Monday, November 22, 2010

Double Ride Day

I was in my office working around 10:00 when the sun came out. I looked out the window and realized it was a lovely, cloudy fall day and also it was surprisingly warm. I decided to play hookie for a bit, particularly since we still needed to try Steen's blanket on Bear to make sure we replace the too-small one with the right size.

Beyond trying the blanket on Bear, I didn't have any concrete plans. When I walked up to the pasture gate, both Bear and Steen were close by. Bear walked up to say hi, so I put the halter on him and took him indoors. I then proceeded to try Steen's blanket on him, which fits him just like it fits Steen - almost but not quite too big.

I then took the blanket back off and groomed him. He was being really quiet and sweet so I thought I might as well ride him a bit, but I neglected to bring riding boots out with me and was wearing boots with tread, so had to go bareback.

Bear let me mount off a stepping ladder without protest. He was then quite good while we worked at the walk for 15 minutes to warm him up. Then I decided to see what his trot is like. It's definitely not as smooth as Steen's, but it's not bad. However, being bareback I decided just to let him cruise. He then proceeded to trot in circles by the door for quite a while. I was ok with this, and he did relax as we kept it up, but soon another horse and rider were ready to enter the arena and I didn't feel like trying to steer and sit his bouncy trot bareback. So, I cooled him down and hopped off. Then I gave him a little snack and took him back outside.

I hadn't fully decided whether or not to ride Steen because I didn't feel like dealing with the kind of nervy antics he's been displaying that couple of times I've had him inside, but he met me at the gate when I put Bear back out so I took him inside. He then stood quietly while I groomed him, so I put his bridle on and took him into the arena. He proceeded to be almost totally awesome. After I mounted I spent a minute marveling at how different he and Bear feel just in the way they move. I like Bear a lot, but he's still new to me. Steen is familiar and when he's behaving, he's really relaxing to ride. I had a nice time on him. The only wrinkle was a certain inclination to crow-hop repeatedly when he was supposed to be loping. This is something we will work on the next time I have a saddle on him. :)

So, it was a fun, super long day at the barn.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

More Nerves, More Wugs

Brian is still suffering from a sore shoulder and doesn't feel up to riding again yet, but we've had the wug we purchased for Bear sitting around for a while now and we keep forgetting to take it to the barn with us. Today we decided we really needed to go try it on him to make sure it is the right size before we actually need it.

We arrived at the barn to find everybody a bit stirred up. The barn owners have been removing a lot of dead trees on their land and probably the noise had the horses excited. We brought Bear and Steen indoors and they were both a bit antsy (Steen significantly moreso than Bear, of course). We did our normal thing - groomed them. Neither of them were being horrible, but they were a bit more mobile than usual. After grooming, I started on some groundwork with Steen and Brian tried the blanket on Bear.

Well, we definitely guessed wrong as far as the size of blanket Bear would need. Since he's two inches shorter than Steen and Steen's wug is very nearly too large for him, we reasoned one size down would do the trick. Unfortunately, we apparently did not have a true understanding of Bear's girth. The blanket actually looked hilarious on him. We should have taken a photo but didn't think of it.

So then we thought, well, Steen's blanket is almost too large for him. Maybe he can use the smaller one.

It was a little small on him too.

So, we gave up on the blanket and I hopped on Steen bareback in the indoor. He was very responsive in his old way - doing everything perfectly (including backing) as long as I didn't ask him to stop. I didn't ride for long though, because there was more heavy machinery moving around outside and although he calmed down over the course of the ride, I'm in the jittery stage after a bad fall. He felt like he just might spook at any second and I really didn't feel like dealing with that.

After I rode Steen I decided Bear also need some exercise.  I almost just worked him on the line for a while, but then I decided I should really get to know him a bit better. Brian gave me a leg up and I had my first bareback experience on Bear.

I felt good on him. He is really a sweet horse, with a good, solid foundation of training. His sort of overall feel is very different from Steen's, but he is surprisingly responsive and supple for his age and demeanor, and he was great for me. I slightly overbalanced a couple times because he actually stops when you say "woah." I'm not used to that.  :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Birthday Ride

Today I told my clients I had late morning "meetings" and headed to the barn for a birthday ride.  I actually hadn't gone out alone for a very long time, and I was feeling excited about the prospect of a mellow indoor ride on Steen.

Everything was quiet in the pasture when I arrived.  Steen's weight has so far held steady as temps have slowly dropped, so I am hopeful I won't see the weight-plummeting phenomenon he's undergone the last two winters.

Plus, yesterday Brian and I helped erect a not at all pretty but highly effective wind-barrier in the pasture, which should further help prevent him burning all his fat off trying to stay warm.

I took Steen indoors and at first he was a bit antsy because I had a sprinkler set out in the indoor arena to get the sand a bit damp before we started to ride.  He settled down once I turned it off and let him go sniff it though.  I groomed him and put his bridle on and climbed aboard.

I hadn't ridden indoors in quite some time, and it was nice.  Steen never spooked or jumped or snorted.  We rode for half an hour, working mostly at the trot.  He was very well-behaved.  Afterwards he even let me take a photo of us holding the camera at arm's length.  It turned our horribly, but it's still kind of funny.

After I put Steen back outside, I brought Bear in.  I didn't do much with him - just a little groundwork and then gave him some chopped hay.  He was really good with everything.  He is such a thinker, it's really different to work with him than Steen.  Steen's typical response to anything is to fidget or shift or move.  Bear always thinks things through before moving and sometimes it might look like he's not responding.  However, as I asked him for various maneuvers, he would always get it right if I just gave him some time to mull over my request.

So, it was great to have an easy, positive day with our two boys.  Hopefully I can stay motivated as winter truly rolls in.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pearly Whites

Steen usually gets his teeth floated in the fall, and yesterday I got an email from our barn's owner, saying our vet was coming out to do teeth today, and would we like to be included? When Bear got his vet check a couple months ago, the vet's one comment was that he would need his teeth done soon. So, we put both our guys on the list.

It was a damp, dreary day at the barn. Brian and I headed out in the late morning and our vet, Jim, had already worked on a few horses by the time we arrived. We decided Bear should go first and also that I should do the handling because Brian's shoulder is still very sore from his recent fall. So, not knowing what sort of experience we would have, I let Bear into the stall and Jim gave him a sedative. He took the shot without protest and things continued in that vein. I have now helped a number of vets float the teeth of quite a few horses and I think Bear might have been about the sweetest about the whole ordeal of any of them. He was inclined to get droopy when Jim left to change the attachment on his pneumatic file, and I'd have to lift his head up and prop it on my shoulder, but I'm pretty sure his feet never moved, and he definitely never tried to pull his head away. He also took the cleaning of his sheath manfully and afterwards he perked up quickly from the shot.

Steen was not quite as great as Bear. While not bad, Steen is just such a sensitive horse, floating his teeth is never great. Mostly, he tries to back away. Even after two shots of sedative, Jim and I had to wedge him in the back corner of the stall. Even then he continually tried to raise his head above where Jim could reach it. I was pretty worn out by the time his teeth and sheath were done.

Afterwards, we gave the very wide awake Bear a snack of chopped hay and turned him back out. It took Steen another 45 minutes to perk up sufficiently that I felt OK putting him out with the herd. In the meantime he was pretty entertaining, making funny noises and plodding in circles around the indoor arena behind Brian even though he didn't have a halter on.

So, though I never enjoy the dental work aspect of horsemanship, this was a fairly easy round. It was good to get out to the barn again, at any rate, to see our two guys and say hello. Our two hard falls definitely took the wind out of our sails, but hopefully next week I can get back on the ball and start riding again.

Monday, November 08, 2010

I Do This For Fun?

On Friday, Brian and I almost didn't go to the barn. We were both tired, he'd had a long day at work, my neck was still stiff from my fall, and it was chilly. Somehow, however, we talked ourselves into going and so Friday afternoon found us tacking our two boys up in the barn aisle.

At first, it seemed like we'd made the right decision. Both Steen and Bear were good for tacking, grooming, leading, mounting and almost 30 minutes of riding. The sun was shining and it was pleasant to be outdoors.  Steen was actually extremely awesome - way better than the last two times we rode. Quiet, responsive, engaged, happy to go, happy to stop. I was wearing my new helmet (which I find significantly more comfortable than my old one) and feeling relaxed and happy.

Then we decided to call it quits for the day, but first to amble down to the bottom of the strip and then back up as a sort of cool-down. Amble down we did, then we turned to head back up to the barn to dismount, and that's when things started to go wrong. In the distance I saw the pasture herd had noticed us and one horse had decided to run over to say hi. From behind me, I heard Brian say, "Oh look, Star is coming." But I didn't think the running horse was Star. I looked back at the remaining herd members and saw Star standing among them. I pointed this out. There is not another plain red horse in the normal herd, which meant the horse running towards us was a horse we did not know. I almost said, "We should dismount." But then I told myself I was being silly. Our horses had been turned out with this horse for hours (if not days) and now she was on the other side of a fence. What could happen? Both Steen and Bear were walking quietly. They did not seem in the least alarmed by the new horse's approach. So I said nothing and we kept going. The new horse loped up, stopped and loitered near Bear for a moment. Steen and I continued to walk up the strip. I concluded the danger was past.

Except then the new horse decided it would be fun to run back to the barn. She started to lope behind Steen and passed him running in the same direction we were headed, mere feet away from him, on the other side of the fence. Steen decided he should definitely run with her.

So, here I must make a confession. Since we got Bear, my "good" snaffle has been on loan to Brian and I've been using the super-fat training snaffle I bought when I first got Steen and he had a lot of anxiety about bitting. I did order a second bit like the one I normally ride Steen in as soon as we switched Bear out of the Tom-Thumb, but that bit has been back-ordered for nearly two months. I've never had trouble controlling Steen before (or at least, not for years), so haven't been super worried about it, but on Friday I realized that the fat snaffle is inadequate for moments when Steen truly feels he needs to run. As he accelerated to chase the running horse, about all I could do was collect him and keep his lope controlled. I would have been a lot less worried about this situation except I could hear that Bear and Brian were also running behind us.

It actually probably took me less than 10 seconds to regain control of Steen, and as I pulled him up he spent one horrible instant fighting the bit and coiling his body up like he was going to throw a huge buck into the equation. The thought, "I really, really, really don't want to fall again," went through my mind as I rode through this moment, not losing my seat but coming close. Steen did not buck. He slowed to a trot, then a walk, then halted. I seized the opportunity and dismounted quickly.

Brain did not come out of things quite so well. While I have been involved in lots of runaway or pseudo-runaway horse experiences, Brian has not. Nevertheless, he did really well until Steen veered off the fence as I tried to get him to stop. At that point Bear redirected into the soybean field, where he began to sort of half-stumble in the deep, uneven footing at just about every stride, still lurching along at a very, very fast lope. Anyone would have had trouble staying on at that point. Brian fell.

Bear came running back to me and Steen. I was pretty mad at both of of horses just then, but was at least relieved to see Brian getting to his feet in the field. I collected Bear and met Brian as he walked back in my direction. We took our two idiot prey-animals inside, groomed them and turned them back out. Brian is ok, but it was a hard fall. He has some very sore ribs along with a badly bruised hip and shoulder. At least he didn't hit his head.

So, to sum up, it's been the sort of week that makes me wonder why I do this, and why I got my husband into doing this with me. We are, in general, safe and intelligent about how we ride, but the thing with horses is you never quite know what it going to happen. Even in fairly controlled situations there are variables, and sometimes even small mistakes have big consequences.

Still, I know myself well enough to know that ceasing to ride isn't really an option for me. Somehow, my happiness hinges on these big, unpredictable animals. So for now I can only redouble my efforts at staying safe and hope our bad luck has run out.

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