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grace came through the storm with flying colors. I always worry about her when it gets cold. She was born in California and has only experienced our somewhat mild Western Washington winters. I was with her when she saw her first snowfall as a 3 year old, wide eyed and very interested in the white stuff falling from the sky. 7 years later, she doesn’t pay it much attention. Even though she is dressed in her warmest winter blanket, I still stress about her in the cold. My biggest concern is her water intake. Grace has an 80 gallon stock tank in her pasture. It’s too far from a power source for a tank heater, which wouldn’t have really mattered this time, since our power was out for the coldest part of the storm. When it gets cold, I diligently break the ice off her stock tank and add a boiling pot of water to it several times a day. I also offer her a bucket of lukewarm water. Grace seems to make it a point to never drink in front of me when it’s cold out, which only increases my anxiety. I fed her as much hay as she would eat during the coldest days of the storm. Once she started turning it into bedding, I knew it was time to bring her back to her regular rations. I also increased her grain, something she was very agreeable to.

Every time I walked out to the pasture the first thing I looked for was the freshest pile of poop. I think only horse people will understand the value of a new pile of horse poop. I even have a happy dance I do when I find it. As long as Grace is pooping, everything in the world is going to be all right! Between the consistent piles of manure and that her skin would snap back when I tested her for dehydration, I was positive that Grace continued to drink even though it was below freezing.

I had planned to have the day off today, but after missing two and a half days of work; I decided to come in to catch up this morning. Still waiting for the IT guy to get the server up and running. I originally had planned to show Grace on Saturday, but after 4 days off in a row we are going to skip this one. I plan to leave the office today early enough to get a ride in. Grace let me know this morning that she is ready to go, greeting me with a squeal and a buck, right before she took off across the now very muddy pasture. Must remember to decrease her grain now that it’s warmer out!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I’m not sure how it snuck up on me this year. It happens every year, around the same time. Some how I just got busy, I was at a horse show the weekend that it occurred. I haven’t been the same since. Daylight Savings Time ended on November 7th. We set the clocks back one hour. Most people look forward to this event as it means an extra hour of sleep for that one night. I dread it every year; to me all it means is impending darkness, which will only get worse over the next month.

I am ok with the darkness in the morning. I wake up at 4:30am four days a week. I am used to it being dark when I get up. I don’t mind going to work in the dark, I have faith that the sun will eventually come up each day. What I struggle with is going to work in the dark, and then coming home when it’s dark. I feel like I am living inside a poorly lit Gotham City in the Batman movie (the 1989 Michael Keaton one).

I leave my office at 4:00 in the afternoon. It takes me 30 minutes to get home. I left a little late one day last week. In the middle of my short commute, the traffic lady on the radio announced that sunset would be at 4:39pm that day. I looked at the clock in my truck, I was only halfway home and it was now 4:30pm. 9 minutes, the sun would go down before I even made it home that day.

My routine has changed in the last two weeks. I change out of my work clothes and into riding clothes as quickly as I can. I dash out the door to the pasture, promising to continue the conversation with my husband when I get back inside. I throw a hunter's headlamp inside my pocket and head out to get Grace. She seems to feel the urgency, as least that was the case last night as she danced out of her pasture gate and promptly stood up on her hind legs. I don’t spend a lot of time brushing her before we head out to the arena to either work on the lunge line or ride bareback.

Last night was a lung line session. It was an easy call considering the way she came out of the pasture. We had a weird windstorm that blew in right when I came home, causing Grace to be extra wild! I have trot and lope poles set in the small arena to work her over. I was really impressed by how well Grace was moving last night. I had worked her hard over the weekend, more so on Sunday. There was a moment on Sunday’s ride where I had to step up and be the trainer and ask her to do something she didn’t want to do. After the initial “I can’t possibly do that” tantrum, she did was I asked and the rest of the ride was wonderful. Still I felt bad about pushing her to that point, so bad in fact that I picked up a 10 pound bag of carrots at the grocery store later that day. No worse for the wear, she was moving beautifully last night. It didn’t take long before the darkness set in and we headed back home.

With my headlamp turned on and firmly pressed against my forehead, I now took the time to brush the Princess. I let Grace graze outside her pasture while I searched for manure piles to pick up out of the mud. I could hear a horse moving in the neighbor’s outdoor arena. I looked up and could barely make out the figure of a gray horse being ridden. It never occurred to me to ride my horse in the dark. I guess she can see, so maybe I don’t have to. Is it safe? I supposed if we worked at the walk?

I just have to remind myself that this is only temporary. Spring will be here again, someday. I have to tell myself every year that it will get better. In the meantime, I intend to haul out to the barn twice a week. I was able to ride there last Thursday and Friday. I was there from 5:30 – 7:00, which wasn’t too bad. My neighbors are in the process of rebuilding their barn. I’ve been told that the lights will be back in the indoor arena sometime soon and I have to ok to ride there. I should be able to keep Grace going 5-6 days a week between the barn, riding at home on the weekends and doing some work in the dark. I might want to stock up on batteries for the head lamp in the meantime.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tacoma Unit November 7th - COWS!

They held cow sorting all day on Sunday at the show. Our class didn't start until 4:00pm. It gave Nina and I the chance to watch the morning classes. There were several teams that were very aggressive, they were rushing the cows and not having a lot of success sorting them. I watched one team of ladies in the Novice class that took their time, they walked slowly into the herd and were in no big hurry. They had a great run.

I signed Grace up for 5 runs in the Green Novice class. This was our first time at a sorting this organized. The pens were bigger and the gate between them was about 3 times the size of the one we are used to locally. I let dirty cows past me in my first two runs. I started to get really frustrated because I felt like I was letting down whoever I was partnered with. On my third run, I was paired up with Brit.

Brit coached me through the entire run. It was so nice to have that level of communication!We got 5 cows on our run, which tied us for 2nd place in our division. Grace gets really amped up when we sort, so I have to stay extra calm to keep her focused. At this point, Grace just wants to get in with the cows and move them. I know I need to do more dry work to get her to settle down, but in the meantime, I love sitting on a horse who is that excited to do her job!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Tacoma Unit November 6th

Big thank you to Nina for the use of her camera and uploading the video from this past weekends show. Usually when I watch video or see pictures of myself ride, I pick myself apart to the point that I don't want anyone else to see it.

This time I am going to share it with you, faults and all. I'm actually pretty pleased with this pattern. I know what we need to work on to improve it. I would have liked to see Grace's head a little lower, I was surprised by how high it was when I first saw the video. I just need to remember to add leg to get her back up, which will result in her head coming down.

My favorite part of this entire pattern is that I stayed relaxed. I have a tendency to creep up on my reins at shows and ride off my hands. I left my horse alone and let her do her thing. That is a huge step! I also wasn't nervous walking into the arena. That was a new feeling for me.

We we schooled the night before at the show, Sarah had me get up off Grace's back on the fast circles and let her go. I had not been doing that at home. She felt great with me out of her way. My biggest concern was that if I let her go, she would not come back to me for the small circles. No only did she come back to me, but all I had to do was sit down and she was right there.

On the large circles to the right Grace dumped her shoulder twice and fell in on the circle. We worked on it Friday night, turns out the issue is my body position. I tend to sit to the left while on the right lead and it throws my horse out of balance. The fix is for me to look over my right shoulder while in a right lead circle. It puts my body back where it belongs. This is something we will be working on at home.

Grace anticipated the lead change to the right and switched her lead early. Might need to do some counter canter before the next show, and make her wait to change until I give the ok. I really liked her last change to the left. This is a big deal because the left lead can be a challenge for her. If she is going to miss a change, is usually will be right to left. Grace swung her hind end to the left on the stop. This is her way of protecting her left hock. Sarah gave me some exercises to work on before the next show to help with this.

The best part of the pattern you don't see on the video. When we started to walk out of the arena, Grace started to prance. She was doing her "I'm all that and a box of chocolates" dance. She'll get no argument from me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Rare Wednesday Morning Ride

Grace and I had a wonderful ride this morning! Yes, it is Wednesday and I had the very rare opportunity to get a ride in before work. It was actually my part of a bargain. My boss is out of town and needs me to take his daughter to the orthodontist this afternoon. I could go on forever by how much it irritates me that driving the boss’s 12 year old daughter around is actually in my job description. For the record I am an Office Manager, not the Step and Fetch it Girl. I did agree to this when I was hired, so for the most part I keep my mouth shut, drive the kid around and charge the company for my gas mileage.

So when the boss gave me 24 hours notice that he needed me to drive the kid to an appointment at 3:00 in the afternoon, the first thing that came to mind was that he was taking away my riding time. I gave Grace the day off on Monday and had planned to ride her the rest of the week. We are headed to a horse show this weekend, and in my mind every ride before hand counts. When I started to moan and whine and stomp my feet, the boss suggested that I ride during the day before taking the kid to the appointment. He didn’t seem to mind that I would be missing time in the office doing actual work – for the company – that pays my paycheck. Who was I to argue?

My daily routine involves getting up at 4:30am so I can make the 5:45am class at the gym; from there I head to work. Since I am usually in an office building when it gets light out, it occurred to me this morning that I have no idea when the sun comes up. I had planned to get Grace out for our ride at 7:00am, but it was still dark. I tied her to the trailer at 7:30am, but still had to use a head lamp to provide enough light to wrap her legs. I went as far to have a hay bag all set up on the trailer so that I would not be accused of interrupting Her Majesty’s breakfast.

It was still crisp and cool that early in the morning, so Grace seemed to have a little extra skip in her step on the way to the arena. I actually prefer riding her when she is a bit fresh. It doesn’t take long to get her focused, and I don’t have to spend the entire ride pushing her. It also means she is sound. I don’t get that “ready to take on the World” feeling from her when she is sore.

The show’s schedule for this weekend is Reining on Saturday and Cow Sorting on Sunday. Grace knows the reining pattern, she figured it out the second time I practiced it on her. Since then I’ve been breaking it down into smaller parts. If I over school something, Grace will then start to anticipate. I even go out of my way to practice parts of the pattern in a different area of the arena than where they are in the pattern. I’m never sure if I am actually training this horse, or just constantly trying to outsmart her.

What I have not worked on for this pattern is the spins. We only have to spin twice in each direction at the beginning of the pattern. I have gone out of my way to avoid spinning on this horse. I am totally freaked out that I will wreck her left hock if I do. This morning we worked on our warm up. For the last few months we’ve been working with Sarah on more lateral work, lateral work that is off my legs and not my hands. It’s very easy for Grace to move away from the direction her neck is bent, but much more difficult for her to move in the direction that it is bent. This morning I saw a big change. She was much better moving to the left, with her head bent to the left. When I asked her to move to the right with her head bent to the right the first time, she was pretty sure the world was coming to an end. It makes sense; I was asking her to step forward and over with her left hind leg. I took a step back and broke down the exercise, asked her for a walking turn on the forehand into the bend, which she did with ease, and then asked her for the side pass into the bend. Not only did she get it, she gave me one of those “Oh, that’s what you wanted? Why didn’t you just say so?” sighs. Again, not sure if it was training, or just out thinking her. She really can do it physically, but it becomes my job to get her to believe she can. My goal is to get her there without force. If I accomplish that I promise you that my ride the next day will be even better. We continued on with our warm up, doing all the same exercises at the jog. I only asked for a few steps at a time on the side pass to the right. Little victories tend to go along way with Grace. At the end of our warm up, I went ahead and asked her to spin one time in each direction. I was rather surprised by how well she did. If I have that for the show, I will be very pleased. But if she gives me two circles in each direction I will take it. Grace needs to get stronger on her left hock before I ask her to spin on it. A schooling show is no reason to rush it.

I have one goal for the show. That is to keep my leg on my horse during the lope. For the last 10 years, every time I ask for the lope my legs automatically come off my horse’s side and stick straight out in front of me. I know I do it, my trainer points it out to me, I yell at my legs, but still they stick out. It goes way back to when I was a kid and afraid to add leg to a runaway horse. It goes way past the thinking side of my brain and deeper into some body fear issues. I have just started to make real progress on it in the last 30 days. Grace was so used to me not using my leg at the lope that the first time I kept it on she didn’t know what to do. Did I want a lead change? Did I want her to go faster? Slow down? We’ve had to learn to communicate at the lope all over again. She does seem to appreciate the longer rein length. Amazing I can do when I don’t ride off my hand! The pattern has two fast circles and one slow circle each direction. Right now that feels like an eternity to remember to keep my leg on.

No matter how my rides go, I am really looking forward to getting away to a show this weekend. I get to hang out with two really incredible horse ladies and Grace. We only have the one class on Saturday and then cow sorting on Sunday. Practically sounds like a vacation. I just have to get past that point of thinking I am going to swallow my tongue when I think of all the stuff I have to pull together before Friday afternoon. I also have a group from Korea visiting the office next week to prepare for. Throw driving the boss’s kid around on top of it, and suddenly I’m really glad I got my Grace fix in this morning!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I can't leave well enough alone!

At the end of the summer Grace's mane was sun bleached. The more I looked at it the more it bothered me.

Yes, I know what you're saying; Grace is a "horse". She lives outside and the sun bleaching is natural. I should just leave it alone and let the color come back on it's own.
But Grace is not just a "horse". She is beautiful and her sun bleached mane was making me crazy! I tell her every day that next time I am going to buy and ugly horse, that way I won't feel the need to keep it beautiful year round.

These are the sun bleached ends of her mane, they were orange!

Her forelock looked like it belonged on a foal!
Since I cannot leave well enough alone, and I don't have children of my own to fake tan and enter in beauty pageants, I prepared to dye Grace's mane.
First I sectioned it:

Then I wrapped Grace's neck in a garbage bag.
Doesn't she look thrilled?

I pulled the sections through slits in the garbage bag. The whole intention was to prevent hair dye from getting on Grace's coat.

Now the hair dye. First let me say that I am a natural red head. I have never used a chemical dye on my hair. My hair color is more of strawberry blond, my particular shade does not come in a bottle. It never fails, every single time I am at the hair dresser, some stranger asks if I had it colored there. When I tell them its my natural color, they turn on their heel, storm off and never speak to me again.
So when it comes to hair dye, I am clueless!

Look at all that stuff! I had no idea that one needed a degree in chemistry in order to change their hair color. Impressive! I went with Lorel Excellence Cream, I knew I wanted a thicker formula to prevent dripage.

Ok, so here is the part where I really can't leave well enough alone. Remember the garbage bag?
I wasn't quite able to get up to the roots of Grace's mane with it on. The idea of the top of her mane not matching the rest of her mane was more than I could handle. So, I took off the garbage bag.

It was then that I realized that I did not have any Vaseline to coat her neck to keep the dye off of her coat. Right about that time, Grace shook her head. I'm still working to get the black dye off my white horse trailer.
Finished product:


Why I needed to keep the garbage bag on:

It's been a few weeks now and the dye has worked it's way out of Grace's coat.
Her mane still looks great! It should last through the winter.
When I showed my trainer, she said it looked great - followed by "what about her tail?"
Since I couldn't leave well enough alone, Grace's tail now matches her mane!