Monday, June 29, 2009


So far Steen's adjustment to the new place seems to be going pretty well. It helps that he's had a few visitors in the form of a friend of mine who brought her two daughters as well as some sliced apples, and Brian's sister and her husband, who were handing out the carrots and forming a brushing team he seemed to highly approve of. I've been out there a number of time, but I haven't ridden. Between all the visitors and other stuff going on with life, I just haven't had the chance . However, Steen's groundwork has been impeccable lately, and a couple of days ago Cathi told me about a dirt-road loop I can take from the new property. I'm pretty sure just as soon as I have a chance to go find it, I'll have a nice ride.

The bummer is I'm leaving tomorrow and won't be back until next Thursday. *sigh. Such setbacks. The good news, however, is that the new barn is scheduled to be up by early August. And after that things should seem much more normal.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Day One

Today Brian and I drove out to the new place in the afternoon. Things seemed pretty good there, although the herd is definitely a bit restless. There is more movement in general, and more horses shooing other horses out of the way. I am sure the adjustment phase will be easier since they are all together, but still you can tell they're a bit unsettled.

There is also a baby in the herd again. She's a three-week-old Morgan, and she and her mom joined the rest of the pasture gang mere days before the move. The baby is adorable, and all the adult horses seem to take quite an interest in her, shepherding her around and "protecting" her from one another. The baby, however, has taken quite an interest in Steen and whenever I take Steen from the pasture now, she wants to come too.

However, Brian and I have some experience with clingy foals and we successfully navigated Steen through the gate alone. Once outside, Brian and I strolled with Steen up a little gravel road to the side of the machine shed to see where that went (nowhere) and then back to the pastures and down a long grassy slope between the pasture and a corn field. I have decided this strip of land has potential, and really hope they start mowing it. It is long and narrow and potentially great for a gallop...

Steen was good today. He was a little excited and curious, but he followed along willingly, mostly minding his manners the whole time. At the end Brian did just a bit of groundwork with him, in the leather halter with no stick, and Steen was very good, though the filly got a bit upset watching and started tearing around the pasture. We returned Steen to his herd, then we went and visited the "stall" horses, and headed home.

The baby, being a baby.

A Trunk Full of Tack

Yesterday I left my house at 8:00 AM and didn't return until 5:30 PM. In between it was quite the day.

I arrived at the barn shortly after the crew had rolled off with the first load of horses, as I knew Steen was going in the second load. I pulled up, parked and first cleaned out my tack locker, which fortunately wasn't all that hard as I've tried to keep it pretty clean. I loaded everything in my car except Steen's nylon halter, grooming bucket, groundwork stuff (rope, stick, rope-halter) and bridle. Then I went and got Steen, and brought him inside. He was good while I groomed him and we went to the arena and did a fair amount of groundwork. Then I hopped on for a short bareback walk and trot ride. I'd have gone longer, but it was a hot, humid day and the indoor arena was heating up like a sauna. Also, the effects of my watering had expired and it was super dusty in there again.

After the ride, I put Steen back in the pasture so he could have a chance to drink and relax a little more. I took the rest of my things, except Steen's halter, to my car. Shortly thereafter, the trailers returned for load two.

As much as I adore Steen, I'd had some serious worries about how well he'd load. He hadn't, after all, set foot in a trailer in over a year and he is nervous and claustrophobic to begin with. However, he did alright. We loaded him fourth, after Star (alpha mare), the friendly Arab who's name I can never remember, and Mo (one of Steen's good buddies). Steen put his front feet up without a problem but then backed up four or five times, refusing to follow me into the trailer. I just let him retreat, talked to him soothingly and then tried again, and in a matter of minutes he stepped up, and after that was a good boy.

Cal loaded after Steen and Trailer One pulled off. Then we went to the other trailer and loaded Lightfoot, Leonard, Daisy and Shado. Trailer Two hit the highway and I followed in my civic. The drive across town went well, and we pulled onto the new land 40 minutes later. Trailer One unloaded nicely, Steen coming right off and then following me calmly to the new pasture, where the first load of horses was already grazing. Trailer Two had a few iffy moments, with Daisy deciding it was time to back out prematurely. Luckily, we had many people on hand and we got her back in place and untied without incident.

After that, I spent the rest of the day helping with the transfer of less temperamental cargo. We hauled the trailers back to the old barn and filled them again with hay, grain, tack, mounting blocks, bricks, palettes, you name it. If it was on the premises and portable, we took it. I think the highlight of the day may have been when Cathi and I were balancing on a little 4 inch strip of grass between a mud puddle and a fence by the horse trough in the upper pasture, chasing goldfish with an old colander. We caught nine, and they later rode in a feed bucket at my feet to the new place, where we safely placed them in their new troughs.

The new place is still very much under construction. Actually, construction hasn't even started on the barn. I am a bit bummed that riding is going to be difficult for a while, but I am trying to think of this as an opportunity to be more flexible in my habits and a chance to help Steen become braver by forcing us to encounter new things with more regularity. I have to laugh at myself a little, actually. In one year I've gone from scoffing at indoor arenas to relying on them. I need to get back to the realization that all I really need is something to tie my horse to for a few minutes and the tack in my trunk to enjoy my equine companion.

In the long run, it will be a good change. We'll have access to trails , as well as indoor and outdoor arenas as before. Most happily, however, is the drive. I clocked it on the way home. 15 minutes. Way better than 30.

A few photos:

The stall horses - their "stalls" for a while are made of temporary fence panels.

The pastures horses, who will now enjoy approximately four times the space as before.

Steen, cool with the new place, not sure about the camera.

The semi unloading into the machine shed, wherein Cathi and her family will live until the barn goes up and they can get around to building a house.

The fish. In their bucket.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Third Gear

I've had a good week of trips to the barn, in spite of lots of rain and sogginess. Tuesday it stormed all morning, but Wednesday I went out in the AM and found Steen covered in mud but other than that in a pretty amiable state.

I watered down the indoor arena before my ride because it was really dry, I had plenty of time and there is nothing like breathing fine dust to make me want to cut my ride short. It was well worth the effort. After a little groundwork, Steen treated me to one of the best rides we've ever enjoyed together. He was calm and responsive at the walk, his trot was relaxed (if a tad reluctant at first) and when I asked him to lope, he picked up the correct lead and held it through quite a few laps around the arena, going at a nice, smooth pace and seeming even to enjoy himself somewhat. Then I asked him to stop and he did, and other than walking a little faster for a half a lap around the arena or so, seemed totally fine with the experience. So, we walked for a while, and then tried it again in the other direction. He went just as easily and nicely, and calmed down afterwards just as quickly.

I went out again yesterday and had a similar ride, though with less walking and more loping. He was smooth and comfortable again, seeming once more to have some fun with going fast. This is such an encouraging change from the loping experiences we had last fall, where he'd get so worked up and upset when I asked for the lope, refusing to pick it up and then finally running erratically, dropping into a fast, nasty trot in the corners and then after loping staying in a state of nervous tension the rest of the ride.

I think there are several better factors in place now, but mainly, he's healthier. Most of the loping problems started when he was losing weight, and I thought then (and am quite certain now) that his saddle had gotten too wide and was riding too low on his shoulders, causing pinching and discomfort, particularly at higher speeds. Going bareback didn't help, but I think he was just too bony to comfortably carry even the weight of a rider at a lope. Of course, this is one of the reasons we went bareback and slow all winter. I have been able to see for quite a while now that he's much rounder and better muscled and the saddle sits where it is supposed to lately, but part of me was worried he'd retain traumatic associations and take a long time to settle into a willing, comfortable lope.

Now, I definitely feel encouraged by my three good rides this week. Granted, they were all indoors and it will probably take a lot more work to get him as attentive and relaxed when he's not inside, but since tomorrow we're hauling the entire equine population of the barn across town and depositing them on Cathi's new, currently barnless land, I guess we'll have a few weeks to work on just that.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Back on Track

I headed out to the barn again this morning looking forward to the prospect of a nice ride. Once there, however, I began to doubt I would get one. Steen and the herd were way, way out at the end of the biggest pasture, and Steen didn't seem at all disposed to come meet me at the gate today. He waited until I was near the edge of the herd before making his way over the me. I put his halter on, and started back up to the gate. He walked along fine at first, but after a moment he stopped. I looked back and saw he was adding some manure to help fertilize the pasture. Naturally, I let him finish with that, and afterwards we started walking again. But we only made it about a third of the way back across the pasture when he stopped again. I looked back, but he wasn't doing anything other than apparently deciding he didn't want to follow me. Now, this is something he used to do, like, a year ago and I was none-too-happy to see the behavior resurface today. Luckily, I've learned a few more tricks since this was last a problem, and I didn't waste any time trying to coax him. I walked back to his shoulder and made him disengaged his hind-quarters, rapidly, and after that he followed me again. Until, that is, we were about 2/3 of the way out of the pasture. Then he stopped again. I made him disengage again, and he followed me again. After that we made it all the way to the barn door, which he then refused to enter. I made him back up and disengage. Then he followed me in, and we went down to his grooming area.

He was a pain while I groomed him and tacked him up. He kept pulling his "surruptitiously ease towards the aisle in preparation for swiveling out of place" stunt - another habit I thought he'd more or less grown out of. Needless to say, by the time we made it to the indoor arena, I was more than little annoyed and seriously questioning whether or not I should even try to ride.

But, I decided to start off with a good solid chunk of ground-work and see how things went from there, and so for 15 minutes we worked on all the various exercises we learned last year. He definitely had a few moments of defiance; once absolutely refusing to flex to the halter, so I made him disengage a full 360 degrees and then asked again. After that he flexed nicely. I responded to his other disrepectiful behaviors with similar firm but not angry responses, and by the end of those 15 minutes, he'd stopped yawning in my face, ignoring me, and crowding in prematurely for pets and rewards. He'd also calmed down. Today the wind was really gusting, and I think that was part of the reason he was so naughty initially. Poor behavior and nerves definitely go hand in hand wih Steen, and the wind makes him antsy.

After the ground-work, I hopped on and was very pleasantly surprised by the ride that followed. He walked like a normal, respecful horse from the moment I got on, almost never moving with his head up, listening for things to spook at like he sometimes does. We did a lot of exercises at the walk, and he behaved gloriously, even seeming downright relaxed at times. Then we trotted for a while and he gave me a nicer, mellower trot than he has in months, never speeding up or getting sloppy like he did the entire time the last time I rode him. Then he stopped completely to a verbal woh (ok, three verbal wohs, but still, he slowed each time I said it and did eventually stop with no rein). He was good (for him) about standing, and willingly followed the rail in both directions with only minimal, very, very light, ocassional corrections.

So, it was a surprisingly nice ride and did a lot to reassure me that we haven't lost as much ground as I feared. I know I prove this to myself again and again, but I just really need to keep in mind that, with Steen anyway, groundwork is key, and when I neglect it, everything suffers... particularly me.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Break

After my last ride on Steen I guess I was feeling a little unmotivated to get back out there and deal with all his new-found energy. He's been back-sliding a bit this spring, and I know it's because I've been lazy with the ground-work all winter and we've gotten to be quite buddy-buddy. Which is fine to a point but when the pendulum swings too far in that direction, it need to come back a little with the message, "Yes, we're friends but also, I'm the boss."

So, between that and knowing Steen's whole world is going to change so soon, and some other things going on in my life, I took two weeks off from the barn. This wasn't really intentional. It just happened. And by the end of those two weeks I wasn't feeling daunted by the task of going out there and putting in my time any more. I was missing Steen.

I knew the farrier was scheduled to come today, and I didn't want to risk the embarrassment of possible poor behavior on Steen's part (last time he was just verging on not great), so yesterday afternoon I drove out to the barn for some manners refreshing. Steen saw me coming from the far side of the pasture and started walking in my direction, which was encouraging. Then I just took him inside and we did some ground work. He definitely has picked up a couple little defiant habits lately, like when I tell him to back or change direction when he's circling, he tosses his head and sometimes when I let him stop, he yawns in a way that I suspect is disrespectful. So, we worked on reminding him that I make the decisions, and I think it went pretty well. He was a little antsy and prone to distraction when I first tied him up and groomed him and fly-sprayed him, but after the groundwork he was extremely calm, so that was good.

This morning I went to the barn again and the farrier came and did everyone's feet. I did just a little bit of groundwork with Steen before it was his turn for a trim, and he was a doll for the farrier, though not as good about the wormer I gave him afterward. Still, all in all it was a good day and I'm thinking I'm going to go out there again tomorrow and actually ride.

Monday, June 01, 2009

What's Coming Up

Yesterday was a nice sunny day so I headed out to see Steen in the late morning. Upon arrival I noticed a few things out of the ordinary. 1) There was a horse trailer backed up in front of the garage. 2) There was a semi backed up in front of the house.

This wasn't a total shock to me. The barn I board at has been for sale since before I came to board there, and recently the owner, Cathi, indicated to us boarders that they had an interested party. Cathi and her husband, fortunately, are only moving to the other side of town to be near her husband's family land, (they farm) and they are building a new facility out there which will be much the same as the current one except half the distance from town and with access to trails.

In my head this whole change was going to take place in the fall. Yesterday, I learned everything is going to move along much faster than that. The new barn owner is coming in on July 1, and she's going to turn the facility into her own dressage school. That means us pleasure riders need to be out by June 30.

Luckily, Cathi is not abandoning us to our fate. We're going to haul all the horses across town on the same day and take them to the new land. The only problem - the new land doesn't have anything on it yet.

So, it's going to be an interesting summer. Cathi and her family will be living in a trailer in the machine shed. The horses will all be pasture horses for a while. Cathi is hoping to have the indoor arena up by August and the rest of the barn finished by winter. The main inconvenience is I'll have to keep all my tack in my car for a while, but for half the drive and trail access, I guess I can put up with some temporary irritation.

As far as my ride yesterday, it was ok. The horses were in a new pasture and chowing down like lawn mowers. Cathi said Steen led the whole herd at a gallop to the gate when she called them a couple days ago. Clearly, Steen is in fine form. When I rode, he was really, really energetic. After trying to get him to settle in and relax at the walk without much success, I just let him trot his little heart out. We trotted fast, for a long, long time. I wasn't timing it, but I'm guessing at least half an hour without stopping before he finally settled in, relaxed and started paying attention. Granted, this was only our second outdoor ride this year and I'm glad he's feeling good, so I'm willing to cut him some slack, but today I'm pretty much sore all over. Sometimes I love the challenges of a "project" horse but sometimes I look forward to Steen's middle years...

Oh yeah, Steen turned 9 a week ago Friday. I forgot to mention it.

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