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!