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.

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