Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Recap

Today is the last day of 2013, and I will not be spending any of it on horseback. So that means we get to do the official tally.

Total saddle time in 2013
200 hours, 10 minutes

Talk about barely squeaking over the finish line. This is the first year I came so close to falling short of my goal. Of course, it was also a big goal. But still. Tripping at the finish line would have been a bummer (even if it happened because all four of our horses were sick from bad hay).

Because setting goals and working towards them means gathering data, and also because I am a nerd, I have created three fun charts comparing various information from my last three years on horseback (I never kept track of this sort of thing before 2011).




So, it's certainly neat to see how my overall time with horses has increased, as has my time with almost all of our individual horses. (My time riding Bear was about the same this year and last.) Although some things didn't go quite as planned (for instance, I didn't really anticipate fully ceding Zoey to Brian and mostly taking over Laredo), it was definitely a year of learning. A year ago Steen was only just returning to work after his horrible fence injury, and I'd just gotten my new saddle. That saddle is not so new anymore:


Here's to happiness and horses and worn saddles, and a great 2014.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Finally, 200

[Herd update: Things appear to have equalized. I'm not 100% confident this whole thing is behind us. But I'm like 80% confident. So that is something.]

In some ways, this year has had some setbacks. Nothing major, but a glance back over 2013 seems to reveal a number of things that didn't go quite the way I hoped or planned. I suppose every year can't be the best year of my life, and certainly a whole lot of things could have gone a lot more wrong than they did. Nevertheless, when we were leaving the barn on Monday and heading for Chicago, it looked probable I would not meet my saddle time goal of 200 hours. But then Litefoot died, and we came back early. And so I had a few more days to ride.

And thus, today, on Laredo, I hit my goal. Woo.

It's possible I was slightly more excited about this than he was.

And one thing that has  been great this year is Laredo. He's turning into a really fun, solid horse. And the last couple of months since Brian and I decided to stop switching back and forth between Zoey and Laredo and focus on one each, he has gotten a whole lot more engaged and sweet. He even has more try. This is interesting for all sorts of reasons, but today it meant it felt like he actually seemed happy when I climbed onto his back.

Last winter he quickly got resentful of indoor riding. This year he's a lot happier to rattle off the things he knows. (Sidenote: Laredo is still experiencing some mouth discomfort, so he was a little distracted today. Our execution of things is a little flawed in all the videos below. But they'll give you the general idea...)

For instance, whirligig:

And backing a circle:

And loping circles:

And having the hairiest ears I have ever seen:

Even though he's still a total teenager, he's gotten pretty easy to be around. I'm looking forward to seeing what his five-year-old year is like.

Ride Time: 0:45
Horseback Hours YTD: 200:10

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Loss

On Christmas morning, we got the sad news that a horse in our pasture died. Of colic. This was after a different horse spent four days fighting colic and appears to have pulled through. Two cases of severe colic in short order is never a good thing, but in this case its particularly notable because in nearly six years years boarding at this facility, there has never been a single case of colic in the pasture herd. It now seems pretty likely that the bad bale was very bad indeed.

The horse stuff caused a bit of upheaval with our holiday plans. We stopped at the barn on the way out of town Monday morning. In zero degree weather, we brought all four horses in and got them moving around a bit. I was happy to see that Steen's mouth appeared somewhat better all around. The other three were also less hesitant to eat and showed good energy and alertness. We got on the road for Chicago feeling like things were looking up.

But then yesterday we woke up to the news that Litefoot had died. Apparently, it happened fast. At 2:30 pm on Christmas Eve he was fine. A few hours later, he was dead. The vet wasn't sure what happened. It was some sort of colic. The barn manager's guess is a rupture, as the vet couldn't feel much of an impaction. But whatever it was, the horse was in a colossal amount of pain until they let him go.

Litefoot was the only horse at the barn who had been around longer than Steen. Our barn owner picked him up when he was a yearling. My sister borrowed him a couple of years ago when she was out for a visit (back when I only had two horses) so we could all ride together. He was only 11.

My sister and me riding Litefoot and Steen in early 2012.

Of course, it was unbelievably sad to hear that a horse I have known for so long, have ridden, patted in the pasture, and seen pal around my our horses, was gone. But it was extra alarming because we thought the bad bale was gone, and the saga was over. The new hay was put out on Friday. Litefoot died on Tuesday.

My sister on Litefoot in April of 2012.

Brian and I had planned to stay in Chicago through the end of the week, but the news of Litefoot's death prompted us to head home early. We know both the barn manager and the barn owner are paying extra close attention to the herd. But still....

We stayed for Christmas dinner with Brian's family and loaded up the car this morning. We got to the barn in the early afternoon, and all four of our horses seemed fine. We brought Bear and Steen in and did a light ride, then brought Zoey and Laredo in and moved them around in the arena a little and assured ourselves they were ok. Steen's mouth no longer smells like a hamster graveyard, and he was only drooling a little. So again, we left the barn reassured.

Then we came home. Only to see on Facebook a few hours later that another horse in our herd is displaying colic symptoms.

Needless to say, we are not happy campers. But at least we're at home, fifteen minutes away from the barn, instead of off in Illinois. If something happens with one of ours, at least we can get there quickly. And if this latest horse turns out to need it, we can serve as relief crew for those trying to keep him going.

Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback Hours YTD: 197:15

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Bad Bale

It has been an odd week with the horses. On Sunday last weekend, Steen seemed much improved. We had a nice ride. I gave him more probiotics. I thought we were in the clear.

Year-end work has been nutty for me, plus I am still pretty sore. So again, several days passed before we made it to the barn again. Brian and I went out after work on Friday.

Steen came to me in the pasture, and immediately I saw there was something odd about his mouth. I took him inside and discovered that he was extra drooly, plus his mouth had a smell similar to what you might expect if a small animal crawled in there and died. I was about ready to get really alarmed when Brian mentioned Zoey's mouth also had big time stinkies. We brought our other two guys in for comparison. All four had varying degrees of extra drool and uber bad breath.

We called the barn owner, and ended up putting all four horses in stalls, giving them each a flake of nice hay, and waiting. All four chowed down with varying degrees of oddness. Steen would not touch anything with his lips. He would pick up hay with his teeth and then eat it. Laredo and Bear were a little less dramatic, but both were really unhappy with us poking around in their mouths.

Eventually, all four ate a flake of hay and produced normal poo. At a loss for anything else to do, we turned them back out.

We headed out again this morning, and found the situation largely unchanged. Steen was still super drooly and stinky. But I spent last night reading a lot about the various toxic grasses horses can ingest, and suspected we had a case of a bale that contained something bad. The herd got two new bales last night, so we're hoping it's just a case of working the toxins through their systems. In which case, exercise will help.

So I rode Steen in my ultra soft bosalita. I spent the first many minutes riding with my hands in my vest pockets. Then Brian was having trouble getting Zoey to take the bit (not normally an issue with her) and he noticed she had a couple of sores in her mouth. At this point, the barn owner was out, and when she saw a red lesion on Zoey's tongue she got pretty concerned. She went out and checked the rest of the herd, and came back in to announce that every single horse in the pasture herd has at least one sore in its mouth. While that wasn't exactly good news, at least it meant ours weren't the only ones having problems.

Since Zoey's lips were sore, Brian decided to ride her in the hackamore for the first time. That proved to be a good decision. They had a nice ride.


My ride on Steen was pretty good too. He had a surprisingly high amount of energy. We walked and trotted at intervals, did a lot of standing, and a little loping.

After the ride, we went out to take Steen and Zoey back to the herd. We checked on Laredo and Bear. Bear seemed ok. His mouth was obviously sore while he was eating his supplement, but less-so than Steen's and Zoey's. Then we saw Laredo. He apparently had busted a few of his sores open, and was drooling blood-filled saliva. He looked pretty miserable.

We hung out with him and petted him and bothered him by invading his mouth with our fingers. But there wasn't really anything we could do. The bleeding isn't significant enough to be life threatening. Removing him from his herd and putting him in a stall would only stress him. So we left him out there, which made me feel bad. But at least the barn owner and the barn manager are both going to be keeping an extra eye on the herd until this whole thing settles down.

The good news is there are two others herds at our barn who get fed the exact same hay, and only our herd is having any trouble. So fingers crossed this will end with that one bale, and we'll see some improvement tomorrow.

Ride Time: 1:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 194:55

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Steen and the Bad Tummy

We didn't get to the barn all week again. Much of the week was quite cold, and I was on a super productive roll with work for some reason. I launched multiple websites, got a logo design approved, and was pretty much just a rockstar on the professional front for like five days in a row. So at least if I wasn't getting to the barn I was doing something useful with my time.

Today Brian and I headed out ready for a nice ride, but Steen was behaving strangely again. He came to me in the pasture but was a bit agitated as soon as we got inside. I turned him out in the arena and moved him around with the flag. He was moving fine, he just had this restless, edgy air about him. As I tacked him up I noticed he had some evidence of diarrhea on his hind legs, and a minute later he produced something that looked a good deal more like a cow patty than horse manure. But his temperature was normal, as was his appetite. His energy levels were higher than usual. So I decided a light ride might be a good thing for him.

During the ride, he was good. In spite of clearly not feeling well, he was doing his best to listen and behave. I kept things really easy. Basically we walked around for 40 minutes. His walk was snappier than it's been lately, and while he would stop and stand, he was happier moving. We did a lot of figure-eights and circles. At times during the ride he seemed to settle, but it never lasted. Also during the ride he produced another cow-pie and peed twice. Another strange thing was that he was licking his lips almost constantly, the whole ride. Steen is not actually much of a lick and chewer, particularly when he's nervous, so that was very odd. After the ride he was a bit sweaty, which is also unusual for Steen, particularly considering how light and short the ride was.


After the ride, I gave him a serving of Bear's Platinum Performance plus half a tub of probiotics. Then we went out to check on our other horses. Everyone else in the herd seems good. When we were hanging out petting Laredo and Zoey, I noticed the hay in one of the two rings is pretty different from what I'm used to seeing out there. For the most part, the bales our horses eat contain the local grasses that grow around the barn. But this bale had some of the flat, leafy chunks I'm more used to seeing in alfalfa.

This didn't totally register with me at the time. We said goodbye to the horses, drove home, and I turned to the internet. After reading a few alarming forum posts about cushings, kidney failure, and diabetes, I came across a discussion of what can happen to a horse that eats too much alfalfa. Namely: excessive urination, loose stool, excessive thirst, and extra warmth. Those were Steen's symptoms to a t.

So, I'm hoping that for whatever reason they have a bale out there with some alfalfa mixed in, and Steen went a little overboard on the tastier than normal grass. I'll check on him tomorrow and dose him with more probiotics. Hopefully he'll cool it on the alfalfa party (if that's the culprit) and they'll eat through these bales a get back to blander fare.

Ride Time: 0:40
Horseback Hours YTD: 192:15

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Regarding the Changes Around Here

As much as I loved the photo of Steen's rump that was featured on this website for a good long while, it was time for a redesign. And this time it came with a larger project. I've redesigned my blog, Brian's blog, and built a little website to attach them together. The website is amatuervaquero.com. My new blog url is robin.amateurvaquero.com. Brian's is brian.amateurvaquero.com.

Why the website? In truth, I blame Zoey.

When Brian and I decided to get a 4th horse this spring, we did it because we like working with inexperienced horses. We find it very interesting and educational to work at reforming undesirable behavior. We learn a lot every time we get the opportunity work with an unfamiliar horse. Our plan was to keep Zoey for a few months, teach her as much as we could, then sell her.

It turned out there were a couple of problems with this plan. First, Zoey reminded us that horses don't follow a schedule. The way we train has no room for meeting deadlines. Her two minor injuries meant we couldn't work with her for a chunk of the summer, so selling her a few months after we got her would have amounted to consigning her to an uncertain future. We don't want to do that. Not at all. We have gotten attached to Zoey, and we want to find her a home that is right for her. We would want to do the same for any horse.

Thus, we discovered the 'buy a horse and sell it quickly' strategy is unlikely to be something that works for us as a viable plan of action.

However, since getting Zoey, we've had a few interesting experiences. One is I have a student now, and that student has learned a lot and has already been able to apply what she's learned to the horse she rides when she's not riding with me. She's reported a lot of positive changes. The second is we've had an opportunity to work with a couple horses that aren't ours to help with some behavior problems, and have been able to facilitate positive changes in a short time.

These two things combined to make us realize we could try a different approach to fulfilling this desire we have to work with more horses. Rather than keep buying more horses for ourselves, we could train other people's horses and/or give more people riding lessons.

So, the new website is to provide prospective students/clients information about what we do and how we do it. We'll see how it goes! And also, it's official. Zoey is for sale:

Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Few Cold Rides

Cold came early this year, and I am still far enough away from hitting my goal of 200 hours in the saddle that I can't let weather derail me. Nevertheless, the weekends of spending hours at the barn and riding multiple horses is behind us for the season. I can deal with one bitterly cold ride, but after that I want to go home and get warm again.

This week I've been recovering from our accident. Although the worst is behind me, it's still painful enough to do things like move and pick stuff up that I didn't make it to the barn all week. But Friday was Brian's birthday, and around here we don't let a birthday pass without a birthday ride if one is at all possible. So we bundled up and headed to the barn as the sun sank on an already cold day. We had a pretty fun ride in the indoor arena on Steen and Bear. I kept warm by trotting a lot. The only benefit of the cold was we were the only ones around.

On Saturday Steen was in a strange mood. He was edgy during grooming. He wasn't doing anything in particular, but he was standing with his head all high and rigid like he used to way back in the day before he learned how to be a sane horse, and he kept staring at the big doors (which were closed). I did some work to keep his mind on me during tacking and grooming, then a bit of groundwork before I got on. He continued to be distractable at first, but after a minute or two of work on the line he seemed to come down a few notches. Then I mounted, and Steen took a couple steps before I was fully settled in the saddle. This was somewhat shocking. I can't even remember the last time he did that (it used to be a huge problem). We worked on backing circles and standing still before I asked him to go forward.

The rest of the ride was ok. He wasn't exactly being bad, but at first he was just sort of twitchy. I trotted him around and he was doing his rigid head-up-trying-to-see-everywhere-at-once thing, and his stride was short and choppy because of it. I decided just to trot figure eights until he softened up. And he did eventually. Then we trotted some more and loped a bit and he had a lot of energy. But finally he settled in and Brian and I worked on the routine, including loping the straightaways, and we actually had some very precise and synchronized passes. So I suppose Steen is still entitled to 'off' days. And if this is 'off,' I don't have much to complain about.


Today we went to the barn just ahead of a snowstorm to ride the 'green team.' Zoey was super jumpy starting out, and even Laredo was a bit restless and insecure during tacking and grooming. I rode him in my bosalita, and mostly just tried to keep the ride easy and positive. He had some good energy, and was very soft to the unfamiliar pencil-thin headgear. He was also finally seeming a bit less tight in the right side that's been seeming to bother him lately. We had some good trotting and loping in both directions.

Zoey was good too. She came in pretty riled up, but Brian was able to get her settled.


So, in spite of temps never making it out of the teens, I got three hours of riding in. Just 8.5 more to go!

Ride Time: 0:50
Ride Time: 1:05
Ride Time: 1:00
Horseback Hours YTD: 191:35

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Farrier and the Flag

I meant to post about this a while ago, but somehow never got around to it.

A couple weeks ago, the farrier came out. We needed all four horses trimmed, and Brian had to be at work, which meant I had to handle them all alone. It was cool and had been wet the day before, and I suspected our steeds might be on the fresh side.

Our farrier is absolutely fabulous, and I feel lucky to have him at our disposal, but he lives over an hour away and he tends to give a window for his arrival. So this time he said he'd arrive between 9:30 and 10:00. No big deal, except that means I feel like I need to have all our horses in and ready to be trimmed by 9:30, even though chances are better that he'll arrive on the later end of that window.

So, I went out with a plan that was contingent on no one else being there, and was happy to see the barn parking lot empty. I brought all four horses in, ferrying them two by two from the pasture to the indoor arena. Then I tacked Steen up and climbed aboard with the flag in my hand.

I've worked horses from Steen's back with the flag only a handful of times, and I've never tried to do anything particularly precise before. I started out just moving the three horses I wasn't riding. I wanted them all to move around and warm up before the farrier arrived. It was a little bit of a challenge to keep them all together, and to convince Steen he wasn't to participate when the group surged ahead or got uppity. In general, though, I was surprised at how well everyone did.

Then I stopped driving, and Laredo, Bear, and Zoey grouped up in the middle of the arena. I then worked on cutting one horse out of the group, moving it to the rail and keeping it moving without allowing a return to the herd.

It was interesting to see how our different horses reacted. I did Zoey first, and this was tricky because Steen didn't want to crowd Bear the way I needed him to in order to get her split off. We went around and around quite a few times, with her not really leaving Bear's bubble. Finally I booted Steen into the space he didn't want to squeeze into, and we got her off onto the rail. We practiced going and stopping and changing directions. Then I made her stand still while I rode up and touched her all over with the flag and rubbed her neck and face. She was uncertain about that at first, but settled down quickly enough.

Laredo was the easiest. He was very attentive to my position on Steen, and quick to stop and look at me when I got in front of his balance point. After I moved him around a lot, he had no issues with me riding up and touching him all over.


Bear was not a big fan of the entire undertaking. He was the grouchiest about going, and the most motivated in terms of getting back to the middle. This was during the phase when he really wasn't feeling well, so I tried to keep things pretty quiet and low-key with him, just encouraging him to walk around and loosen up so he'd have an easier time lifting his feet.

It was just over half an hour before the farrier arrived. When I heard him pull up I hopped off Steen and pulled his saddle, and we got to the trimming. All four horses were polite and relaxed with their feet. So it turned out to be a fun way to get four horses warmed up and in a good frame of mind with a minimal investment of time.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

One Armed Ride

Today I woke up pretty stiff. I've been trying to piece together how exactly I hit the ground. Since I had no warning and didn't actually leave the saddle before impact, it's surprisingly difficult to piece together what happened and where my injuries are. I think I sprawled with one arm above my head. I don't have any visible bruising. All the damage seems to be pretty deep in the muscles of my thorax. All I know for sure is my right arm isn't good for much.

Fortunately, I have my husband. After lying around all morning, I was ready to get out of the house. We went to the barn and he put my saddle on Steen for me. I managed to get myself mounted with only minimal gasping and flailing, and got my right hand situated in my vest pocket. Then we poked around the outdoor arena for a while.

Steen was stiff too, though it was minor. Still, we warmed up slowly. I rode in my bosalita, since the delicate reins are easier to manage with one hand. I figure it was good practice for the two-rein.

We walked around, and eventually my stiffness seemed to lessen. Steen was moving well by then too. I asked for a trot. Either Steen wasn't feeling ultra enthusiastic or he'd picked up on how gingerly I was riding, because he eased into the slowest, smoothest shuffle-jog I've ever felt from him. We'd have fit right in at a Western Pleasure show. It was kind of hilarious.

It wasn't much of a ride, but I did most of it one-handed. I usually ride with my right hand on the reins, which is a habit I'm going to have to break if I ever want to do anything with a rope from horseback, so it was a good opportunity to work on my left-handed skillz. Steen was good - light and attentive and soft. Eventually I got him into a bigger trot, and we even did a little bit of loping.

Midway through the ride, a new boarder arrived. Her new horse was introduced to part of the herd in the 'airlock,' which is a fenced area that runs between the outdoor arena and the pasture where our horses live. Brian and I rode Steen and Bear over to watch, and although there was a lot of snorting and prancing and the herd getting stirred up and galloped around like mad, neither Steen or Bear moved a muscle in spite of their evident curiosity. Two years ago, Steen would have turned inside out if I'd expected him to hold still with those kinds of antics taking place only a few feet away. Three years ago, I would have preemptively dismounted when I saw the new horse arrive, to avoid the danger and embarrassment of the spastic behavior I knew would emerge.

So in short, my horse may have fallen over on me, but I still love him.

Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback Hours YTD: 184:45

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