Thursday, September 30, 2010
Yesterday was the second time in less than a week that Grace and I worked cattle.
It was great! I am amazed that after 10 years with this horse, we are just now getting into this. I am completely blown away by how well Grace has taken to working cows. She loves it! It is such an incredible feeling to be sitting on a horse that is in love with their job.
Grace and I have been winging it at the few sortings we’ve been to. She knows how to move the cows and is a natural at using her body language to communicate with them. I’ve just been a long for the ride. My job has been to point her at the correct cow, if she knew her numbers; I would be out of a job! Last night we started working on some actual skills. Grace has the foundation and has done all the maneuvers in our arena work, but when you but a cow into the mix it suddenly all makes sense.
In the past I’ve said that Grace is ADD. She prefers patterns to rail work and does much better if she has a reason for performing an exercise. She is not a Western Pleasure horse contrary to her pedigree. Now I’m starting to accept that I may be the one with ADD. At last night’s practice we worked a pattern in pairs. We had to move a cow around a set of gates and through a chute. It was very technical and the partners had to work together. After we blew the turn to the chute the first time, I immediately saw where we went wrong. The turn to the chute had to start farther back, in the corner. I also needed to speed up earlier and my partner had to give the cow enough room. On the second try we nailed it! Well almost, my partner got so excited about the turn she forgot to hold the wall to the chute. I started to see the technical part of working cattle. Now I have something else to focus on besides my horse. I’m learning to read the cow’s body language, watch their eyes and ears to anticipate when they are going to stop or turn. I also see the difference between each cow. Some have a bigger space bubble than others, some like to stop dead in the middle of a run, almost laughing as we blow past them.
Grace was absolutely on it last night! The first cow we drew was fast and had a huge space bubble. We couldn’t get within 10 feet of it without it running the other way. At one point Grace and I attempted to cut it off as it ran down the rail. When the cow ran into her, Grace sat back on her hind end and turned into the cow. It was very cool! When we loped after the cow, Grace got really excited and started to buck. It became very clear that if we are going to pursue this, I need to stop being a passenger and start using it as an opportunity to train. At the end of the night I had the chance to get into the arena alone with 3 cows (ok, are they cattle at this point? Someone help me with the terminology). I cut out the red cow; it was the one that liked to stop dead in the middle of a run. Grace and I worked the cow up the rail at a walk. When it stopped we stopped, when it turned we turned. We were able to keep the cow away from the herd for sometime, all the while controlling our speed. After a big pet and many “good girls”, we put the cows away and were done for the night.
I now have a list of things we need to work on this week. Suddenly arena work has a whole new meaning. Every exercise has something to do with working a cow. I now have a reason to ask Grace to stop on her hind end every single time. I also need to fix her left turn; it has to be cleaner if we are going to keep a cow on the rail. Hmmm, maybe Grace isn’t the only one that needs to see the big picture.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Was it really only 6 months ago that somewhere inside me I thought my world with this horse had ended? When I realized that I could no longer ignore her chronic lameness? That I would have to step up and do what was best for my horse? I know there was at least a few hours in there where I was distraught over letting go of my agenda. I had so many plans for the summer, drill team, parades, barrel racing. We would have to walk away from it all. Now I look back on it and I am so incredibly grateful that it happened. I am so appreciative that I was forced to stop, step back and really examine what it was I wanted from the relationship with my horse. When I let go of all that "stuff" the only thing that mattered was that I could look that little mare in the eye and not feel like I had done something wrong.
When Grace was cleared by the vet to go back to work, I had already decided that we would spend the summer rebuilding our foundation. She is so easy to put buttons on, such a fast learner, that over the years I had skipped many steps in her training. We went back to the basics, dressage, transitions, moving off my leg. Most importantly, Grace finally learned to work over her back. On one of the first trips out to Sarah's in the Spring, I carefully watched how each of her horses moved. Their movement was clean, sound and effortless. I had to remind myself that each of those horses had been though Sarah's rehab program and had all been lame at one point. I would not be satisfied until I knew that Grace could move as well as these horses.
For the first time as a rider I became willing to do what was necessary to become a better rider. I replaced my saddle with a bareback pad, went back to the gym and conquered years of fear that was pent up in my body. The best thing I did was ride other horses. Katie has been such a blessing. She is more sensitive than Grace and is quick to reward me when I get my body in the correct position. Katie and I have given each other much needed confidence. Every time I would reach a new milestone with Katie, I would come home and tell Grace "if Katie can do it..."
Now there is Ellie, the Paint mare that packs me around. Ellie has reminded me that I do not need my hands near as much as I think I do. I am riding her hunt seat this Friday at the Washington State Horseman Finals show. For the first time ever, I am excited about riding in rail classes. The less I do, the better Ellie is. She is the ultimate amateur's horse, she does all the work, I get to sit there and look pretty! It got me to thinking; "if Ellie can do it..."
Grace not only became sound, she started to move better than she has in years. Grace has always had a short step behind - a stutter step, it felt like she had an extra hind leg. A few months ago it disappeared. I started to get left behind during upward transitions as I was still expecting her to hesitate. Her gait changed, she was actually comfortable to ride. Galloping bareback on the trails, something I never thought I would do with this horse, was now possible. In the arena Grace finally had a lope, not a canter in a Western Saddle, but a true lope. I actually struggled with it at first, this was supposed to be my barrel horse and now she was loping. How do I ride this? With a big smile on my face, that's how!
And then we discovered cows! Grace comes alive when it's time to work the cows. I was actually a little afraid of them at first. Some of them had horns and they used them on each other right in front of me. Grace very clearly told me to shut up, sit down and hold on, she had this! An entire month went by in between opportunities to work cattle, it felt like forever. Now thanks to Diamond Hill Ranch, we have the chance to work cows on a weekly basis. Who knows, this may be a new direction for us. Over the last 10 years Grace and I have done everything from Western Pleasure to Cowboy Mounted Shooting. So far Barrel Racing and cows are the two things that really get her amped up in a good way. It's an incredible feeling to enter an arena on a horse that wants to do its job more than anything on Earth!
This past summer has been the best one so far with Grace. 6 months ago all I could think about was all the events we were going to miss out on. I am now so incredibly grateful for every ride we've had and the ability to see each one as its own success.
I have no idea what tomorrow, next month or next year will bring. I really don't care. For the first time in 10 years I am living in the moment with this horse. Turns out, that's where she's been the entire time.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
It wasn't long after we got Snowball home that the trouble began. She really wasn't the most ideal child's horse. My family was new into horses; there was my sister's Morgan/Quarter horse mare "Suki", and my dad's ex-racehorse "Big Red". They were mainly ridden on the trails up the road from our house. They had been worked hard in their past lives and seemed to have an appreciation for the semi-retired life style of our horses. Out on pasture grass all day, maybe a trail ride now and then.
The add in the Farmer's Column of the classifieds said "10 year old Pony, $150.00 Experienced Riders Only". I was far from an experienced rider when my parents bought Snowball. I had ridden my sister's horse on my own maybe a dozen times. For the most part I stayed on; there was that one time where I urged Suki into a lope along side an empty creek and she decided to jump it. My sister was so relived when she found out I didn't break anything. Now we wouldn't have to tell mom and dad. Oops, just did!
The background on Snowball was that she was a Mustang, rounded up when she was 2 years old. She grew up with the girl that rode her through the pastures the day we picked her up. The girl was 6 when Snowball became hers. My parent's bought the pony from the girl's parents when she was at summer camp. They told her when she got home, she was 14 at the time and from what I was later told, she was devastated that her parents sold her best friend out from under her. I remember her handing me a bit that was wrapped in cloth the day we picked Snowball up. She said it was the pony's favorite bit, and then she ran into the house, that was the last I saw of her.
Snowball seemed to hate every member of my family. She kicked everyone, including my little brother who was 18 months old at the time. She was incredibly quick and could spin in place, immediately followed by the double barrel blow of her hind hooves. Riding her was no cakewalk either. When we would leave the yard for trail rides if Snowball didn't want to go, she would back up. It didn't matter to her that the other horses were already headed down the driveway, she would just stop dead in her tracks and back up, all the way to her pasture gate. I could kick, scream and cry, but she wouldn't budge. On days that she felt like heading out for a ride, all would be well until we got into the arena. She would walk into the middle of it and then drop to her knees. She would give me 2 seconds to jump out of the saddle before she would begin to roll in the deep sand. I began to dread going for rides, but my parents pressed on. I tried riding her in the pasture, but she would just buck me off and run away. When I started to avoid opportunities to go for a ride, my parent's knew it was time. It had only been 6 months, but it was clear that it was not going to work out for Snowball and my family.
I'm still not sure how or why this next part happened, but I believe that someone that knew my dad suggested that since we couldn't ride Snowball, we should breed her. What I do remember is someone showing up with a Miniature Paint stallion. After much discussion among the adults, the little stallion with the Napoleon complex was turned loose into Snowball's pasture with her. The only problem was - Snowball was not in season. She had NO intention of letting that little freak touch her. Snowball's pasture was huge, maybe an acre in size. The mini stallion would take all the kicks to the head and keep on chasing her. The neighbors who were very experienced horse people, pulled out a picnic table to sit back and enjoy the show. Snowball only got a break from being chased when my sister's 15hh mare went into season and flagged the mini stallion over to her field. He took off in her direction, got down on his knees and wiggled under the bottom rail of the fence. I heard the neighbors howl with laughter as the tiny stallion chased after the tall mare, not having a clue what he was going to do if he caught up to her. My dad was able to get them separated quickly, good thing because his 16.3 hh Throughbred gelding "Big Red" was ready to jump the fence in order to save his mare.
A few days later a family with two bigger kids showed up to try Snowball. They were more experienced and had no problem riding her out the yard. I don't have any memories of missing her when she left. My parents did replace her within a few months with a nice pony named "Misty".
Misty was a been there done that 4-h pony. She was more than willing to join the other horses on trail rides. She was my mount at my first horse show, in the years that I rode her we did everything from stock seat classes to learning how to jump. Misty taught me many valuable lessons.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Having a small case of writers block, plus there isn’t any new developments with Grace. She is wonderful as always! So today I bring you the story of my how I got my first pony Snowball and how my dad became my hero.
It was the week before my 8th birthday, when my mom said I needed to help my dad go pick up a goat. I was really confused; it made no sense at all. I almost never spent any time alone with my dad, and a goat? What in the world were we going to do with a goat? I didn’t want a goat, I wanted a pony! Everybody knew that, I had wished and prayed on every star for the last year. My sister and my dad both had horses of their own. Now it was my turn. I was more than ready for my very own pony. Goat! What where they thinking. I loved my dad, but I had a very healthy fear of him. He was the Chief of the Boat of a Trident Submarine and his style of communication was to lecture, yell and swear. If he didn’t speak to you, it meant you were doing just fine, staying out of his way and minding your P’s and Q’s. When he wanted to talk to you, it only meant one thing, that you had done something wrong. He married my mom when I was 4 and by the time I was 8 I had learned not to make eye contact with him in fear that it might lead to a lecture. Now what was I going to do? We were going to be in the truck together, alone! I couldn’t figure out how mom had weaseled her way out of this one.
I headed outside to meet the inevitable. Dad was waiting with the truck; he had the neighbor’s horse trailer hooked up to it. Horse trailer? How big was this darn goat? I have no memory of any conversation we had on the 20 minute drive. What I do remember is the Country music coming in over the radio. Dad turned it up when my favorite song came on; Michal Martin Murphey’s “Wildfire”. How I loved to hear of the girl and the pony she called Wildfire. In my overactive imagination Wildfire was white as the snow with a long flowing mane and tail. I was the girl as we drove along in the truck I imagined that I was riding him bareback and bridleless on the shoulder of the road right along side the passenger side of the truck. Just as Wildfire got close enough to the truck that I could reach out and touch him, dad slowed down as we turned into a driveway.
There were lush green hills surrounded by fencing as far as I could see. A very kind looking woman met us just outside the barn. Where was the goat? I could see some horses off and the distant and I instantly gravitated towards the fence. Dad and the nice lady stood behind me. She said something about a girl that was bringing the goat up from the lower field. I didn’t bother to look in that direction; I was too busy soaking in every inch of the two horses in the field. One of them was paint, and I was memorized by his markings. Somewhere in the middle of the adult’s conversation I overheard the question; “Are you going to get another horse anytime soon?”, too quickly my dad answered “No, we have enough mouths to feed, I am in no hurry to get another one.” My heart sank; I was never going to get my pony. All I would have is a stupid goat! It was so unfair!
“Oh, hear she comes!” I looked in the direction that the lady was pointing. At the very bottom of the field, several fence lines away I saw a white flash. It wasn’t! It couldn’t be! It was! A Pony! White as the snow! She had a girl on her back and she was flying, running up the hill in my direction. They would stop at each gate and open it. The girl never got off the pony, just opened the gate with one hand and slid though shutting it behind them. I had never seen anything like it. As they got closer, I drank in the details of what had to be the most beautiful pony I had ever seen. She had blue eyes, and a pink nose, she was perfect. I heard a new voice behind me. “Do you like horses?” the girl’s father asked. “YES!” especially ones like that!” I still hadn’t fully understood what was going on, until my dad spoke up. “She’s yours!”
Thursday, September 9, 2010
When she was 4 and her tail was getting long, I tied it up in figure 8 knots. When we took it down to show, it touched the ground:
At one point I kept her tail up in a tail bag in the winter. Then one brisk day while we were out on a trail ride, something caused Grace to move suddenly. The next thing I saw was my Blue Heeler swinging around from behind me with my horse's beautiful tail firmly grasped between the dog's teeth. That was the end of putting Grace's tail in a tail bag!
Now Grace's mane is another story:
I kept Grace's mane short for Western Pleasure. Her mane is as thick as her tail, which meant not only pulling it for length, but ripping it out by the roots to make it thin so it would lay flat. I don't think I will ever accept the idea of pulling a mane. Yes, it shows off my horses neck, but when her mane is long if we change directions the judge gets a full view of her neck.
I just think there is something really medieval about ripping out chucks of hair by the root all for the sake of beauty.
So I rebelled, and started letting Grace's mane grow. I'd attempted it in the past, but when it would get to an ugly stage, I would cut it or pull it again. Finally my friend Jeanni threatened to never ride with me again if I pulled Grace's mane.
As corny as it sounds I find a long flowing mane just belongs on a horse. At 7 years old, my imaginary horse did not have a pin straight 4 inch long mane. No, it was past his shoulders and in my mind I would be able to braid in ribbons and bows.
How did I get Grace's mane and tail to grow so thick and long? I would love more than anything to sell you a bottle of magic oil. But there just isn't one. Grace has good hair genes, I suppose I support them with good nutrition, but it's all her.
Now I know that the less I mess with her mane and tail, the less it will break and the longer it will grow. But where's the fun in that? What's the point of having all that hair if I can't play with it!
For the last year I've been washing and conditioning her tail once a week. The only time I skip it is when it's just too cold out. No fancy expensive horse products here, just whatever I'm using in my hair at the time. From the looks of this picture, looks like it was Garnier Fructis that week!
This is what it looks like when I take the braids out:
How could I ever pull that again? Now maybe some ribbons and bows?
Monday, September 6, 2010
The best part of this blanket is the Hug closure at the chest. It wraps around and closes by the wither, essentially "hugging" the horse. For years Grace has made nasty cranky horse faces when I put her blankets on. She hates the traditional buckles that are on almost all open front blankets and sheets. I've been looking for closed front options, but they are rare on turnouts. She has been wearing the Hug sheet on and off for a week now and the cranky mare face at blanketing time is gone.
I brought Grace home 5 years ago at the end of July. The bugs were bad, so she started wearing a fly sheet 24/7. As the weather cooled down in the fall we added a turnout sheet, and as the temperatures got colder, the blankets got heavier. Over the years I have learned that the earlier I get a jump on the blanketing, the shorter her winter coat is. My goal is to be able to ride all winter long without body clipping.
Of course if you asked Grace for her opinion she would tell you that she wants to be NAKED all the time. That is until the bugs come out, or it rains, or gets cold, or she gets a little dirty. At the end of the day, my rock star of a horse is a Princess at heart.
Friday, September 3, 2010
I’ve been following a discussion about cloning on a forum (a subject that FASCINATES me!) when someone brought up this quiz on finding your horse’s personality.
Yes, I know there has been a lot of pooh-poohing Parelli’s Horsnality test, but let’s do this one just for fun.
Here is Grace’s result:
The Rock Stars are confident and charismatic. They are expressive and strong minded. They love to show you what they know but are hard to get to focus on the small details of the task. They are found in many competitive arenas, usually at the top of their field.
This didn’t surprise me, of course everyone wants to think of their horse as a Rock Star and for all I know every answer equals that result. But I’ve always know that there was something special about Grace’s personality. I also believe that she and I are a good match for each other. I’ve said more than once that if she had another owner, it might not have worked out so well.
There are a few things I’ve noticed about Grace that set her apart in my mind.
When she is afraid of something her reaction is to stop, lift her head and then walk TOWARD the scary thing! Every horse I owned before her would stop, spin and then run the other way. Grace is like the alpha mare in a herd, it’s her job to check it out so everyone else is safe; that is unless we bring Belle the dog with us on a trail ride. Then Grace is perfectly ok with sacrificing Belle to the boogeyman first.
Grace does not enjoy being drilled over and over again in training. If she doesn’t understand something she gets frustrated quickly. I have learned to take an exercise and break it down in to several small steps. As soon as she responds correctly to a question I make a big FREAKING deal over her. If she responds wrong, I don’t get upset, I ask again. If she still doesn’t get it, I go back and ask a question I know she can answer and I build from there. Once she gets the first part of the exercise, I can then add the second part and so on. This process may only take 30 minutes or so for a 3 step process. If I had asked for all 3 steps at the beginning of the ride, I would have spent an additional 30 minutes just getting her past her frustration.
Grace love to see the “Big Picture”. Several years ago I took her to a reining clinic. I still remember her intently watching the other horses doing their sliding stops and spins. The first day we spent most of the time observing the other more experienced horses and riders. This was the first time I noticed Grace watching and learning. (you think I’m crazy don’t you!) The next day she seemed to walk out of the stall a little taller. By the end of the morning session she had a sliding stop, it was really cool! It was like Grace walked of the stall that morning saying “I’m a Reiner!”
I’ve seen the same thing with barrel racing. I do most of my work off the barrel pattern. I may throw a barrel in the arena for the occasional exercise just to see where she is on her turns. I had a trainer tell me years ago to use the maneuvers (spins, slides, barrel turns, lead changes) as the reward. This has worked wonders for Grace. When we do work the pattern it is usually at the end of the ride. I let her run the last time we work the pattern for the day, for the next 10 minutes while we are cooling out she feels like she is 17 hands tall. She has her “happy barrel racer buzz”. The last thing I want to do with this horse is to over drill the pattern. She LOVES it and I want to keep it that way.
I put a lead change on her with this method. At first I worked with a trainer, I remember one night in an outdoor arena drilling over and over again until it was dark. By the end of the lesson both Grace and I wanted nothing to do with lead changes. I went back on my own and asked for a simple change on a figure eight. I kept taking out trot steps until there was only one left. It got to the point that she was begging me to just let her do the flying change as it would be easier than the simple changes. That was it; she was now a flying lead change fool! We never again would have to run out of daylight to get something accomplished.
I’ve had more than one trainer label my mare as “opinionated”. We were in a clinic with Les Vogt. There were only a few participants so he had time to get on every one’s horse. He only spent 5 minutes on Grace before saying “This mare is too hot for me and I’m too old for this”. I was shocked! I had never heard Grace described as hot. This was one of the few times I had encountered someone who was not in awe of my most perfect horse. I felt like a parent of a gifted child and someone had just come along and said “She’s not all that special”.
What I have noticed is that if someone get’s on Grace’s back with the intent to dominate her reaction to it is “IT’S ON”! This is why I never end a ride on a bad note. I swear Grace carries it over into the next ride. She remembers where ever we left off. If we left off on a bad note, as soon as I get on the next day, it’s on! So I go out of my way to end all of our rides on a good note. Even if that means asking her what one plus one is, and when she say “Two, everybody knows that!” I make a big freaking deal over her and then get off her back. The same thing goes for when she learns something new and we end the ride on that success. The next day when I get on, she is really excited to show me her new trick. As soon as I ask for whatever it was, she is right there. I’m pretty sure she thought about it all night long.
So, if your still with me and haven’t written me off as the crazy lady who over anthropomorphizes her horse; where does your horse fall in the Rock Star test?
While we wait for your answers, Grace and I will be working on calculus questions with one hoof tied behind her back!
I found this on the horse personality website after I posted the blog. This is what is says about a Rockstar personality:
Pamper their egos
Allow them to shine
Allow them to teach you
Work them regularly
Treat them with dignity
Pet them, love them
Pick at them
Be a perfectionist
Be a taskmaster
Now that is really interesting. Grace HAS to be worked regularly. She is not one of those horses that can sit in a pasture for days on end. Even in the winter she is worked at least 4 days a week. If she gets 2 days off in a row, I must do ground work at the beginning of the next ride, or I will spend the entire ride just settling her.
The "don'ts" make perfect sense to me. She hates to be picked at, and I really think that Western Pleasure bored her. She love patterns, they are not boring.
This is really fun!
Thursday, September 2, 2010
I brought this to work today to hang in my office. It was taken at last year's Thunderbird Rodeo. What an amazing little mare!