Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Robin Rides (Steen)

I am away from Iowa City now, for a week. And I will definitely miss my wonderful horse while I'm gone. However, before I left I did manage to video myself! riding! Steen!

Well, to be honest, it's not that exciting. We were mostly cruising with no steering on my part, walking and trotting, with some bending, flexing, backing and disengaging here and there. Steen was pretty good, although it is now out there for all the world to see... standing is not his strong point (but I love him anyway).

And I would like to offer my special thanks to my mother-in-law for the soundtrack suggestion. :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

From One Extreme to the Other

Saturday I went to the barn for a ride with Gay and Cathi. We decided to venture out into the fields around the barn in spite of the snow cover, so it marked my first horseback adventure through the fluffy white stuff.

And, I am happy to report, it wasn't much of an adventure. Steen was so well behaved I actually started to worry he wasn't feeling well. He was calm from the moment I brought him out of the pasture to the moment I put him back and gave him a frozen apple (courtesy of Gay) to chew on for a while.

Steen sucking on his apple

I'm not sure what made the change. Perhaps it was our long, long indoor cruise earlier in the week. Perhaps he was just feeling tired. But given how unusually antsy he's been our last number of rides, it was pretty astonishing to take him out and find him totally, completely and absolutely mellow. Even when Chewey and Doc both started showing a little attitude, Steen was relaxed and willing to do whatever I asked.

So, who knows? Horses are nothing if not mysterious...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Still Cruisin'

Today Steen and I had our first real indoor ride at the new barn. And I must say, things went pretty well. When I first brought him inside he was nervous, as he's been lately, but a little better than the last couple of times. He was also very clean and very fluffy, so grooming was easy. Mounting went well and after anchoring myself to his bare back via my left hand's firm grasp upon his (luckily ample) mane, I was ready to go. I knew he'd be spooky, but I also knew the best way to get over everything fastest would be to just let him move around naturally in the new space. So, we cruised, just like in the old days when he was getting used to having me on his back. First we walked and walked and walked with me not steering. Gradually, the snorting and high, nervous head-carriage disappeared. We walked some more. Then, we worked on some stops, some flexes, some disengages, some backing. He was very good with all of these things. Then, I asked for a trot and he picked up a nice, smooth (if somewhat fast) trot that felt much stronger and better balanced than the last time I rode him indoors. I've noticed the same thing the last few times we've loped outdoors. I think Steen is finally experienced enough and strong enough to carry a rider well. It's a nice change.

So, we trotted and trotted and trotted. He remained a little nervous and goey so I figured I'd just let him trot without any input from me (other than the occasional "good boy") until he really relaxed. It took quite a while. In the intervening half hour or so, I practiced riding with soft eyes, pliable body, correct seat. I'm really getting better at keeping myself directly on top of Steen instead of slightly forward - towards wherever I think he's going to go next, and there is nothing like cruising to test how well I'm doing this. Left to his own devices, Steen will mostly trot in a circle, but sometimes he makes sharp turns with no warning and I always like to see how little (or much) I need to adjust to stay with him.

Finally, after over half an hour of solid trotting, Steen relaxed. I could feel him let go of his anxiety. His head dropped, he slowed down and stopped looking for a way out. I let him go just a tad longer, let him stop and praised him lavishly.

Then we did more walking, more flexing, more bending, more stopping and more disengaging. He was good at all these things.

Finally, I hopped off and let him loose to see if he would roll. He walked around the arena a bit but in the end declined to get that comfortable.

I took this a series of photos while he was thinking about whether to roll or not. First Steen standing at the door saying, "Uh, I am pretty sure this is the way back to the pasture." Then, "What are you doing over here, anyway." Finally, "Wait. I think that's a camera. I'm scared of camera's, right? Anyway, I'm not coming any closer until you put that thing back in your pocket."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Snowed Out

Steen spent most of the last week snow-locked in his pasture. The main problem was the door into the indoor arena from the pastures was covered in a huge drift. So, being unable to get him inside anyway, I didn't see him after my Tuesday visit until yesterday.

Sunday morning found Brian and I driving out to the barn. We retrieved our horses and brought them inside. Steen was a bit agitated again. I'm not sure what is behind his new-found indoor antsy attitude. I imagine it's a combination of factors, but I think one of them is the grain. I wish I could find a way to get him through the winter without having to feed him so many compressed calories...

So, we had another day of groundwork and I was pretty firm with him a lot - really making him move out of my space, and fast. And I contrasted this with a lot of standing around with me petting his rump and back. He did relax at times, so hopefully it's just another temporary problem.

I took the new camera out, too but didn't manage to get the settings dialed in quite right whilst holding a fidgety horse on the end of a rope. I did kind of like this one, though, with Cal in the background (sporting the new leather halter I gave Brian for his birthday).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


We have a big storm rolling through this week, so I figured I'd better get out there and see Steen today just in case the roads are inaccessible for the next few days. I found him in a snowy pasture. The herds were a bit riled. I'm not sure if it was the weather or what but everyone was moving around a lot more than usual.

Doc and Chase playing... chase.

This was right before Steen galloped up the hill with a glad whinny to meet me. (OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a little.)

I brought Steen indoors and he remained riled up, so I decided to just do a day of groundwork. I hadn't done that in a long, long time, and it was actually pretty fun. We did work both on the line and off, and he was really well behaved while managing to stay a little antsy the whole time.

We worked for about half an hour, then I took him back and went to get Doc.

This is Doc.

Doc is my first paying equine student. He and his owner Gail want to learn how to do the things Steen and I do on the ground, so I've been giving the two of them lessons. Today I intended to work with Doc alone but Gail's out-of-state trip got canceled so she came as well.

It is quite interesting to work seriously on groundwork with a horse other than Steen. Doc is younger (five) and much mellower in his general personality, but he's also more dominant and less sensitive, so I'm curious to see how he takes to learning and perfecting the same exercises. I intend to video some of our lessons, so hopefully I'll be able to share our progress.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Catching Up

I've fallen a bit behind on the horse blogging lately. I started with my trip home for Thanksgiving. Although I did go on one nice long solo ride on my sister's horse, Jak, it was a largely horse-free week.

We returned to Iowa and I was quite Steen-sick. We went to the barn the day we got back and went on a truly lovely trail ride. I rode Steen. Brian rode Cal. And our friend Gail rode her horse Doc. We went all over the place, and Steen behaved like a champion trail-horse. He went through mud, across running water. He reacted with calm unconcern when we saw deer in the distance. It was lovely. We rode for over an hour and a half and returned to the barn. Then, as I was leading the very calm Steen across the indoor arena he tripped and hit me in the back of the heel with his hoof. Ouch. I couldn't get my foot in a boot for a week.

However, yesterday found Brian and I out there again for Duke Day. Steen and Cal got their feet trimmed and we made plans to ride today with Jean and Schooley. We returned to the barn this morning and Cathi joined us too, riding Chewey.

We had an interesting ride. Between the fact that the two retired racehorses were a bit goey and shotgun deer-hunting season just opened, everyone was a little edgy after a while. When we saw deer and heard gunshots and realized we were surrounded by men carrying guns and wearing orange vests, we decided to head home.

Still, in spite of everything, Steen behaved quite well today.

Steen and Cal were both a little thirsty after the ride today.

Steen seems to enjoy the winter landscape.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Barn, Steen, Me and Mud

Here is the third in our Not-Highly-Exciting Video series. This one includes a little video tour of the barn, a walk out to the pasture where Steen lives and some grooming footage.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Starting Them Young

Today Steen and I had a glorious ride that involved no spooks, and a sustained, balanced, steady and not at all crazy lope out on the trails! Then we came home and I untacked just in time to receive some very special visitors. My friend, Adele, and her son Ben came out to meet Steen.

Luckily, Steen is always on his best behavior for new people and he really does seem to enjoy kids. I did some groundwork with him and we introduced Ben. They both seemed curious, though Steen was friendlier than Ben, initially.

We had some fun with petting and sniffing and some setting of Ben onto Steen's back. Then we wanted to take some pictures. I have so far neglected to desensitize Steen to cameras, and flashes in particular freak him out a little. Adele had her very nice digital SLR in tow, and I took a moment to let Steen get used to the clicking before we reintroduced Ben and the camera at the same time.

Soon Steen's curiosity got the best of him, and he discovered the camera was no big deal.

So then we put Ben back on, and Steen allowed me to snap a few shots while Ben sat aboard.

I also led Steen around a little while Adele held Ben in place, and while Steen seemed more than a little concerned that Ben might fall and so walked veeery slowwwly, Ben himself enjoyed that part.

Adele took a photo of me giving Steen a small reward for his good behavior.

Ben and Steen started getting restless and fussy at about the same time, so we called it quits for session one. Still, I think the visit was a success and hopefully Ben will come back from time to time while he grows older.

Aid and A Bit

Brian went out last week for a solo ride on Cal, and things didn't go so well for the two of them. Although she is trained Western Pleasure, Cal's neck-reining sort of comes and goes as far as effectiveness is concerned, and Brian encountered increasingly frequent moments when she took his directional guidance with a grain of salt. Brian is at least considerate and educated enough to know better than to try to direct-rein with a curb, but when he got home and told me about all the difficulties he'd experienced, I felt something had to be done. So, I dug out the one snaffle (a big, fat loose-ring) I kept from the eight or nine varieties I tried on Steen while we were trying to find what he responded to best and put it on Steen's old headstall. Yesterday we returned to the barn, armed and ready with just about the mildest metal bit out there.

We arrived to find the feed-lot herd a little riled up due to a tractor moving dirt in their pasture, and we had to return to our bribery methods for catching Cal. It wasn't a hugely auspicious start, but Cal and Brian did some ground-work, and that seemed to go quite well. Then I put the bridle on and adjusted everything. Wonderfully, the bit was the right size for her. I did some flexing from the ground with her, and she responded well. Then Brian did some of the same. Finally, we took Steen and Cal outside and he mounted. I had him practice one-rein stops and more flexing from the saddle, and I thought I saw a distinct change in her body language. She relaxed and began to yield and soften, instead of holding her neck rigid in front of her.

So, we decided to hit the trails. I wanted to get Steen out again and it seemed like a good test-drive for the bit, since Cal is a follower. But things didn't start off real well. There some harvesting going on in a corn-field near the soybean-field we like to ride in, and the equipment and the noise got everyone a little nervous. Cal started trying to turn towards home. But Brian stayed patient and was able to bend her back in the right direction and keep her going.

By the time we made it out of the bean-field, things were going better, and the rest of the ride stayed consistently mediocre. Both Steen and Cal were a bit prone to weaving, but they went. We trotted here and there, and made it back to the strip without incident. I hopped off to watch and Brian and Cal did some work in the makeshift arena. And that is when I became really convinced we'd made the right bit call. Gone were all the frustrating behaviors Brian has been battling with lately. Cal was almost energetic, even, trotting nicely, loping when asked. She'd veer a little towards Steen at times but she'd never just lock her jaw and plow towards him like last time I watched him ride. They managed several nice circles, a number of figure-eights, and a good, long lope. Most importantly, they weren't fighting anymore.

So, once again I am left digesting a lesson. The more I ride and work with different horses, the less I see the point of ported bits. I know they were developed so ranchers could ride with one hand, but if you are not trying to rope cattle, why even go there? The (borrowed) bit we had in Cal's mouth was simply harsh, and by making her nervous and uncomfortable it was actually inhibiting Brian's ability to communicate with her. I'm very curious to see how things go from here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Oh, Deer

On Friday, Steen and I hit the trails again, and things didn't go so well. We started out with a mistake on my part. I assumed he'd be ok walking past a car he spooked at a few days ago. But he wasn't. Within two minutes of the start of the ride, he'd treated me to a 180 degree spin followed by a bolt.

After I stopped the mad dash, I hopped off and did what I should have done in the first place. I led him up to the car and let him sniff all over it until he was no longer scared. Then I remounted and we went on.

But, things continued to go downhill from there. One of his herd members was feeling vocal and calling to him as he walked away, which was not helping his desire to leave. And then, the final blow, three deer burst out of a thicket behind and below us, making a remarkable racket, but positioned in such a way that Steen could not see them. And he lost it. He just exploded under me into a crazed gallop and raced off into the cornfield. I got him back under control within a few hundred yards and steered him back to the trial, but then he would not go on. I decided to get off and walk with him for a while. We made our way along and he seemed to calm some. I paused in a relatively clear area and decided to have him flex to the bit from the ground a few times to get his head back in the right place. But when I tried to approach his side, he started edging around me in circles and refusing to stand.

So, for the first time, I made true use of the mecate I've been wearing in my belt for the last year. I tied Steen's reins around his neck just behind his jaw to get them safely out of the way, and sent him out on the rope to do some circle work. And boy was he horrible. He was freaked out, distracted and had clicked into survival dominance mode. At first when I asked for a directional change, he'd try to run, reach the end of his rope and get a yank. After he did that a few times, he stopped trying to run and just started rearing.

Thus I found myself in one of those odd moments when you know you have two choices. One is to step up and do what needs to be done, and the other is to hike half a mile back to the barn with your tail between your legs and an unruly horse in tow. I took a deep breath, poured all the command I could muster into my body-language and took charge. When he reared, I made him back up as soon as he came down, and then went for his hind-quarters to make him move again. I really drove him for about two minutes, making him turn again and again.

And then, he gave in. It's like his brain turned back on, and the gigantic, dangerous animal on the other end of the rope became Steen again. Finally, when I asked for the disengage, he gave it to me and stopped, turned to face me and dropped his head. I asked him to approach and he came, head down, licking his lips. I stroked his neck, even though my hands were shaking and my heart was pounding so hard I could feel it in the soles of my feet.

We transitioned to softer work. Flexing, standing. I got myself calmed back down and climbed back into the saddle.

The ride that followed would have been good if I could have forgotten the first ten minutes. Steen never spooked again, and walked nicely most of the time. We did our usual loop and went back to the barn and he behaved just like his old self, even going back by the scary places we encountered on the way out.

I have decided two things because of this ride. One is that I will always do groundwork before heading out alone to decrease the chances of something like this happening again. And the second is the comforting (if hard-earned) knowledge that Steen can actually lose it completely and go nuts on me, but I can still make him do enough to be able to bring his rational mind back into control.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Three Times is a Habit

When I was a kid and had my first horse (and didn't know what I was doing) I had a neighbor who would sometimes give me pointers. A few of her remarks really stuck with me - trite as they were. One of her favorites was"familiar breeds content," and I have definitely found that one is true with horses. But she also once said to me, "Once is a mistake, twice is an accident and three times is a habit."

On Tuesday Steen and I took our third consecutive jaunt around the corn fields. He was worlds calmer than the last time, even seeming to relax and grow curious a few times. He was still in a bit of a hurry to get back and we still had a few directional disagreements, but we resolved these with very little difficulty and, in fact, to anyone watching they were probably nearly invisible.

My latest riding tidbit from my recent reading is the idea of the "center" as a concept more than physical place, and using my gravity and balance to help with Steen's gravity and balance. So far, I'm amazed how far I can take this concept and how much little adjustments in how I think of my body translate into Steen and his willingness/ability to do what I ask.

So, I'm hoping this means calm, enjoyable rides away from home are well on their way to becoming habitual.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Out and About

Today Steen and I managed a milestone of sorts. We did the same ride as we did yesterday, but we did it alone.

It is 2.5 miles of looping around and between various agricultural fields. It took us exactly 45 minutes. We had one tremendous spook and two small ones (the first two before we even left familiar territory), quite a bit of agitation on Steen's part, but he went and he came back and I stayed with him throughout. We even managed to walk on a loose rein most of the time, and only had two moments when he wouldn't keep going forward. But I just made him flex his neck a few times and that got him moving again.

As far as I know, this is the first time Steen has ever gone so far away from familiar territory without the company of another horse. Since I figure things can only get easier for him to handle with familiarity, I feel pretty good about today's work.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Hard to Beat

Today Brian and I returned to the barn. With weather this beautiful, we just couldn't help ourselves. We pulled our horses out of the pasture, tacked up and headed out. Both Steen and Cal were calm from the start, and we proceeded down to the bottom of the strip. We turned around and started heading back up and then Jean on her thoroughbred, Schooley came down the hill and up to us. She said she was going to ride around the surrounding fields for a bit and would we like to come along? We said sure and headed on to the edge of the corn field and away.

Schooley is a large, confident, 19 year-old dark bay, and Jean has owned him for 13 years. He's trained in dressage and is fit, sleek and full of energy. He led the way, and Steen and Cal both followed willingly enough. We made it past the corn-field, then crossed a little bridge, rode around in a soybean field, through the grassy strip between two more corn fields then down a rolling grassy pasture further to the south. Through all of this, Steen was unbelievably well behaved. Schooley is a fast walker, so Steen was never in danger of getting too close. He also remained very relaxed. He was curious about some things, and even nervous once or twice, but he remained calm and responsive, even when Schooley started getting excited and wanted to go home.

Cal, too, behaved remarkably well. She isn't quite the speedy walker the two boys are, but Brian let her jog to catch up every so often and the three of us did just fine.

The weather was perfect. With sunshine, a light breeze and lots of empty farmland all around us, we couldn't have had a nicer day.

Finally, we decided to skirt the corn field again to end up at the bottom of the strip where we started. All three horses got briefly disgruntled because this meant taking a less-than-direct route home, but after only minor disagreements we all got going in the right direction again. Steen led most of the way home, walking calmly - alert but not worried. I was so proud of him I was almost beside myself when we got back to the barn. Not one spook and not one attempt to turn around and go home!

So, this experience has given me high hopes for the future. If Steen can do this now with just one confident horse to convince him leaving his barn bubble isn't so scary, hopefully it's not long before he'll go on his own with just as little protest.

Before returning Steen to the pasture, I gave him an apple. After such a truly enjoyable ride, I thought he deserved it.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

This is November?

Today found Brian and I at one of the oddest stores in town.

Buying grain.

To haul to the barn. Luckily this was possible, since all our tack is no longer in my trunk, but rather in a tack locker.

The weather has been gloriously, unseasonably warm the last few days. We found Steen and Cal sweating even before we started riding, unable to take their woolly coats off.

As part of the barn was away at a show, the trailer was gone. Brian and I had to improvise by tying to the upright posts of the indoor arena. And that worked out well.

Our ride was nice. I've lately been reading How Your Horse Wants You to Ride by Gincy Self Bucklin. I'm finding it surprisingly useful to revisit basic horse concepts I haven't really thought about in ten years. Lately with Steen I've been particularly thinking about calm. Which means breathing, stretching and relaxing, keeping my eyes soft, all my muscles relaxed, and never tensing up or clinging.

So far I think these ideas have had a positive effect. Steen does seem more relaxed our last few rides, showing less persistence in his turn-around attempts. Today we had a pretty excellent ride. We went up and down the strip a couple of times, did a fair amount of walk-trot work in the make-shift arena, and had three good little runs. The grain is definitely giving Steen a new level of energy. When I let him go at one point today, I felt him taking off and digging in with his hindquarters like he rarely has before. He sprang past the lope all the way into a gallop. But he came back to me when I asked and he wasn't even all that worked up afterwards.

Brian and Cal also had a much better ride this week than last. She's also got some more calories in her daily diet, and is feeling increasingly secure with Brian. She wasn't exactly goey, but Brian had her doing what he asked.

And to be outside in a t-shirt on a sunny, warm day in November felt really wonderful. We rode for 45 minutes. Chase the Barn Dog, for one, was totally exhausted by the time we were done.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Mostly Mended

It's been a busy couple of days. Yesterday morning Brian and I went to the barn, he saddled up and hopped on Cal while I took Steen to the strip to hang out and graze. Steen was still showing no reluctance to eat, so I wasn't too worried about him.

Jim appeared a while later to give Steen shot number two. We went inside for this, back to the stall where teeth were done. Steen was behaving much more like his normal self, snorty but not spooky. I held his head up, Jim stuck the needle in his neck and then a girl who had just finished her ride lost control of her mare. The mare ran out of her stall, up and down the aisle a few times, then ran into the open stall next to Steen's where a gelding was tied up. The gelding tried to kick her, she spun and smacked into the wall next to Steen and then ran back out into the aisle and away, and someone finally caught her.

Through all of this, Steen, while clearly growing nervous, did not even move. He didn't try to pull away from me or the needle in his neck. I assured him it was all ok and he believed me. Jim successfully administered the shot, we gave him some bio-sponge paste and I took him back to the strip to graze some more.

Brian rode Cal for 45 minutes, and Cathi told us that Cal's owner is moving Cal into the feed lot, so she and Steen still get to be pasture-mates. We took the two of them out to their new digs and left.

In the evening, we returned, fetched Steen from his pasture, gave him the rest of the bio-sponge and a tube of probiotics paste, and left him indoors for the night so Jim could swing by and give him shot number three in the morning.

Late this morning (after I, too, went to a doctor), I came back to the barn where Steen was waiting only a little impatiently to be freed from his confinement. His stall was thoroughly dirtied with very normal-looking horse manure. So, I think we're out of the woods. I groomed him a little, gave him a couple of carrots and put him back outside.

So, I still don't know what exactly happened. Jim doesn't either and also doesn't seem inclined to speculate. I suppose that is how it goes with horses. Sometimes they get out of whack, and you take steps to get them back to normal. As long as it doesn't happen very often, I suppose the "why" is unimportant. It may have been the shift in his diet from primarily pasture grasses to baled hay. It may, indeed, have been the early symptoms of Patomic horse fever. It may have been something we haven't even thought of. Regardless, as ever, these little hiccups are very educational.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What A Day

Today was fall vet day. I'd planned to get Steen's teeth done, as it's been a year. I hadn't been out to the barn since Wednesday, and Brian and I decided to go early so we could get a little ride in before the chaos started.

Well, we'll just say sometimes things don't go as planned. I don't know what got into the herd today, but the whole lot of them were freaked out by something. We pulled Steen and Cal out of the pasture, took them inside and they were both behaving very badly - yanking us off our feet in their attempts to graze, fidgeting when tied, and behaving in distracted, uncouth ways in general. Then Steen pooped, and it looked like a cow-pie. Last week, I observed the same thing, and since that meant the loose stools had been going on for more than a few days, I got worried. Also, Steen appeared to have lost roughly a million pounds since I was last out there. Ok, probably not that much, but enough that it was noticeable and alarming.

Also, the builder was inside using a saw and a nail gun, which wasn't helping anything.

So after some grooming, and lots of poor behavior, Brian and I gave up and took the two horses outside to graze. They seemed to approve of our decision and ate a lot of grass quickly. Then the vet arrived, Brian returned Cal to the pasture and I asked Jim to take a look at Steen. Over an hour later, Steen had endured two shots of sedatives, a shot for Potomac Horse Fever, some serious filing down of his teeth, a sheath-cleaning, and a tube shoved into his stomach through his nose to deliver a bucket-full of some sort of cleansing agent to soak up bad bacteria and toxins. Steen behaved fairly poorly through all of these procedures in spite of the sedatives. My only consolation is that every horse that came into the barn behaved very badly - even steeds that are normally nothing but mellow and solid.

After the vet turned his attention to other animals, Brian and I hung out for many hours waiting for Steen to pass his tummy full of liquids and pastes. He never did though, and finally the day was well advanced. He was sick of waiting for us to put him back in the pasture, and we were sick of waiting for him to poop. So, we put him back anyway (with the vet's blessing).

Tomorrow I will return in the morning, give him some tummy-cleaning paste and leave him in a stall. The vet will appear later to give him another shot. I'll come back in the evening, give him some more paste and then put him in a new part of the facility. Due to his sudden weight loss, we're moving him to the "feed lot," where he will hang out with Doc and Stella, and get some grain once a day so hopefully we can correct his weight-loss problem before he gets skinny again.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Best Yet

On Wednesday I went to the barn in the morning. I was a little tired. It was a little cold and a little muddy. I went and got Steen from the pasture, groomed him and briefly considered going without saddle and just doing an indoor bareback easy day. But I rallied, thought about how sick of indoor rides I'll be in a few months, tacked him up and went outside.

At first, he was a total pill. He was having a "starving" day and trying to eat grass was at the forefront of his mind. He wasn't, however, pulling his turn-around stunt, so I was willing to take the eating attempts in exchange for walking in straight lines. We went all the way down to the very bottom of the strip, I tried to turn him to go back and then, inexplicably, he started refusing to go back to the barn.

Mystified, I let him go where he wanted. He promptly reached over and dove into a thick stand of tall, luscious grass. He had his stomach on his mind, all right.

So, I began to employ some judicious use of my legs. Because Steen was so sensitive to contact of all kinds when I bought him, I've been avoiding touching him with my legs to keep him relaxed. But when he started bracing his neck against the bit I thought, "there has to be a better way." Instead of pulling on his mouth, I began rhythmically thumping his outside flank with my calf - gently, but consistently. He yielded almost immediately.

After that, we had a great ride. I concentrated on riding actively, using my hands, legs, seat and entire body. He just seemed to click "on" and decided grass wasn't all that important and he was going to listen. I took him up to the makeshift dressage arena and we worked on trotting within the cones but near them. I couldn't believe how responsive and soft he was, and when he completed a full circle without stepping outside the cones, I'd let him stop and pet him and praise him and he looked very pleased with himself, too.

I rode for 45 very excellent minutes. Then I hopped off and let him graze for 15. I took him inside, gave him some grain and turned him back out, and in retrospect I feel silly for keeping my legs out of the picture for so long. I guess I just got into a "no legs" habit and stuck with it for way longer than necessary. He's now so good about yielding to pressure on the ground, it only makes sense he'd be able to translate that to under saddle work by now.

So, I am excited and curious to see how it goes next time. Now if it would only stop raining....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Barn Weekend

Last week we got a lot of rain. I went out for a solo ride on Tuesday, during which I was having a hard time getting Steen to walk away from the barn. Then it rained and rained and rained for the rest of the week.

On Saturday the farrier came, so I held Steen and Brian held Cal and they were both good. I showed Duke the split in the back of Steen's right-front hoof and he said it is better if they don't have cracks there but this one is not deep enough to be concerned about yet. He said such splits are often caused by wet and mud - which means, I suppose, Iowa. He just said to keep an eye on it, and if it gets worse I can start trying to treat it. So, not great news but not horrible. I think it formed because he got thrush in that foot and the frog shed out rather deeper than normal and so that part of his hoof had less support than it is supposed to.

Anyway, after their trims, Brian and I spent quite a while on grooming and ground-work with our two steeds. I also did some groundwork with Cal. She is so different from Steen. She is much slower to respond, less sensitive and she is also just a bit of a wreck, confirmationally speaking. She's got more over-bred quarter-horse structural flaws than any horse I've ever seen in person, and she's so upright in the hind end she hardly even lifts her hind legs when she moves. (Which, of course, gives her a great jog...) She was willing to work with me though, and paid attention and figured out what I was asking for quickly. She seems to genuinely appreciate praise and petting and I had no trouble getting her to do what I asked as long as I gave her a moment to figure it out and react. I did some groundwork with Steen, too, just to keep him honest, and then we put them back in the pasture without riding.

On Sunday we went again and found hooks in our tack locker and our bridles and halters hanging up! We went to the pasture, Cal saw Brian, and walked right to him. From no small distance away, too. Steen, on the other hand, made me slog through the mud to the large bale to get him. *grumble grumble

We took our time grooming and tacking up, and then retired to the strip. I told Brian to restrict his hand movements to only two motions - stop and turn, and otherwise use his legs. With Steen, I have been trying to really focus on super super consistent riding and lots of positive reinforcement. It occurred to me after my last (frustrating) ride that while I am constantly praising and petting Steen when we do ground-work, while I ride he only gets a lot of verbal "good boys." I think a lot of his "misbehavior" stems from the fact that I am not as good at setting small, clear goals for us while I ride and then reaching them, letting him know he reached them, and giving him praise.

With our separate goals, Brian and I started riding and I must say it was a great session. Cal was still inclined to veer towards Steen whenever the two came near to each other, but Brian was effective with his legs and both patient and consistent with her, and she responded by losing a lot of her resistance. Steen got the idea that we were trotting down the fence to a particular fence-post, then stopping and standing. When he did these things, I'd give him lots of praise and pets on his neck and he'd get that "proud of himself" air I see when we do groundwork. He also then lost his resistance to venturing lower down in the pasture and his curiosity and willingness to explore began to emerge again. The four of us had one glorious lope together up the big hill and to the top of the riding area, and Steen ran nicely and energetically, then calmed right down and dropped his head and went back to walking without fuss.

So, once again I must remind myself that it really is always the rider. Cal was resisting because she was confused and frustrated by cues that made no sense to her. Steen was resisting because he didn't see the point and I was thinking too much about large, abstract goals like "have a good ride" instead of small ones that he could understand and work towards, too. Brian and I both got off feeling wonderful, surrounded by pretty fall colors and sunlight.

We went back into the barn and Cathi commented that Steen's looking great. He's keeping his weight on and adding muscle even though the herd is now locked out of the large pasture. I think the key to this winter will be keeping him exercising so he stays hungry enough to eat the pasture hay that is always available even though he's not as excited about it as he is for fresh grass.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Big Day

On Thursday, Brian got his wisdom teeth out. All four. So I hadn't been to the barn in a few days. However, he's recovering with remarkable speed, so we decided to load up and head out to visit our noble steeds this morning.

Harvest time has come, so the corn that made the strip a strip has been knocked down and carted away. This definitely changes the aspect of the place quite a bit.

Mini and the bare field.

We arrived and were at first encouraged by the fact that Cal didn't make any attempt to run away in the pasture. We got inside and she was more relaxed about standing while Brian groomed her, so we thought we were off to a good start. But once we got outside, things didn't go quite as well as we might have hoped. For one thing, all the harvesting equipment was working on the field just north of the one we ride next to, so there was lots of noise and heavy machinery.

Steen was curious about the litter of corn husks and cobs.

But we got on and got going and things went ok for a few minutes, but Cal just got increasingly unresponsive - not wanting to walk away from the barn or away from Steen. Brian (not feeling at the top of his game to begin with) was really having trouble with her. So, I hopped off Steen and got on Cal to see if I could figure out what was going on. She behaved no better for me at first. I had to use all my persuasive power to get her to walk away from where Brian waited with Steen. We rode around a bit, battling every time I let her go back towards home even a few steps and then tried to turn her away again. I also made the discovery that she would not turn right. Nope. Not doing it. But she was turning left pretty well, and trotting nicely once I could get her going. So, I gave her back to Brian with instructions not to worry about turning right for now, ride her with super long reins (being trained western pleasure, I think any contact on the mouth makes her unhappy) and if all he could manage was to turn circles to the left, turn circles to the left he should do.

He was getting understandably worn out, but he persevered and as I resumed some trotting up and down the strip with Steen, he had some success going in circles and even straight a few times. Eventually he even got some decent trotting out of her.

Steen was ok today. He seemed less combative in his attempts to turn and head back home. He'd still try, but he tried with less force and this allowed me to correct him more gently. I adopted the strategy of making him trot away from the barn until he started getting a little unhappy about it, and then I'd choose a fence-post about four or five in front of the one we were next to, focus on it, and make him go to that. Then I'd let him stop, rest, and walk back towards the barn. His reluctance to leave was making his trot quite nice, and since I was only letting him walk back, his eagerness made the walk quick, so his gaits felt good.

We rode for 55 minutes all told, and then called it a day.

My three pals.

We got them untacked and back in the pasture with ease, and I'm hoping Brian and Cal can continue to work out their vocabulary so these rides are less challenging for both of them.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Yesterday I went to the barn after a meeting with some clients. I decided last time I rode that it was probably high-time for Steen to remember what ground-work is all about, so I decided to have a non-riding, getting to know the new interior day.

Steen's been looking good lately. His leg is healing nicely. He's rebuilding the muscle he lost in his convalescence, particularly along his spine and in his haunches, thanks to all the walking up and down the steep hill on the strip. He's still not bulky, but I think I may just have to accept that he's a thin fellow by nature and that's just how it is.

I brought him inside and gave him a thorough grooming. Then we did groundwork in the section of the indoor arena that is clear. It's not really big enough to ride in, but it is large enough to do some good work on a line. Steen was actually surprisingly good with the groundwork considering how long it's been since we did any. He was nervous about the new surroundings, but I let him explore when he expressed curiosity and he behaved well. He flexed better than ever, I think, and his trot was smooth and easy, even over the rough ground. He was responsive but more relaxed than nervous. So, all in all, it was a nice, simple change to go over the basics. And I'm still giddy about the tack locker.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The One I Forgot to Title

On Wednesday I returned to the barn and had a short solo ride. The good news is Brian and I now have a tack locker! For our tack! Meaning I don't have a saddle, two bridles, two halters and a million other accouterments in my trunk anymore! This is a welcome change. I got my trunk mostly emptied out and went to fetch Steen. He was muddy, and since I haven't had anywhere to tie him for quite a long time, I took advantage of being inside with a tether-area to leave him tied for a while and turn my attention to the detail areas I've been skipping a little. Mainly, I brushed all the way through his tail and scrubbed all the mud off his lower legs and ankles. He was very good, but the downside was I lost track of time a little, so by the time I hopped on his back, the watch on my saddle told me I only had ten minutes to ride. Oops.

And they weren't the greatest ten minutes. Steen was stubborn and didn't want to go away from the barn, and I didn't have time to really work through anything with him, so I got a little irritated, which made him worse, of course, and I got off thinking I probably shouldn't have gotten on at all. But he looked very pretty, all shiny with his mane and tail free of tangles. His winter coat is coming in, too, so he's darkened a few shades.

Yesterday after a weekend in Chicago, Brian and I stopped off at the barn on our way home. We took some grain to the pasture since it has become apparent catching Cal will be a more positive experience for everyone involved if we bribe her. Of course, Steen wanted treats too, and his level of obsession with my dirty orange barn vest went up a couple notches when he smelled goodies in the pockets.

Our ride yesterday was better on the ground and not quite as good under saddle than the last time Brian and I rode together. Steen was better than Wednesday, but still stubborn at times and spooked hugely at one point when the new puppy tried to go through the wire fence and got a shock. Steen is very scared of the sound wire fences make when they vibrate since his accident (go figure). He spun and bolted. I didn't fall off, thankfully, and Cal's spook was only in response to Steen's and rather milder, so that was a good thing to know.

The other good news is Steen's leg. The crusty, uneven scab with all the proud flesh has fallen off, leaving a solid, smooth scab that is probably 1/3 the size of the original wound. I intended to take a photo but my camera ran out of batteries while I was taking photos of Brian on Cal.

Brian did well, though Cal showed a slight increase in her tendency towards unresponsiveness. She seemed to give him some steering problems at the walk, though at the trot she was pretty good. So we decided he'll just trot her a fair bit and eventually she'll get the picture that being lazy won't get her out of working.

So, upon leaving the barn yesterday I concluded that I just need to put time in on Steen's back. I just need to ride ride ride. I think he's really close to being over the hump and becoming more solid than unpredictable, but he's really just not there yet. But he's awesome on the ground. Way better than Cal. Because of all the makeshift tying situations this summer, he's learned that when I say "stand" it means he should stand still while I walk all around him, grooming, tacking, holding his lead rope loosely. He'll just stay put and let me do whatever I want to him - including mess with his leg-wound. That's something, I suppose. Now I just need to transfer some of that patience and pliability to how he acts when I'm on his back.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

I Could Get Used to This

On Sunday, Brian and I returned to the barn, where we first made a few modifications to the saddle we're using. I replaced the nylon tie-strap with a leather one, since the cinch is also nylon, as is the off-billet. Although Cal is not our horse, I have pretty strong convictions about nylon and soreness, and also as my rather valuable husband is going to be spending time on this mare's back, I want her to be comfortable.

We also added some leather bits to the bottoms of the stirrups so Brian can get more traction with the balls of his feet, and fashioned some make-shift hobble straps to replace those that this saddle no longer has. Before we went to the barn I moved the bit Cathi is loaning us onto Steen's old headstall (which works well with a curb, so that is convenient), cleaned it up and attached Steen's old reins. So, the tack situation was greatly improved for round two. That, combined with knowing what to expect from Cal made the whole getting ready part of the ride much shorter and the riding part of the ride much better.

I was just a tad worried at first. Cal is a mellow creature, and already more used to us, so even more relaxed than the previous day. She was so relaxed at first, in fact, that Brian was getting a wee bit frustrated with her after we got him mounted, particularly since she seemed very inclined to go backwards. I finally got Steen ready and joined Brian and saw that when he was asking her to turn, he was putting an infinitesimal amount of backwards pressure on her bit, so she was executing some nice backward turns, rotating on her hind and everything. Of course, this wasn't what Brian was wanting. So, I explained about curb bits a little further, he readjusted (to be fair, he's used to riding the excitable Steen in a snaffle, so to really let go on a strange horse was a lot to ask) and from there things went really well. After a little trotting, Cal perked right up and before long the two of them were walking, trotting and loping up and down the strip. I stayed a little further away from them for the most part, keeping an eye on them but not crowding. We'd fall in side by side from time to time and once had a lovely little lope up the hill to the barn.

Steen was good, though he's still antsy overall and prone to making his sudden bids to go home. Perhaps the contrast with the mellow, compliant Cal made this more noticeable. I've been taking it very easy with him. Lots of walking, a little trotting, just a smidge of loping. He feels very comfortable and solid under me, and he's more than willing to go fast when asked.

Brian rode for over an hour. I probably clocked in right under, given that I helped get him up on Cal before turning my attention to grooming and tacking Steen. It was a very nice ride. Very fun. It's an interesting experience to have Brian getting to know a horse I have ridden only for all of two minutes just to make sure she wasn't going to start bucking or anything ridiculous like that before turning her over to Brian.

Today we have rain, so no barn for me. I'll probably go solo again tomorrow, and we'll see how Steen and I do on our own again.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Something Borrowed

Today Brian and I had a new experience. We drove out to the barn, went into the pasture, and put a halter on a horse other than Steen (Steen himself was none-too-pleased about this, actually, but I came back for him later so it was okay.)

Meet Cal:

Cal is a cute little red-dun quarter-horse mare, and beyond that, I don't know that much about her except she's an accomplished show-horse who hasn't been shown recently. She came to my attention for the first time on the group ride last weekend, and I couldn't help but notice how well-behaved and relaxed she was, even though I knew that was the first time she'd been ridden in months. As her owner is a bit MIA, I spoke to Cathi and we worked out a little deal that involves the trading of some of Cal's care for Brian to be able to take her on some easy rides. We figure this is an excellent way to ease in the direction of perhaps having two horses one day ourselves, but not having to make any big commitments yet.

So, today was a bit of a muddle at first. It's rained for two days straight so the barnyard was mucky, there is still nowhere to tie horses and we had to get a hodge-podge of tack put together to use on Cal, but in the end we got everything worked out, Brian up on her back, me on Steen, and the four of us walked up and down the strip by the pasture (it's about a quarter-mile long, we figured out today) four times. Cal was possibly the most relaxed of all of us. She's trained western pleasure and seems fairly unflappable, but was willing to pick up a trot when asked.

It was a good deal of fun. Brian did very well, as did Cal. Steen and Cal are good buddies in the pasture so they are willing to go along together. I believe it won't take much for Brian and Cal to get used to each other, and then I think we'll be able to get some good rides in over the course of the fall.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Two Good Rides

Now that Steen is at least healed to the point that I can do consistent light rides, I'm trying to decide what my goals for fall are. The barn is still not done. The welder had to wait for the cement guy and the cement guy had to wait for the carpenter guy and the carpenter guy had a deadline elsewhere, or something like that. Anyway, the indoor arena is filled with lumber for the half of the stalls that aren't yet built. I'm trying not to be bothered by any of this, which would not be all that hard, except the last few times I've been out there, there has been literally nowhere to tie Steen to tack him up.

So, this week I started teaching him to "trunk tie." Don't worry, I'm not actually tying my horse to the trunk of honda civic. I've just been setting the end of his lead rope in my trunk so it hangs down and the excess rests among all his other tack. He seems fine with this and though it is not ideal, one good thing about the construction is its made him way less likely to react to loud noises.

On Tuesday when I examined his leg I found no new drainage whatsoever. This is wonderful news in that it means both that the wound is really making progress healing, and that I no longer need to wash that leg all the time. Woohoo! To celebrate, I tacked him up and we walked up and down the strip by the pasture twice. He was mostly good - a little nervous, a little skeptical about leaving the herd behind. On the steep sections he wanted to trot uphill. But I tried to keep things really mellow. I really want to teach him to relax on the trail.

Yesterday I went out again, and we walked the strip three times. He grew calmer each time, handling the steep hills with more grace and less nerves, and the third time, when we got to the bottom, he showed great curiosity in the little trail that leads north, away from his pasture, through a little strip of wooded land that runs between the edge of a corn-field and the fence-line. I suggested we go down the trail, and he went, showing a good deal of curiosity and paying a lot of attention to where he put his feet, avoiding fallen branches and looking around a lot, but not even getting snorty like he does at almost anything new around the barn. We eventually reached a place where the path got sort of covered in brush and brambles and he started to get nervous, so I just turned him around and pointed him back home, and he walked on back the same way, walking quickly but not nervously. Then, when we returned to the familiar strip, he really settled down, head down, ears bobbing. He walked up the steep hill without any attempt to trot, really engaging his hindquarters. I took him on up back to the car, and he stood calmly by my trunk while I took his tack off.

So, I've got high hopes for the fall. My tentative plan is to try to ride at least three days a week, going mostly on easy, walking rides around the area to both get him back in shape and to continue to broaden his horizons in easy stages. His curiosity is encouraging. When he's not feeling insecure, he seems to have a capacity for wanting to explore, so hopefully I can nurture that inclination.

And for now it is just so glorious to be able to get out and about on horseback again, even if we don't go far.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Ride

On Saturday night Brian and I were sitting in the study, and my phone, next to me on the desk, buzzed and beeped, informing me I'd gotten a text message.

Brian and I have been a little out of the loop for the last week or so, having contracted a flu and been laid low. Some time mid-week last week, I emailed Cathi and asked if she would mind taking over the washing off of Steen's drainage for a few days, because there was no way I was up to the task myself. She was so nice about it and said no problem, and I commenced to lie around aching and sweating and not going to the barn for four days.

By Saturday night, when my phone beeped, I was beginning to feel human again. I looked at the text message. It was from Cathi and it said, "We're riding tomorrow at 10:00. Do you want to come?"

I, having not seen Steen's leg in quite a while, didn't quite know what to say. I asked if she thought he was up to it. She said she thought it would do him good. With a huge lifting of spirits, I told her to count me in.

Ten o'clock the next morning found me at the barn marveling at the difference four days had made in Steen's leg. The scab is much smaller, with new, pink scar tissue at edges. The scab is also not as tall, so perhaps the Granulex spray really is bringing down the proud flesh. Drainage is significantly reduced, no swelling anywhere. I was more or less ecstatic. Cathi offered to lend me a mount if I didn't want to take him out, but I thought we were ready for it. So six of us tacked up and headed down the road and oh it was grand.

It was a beautiful early fall day, windy, with leaves drifting out of the trees that drop their foliage at the first sign of chill. We did a sort of clover-leaf on roads and strips of grass between corn-fields around the barn. It was a good group - every person out there with decades of riding under their belt. About half the horses were on the green side. The other half as solid as they come. We had our adventures. At one point Cathi got off to pick something up out of the road and her four-year-old retired thoroughbred racehorse got away from her and ended up running around for a while before we could catch him again.

Eventually, Cathi took us to her brother-in-law's secret hayfield, freshly mown, and those with the desire and healthier horses than mine had a good gallop. Cathi's racehorse outran everyone else, of course. Steen, not allowed to participate, instead spun in so many wild circles it probably would have been less strain on his leg if I'd just let him run.

He was keyed up on the way home, but in a way I couldn't help but enjoy. We rode back along a rolling strip of grass between a corn field and a soybean field and Steen was prancing and the wind was blowing and I felt happier than I've felt in weeks.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Much Needed Update

I haven't been saying much about Steen lately because there is both too much and not enough to say. He's still injured, but the wound is still not, technically, severe. He doesn't limp. He doesn't favor the leg in any way. It seems likely that when it heals he'll be left with nothing but a nasty scar.

It's the "when" part that's getting me down.

Maybe it's just me, but this whole healing process just seems interminable. We've gone back and forth between bandaging and leaving it open a couple of times now. There are so many variables to weigh and so many different conflicting kinds of wisdom. I've been out to the barn the vast majority of days since he got his injury, which translates into a lot of time in the car. The wound is still draining a lot, and the drainage collects below the wound and scabs over, and if this doesn't get cleaned regularly, it start to eat into the healthy flesh and create more problems. But if we wrap it, the leg swells and the bandage sags and gets dirty.

So, I don't know. This morning when I was half awake I had the thought, "Gosh, I should go ride Steen today. It's been so long."

And while the vet said I could ride him after a few days if I wanted, everything I've read about proud flesh (which is, indeed, developing over the wound) says to limit movement and particularly weight-bearing activities to keep the accumulation to a minimum. So, basically, I shouldn't.

I know it could be worse. Horses do worse things to themselves all the time. And I do appreciate that, but I'll still be glad when this is over.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Getting There

Today I think all of Steen's swelling was finally gone. His back legs look good (other than the huge scabs) and his right front knee is back to its normal size. He seems pretty content back out in the large pasture, even though the grass appears to have stopped growing for the winter. I've decided I'm going to feed him the rest of the grain he had leftover from last winter to try to get his weight back up before it gets cold, although I'm thinking it's more muscle loss than fat loss and what he really needs is exercise. Luckily, the grass is so sparse the herd is walking around a lot, up and down the big hills in the pasture.

Today I gave him the last of his sweet feed, some grain, put icthamol slave on his "scratches," zinc ointment on his scabs, fly spray on his legs, and did my best to scrub off the drainage below his wounds. I swear, I feel like this summer all I've done is apply various goopy ointments to sundry parts of Steen's body.

However, when I put him back in the pasture, Steen trotted off to find his herd. Although I'm still treating his leg with care, he's clearly more or less over it. With the swelling gone and no sign of infection, I venture to say we are in the clear. I know it will be a long time before he heals completely, but I do believe the worst is over. I might even saddle him up and do an easy ride tomorrow or the next day.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Six Days Later

Today was the first Duke-Day inside the new structure. Granted, we have stalls on only one side and a lot of other unfinished elements, but I am sure Duke appreciated not being in the sun all day.

Steen got his feet trimmed, and afterwards we celebrated his progress down the path of healing by putting him back out in the large pasture with his herd.

Things are looking pretty good. We changed the bandage on Thursday and decided to leave it off so the scab could start forming, as the swelling was mostly gone and the flap of skin we were hoping might reattach clearly has no intention of doing so.

He's off his antibiotics and painkillers now, so mostly we're just applying copious amounts of zinc ointment and hoping he will heal without infection.

his two worst wounds - I didn't think to take the photo until after I put the zinc on today

Steen and Brian, hanging out the area we've been letting Steen graze a lot lately

at least he's still pretty

It's been a pretty harrowing week, with many, many trips to the barn to check on Steen and doctor him. After the first day, he was walking much more willingly, but still clearly tender. We changed the bandage for the first time on Tuesday, and he was such a good-natured patient, things went smoothly. The last number of days, he's behaved as if it's barely bothering him, and has not favored the most injured leg for many days. So, hopefully this incident will leave nothing but scars. I'm happy to get him back in the pasture and hopeful he'll put the weight he lost this week back on quickly enough to leave him in good condition for the onset of winter.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Convalescence, Day 1

In the late morning today I went out to check on Steen. I found him standing with weight on the injured leg, and was initially impressed that he did not try to move away from me when I reapplied the pink stuff to his three unwrapped wounds. Then I decided it would be best to get him to walk around a little, and upon haltering him and asking him to accompany me over the water tank, I discovered that he was extremely reluctant to move at all. He'd move his front feet and sort of pivot but he really, really didn't want to pick either of his back legs up, and when he finally did, he picked them up one at a time and kind of kicked with them in the air behind him, but refused to move forward. I kept pestering him until he took two steps, and after that he followed me slowly but willingly.

I took him over to the water, which, typically, he showed no interest in drinking. Then I made him walk back, which took a lot more persuasion than the first time and I had to bribe him with quite a bit of hand-picked grass before he'd move again. I dragged him back around the fence and to an area of the run where there is still some grass growing, and left him there, hoping he'd get some hydration by eating.

Steen and his nurse, Sassy. Note the large black bandage on his rear left leg.

So, I guess the extreme stiffness is to be expected, but I will feel a whole lot better when moving a little more easily.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

High Tensile

It has not been the greatest week for Steen and me. On Monday I went out to the barn with high hopes for a nice ride only to have my plans utterly dashed by the herd of cattle. I'll not go into detail, but suffice it to say I could not so much as get Steen out of the pasture. So, after trying for a while, I left in frustration. I told myself, one more week and the new pastures will be in and we won't have these kinds of problems anymore. I had grand plans for an excellent ride tomorrow.

Except today at 2:30, Cathi called me and said, "Steen just ran through a wire. He has a cut on his left hind leg. The vet is on his way. I don't think this is going to be life threatening, but I'd feel better if you were here."

Not good.

Particularly not good because Cathi is not the type to call the vet if the vet is not really quite necessary.

So, Brian and I got in the car, and we arrived at the stable fifteen minutes later to find Steen in the barnyard bleeding in four places. I guess what happened is the whole herd ran through a section of fence that only had one piece of wire strung across. Steen was not the first horse through the wire, but he was the first to hit it full force. Being high-tensile pasture-fence wire, it put up a good fight before snapping. It hit him first at the tops of his front legs, only removing some skin there, then clothes-lined him midway between his knees and his ankles, leaving deep gashes and chunks of missing skin. The right hind was mostly just bloody, but the left hind had a large flap of hanging skin and a visible tendon exposed to the air.

This is not what any horse-owner ever wants to see, but the good news is Steen was accepting care with only minimal protest, and when I arrived he seemed to calm down further, though he was still breathing heavily and was clearly upset.

About ten minutes after Brian and I showed up, the vet came and after a quick examination stated that although the tendon casing had been cut, the tendon itself was intact.

That was good news.

So, he gave Steen a painkiller, a couple of sedatives and a gigantic bandage around the one leg. To Steen's other wounds he applied a pink zinc ointment. The vet assured me there would be no long-term lameness from this, though there will be a scar.

Brian and I hung out for a while after the vet left, and Steen grazed a bit. Then Cathi brought her daughter's (friendly, mellow) pony over to keep him company, and we installed the two of them in a smallish run with a fresh bale of hay, on the other side of the (fully constructed) fence from Steen's normal herd. Without any complications, we can leave the bandage off in a week and in another two or three, I should be able to finally have a nice ride... In the meantime, he gets daily antibiotics, semi-daily bandage changes and perhaps an increased dosage of apples and kisses.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Steen vs. The Mud Puddle

August so far has been good for business at both the gallery and BWS, which unfortunately means most of my horse time has been consumed by work. It's also been rainy, and now that the majority of the grass in the area has been destroyed by the construction, most of the space around the barn is basically one gigantic sheet of deep mud. So, it's not ideal riding conditions anyway.

However, on Thursday I decided I needed to get out there and check on Steen regardless, so headed out in the morning. I found everything tremendously soggy, and realized I'd forgotten my mud boots, so had a rather unpleasant time getting to my horse.

Steen did seem happy to see me, and came over to say hi when I went into the pasture. Cathi has added her brother-in-law's herd of cattle back into the 13 acres of grass Steen and his herd of four now live in, which I figure can only be a good thing. The more "scary" animals Steen can encounter in his daily life, the better.

Anyway, I said hello to my horse, put his halter on, and tried to take him back to the grooming area. The problem with this plan was the gigantic, murky, mud puddle that completely spanned the entire length of the gate we needed to go through to get there.

I know enough about horses, and my horse in particular, to have guessed this puddle was going to be a problem, but I also know enough about horses to try the old "this is no big deal" technique first, in all situations. So, I blithely tip-toed my way through the shallow end of the puddle and suggested Steen to do the same.

Yeah, he wasn't having any of that. He stopped at the edge of the puddle, snorted, bobbed his head in his trademark nervous gesture, backed up. I ran out of rope and had to stop as well. We had the added difficulty of curious horses on both sides of the puddle, making him even more nervous with their crowding. I continued to unsuccessfully trying to coax him across the puddle via various angles and methods, stopping every now and then to chase off excessively inquisitive equines so he could have sufficient space to cross, for quite a while - with no discernible progress. However, I could tell he wasn't totally closed down and rebellious. He wanted to cross the puddle. He just couldn't quite bring himself to take the first step.

So, I paused in my efforts and took stock of the situation, and in doing so noticed the electric-fence box to one side of the gate, which powers the temporary wire that runs around most of the pastures in this "under construction" phase of barn life. Like many electric-fence boxes, it lets off a dull click every few seconds when it sends a surge of power through the wire. Steen doesn't like things that click, and this gave me an idea. I unplugged the box, and the clicking stopped. I went back to Steen, petted him, told him he was wonderful and brave and pretty, and walked off again, pretending I thought he'd follow me.

And he did. He hesitated, weaved a little back and forth at the edge of the water, and then took a graceless leap three-quarters of the way over the puddle, landed in the muck, (spraying both his underside and my back with brown water) and came up to my shoulder.

I praised him lavishly.

Then I had to slog back through the puddle to close the gate, through another, shallower area of muck to get out of the next pasture, and finally we made it to the tacking area. I groomed him, applied sunscreen to his (healed) nose and the backs of his feet, burn ointment to the remaining scabs there, koppertox to his wet frogs, and fly spray to his entire body. And since he got a mud bath, too, I guess it was pretty much a horse's version of a full-service spa treatment.

Anyway, I didn't ride. There was nowhere to ride. I led Steen around and let him graze in the small remaining strip of grass for a while, and then saw one lone cow walk off toward the lower part of the 13 acre pasture Steen and his small herd occupy. The horses watched her go, and then began to follow. Steen saw them all leaving the area, and clearly wanted to go with them. So, I made him do just a little bit of groundwork first, and then decided to make use of his extra motivation to fuel his willingness to re-cross the mud puddle.

He was much better the second time. I didn't even have to unplug the box. He charged right through the muddy water, head up, and blowing air, but pretty sure of himself. I took his halter off. Then he hung out with me for a while to get some more pets, rolled his newly brushed and shiny coat in the mud, then loped off to rejoin the herd.

Given his overall behavior, I am thinking the addition of the cattle may have stirred up herd dynamics a bit, because he wasn't broadcasting dominant horse signals like he has the last few times I've been out there, and the lead horse simply does not lope back to his distant herd. So, I'm hoping his status has fallen, and stays, a few pegs down on the ladder.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Solo Outing Number One

Today Steen and I had our first solitary adventure into the (sort of) unknown. Granted, we only walked up and down the trail the group ride took a few weeks ago, but we went far enough away from the barn not to be able to see it, any of the horses, or any of the surrounding buildings, and we did so without another equine companion and with me on Steen's back.

For the most part, I am satisfied with the experience. Steen was very nervous at first, but he listened and went, even if it took some persuading at the scarier parts. He never started acting like he was going to buck, never spooked, never panicked, never tossed his head or fought the bit at all. What he did do was try to turn around and take himself home. A lot. So, we walked up and down the mowed strip between the corn fields four times - the work of about half an hour. At first, going away from home he was nervous, agitated, suspicious of everything and made his bid to turn around every five seconds or so. Whenever we were heading home, he walked nicely at a even, quick pace on a loose rein, only trying to trot once or twice but quickly subsiding when chided. Then we'd turn around and he'd start with the antics again, but each time we went back in the "away" direction, the anxiety and attempts to turn decreased, and by the fourth time he even relaxed, dropped his head and his ears wobbled a bit, pointing off the sides. When I saw that, I took him home, feeling we'd accomplished enough for one day.

When Steen wasn't trying to turn around, I really enjoyed the ride. It's liberating to amble around in a place free of fences, with lots of open space, a big blue sky and waving corn in every direction. I've decided to take Steen out on the trail at least once a week from now on, so we'll see how he improves.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Yesterday morning I went to the barn. It was a bit of a struggle to get out there. For one, I'll admit it, I'm sick of the added complication and inconvenience of keeping all my stuff in my trunk,

and as the barn is really nearing completion,

there is a part of me that would be content to minimize trips between now and then simply out of laziness. Beyond that, a certain horse,

was something of a pill the last time I rode, so I knew this visit would require some going over of manners. Brian helped convince me to go, though, so I got in the car. It was a lovely morning, and I was again surprised by the shortness of the drive. I pulled Steen out of the pasture and saw immediately he was a little wound up. I tacked him up, but decided to put in a solid effort at ground-work before riding. We did that, for about 40 minutes. At first, he was super energetic, trotting in circles instead of walking. I still think the combination of lots and lots of grass plus some nerves are to blame for his less than perfect behavior lately, so we worked on calm. I let him trot whenever he wanted, but didn't let him stop moving until he walked voluntarily. We also worked on standing and letting me swish him with the rope, not crowding me when I told him to come in for pets, and after a while he was significantly more relaxed. I thought about riding but chose not to, thinking he'd already had a pretty long session and keeping things simple for a visit or two never hurts. Plus, he's got a sunburn on his nose and his face seemed tender.

So, I took him back to his pasture,

where his herd of Cal, Stella and Nadir (the flea-bitten Arabian who's name I now finally know) has increased by one to include Tommy. I'm hoping Tommy, who's a big American Showhorse, will supersede Steen in his place of authority. A possibly promising sign, I think, is when I turned Steen loose this time,

he did eventually trot back to the herd.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


Today, Brian, Steen and I all had new experiences. For Brian and I, it was a shared experience. We went to Catalpa Corner to watch the eventing. We had never been to a true eventing competition, so we found it very interesting. At first, we just walked around, staring at all the tall, athletic horses and trying not to look idiotic while doing so. We looked around a bit, and then walked out to the cross country course. I took my camera, and snapped a few photos. I have no idea who any of these people are....

As you can see, there was an impressive variety of jumps. We saw all sorts of things, from horses jumping beautifully, to horses refusing to jump, to one horse who went over the jump demonstrated by the light gray horse in the photo immediately above this paragraph, and then flew into some sort of spasm, bucked his rider off and then proceeded to redo the course, backwards (avoiding the jumps), at a dead run. Fortunately, no one was injured and the horse was eventually got back in hand.

Brian and I spent quite a while watching the cross country. We checked out the dressage too, but it was lower level stuff and genuinely not that interesting.

So, eventually we left Catalpa and went around the block to visit our own horse. Steen has been moved to an expansive pasture down below the pasture horses since we want him to get as fat as possible before winter sets in. He is out there with only three other horses, and it's rather a trek to get out to him. He did not deign to meet us halfway, though he did seem happy to see us. We took him back to the barn, tacked him up, and I hopped on. For some reason I didn't do ground work in spite of the fact that I haven't seen or ridden Steen for ten days or so. I should have done ground work. He was distracted and pretty opinionated about what he wanted to do. It doesn't help that doing "arena work" in areas that aren't arenas tends to be confusing, and also he's been eating as much as he cares to for days now. I think his energy level was up, his obedience was down, and he was just a little hard to handle. We went from the open area by the swing set over to the strip between the pasture and the corn field, and eventually I got off and did some groundwork in hopes he'd focus more after-wards. He was great with groundwork, and perhaps a little better when I got back on. We walked and trotted and loped and he got really excited, and by the time poor Brian got on Steen was in "handful" mode.

But they did alright. I used my body and the corn field to set up a virtual round-pen and eventually Steen stopped ignoring all Brian's steering instructions and settled into an acceptable trot. After quite a bit of trotting, Brian decided he'd had enough, and stopped. We took Steen back to the trailer. He'd gotten a little sweaty, and on the spot I decided immediately after a mediocre ride seemed as good a time as any for Steen's first bath. We led him over to the hose and thus embarked on Steen's new experience for the day. We turned the water on and started spraying it lightly towards his front feet.

At first, Steen was very much not sure about this new development. He stepped back, snorted, swiveled. Brian and I both demonstrated the utter non-harmfulness of the water by taking drinks from the hose. Then I turned the spray back on him and started letting the water mist his front knees. He trembled a little bit, and then abruptly thrust his nose forward, sticking it right into the stream. He played with the water with his lip for a minute or two, took a drink and then he was fine with the whole thing. We sprayed him down and he seemed to enjoy it. He was like an old eventing pro who'd just come off the XC course. Except as far as I know Steen has never gone over any kind of jump in his life.

We gave him lots of praise for encountering new things so bravely, even if he was rather a pill on the ride. Then we put him back in the pasture, he rolled in the dirt, and we observed something odd. Instead of returning to his little herd of three, Steen stayed at the far end of the pasture, closer to us. This surprised Brian and I, since Steen will often gallop back to the herd if they are far from the gate. Today, he didn't seem to care, and Brian commented that none of the other horses were perhaps worth running back to. That made me think about it a little harder, and I realized the three horses that make up Steen's diminished herd - Stella, Cal and the flea-bitten Arabian who's name I can never remember - are all submissive personalities, and Steen has definitely moved up on the totem pole in recent months. We came to the conclusion that Steen is the head of his little four-horse-herd, which might also partially explain his rotten behavior during our ride. He's gotten too big for his britches.

I'm not too worried though. Although I spent more of July away from Iowa than here, I have high hopes for August. I'm hoping to get in many solid hours of riding before the winter hits, and the good news is Steen has at least gotten to the point that even when he's "bad," he's rideable.

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