Saturday, February 28, 2009

Spring Break!

A whole week, at the end of March (2008), sandwiched between two weekends, for a total of nine days straight! A great time to do some spruce up jobs in the barn, and dust off the saddle, and start getting myself in shape, and begin again with Kate.
But first, I wanted to make sure her teeth wouldn't be an issue again, so I scheduled both she and Maddie into the vet's on the Monday of break to have the caps on their molars checked. Well, there's bad news, and then there's baaad news: NONE of their caps had fallen out on their own over the winter, so the vet needed to knock them out, with a very big mallet and what was basically a large cold chisel! Between the two of them, we lost seven caps (and four wolf teeth)! (And close to $600!) And then the baad news: no work for a week, and no bit in Kate's mouth for a month!
There goes my training schedule!

Finally, the first weekend of April, Kate came out of her early retirement. Saturday, I had to let go of my major trust issues, literally, by riding her without the security of a bit. No pictures, but I rode her in the round pen with just a rope halter.

Generally, when I start up a young one, after a winter off (or other extended period), I assume that they remember next to nothing of what they had learned previously. I return to square #1, with ground work and very easy expectations. We spent maybe 20 minutes lunging, with lots of transitions and turns and whoas. Then I mounted her, and Miss Kate was a perfect lady! I did feel that there was way too much lag time between starting to pick up on the lead/halter and actually connecting with her face for directions. With maybe fifteen minutes of walk/jog, we called it good and I put her up. Then I went to the tack room and put together my bosal.
On Sunday we had a very good ride.

Pretty relaxed about the whole riding thing.
Warm-up in the round pen.
A nice square and solid standstill for mounting--a must, in my book. (Kate... Wake up!)Lateral flexion, and checking to see if she understands the new hackamore communication system.A nice walk out. Some folks argue that the "peanut roller" frame that so many western pleasure horses have is not natural. As much as I hate the nose-in-the-dirt look, a relaxed neck, with the poll the highest point in the neck, is desirable, in my book. Kate assumes this frame naturally--in fact, here, her poll is actually a little low. But I really appreciate her forward attitude, and softness. She's stepping under herself very nicely.After some circles and figure-eights at the walk, we move up to the same at the jog. The round pen is probably about 50 feet in diameter at this point (I'll enlarge it as they get ready to start the lope, but we're not there, yet). Some of my turns are into the fence to start her sitting back on her hocks a bit.This is a much better back up than the previous summer, but that's partly because I have mostly started using my legs to cue her, rather than the dressage whip, and it's easier to generate the energy for the backup with even pressure at the girth with both legs, than with a single tap anywhere else. Still a little high-headed, though.Are we ready for the big wide world? Well, maybe the arena....

I haven't even asked for anything like a side-pass (remember, this is only Kate's fifth ride!) so she's a little farther from the gate than desirable, and I'm leaning a bit farther than I probably should on a baby. But Kate stood patiently while I reached over and down to unlatch the gate. I wasn't, however, able to maintain trail-horse-class control of the gate--I just pushed it away, so we had plenty of room to go through--didn't want to risk catching my toe or one of her hips, and scaring her.Hey, Mom! Let's go!This is one of my favorite photos of Kate. This pile of fill dirt was waiting to level up the far end of my "almost-an-arena." Kate was willing to give it a try, watching where she was going and careful with her feet.And turn around and go back up the other way, and down the back side.

Sharp turn to the fence line. Granted, this space at times has been part of Kate's turnout area, so there was nothing new or scary about it--other than the fact that she was carting me around!I did good, right Dad? Tell the peanut gallery over there that this is what being a horse is all about! (Amy and Maddie in the background.)Again, on and off both sides a couple of times. Kate's really worried about the whole affair.

I was beginning to really enjoy working with this filly. She was as laid back as any baby I've ever started. Did I really want to sell her? The question was soon to be raised.

Friday, February 27, 2009

So NOW what?

So now, it's January of 2008, and I'm getting spring fever: it's kinda like when you start getting seed catalogues, when there's still 2 feet of snow outside (except that in E-burg, the wind tends to blow 2 feet of snow into 6 foot drifts!). But I have a brown thumb when it comes to flora--my forte is growing horsies, not flowers!
So, anyway, I'm starting to think about how much Fun! I'm gonna have with Kate once it warms up. And starting to worry about how much "fun" I'm gonna have with Maddie when it warms up. And I get an idea: How about taking some of my tax refund and working with a trainer, of all people, to get her going. And then I see a "blurb" about "schooling horse applications" for a horse expo about 200 miles east of us in Spokane.
Now, at this time, both Kate and Maddie were both officially "for sale" and not only would it be nice to have someone else put the first couple of rides on Maddie for me, it would be good exposure for her, in a much bigger market. So I send in an application for Maddie to be a demo horse. The gal can't promise anything for sure, because it depends a lot on what the trainers want to work with, but mine is the first application she got, and she liked Maddie's looks, so she promises to make sure I get in with someone. And there are some pretty big "someones" coming!
So I put any plans with starting Maddie's ground work up again on hold until I hear who she'll be matched with, and what, if anything, they want done with her before the event.

Mid-winter Fuzz-Face

I needed to get some photos of Al's old saddle, to put on eBay, so Kate offered to model. At this time (December 2007) she is about 30 months old, and already over 1000 pounds, but stands only 14.2 or so--you can see what a CHUNK she is!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Well... Kate had her first three rides, and was rapidly (and through no fault of her own) thrown back out into the pasture. So now the focus moved to Maddie.
My friend A has always loved Maddie, but has too many of her own (that she can't bear to part with) to take on another. But she came out one day in the fall of 2007 to try her black saddle and red gear on Maddie (my barn colors are navy blue and gray--my sister was the red one!).
I hadn't done a whole lot with her, because the caps on her teeth hadn't come off yet either. But Maddie initially worked okay at the trot.

But she got stronger and stronger on the line as we worked. I should've known better than to continue--I guess I was showin' off a bit for A. So we went ahead and bridled her with A's diamond studded headstall. (This is not the first time I've pushed my luck with a horse in a new saddle and bit: back in Montana [in another lifetime] I got dumped good when I assumed it would be no big deal.)
As soon as I started weighting the stirrups, Maddie got that worried look that she inherited from her momma, and soon she was trying to skitter out from under me.By the way, I do teach my horses to be mounted (and dismounted) from either side--I think it's an essential skill for their versatility. (And, also by the way, Al generally does not take such (or so many) unflattering shots of my derriere, but he wanted to try and catch the "essence" of the action before him. Maybe Fugly could suggest a good photoshop program I could invest in. ;-D)At this point I didn't want to quit on such a sour note, so I kept asking until she at least stood still, though she still had that "deer-in-the-headlights" look about her.

At this point, Maddie had managed to get me a little intimidated about her attitude towards being ridden. I'm closer to 6o than I am to 50, and my overweight and arthritic body just doesn't keep up with the young ones the way it used to. With the days getting shorter and the weather getting colder, I decide I will wait until spring to climb on her. She heads back out to the pasture with Kate.

A still wuvums her, though (especially in red)!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

And away we go!

July18th, 2007
Kate is ready for her first ride!

Warm up at liberty in the round pen. I do not see lunging as a means to "tire a horse out," but rather as a way to get them cooperating and to gauge their mental state. I don't mind a little silliness, but I want to see forward movement and willingness to pay attention.
You can see Kate's inside ear cocked toward me (as it was in every photo Al took of the groundwork!).Some lateral flexion, giving to the bit from both sides. I subscribe to the belief that I have enough invested in my young horses that I want to protect their legs, especially for these initial rides. (However, I am also lazy, so you will see photos where their legs are sans boots.)One of their first lessons is to stand next to the hay bale [bucket, stump, rock, tailgate] so the old lady can get on! I pull and push on the saddle, both to let them know I'm coming, and to encourage them to square up their feet for balance.
I really emphasize that they are to stand until I give them permission to move, but you can see Kate's left hind just starting to take a step away from me. Her ear is cocked toward me, but it's obvious that her attention has been diverted to her right. There she goes! I need to either commit to getting on, or back up and reposition her.
I went for it!
By the time I settled, she had done a full 180 from her starting position. However, at this point, she didn't want to move another inch!
For a good ten minutes we flexed in either direction, and got some baby steps behind, that pivoted her further. But she just didn't think she could move forward with me up there! Now with the hay bale in the way of her back end, she started to think about moving forward.
First tentative circle--very hollow through her back. Just keep flexing her, turning this way and that, around the pen, around the straw bale. This first time, most of my turns are towards the middle, but later on I'll start asking her to turn towards the fence, making her rock back on her hindquarters a bit.
And we can go the other direction too! One of my biggest challenges starting young horses is not to hold onto their mouths. To counteract my impulse to hold a death grip on their faces, I have to consciously remind myself to relax, and breeeeathe!Now she's in a frame I like, reaching into the bit and starting to step under herself. (I, however, need to look up ahead, instead of down at her.)
First trot steps: return to the hollow back. Although posting might make it easier on both of us, I don't want to introduce that new motion too early. I just sit as "lightly" as I can, and let her find her own pace.Now that's a round frame!Asking for a few steps of backing--one at a time. She's pretty braced against me, but because I don't use my legs the first few rides, just my voice and the dressage whip (same cues as I used ground driving), I don't have a really good way to create the energy for a good back. I probably should have done a little back and forth between my hands to prevent the set jaw.End up with some nice forward, again. I try to keep my hands low, and not too far out to the side; she's bending nicely around my inside leg. Her right ear is still focused on me.Walk it out on a loose rein. I don't think the whole session was more than 25 minutes or so.
I did good, didn't I, Mommy?Daddy, get me outta here!

Kate's pretty relaxed, considering she's just started out on her career! And I'm very proud of her! The green slobber is indicative of plenty of moisture and therefore softness in her mouth. The copper and stainless steel rollers on the D-ring snaffle are meant to encourage this.
The next day we did more of the same, with a better mount, and more walk trot circles and serpentines.

Third day, however, Kate got very fussy with her mouth, tossing her head and jawing a lot, even balking a little. After only ten minutes I climbed off, and, on checking her mouth, found that her lower jaw had hard swellings just below her first molars.

Upon checking with the vet it was determined that the lumps were actually her adult molars coming in, but that the baby teeth--caps--above them had not yet been knocked off to make way for them to grow up, so they were pushing down into the jaw. He felt they weren't far enough along for him to knock out yet, so I decided she could go back into the pasture until next spring--she was only two, after all! And she's had all the "start" I could want for a baby. The only thing more I might have done this first summer would have been some easy trail rides around the neighbor's cattle pasture.

Kate and Maddie learn what it's like to be a saddle horse....

July 2007: Groundwork
Usually I first put my grandson's 12 inch youth saddle (all of about 12 pounds) on my two-year-olds. Because they've carted around blankets for the last couple of months of each previous winter, usually I don't get much reaction to either blanket or saddle. I only do up the cinch the very minimum at first, just enough to keep the saddle in place. Then I move up to my bigger saddle. All along I use a D-ring snaffle with copper rollers. I don't worry too much if they jaw the bit for awhile, but if they persit, and it starts becoming a habit, I have been known to add a caveson or figure-eight noseband to teach them to keep their mouths closed and quiet. Neither Kate nor Maddie needed this aid.

Here, Kate carries the big saddle for the first time. No fuss, no muss!
The obligatory flying mane photo. (Please ignore the yearling-chewed tail!)

Flying mane from the other side.

Maddie's turn to get dressed up.
Love the way she reaches down to the bit.

Them stirrups is chasin' me, mom!

Maddie's flying mane pic.

A week or so of this kind of work and some long lining, and we should be ready to climb on!