Thursday, February 25, 2010

Home Stretch

Today I took Brian's new saddle to the barn. It's just like mine, only black, and we think Sham will look pretty sharp showing it off.

I adore mine. Hopefully Brian will like his, too

The saddle was not the only reason I headed out there today. When I arrived I got a stall set up to accommodate the vet and his teeth-floating equipment. Then I went outside to get Sham.

I must say, I felt guilty when he came to the gate as soon as he saw me. The alpha mare and another big, dominant gelding wandered over as well, so I just let Sham into the airlock to avoid having to deal with them. He came through the gate without hesitation. I had his halter on in record time. I then took him inside and proceeded to put him through a good deal of trauma. He probably won't be that easy to catch again for a while. *sigh

Sham had probably never had dental work of any kind done before. Due to his size and pushiness (and the fact that Brian is currently in Wisconsin) it seemed best for me and my experience to take over on this one, so I got the joy of holding his head up or trying to pull it down throughout the procedure, depending on what the moment required.

Sham needed two shots of sedative right from the get go. Even the shots were hard to give him. He's oddly sensitive about needles in his neck. Most horses don't really mind, and later when we were getting him up to date on vaccinations, he was totally fine with the ones that went into his butt. Our vet, Jim McNutt, guessed he'd been traumatized by the use of cow needles in the past.

Once we got him sedated, he wasn't bad. There were actually times when he was holding his head up and bracing against the pneumatic file with an "I can take it" look in his eyes. He had a sore and a point exactly where I thought he did, so I'm hopeful the rest of my hypothesis will pan out as well, and the anxiety about taking the bit and having things put on his head will now start to recede. He also had huge hooks on the back of his molars and one wolf-tooth. Other than those things, though, Jim said his mouth was in remarkably good shape. So, that's something anyway.

Then I had his sheath cleaned, and he was extremely patient about that. But when it came to more shots in the neck, we had to use a twitch.

So, all in all, Sham had a pretty bad day. I wish there was a way to explain that he'll be more comfortable now - that it will be easier for him to chew his food, his cheek will heal and so halters and bridles will no longer hurt. I suppose we'll just have to prove it to him over time.

As far as getting Sham in ship-shape for Brian, I think we're nearly there. All we have to do now is replace the memories of this final trauma with lots of positive counter-examples.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Yesterday Brian and I went again to the barn in the afternoon and I gave my well-behaved Steen the day off. Brian and I once again focused on Sham and building positive experiences that involve us and going indoors. Yesterday, we had a great one. Sham left his afternoon snack to meet us at the gate and let us pet and rub his neck and withers immediately without drawing back. Brian got the rope around his neck in seconds and then coaxed the halter onto his face after just a little bit of non-mobile reluctance on Sham's part. No airlock needed!

We took Sham indoors. He was interacting with us from the start in a way he wasn't just three days ago. His head carriage was low and his ranch-horse inclination to conserve his energy surfaced a bit. He began to walk much more slowly, never crowding Brian or trying to pull ahead.

We had a pretty intensive ground-work session, adding a few more advanced exercises to the basic ones we've already taught him. Sham is an intelligent horse. When I was watching and giving Brian pointers on how to teach the new exercises, I could practically see Sham straining to put two and two together. He really seems to enjoy trying to understand and rises to the challenge of figuring it all out. His face is also becoming increasingly expressive and there were moments I was cracking up just watching.

Best of all, though, the ground-work has given us an avenue to connect. I can't believe how much Sham's attitude towards us has changed in two visits. He is starting to become goofy and playful. He thrives on the pets and praise and attention. When Brian put him back in the pasture, he did what Steen often does - hung out at the gate until we walked away.

While Brian was spending a little extra time with Sham, Steen walked to HIS gate and gave me a "what about me?" look. So I ran down to his pasture and gave him some love, too. At one point I was hanging out with my lone horse at one pasture gate, and Brian was hanging out with his lone horse at another. A good sign, I'm sure.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Steen the Great

Both days this weekend Brian and I headed out to the barn in the morning. Yesterday things didn't start off great. Sham decided to give us a bit of a run-around when we went out to catch him and we only succeeded in getting his halter on after coaxing him into the airlock with a bucket of grain. Partly because of his clear reluctance to let us put anything on his face, we've decided there will be no more riding or bridling Sham until he gets his teeth done. Since he'll approach us without hesitation and hang out with us until we try to put his halter on, to me it seems pretty obvious that the pain in his mouth is leading to anxiety - so we need to take a step back and fix the problem before it gets worse.

Once caught, Sham was ok yesterday. He was a bit nervous about coming in and being in the tie-stall, but Brian did ground-work for quite a while and made some progress. I rode Steen and then Brian put Sham back outside and he rode Steen, too.

And I must say, Steen has been unbelievably awesome lately. He comes inside without anxiety, he stands to be groomed, he doesn't care when other horses and people come and go, he is calm when ridden, willing to stop and stand. His walk and trot are both energetic but relaxed. He is neck-reining perfectly and yielding to my leg. I almost don't know what to do with him, he's so wonderful lately. He was great for Brian, too, so in spite of the difficulties with Sham, we came away feeling good.

Today we approached the pasture with a strategy. Brian went in to get Sham, who once again approached quickly and accepted a treat, but pulled back when Brian moved towards his head. So, instead of trying to chase him we once again let him into the airlock and fed him grain and petted him until he relaxed enough for Brian to slip his halter on. When he was avoiding us yesterday, he was using the whole herd as his mobile body-guard, so it definitely simplifies things to be able to get him alone.

We took Sham indoors and he seemed nervous and was getting cranky and a bit reactive to Brian's groundwork commands, so I took over for a while to see if I could figure out what was going on. I put him on the longer rope and got my stick out of the locker and called on my tried and true arsenal of exercises- leading, yielding, and basic circle work. As we've mentioned before, Sham is a puller and he's big and strong, so instead of trying to oppose him when he didn't want to stop, I just made him go quickly in a direction of my choosing.

The other thing I focused on was lots and lots of positive feedback. Every time he did anything sort of right, I'd smile and pet him and ooh and ah over him until he started losing his focus and then I'd immediately jump right back into moving his feet and using his momentum against him.

It only took about five minutes until his body-language transformed. He would stand still and let me pet him, paying attention to me instead of the door that leads back to his herd. My big praising made him noticeable proud of himself. He really warmed up to me and seems to love the praise.

After he relaxed, I gave him back to Brian and worked on helping Brian also relax and focus on the positive. It's easy with a new, unfamiliar horse to slip into all reprimand mode and nobody appreciates constant criticism.

I was making Brian smile a lot, too

getting better at the yields

Finally, we put Sham back out and brought Steen in. I had another absolutely wonderful walk-tort ride in which Steen was perfect.

one of the many reasons I'm looking forward to summer - our photos will get more interesting when we can go outside again

Thursday, February 18, 2010


It always seems that when one is shopping for a horse, one either stumbles across the right one a little sooner or a little later than is really ideal. Sham came a bit early, since Brian has been working towards racing the Birkie for nine months. His race is a week from Saturday, and he's trying his best to stay in peak condition. Since he also has a job, this means most days he has the option to either ski or go to the barn. For now, he sort of has to ski.

But, new horses require attention, so yesterday found me out at the barn to meet Duke, so Sham could get a pedicure. He has good feet, and they weren't in bad shape, but his toes were a bit long, which was making him rock back on heels a little, which was causing the heels to wear a bit fast. It only took Duke about ten minutes to fix the problem. Then he left and there I was at the barn with Brian's new horse. Since the more I can understand Sham, the better I can help Brian get used to him, it seemed only logical to take the opportunity to ride.

Sham was pretty good. Obviously, he's still adjusting. Just as obviously, he needs his teeth done a bit more dramatically than he needed his feet done. When Sham is bridled, he always wants to rub at one particular part of his jaw - a pretty good indication he's got a point there. Also, he's clearly used to being climbed on and told to go, so tends to get a bit excited with mounted. Yesterday we worked on relaxing.

For the first ten minutes of the ride, Sham wanted to trot. He astonished me with how he manages to be both very large and very graceful. He's really been trained to engage his hind-quarters, so the effect is he can change direction very quickly with no real effort. Add this to his extra height (he's 15.3 with extremely low withers, so in effect he's even taller to sit on) and the fact that he's a pro at balancing with a rider in a way Steen is still not, and it was an interesting ride for me.

After we rode around for a while and I let him trot for a time, he was more willing to calm down. Another ten minutes later, he was very relaxed, walking on a loose rein and responding to neck and leg cues, standing when stopped and everything. Of course, the better he was, the less I had to use the bit and the more positive the ride became. Afterwards, he was a doll in the tie-stall.

So, I continue to be hopeful about this guy. Each time we get him out, he shows more glimmers of interest and engagement. We want to let him get a little more settled before we put him through the trauma of floating his teeth, but once that problem is taken care of, I think we'll be all set. With his height and athleticism, the ease with which he carries a rider and his generally relaxed personality - I am increasingly convinced he's going to be an awesome match for Brian.

That said, I am already looking forward to getting past these early humps and launching the two of them onto their own trajectory so I can return my focus to my own horse. Steen watched me take Sham from the pasture and put him back later - making me feel just a tad guilty.

Sham after a roll

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Dreamhorse

I will admit there are times when horse ownership is not all that great. The arrival of a bill from the vet is rarely a happy moment, but there are more emotional occasions as well, like when your horse embarrasses you in front of a bunch of barn people by acting like a total spaz.

When one buys an untrained horse, one opens the door to the possibility of plenty of those moments. I have had my challenging times with Steen, and there has been the odd day I've left the barn wondering if owning horses is really worth the expense and effort.

But then, there are days like today. I arrived at the barn this morning feeling a little stressed and a little rushed, but an hour later I left in a good mood that held throughout the rest of my day. Although I did pet Sham over the fence today, mostly I concentrated on Steen.

I brought him indoors and he was calm from the start. In spite of the fact that I couldn't tie him because another rider was using the tie-stall, he stood without fuss while I took his blanket off and brushed him. When I needed to pick his feet, he raised each foot all the way off the ground for me at the word 'lift.' When I took him into the arena bareback, he stood at the mounting block and waited for me to get on. Then he walked in a relaxed manner around the indoor arena, accepting my steering commands without protest even when he sort of wanted to walk over and sniff the mare the other boarder was riding.

When the other rider went outside, he had roughly 30 seconds of feeling like he should go outside, too, but I asked him for a few sharp turns and he calmed back down. We then trotted, and the gait was smooth, relaxed and beautiful. I then asked him to stop, and he did. And then, he stood. Steen actually stood! Voluntarily! Without me having to pull him back to a stop every ten seconds! At the end of the ride he held still for about four minutes while I sat on his back, petting him and feeling amazed.

After the ride he was polite, inquisitive, and affectionate. I left the barn thinking how great it is to have one place to go to hang out with a friend, relieve stress, and exercise - all in one go.

Now if I could just get him to be so good every time...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day at the Barn

This afternoon Brian and I headed for the barn again. We had a plan to do things a little differently than we did them yesterday. We arrived and went to get Sham out of the pasture. Sham recognized Brian immediately and walked from the round bale to where Brian waited. We thought that was a very good sign. We brought him indoors (leaving Steen outside), got him tacked up and got Brian on board with minimal stress. Again, Sham seems the calmest when we are more or less ignoring him and just going about our business.

At the start of the ride, Sham was a little inclined to go. This wasn't helped by the fact that the stall horse herd decided to gallop around outside. Sham could hear them, and kind of wanted to run, too. He broke into a trot a few times so I suggested Brian just trot him for a while. He treated Brian to a pretty fast trot and even a few strides of a lope, and stayed a bit nervous for a while, but after about ten minutes he calmed down and after that was much easier for Brian to handle. Brian and Sham had a pretty good twenty-five minute walk-trot ride, and then called it quits.

Afterwards, Sham was totally happy to hang out with us in the tie stall and let us brush him and pet him. I trimmed his tail. Brian brushed him mane. Things were pretty relaxed. We put him back in the pasture and I grabbed Steen for a short bareback ride before it got dark.

Steen was quite good today. No antics at all in the tie stall. He was good about the mounting block, good at the walk and the trot. Then there was a near disaster in the stall area involving Heather's horse Tommy, the automatic door, the four-wheeler, and the manure spreader. The commotion got Steen a bit worked up, but with more work at the walk and trot, he calmed back down. So, in spite of the excitement I had a good ride.

Brian even snapped a few photos.

sometimes my horse makes me laugh

nice smooth trot

After my ride, we went and put Steen back outside. Sham came over the the fence when he saw Brian and received some pets. He really seems like he has an interest in people and a capacity to bond. Once we all finish getting used to each other, I think we're going to be an awesome quartet.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Boys - Day 1

Today Brian and I went to the barn for our first time hanging out with our two horses together. First, we put them in the airlock for a meeting unimpeded by Brian and me. It's pretty clear that Sham is not a submissive horse in any way (he's already slotted himself into the top gelding position in the pasture herd). However, he's also not particularly aggressive. Steen isn't one to pick a fight. He tends to disengage himself from horses looking for a conflict. We hoped there would be little excitement. We got what we hoped for.

Steen approached Sham with curiosity.

They had a mutual sniff.

Sham let Steen know that he's the boss. Steen agreed instantly.

Sham chased Steem around a little just to be sure the hierarchy was exceptionally clear.

After the two of them seemed comfortable with their new relationship, we took them indoors. Three other riders were getting ready to leave for a trail-ride, so the place was hopping. Sham was inclined to be restless at first, and so was Steen, so the initial part of the day wasn't super great. Sham's biggest weak spot is ground-manners. He's not bad, per-say, it's just obvious nobody has ever taken the time to make him yield. I was trying to help Brian do some of the exercises I did with Sham yesterday and there were horses going every which way and Sham and Brian were both getting a little frazzled.

Finally, the ride left and we were alone with Sham feeling a little anxious and Steen in all-out pill-mode. Brian took Sham to the tie-stall and tied him up and after just a few attempts to walk forward, he started to calm down. Brian brushed him and picked his feet and that went well, so it seemed best just to forge ahead.

A few moments later, Brian had Steen's saddle and pad in place on Sham's back, and the bridle we had set up for Cal on his head. Sham was visibly relaxed by this point, so I decided to hop on. I handed Steen to Brian and took Sham to the arena, where he treated me to a very lovely if brief walk-trot ride. Brian then got on, and the two of them walked quite a few nice circles around the arena.

Turning left.

Turning left again.

We then returned our boys to their respective pastures. We watched Sham share mineral-bucket-licking real-estate with the alpha mare and roll so enthusiastically he flipped back and forth three times before wandering over and getting a drink. He definitely seems to feel quite at home already.

Hopefully things will just continue to get easier from here on out.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Let's Not Forget the Star of This Blog

Today I went to the barn to pay some attention to MY horse. We've been so wrapped up with shopping and test-riding for Brian, Steen has been a tad overlooked the last week or two.

Steen is actually developing a belly. Woohoo!

First I went out and checked on the cut on Sham's knee. There is no swelling and it looks uncomplicated, so that is very good. Then I went and retrieved my boy. He was in fine form, looking cute in his blanket and happy to see me.

To my delight, the mounting stairs have been returned to the indoor arena. Their presence combined with the removal of my stitches meant I can ride bareback again! So, Steen and I had a quick grooming session (the blanket sure makes that easier) and then I bridled him and mounted.

He was absolutely great today. I think we're in the process of turning a corner. He's understanding that touches with the leg mean 'turn,' not 'attempt to run away.' He's lately been doing really well with neck-reining. Today he never spooked once during our whole ride, at all, at anything. Even when ice was sliding off the roof, he only raised his head and looked around.

So, that was pretty wonderful. I rode for 45 minutes, walk and trot, told him how great he is and put him back outside.

Since Brian's work schedule combined with the fact that we have tickets to see the Lipizzaner Stallions in Ottumwa tonight make it impossible for him to get to the barn today, I decided to work with Sham a little too. I brought him indoors after I turned Steen out. He was more nervous today than yesterday, but I led him around the indoor arena and started teaching him some yielding exercises and he calmed right now. And even his 'nervous' behavior is about on par with Steen being 'pretty good,' so, I am still thinking he's going to be really chill once he finishes adapting to the new surroundings. I picked his feet (he's great about that) and put more ointment on his knee and put him back outside to continue making new friends. As I was leaving I looked back and saw Sham was getting a drink and Steen was trying to sniff his nose through the fence. Maybe this weekend we'll turn them out together and see what they think of one another.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sham Arrives

Today Sham walked off the trailer and into our hands. The guy hauling him was late, and Brian had to run home to receive the home-owners insurance inspector, so I was the only one there to receive him. He came off the trailer with a hilarious leap and a cut on his knee. I brought him inside and he rolled almost immediately, already seeming quite at home in the new place.

in the indoor

I hung out brushing the sweat out of his coat until Brian arrived. Sham seemed to warm up to me during that brief time, and expressed curiosity and interest in all the other horses and people around the barn. He was remarkably calm considering he'd just been hauled for an hour and a half and then left with strangers. He stood better on day one than Steen ever has.

in the airlock

Eventually, he was dried out so we took him and put him in the "airlock" so he could sniff noses with all three of the herds before meeting his new pasture buddies face-to-face.

Steen, meet Sham. Sham, meet Steen

He wandered over and met his brother. That seemed to go well.

already pretty settled in

It was a mellow introduction, all around. No one seemed to have strong feelings about his inclusion in the herd. There were one or two squeals, one minor kick, and that was all.

So, we're hopeful this is the smooth start to a lot of smooth sailing.

And in big blog news, Brian has started his own online riding journal. You can find it here.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Meet Sham

Today, Brian bought his first horse. Sham is a bay quarter-horse, 15.3 and good-looking. He will celebrate his ninth birthday next month. We will be his retirement. He was a working ranch horse before he went to the Meyer Horse Co., where he was polished up for a few months and now, sold to us.

We are very excited.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Chilled Out

I had a particularly wonderful Friday this week. I didn't have to go to the gallery, so I went to the barn. Steen and I had the place to ourselves. I kept up with the smiles and he was very relaxed through the whole grooming and tacking process. I also bought a clip-able bungee for use with an elastic cross-tie so I can tie Steen up in a way that is secure but involves a quick-release and also has some give. All Steen's anxieties seem to crop up when he finds himself tied with a rope that has no flex. He'll pull against it and get upset when he feels he's out of rope. Then he'll pull more and get more upset. But if he's tied with a bungee, he doesn't seem to mind and will pull once or twice and then get over it.

So, it was a big help to have a way to leave him for a moment to retrieve his heated bit and my riding boots from the lounge. I then climbed aboard and had a good 45 minute indoor ride. We did walk and trot work, with a lot of emphasis on steering with seat and leg. We did weaving, circles, and figures eights. I was very impressed with Steen's overall performance. By and large, he stayed very relaxed and even seemed to enjoy the patterns.

At the very end of the ride he heard something outside that made him nervous and that carried over a little when I tied him back up to untack. I basically ignored his antics though, and he settled back down quickly.

Today was Duke-Day, so Steen and Cal both got a trim. Steen was impressively patient, standing around in the indoor arena waiting for his turn. So, hopefully the indoor-anxiety thing is behind us now.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Here it is. Finally. Steen in his wug:

Today I headed to the barn alone for the first time in quite a while. My leg is mending and I was itching to head out and see my buddy. I found him doing his usual thing and brought him indoors, trying my best to stay relaxed while I groomed him in hopes he would do the same.

I came across an interesting tidbit in some horse-reading not too long ago. The author emphasized the importance of smiling at nervous horses, saying equines are smart enough to understand human expressions, and also smiling relaxes your own body. Given Steen's capacity for coming unglued indoors lately, I thought it couldn't hurt to try. I chatted with him while I groomed him like usual, but I also made a point to smile at him every chance I got.

I got him tacked up with only a little swiveling and fidgeting. The ride was mostly good. I kept things largely at the walk due to the soreness of my stitches, and concentrated on subtle steering exercises with seat-bones and leg. Steen did well with these, and seemed to enjoy waiting to see what I would ask next.

Towards the end of the ride, a few weird thumps sounded outside the arena and Steen started getting nervous. I made him stop and stand for a moment, then dismounted. He was looking around anxiously, so I stretched and yawned and smiled at him. He seemed to calm down. I took him back to the grooming area and praised him and scratched his neck in the place he likes best. The nerviness seemed to pass instead of escalate. I put his blanket on and he was patient as I fumbled with the buckles. So, who knows? I'm curious to see how this plays out over time. Certainly, smiling at my horse doesn't cost me anything and if it helps, all the better.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Brian in Action!

I am sure you will all be delighted to hear we have the next installment in our Not-Highly-Exciting video series. This one involves an indoor arena, my horse, and my husband.

It's pretty riveting. You can see for yourself:

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