Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Bigger They Are...

....The Harder They Fall

A week or so ago, Grey Horse Matters and her readers were discussing the pros and cons of riders wearing helmets. I didn't add my two cents worth, as many had expressed my feelings perfectly well: I don't get on a horse without my brain bucket.

I have expressed here in the past that my being able to think and speak coherently (really) are essential to performing my responsibilities as a school counselor. And my salary from school is essential to pay for my horsie habit.

But I have always debated with myself about the issue of wearing a helmet around horses, when NOT mounted. I use all the same excuses that non-helmet-wearing riders use: It's inconvenient; I forget; I'd have to go all the way to the barn to get it; I'd be wearing it essentially all the time I wasn't in the house.

One of the worst wrecks I've ever had was when I was 17, and knew everything. A young Arab mare flipped over onto me, and we slid through the gravel for several yards, on the side of my face. My cheek healed well, but I lost the outer portion of my ear (inner ear mechanism was unaffected). I was on the ground when she panicked, bolted, and got tangled up in the lead rope. If I had been wearing a helmet, the injury would not have been permanent. (Though I don't think I had started wearing a helmet even riding, at this point--it was two weeks after I got out of the hospital that I first started riding a jumper. Sorry, Mom.)

Grey Horse's discussion began in response to the recent, highly publicized skiing death of Natasha Richardson , who took a tumble and hit her head hard, but returned to skiing and only collapsed and died later, as a result of brain injury.

I have fallen and conked my noggin hard three times that I remember: once was on an icy street in Kalispell, Montana; once when Maddie's brother Dodger didn't dodge her (meaning me) as he raced out of his stall;
and last night.

My western saddle is heavy. I had wanted a fully rigged roping style saddle for it's ruggedness, but this one has gotten really awkward for me to swing up on a horse. At one point last year, I took to putting it on Kate with the aid of my mounting block. At the show last week, I had some difficulty getting it on Maddie, really having to heave it at her. In the barn, in cross ties, she stands more quietly, but at the fairgrounds, tied to the trailer, she had more leeway to move about. And she did. If I remember right, it took me two tries to get it in place, and then I had to do some finagling to get it a little farther forward where it should be, without displacing the pad and rubbing her hair all the wrong way. I didn't think too much of it at the time.

So last night, I groomed her in the barn,then led her out to the trailer to fetch said humongous saddle back to the tack room. I wasn't even sure I was going to ride (still fighting the crud). When I went to swing the saddle pad up, Maddie looked at it like she'd never seen it before. Did a little sacking, then took two tries at swinging the saddle up. On the first, she swung away from me parallel to the trailer, looking backwards. Okay, so she can't go any farther, right?

On the second swing, she skittered double the length of the lead (to the tie point and then past it), then hitting the end, started to swing into my body. Her left hind stepped on my left hind just as the saddle settled onto her back. But her swinging hip caught my now firmly anchored body and shoved me backwards onto my back.

I must have rolled some, as I didn't hit really hard, but most of the landing seemed to be focused on the back of my head. She had hit me hard enough that as I fell backwards, the toe of my admittedly not-very-heavy-duty rubber barn shoe actually ripped apart before she got off of it. I chose to lay there for several minutes, until my head cleared. Maddie waited patiently, complete with un-cinched saddle, looking somewhat contrite.

We spent the next 35-40 minutes on sacking and saddling, then rode for 10 (nice beginnings of vertical flexion), then saddling again in the barn for a few.

My point? you ask (all two of you)....

Despite the fact that I, at my decrepit stage of life, ride very young, green horses, I am careful enough doing so that most (save one) of my most dangerous accidents in the last 30 years or so have been while I was unmounted. Doing routine barn activities. Playing with my horses on the ground.

I think I may start keeping my helmet at the back door of the house.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Udderly Unique

Back a ways, dp recounted the mysterious saga of Tonka's swollen Willy.
This week, Kate has developed a similar, though notably feminine, issue.

After Maddie's show on Saturday, it was Kate's turn for a ride on Sunday. Neither girl has any competitions for a few weeks, but, now that they're going well, I want to keep them going, and develop some muscle tone--on myself, as well as the fillies. So when my trail-riding neighbor/friend Pat suggested we join her and a few others for a Sunday ride, I was more or less game (I'm still fighting the crud). In the on-going battle of shedding season, I was working on everyone's coat with the shedding blade, while they munched on their breakfast.

But when Kate responded with uncharacteristic nastiness to a belly scrub, I looked in her nether regions to find the right front quarter of her udder swollen quite dramatically: general puffiness through an area bigger than my hand, and a center area the size of a clenched fist and as hard a not-quite-ripe pear! I quickly brought her in for further assessment.

Appetite was good (it's Kate, after all), temperature was pretty normal (99.8), respirations seemed a little high, though I had no watch to actually time them, but not labored, pulse--well, even with a stethescope, I've never been very good at getting a pulse--even back when Corky and I were trying to track P&R's for competitive trail rides (the 25-50 mile kind, not what I trying to do with Kate). I was able to "milk" a very small amount of clear, yellowish fluid from the one teat (after cleaning the udder completely). Kate was obviously tender, but not so much so that she didn't let me do all of the above investigation.
Called the vet's after hours line and got the young associate at my regular clinic (they share on-call with another local clinic) who is familiar with Kate. He, however, always seems skeptical of my information. I didn't even call it mastitis, yet he was dubious that it actually involved her udder--he wanted to make it an edema from a random kick.

Now granted, mastitis is fairly uncommon in horses, just because their udders are so far from random bacteria on the ground, and pretty well protected between the hind legs. And in a maiden mare, who has never nursed a foal, it's even more rare. Young vet seemed to want it to be just an edema that just "navigated" to her belly, and then "settled" in the general region of the udder. He suggested hot packs and a little bute for the pain and swelling. When I suggested that Kate and I would be waiting at the clinic when it opened on Monday, he reluctantly agreed.

I was already feeling negligent that I hadn't seen this earlier--it couldn't possibly have developed overnight. In fact, I was worried that it had maybe occured the previous weekend at the trail challenge, and I had forced her to compete at less than 100%! How could I have missed it?

Monday morning, after calling in to school, we hauled into town (luckily the trailer was already hitched up, from Maddie's show). It's frustrating to me that the primary vet, who admittedly was young and inexperienced himself when we first started using his services 10 years ago, seems to rarely be at this clinic, focusing more on the adjunct clinic 40 miles away. Dr. Mark knows me and my horse handling background and skills, and treats me, if not as an equal, since I have obviously not gone to vet school, at least as a knowedgeable horseperson. I can suggest possible diagnoses and ask about treatment options, without feeling talked down to. Dr. Ben, on the other hand, seems to need to reinforce his authority and expertise. I had to bite my tongue when he proceeded to be surprised that Kate seemed to have an "unusual" case of mastitis!

Recommended treatment: continue the bute, the hot soaks, and expressing what fluid I could, to relieve the pressure. He took a sample of the fluid to send out to be cultured, but in the meantime started her on the expensive powdered sulfa-based antibiotics (I forgot to ask for the much cheaper ones that I crush myself). When the lab results come back, we will know if a different drug would be more appropriate for this particular infection, but that could be anywhere from 3 to 10 days, and we didn't want to waste time waiting.

So Kate and I headed home.

First dose of drugs in half of her daily pound of grain (so we would have some to add to any leftovers in the bottom of the bucket). "Just mix it in" the vet had said. Yeah, right! Miss Piggy, who will eat absolutely anything, won't touch it. Even with applesauce and maple syrup (okay, maybe I overdid it--but that stuff's expensive, and I wanted to make sure she got it all). So she stays locked in the stall (a rarity in itself) while the rest of the girls get to go out to the pasture:

What a hissy fit she threw!
Eat your grain, Kate, and you can go out too.

No way, lady!

Well, you're staying in there until it's all gone. It's expensive, and it'll make you feel better.

I'll feel better if you let me out!

Goodbye, Kate. I have to go back to school and teach 5th graders how to solve problems.

I'm NOT eatin' it!

Goodbye, Kate. I'll see you at supper time.
When I got home, she still hadn't touched it, and was whining that she was starving. So I mixed another $6 dose into a paste of applesauce, put it in a big syringe, and shoved it down her throat. At least I tried. We ended up wearing about half of the dose (scrape it back into the syringe and try again). I let her out in the pasture for a couple of hours, then gave her a half-flake of hay and left her in the stall for the night. I figured the extra dose still in the grain bucket wouldn't hurt (maybe even jump start the treatment a bit), and it would be easier to give her a dose of bute in the morning before school if she was already in.

Tuesday and tonight, I didn't put the bute in the grain (syringe again), and she ate the antibiotics in her grain a little less reluctantly (nibbling it as I did chores, and gone by morning). General swelling is down, but the hard core seems only slightly less so--and more tender--she actually kicked out because I even approached her tender parts.
I checked with the vet's, but culture results weren't back yet.
I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

From bad...To WORSE... To Oh, WOW! Wonderful!

Yesterday started out lousy and went downhill from there!
I woke up with an upset stomach.
I looked outside and, although the sun was shining, the wind was blowing 35-50 mph gusts!
The trailer was all hitched (thanks, Al) and everything but the horse and the brush bucket was loaded (I thought). But for the first time ever, Maddie wouldn't load. I assume it had something to do with the wind whistling through the various cracks and crevices. We spent about 20 minutes discussing it, and finally, with a little motivation from the horse-beater--er, buggy whip--she finally went in.
I got half-way down to the main road and realized I didn't have my glasses on--not a really big deal: I can see, but it gives me headaches.
I got halfway to town and, while stopped at an intersection, a little car behind me tooted, to let me know my tackroom door was open. I got out to close it, and realized that the reason it was not closed was that it was waiting for me to put the brush bucket inside (I had carried it out in one hand, while leading Maddie with the other; I set it down near the tackroom to load her). [Turns out, I not only left it home, but ran over it with the trailer! Expensive de-tangler gel tube burst, black hoof polish stuck to bunches of stuff, ergonomic mane comb a lost cause!]
I got to the fairgrounds and realized I didn't have my show vest, belt, gloves, or number pins. (I had remembered my helmet, because I had cleaned it up the night before. Without it (or if not able to find one to borrow), I would have returned home. I also did not have either of my still cameras (hence no pictures for you, save one), nor had I been able to check out the school video camera as planned due to a computer glitch (something about a $2183.00 fine?).

The first good thing: never being sure how slowly 4H shows will progress, I had arrived plenty early: they were just starting the four small driving classes, after the showmanship, and then we had all of the English classes before green horse. I had plenty of time, which was good, because I spent a good half hour in the ladies room dealing with the results of my upset tummy.

The second good thing, Maddie warmed up fairly nicely on the longe line. She was a little fidgety back at the trailer afterwards, while I dealt with a bloody nose! (Second one this week, never for any apparent reason!) The wind chill justified wearing my spare insulated vest--a fairly snazzy black and white check--instead of strictly show clothing. And it was long enough to hide the fact that I was beltless. (No fear, my good jeans are tight enough there is NO WAY they could fall down!) And I had a fairly new and therefore nice pair of leather gloves I could fake it with.

Third good thing: I had ONE body brush in the tackroom to give her a once over, but it had been nice enough Friday afternoon that I had given Maddie a quick bath, and put on her blankie overnight, so she was fairly clean. I used a human hairbrush for a quick comb out of her mane and tail.

Fourth good thing: They had scheduled a green horse warm-up (no doubt to give the judge a potty break), so we were able to get in the not-too-crowded arena--there were eight of us showing greenies. Maddie only once reacted to someone coming up behind her, otherwise she seemed right at home. She was a lot stronger than two weeks ago, and I did a lot of circles and serpentines to get her paying attention, but she was still fussing at the bit, and was setting her jaw when I tried to establish light contact. She was, however, responding to leg cues very nicely, so I shifted as much of my control as I safely could there.

I had pre-entered in both walk-jog classes. I didn't even decide until the night before whether to do English or Western (we had the choice)--my Prix de St. Georges saddle feels SO good, and is very secure and much easier on my poor arthritic knees and ankles (not to mention that it's a LOT easier to hoist up on the horse). But Friday afternoon, I had gotten a very nice lope at home, and thought I might try the walk-jog-lope classes, depending on Maddie's attitude. So I opted for the Western saddle, just to have a little more leather to grab, if need be.

So for the first classes, little Miss Snot had her jaw set, and her nose four miles in front of us rooting at the bit, but her gaits were smooth and even and she stood nicely in the line-up. She pulled a purple ribbon (seventh) in both equitation and pleasure.
The little buckskin that had cleaned up two weeks ago was being a little jerk this day.
One of my 5th graders from school placed behind me in the first class, and just ahead of me in the second. She was very discouraged, as she is used to doing very well with her "made" horse, and her greenie is giving her a lot more challenge.
One of the vets from my clinic also placed well with her little rescue, at their first ever show.
I was chatting with the other re-rider that took the blue in both classes, and though we didn't have much time to visit, her big sorrel seems to be, if not a rescue, at least an upgrade.

This was only Maddie's 15th ride, and I had only really loped her twice or three times at home. But a couple of the other re-riders encouraged me to at least give the lope classes a shot, for schooling's sake, and just pull out if Maddie wasn't ready (they didn't seem to consider whether I was ready!). Only six of us went on to the lope classes, so there would be plenty of room. In the eq class, the judge must have given me points for avoiding a wreck: when the naughty buckskin lost it right in front of me, and ended up crowding another horse who then also had a "moment," I managed to navigate around it all, though I lost my lope. When we picked it up again, Maddie was on the wrong lead, but I decided to let her continue, as she was going up the long side by then, and was as balanced as she's ever been at the lope. I didn't want to "punish" her for her good effort. She maintained her composure on the counter-canter around the far end, and dropped right down to a nice relaxed walk when it was announced. We were pinned fourth!

Finally, the last class for us was the w-t-lope green horse pleasure. By now, she was a little worn out, plus we had had plenty of practice. She did the whole class on a mostly loose rein, listening well to my leg cues, and loped two full circuits each way without a hitch! In the line-up, they announced sixth, fifth, fourth...Had they forgotten to add my post entry?...
She was THIRD!

Those are mine?

Do they taste good?I'm NOT impressed!
Put me out in the pasture with the rest of the girls.
Now THAT will impress me!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kate's and My Marvelous Adventure!

Kate and I are both moving a little slowly this morning, but otherwise all the parts and pieces seem to be functional.

We did our first Trail Challenge yesterday, at Horn Rapids State Park, on the Yakima River outside of Richland, WA. Kate did remarkably well, considering it was only her second trip into the wide open (the first being last June's un-demanding poker ride).
It was a much longer day than I had anticipated, with the organization of the event leaving a little to be desired:
There were 14 obstacles, plus a check-in and a check-out. Ten of those obstacles were scattered out on an approximately 6 mile, double-loop track, with mostly nice soft, sand footing (Kate is barefoot, but I took along her Simple Boots, just in case). Even at a leisurely walk, with hold-ups at obstacles, I figured two hours, maybe three. However, we mounted up at 10:30 AM, and didn't get out of the saddle until almost 5:00 PM!
Before one could start on the course, everyone (close to 100 riders were present, but maybe a third to half were just doing the poker ride, not competing) had to wait forever to complete the initial four obstacles located around the parking area. My riding partners and I took turns holding our place in the ques while another went and did circles or figure eights to keep the horses (two greenies and a somewhat fussy, herd-bound elder mare) occupied until our respective turns. It wasn't until shortly after noon that we even started on the 6-mile loop!
I think if they had had staggered starts, or let some people do the mileage first, then return for the close in tasks, or do their choice of loops first, there would have been a lot of much happier horses! (Kate included).
At the parking area, even lots of the seasoned performers had trouble with such easy (and practice-able) tasks as backing an "L" (Kate actually did this very nicely, though she lost points for ticking the log a couple of times), and opening the very awkward and slightly unsafe gate (Kate got through it okay, but then got flustered trying to close it. She got a no-completion score of 5--the only task she didn't at least finish all day!) She walked by the llama like it was a great-big-fat-curly-black-nothing (thanks, Pat, for letting Kate get to know your llama beforehand), and I remembered how to tie a bowline from Girl Scouts (the bunny comes out of the hole, goes around the tree, and goes back down the hole), so we got two perfect scores in those first four tasks.

Most of the obstacles on the trail loop were things that Kate had never seen or experienced before, and she made wonderful efforts at each task--getting perfect (1) or outstanding (over-and-above pizazz zeros) on about half, --finished the task, but poorly (4) on several, and middle-of-the-road (2's and 3's) good efforts on the rest. We finished just out of the ribbons for junior horse. It's remarkable to note that the winning junior horse also got the high-point for the day, with a score of SEVEN point FIVE! on the fourteen obstacles, meaning he did all tasks with either perfect 1's or pizazz 0's!

The blow-by-blow, and some of Kate's high-lights:
The logs
Kate was required to climb up out of a little hollow, stepping over some scattered sticks and small logs (nothing much bigger around than 5 or 6 inches). Kate trundled through like it was no big deal, until, just as she was stepping out over the final log, one hind foot seemed to find a hole in the soft footing, and she did a little hop (not quite a buck-fart) to extricate herself. Judge said she had a solid 1 up to that point, but only knocked her down to a 2 for her effort.

The "car wash"
I don't see how anyone could construe this type of obstacle as a natural one, but it did test Kate's confidence in herself and me. There was a tarped arch over the trail, but to enter it, the horse and rider needed to pass through a couple of dozen swimming pool "noodles" hanging as a curtain over the entrance. Although Kate's steps were veeeerrry sloooow and m.e.a.s.u.r.e.d, she never stopped her forward motion, and let me tap her with a couple of noodles on the way through! (She got a pizazz 0 score!)

The bridge
This was a small (3 foot wide, 6 or 7 foot long) wooden bridge at the bottom of a gully. For a score of 1, the horse simply had to walk down to the bridge, cross it, and go up the other side. For our pizazz score, we walked to the end of the bridge, stopped and stood for a moment, then backed back to the beginning, stopped and stood, then proceeded over again, and out.

The exercise ball
Here the horse was to push a 36" or so shimmery white ball across a 20 by 20 foot blue tarp. Kate has never minded tarps (when she was foaled, half the barn walls were still temporary tarps), but she had never seen anything like the ball (except maybe Sandy's 10 inch Jolly Ball). She sniffed it, poked it with her nose, then stepped towards it, knocking it with her knee. It took a very lucky roll across the tarp, but to make sure it didn't look like it was all dumb luck, we went over and touched it one more time before stepping out without touching the surrounding logs. Score:1.

The drag
I had worked a little last fall with swinging a rope around and over Kate, from the ground first, then from the saddle. We had "roped" a few barrels, and even drug a log, both behind us, moving forward, and backing, facing the log as one might face a roped calf. So I was confident that Kate would have no problem pulling the animal hide on this effort, as long as she didn't object to the hide. She didn't, and we drug the hide from one marker 20 yards or so to the other marker at a walk, as required, then turned around and trotted it back to the judge for another pizazz 0!

The mailbox
Kate has just in the last week or so gotten the hang of side passing: though it takes her a minute to figure out which way I want her to go, once she gets it, she moves very nicely off my leg. But she'd much rather do it in the center of an uncluttered arena, than over a log--she wants to step on or kick the log, to check it's location. We didn't get a great score here, because she did "relocate" the log, but once she made it to the mailbox, she stood quietly while I opened it, shook the rattle-box in the air, then bounced the box off her neck a few times, then closed the mailbox and side-passed perfectly away ('cause that silly log wasn't in her way).

The big rock
This big (3 X 5 foot?) rock was not quite flat, and the expectation was that the horse stand with her front feet on it, pedestal style, for 5 seconds. Kate approached it willingly, hesitated, then started up. When she threatened to walk right on off the back side (it made as much sense as anything else I had asked her to do this day), I checked her, but too much--she backed back down. Second approach she wasn't as happy, being a bit confused about what I wanted, she danced a bit, then stepped up again. When she leaned toward the far side, I checked her more subtly this time, she rocked back, I shifted forward ever so slightly, and she stood--one thousand one, one thousand two....until we got our five seconds (with a minimum of fidgeting) and a perfect score of 1.

The spool
Kate and I had practiced doing 360 degree turns in an eight by eight box at home, so I thought she might do okay here. She was to step up onto the top of a six foot diameter wire spool (just the top, about 6 inches off the ground), turn 360 degrees, then walk off in the same direction she came on. One issue we had here was that the spool was set in the middle of a nasty field of jagged volcanic rocks, so Kate really tippy-toed into it. Once up, with little hesitation, her turn-around was a little shaky, stepping off in back with a stray rear foot a couple of times. But her attitude was willing--it was just her coordination/sense of space that got in her way.

Beside the no-score 5 at the gate, there were only two other obstacles that I was not happy with:
The water
I think Kate would have actually done better with a live stream, but here we had a sticky-mud puddle in a low spot in a dirt road, about 8 feet wide and 20 feet across, with what Kate no doubt considered plenty of access on either bank to get to the other side without getting her cute wittle toesies wet. It was the last obstacle of the day (though we still had a 2 mile trek back to the trailers), and Kate was ready-to-be-DONE (as was I). She approached, sniffed, and stood there. She was stuck, even before she got to the mud! I had tucked my horse-beater, er, dressage whip, under the gullet of my saddle, but hadn't had to use it all day until now. With a little encouragement from the whip, she finally stepped into the water, hesitated, then walked on through. We returned with just leg cues and only a slight pause at the far edge, then went one more time for good measure. The judge, scoring her last horses of the day (we were the last riders on course), gave her a gift 4.5 for finally making it.

The steep hill
This was the only place all day that I got truly frightened (and hurt myself a bit). The hill was probably 50 yards up one nice sandy track, then back down another, parallel track. It didn't look too bad from below, but once on it, you realized that the last 10 yards or so was pretty close to vertical! You know those videos of motorcyclists doing hill-climbs, where they get almost all the way to the top, then don't have quite enough momentum to make it, and they have to bail out and watch their bike tumble down the hill? Just short of the top, with Kate trying her best to chug on through, she looked up towards the crest of the hill, and
couldn't ... see ... anything ... there ... but ... blue ... sky!
(Plus she could hear disembodied voices from the next obstacle, just over the hill.) She stalled, and lost her momentum. She started backing up, and I was truly afraid she might flip over backwards! I pulled her sharply sideways, and she clambered off the track onto some more solid, vegetated footing, and we went to the top from there. We should have taken a longer moment to catch our wits, but now Kate was worried about rejoining her friends at the bottom of the hill. Skidding down several yards, with my feet up by her shoulders, and my back almost laying on the saddlebags, but my head and neck straining forward to try to see where we were going, we came to a little 2 foot drop. She was thinking about jumping it, and I checked her, and we stalled again for a moment. After what seemed like forever, she clambered down the drop, and we quickly reached the gradually less steep lower hill and our cohorts. But I realized I was in pain, and getting light-headed! From one armpit to the other, across the top of my chest, I felt like I had a barbell weighing me down. I wasn't sure if it was a severe muscle strain or another "cardiac episode." I managed to navigate Kate to where Pat was standing, and asked her to hold Kate's head for me while I tried to maintain my position in the saddle (I wasn't sure I could have gotten back on, if I had dismounted at that point), and slowly tried to stretch out of the tightness. By the time Deb had finished her run up and down the hill (to which I was oblivious), I felt well enough to proceed carefully up the gully to the next obstacle.
What happened next was interesting, to say the least: As we waited our turn at the mail box, Kate and I were standing in a decidedly "fluffy" spot in the trail. (I have decided that the dusty trails were a combination of river sand and silt, and volcanic ash left over from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, almost 30 years ago. In the cut-away on the side of the hill, you could see the demarcation of several instances of ash-fall.) I'm not sure if Kate was offering me a little rest, or if she felt she deserved some R&R, but without warning she dropped to her knees, then just rested on her belly! My feet were flat on the ground, so I stepped off, poked her with my toe, and she got back up. I checked her over to see if she had injured herself on the hill climb, then walked her around a bit to make sure she hadn't strained anything. Then Pat held her head while I remounted from a tall tuft of bunch grass. Walked her a bit more, and decided there was no inherent problem. The hill was the tenth obstacle on the course, and finishing the rest, and then returning to the campground, there were no more indications of a physical problem. (In fact she gave me one good buck-fart on the jog back cross-country, just to check if I was okay!) As I said at the opening, she's is tired today, but moving okay, with no sign of lameness.

Several others "firsts" on this day of firsts:
Kate has never hauled in anything but my trailer, which has a ramp, because I think this is mentally and physically safer for mamas and babies. But on this occassion, we hauled to town in the wee hours and then unloaded and reloaded into Deb's three-horse slant with a step-up. The last stall was a bit cramped to encourage her in, so Deb unloaded her little mustang, and Kate walked right up into the middle stall. It was also the longest ride she'd ever taken--two hours each way from town (where we met Deb), not including the half hour rides between town and home. She loaded and unloaded four times without a problem (once in the dark).

At the first check point of the ride, points were based on "preparedness" for a trailride, so I had loaded my spiffy new nylon saddle bags with a first aid kit, sponge and towel on one side, and Kate's boots and a hoof pick, trash bag, and other miscellaneous on the other. My pommel bags had snacks, my (never-used) camera, the course map, and my score sheet. Sweatshirt tied to the cantle, halter on under her bridle and lead tied to the front saddle strings. Where to put my insulated water bottle carrier? Guess I'll tie it here, to the off side of the rear cinch. So what was new, you ask? All of the above! (Except the halter arrangement, and maybe the idea of stuff hanging on the pommel.) Did Kate mind, you ask? NAW! Didn't even seem to notice!

So we survived! Kate is a natural trail horse. I'm not so sure I'm up to this kind of competition, but we'll give it a couple of more tries, before I give up and take up knitting. As for today, I've put off weekend catch-up chores long enough. And Maddie is scheduled for a show next weekend, so I guess I better get outside!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Little Bit about Bits

Awhile back, dp asked about the transition between snaffle and bosal that I made with Kate last spring, partly, I think, because she is going bitless with Tonka and Raven. In my instance, the change was purely medical: Kate had had several caps removed from her adult molars, as well as her wolf teeth, and the vet said no bit for a month. At that point I had only been on her three times, so it was a major leap of faith for me to give up the extra control I imagined I had with a bit. Kate did fine, as did I, and there are several advantages that come with a bosal.

In the vaquero tradition of the old-time California horsemen, the bosal is actually a move up from the early training in a snaffle--it is the first introduction to pressure on the sides and lower parts of the jawbones, that will eventually come from the curb strap of a full (western) bridle. There is, obviously, some pressure on the sensitive bridge of the nose, but it is not the primary control. As I undersand it (and I am NOT an expert, by any means), the bosal begins teaching the horse to round at the poll and across the topline, engaging the hindquarters fully and allowing collection. The bosal is used two-handed with primarily direct rein pressure. I use this softer latigo (possibly kangaroo hide) bosal because I don't care for the extra abrasion of rawhide. In this photo, just after I got the headstall, the bosal is probably one hole to high, but I actually damaged the cartilage at the end of Corky's nose when he was young, by having his bosal too low--so I'm extra careful now with fitting.
Here is the bridle that I generally start my babies in: a 4 3/4 inch, D-ring snaffle with copper and stainless steel rollers on the mouth piece (see photo below). Although it may seem that the rope reins and slobber straps are a bit faddish, I have used rope reins for years, because I like the more solid, substantial grip they provide, especially on the babies.
Don't get me started on the myth that a western snaffle requires a curb or chin strap to "keep the bit from being pulled through the horse's mouth." If the headstall, which is anchored on the horse's ears and jaw, can't prevent this (along with the shanks of the bit), then that floppy chin strap ain't gonna do it! I've ridden English at least as long as I have western, and never once have I seen a chin strap on a snaffle bit! I only have them on my western bridles because the rulebooks (and judges) require them.
Here is the 5 inch, full cheek, egg-butt (no pinch) bit that I moved up to this year with Kate and Maddie. As with the D-ring, control is through direct rein pressure, with the cheeks of the bit pulling directly against the sides of the horse's face.Notice the angle that the cheekpieces are to Maddie's mouth. This western headstall swells a little for the bit conchos, and I can't get the "keepers" over the headstall to anchor the top of the cheek piece. This means that pressure on the reins "breaks" the joint of the bit forward in her mouth and applies the primary pressure to the corners of her mouth, not against the roof or bars of the mouth.
Here are the keepers in place (on Zoe, with an older headstall). Pressure is more against the bars than the corners of her mouth, and more pressure is applied to the roof of the mouth by the joint of the bit.
Here's my chunky egg-butt snaffle, in my English headstall. Notice the loop on the noseband for a flash strap. There was a time when, as a matter of course, I used either the flash or a figure eight noseband on young horses to encourage the habit of keeping their mouths closed. (I don't like a straight dropped noseband, again because of the damage I did to Corky's nose cartilage.) I suppose I may still do that if, after a month or so, a youngster is still jawing at the bit, but I haven't had to any time recently.
Here's Zoe's half-brother (and Kate's half-uncle), Pete, with the flash in place.
I picked up this Myler D-ring off of eBay last year, and just started using it on the girls. The roller in the middle of the mouthpiece prevents the joint from forming a "V" and "poking
' the roof of the mouth, so pressure is primarily against the bars and tongue. You can just see the copper inlays in the mouthpiece, that promote salivation, and therefore softness. The little "rings" on the D's serve the same function as the keepers on the full-cheek: the headstall goes through the top set, holding the D and mouth in the proper position.
The reins go in the lower ring. Because the two sides of the bit operate independently (because of the central roller), a direct rein on just one side supposedly can help tip the nose and "lift" the horse's shoulder.
While Kate really seems to like this bit (she stays very soft and supple, reaching down for contact), Maddie fussed at it all last Saturday afternoon. She had done fine in the full cheek in the English classes, but it's what I've been using on her regularly--I only added the Myler to the mix a week ago. We'll have to wait and see if she settles into it.
I haven't used a curb bit on a horse in probably 30 years (with the exception of the horse in the last picture in this post). This is partly because I haven't really had the opportunity to go beyond basic training, trail riding, and low level showing. I bought this bit for Kate when I thought I might try reining with her (I may yet, sometime in the future). It has the same roller mouth as the Myler (in this case known as a "Billy Allen") and I like that I have the option of putting a snaffle rein on it (making it a "western pelham"). But the shanks are pretty long, and Kate and I would have to be pretty advanced before I would consider using it.
Instead, or at least before hand, I would try this little bit, which I love the looks of, with its filigree inlay, short shanks, and copper-inlaid mouthpiece. It is essentially what folks call a "Tom Thumb" or "Colt Bit" because of the short shanks and broken mouthpeice. Unfortunately, most folks don't realize how severe this combination can be in untrained hands: the combination of leverage and nutcracker action can be very damaging. Many people think "It's just a snaffle, so it must be mild." But as soon as one adds a shank and a curb strap, it becomes a curb (leverage) bit. My hands will have to get much lighter and steadier before I even consider moving to this.
I haven't used this little English pelham in a looong time--it's actually getting rusty, and therefore it's not likely I'll ever use it again. But it was a nice general use curb bit back in the '70's, when I dabbled at eventing. It has a fairly fat mouth piece that is reversible: the slight "ribs" you can see on the mouthpiece provide a little more pressure on the bars, while the other side was smooth. I still value the fact that I learned to ride with double reins with this.
This is the only curb bit I have actually ridden with since that pelham, and only because the horse is no longer mine, and this was what the owner uses. I don't remember, but I think it has a snaffle mouthpeice.
This is Eddie--registered name: EvenSong. He was our first baby (2000),out of Misty--so he's Maddie's big brother! He's a real sweetie, livin' the good life in Connecticutt.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Under the Big Top

Maddie and I went to town today for a little schooling show at the Kittitas County Fair Grounds. 4H always uses this nice indoor arena for their shows (the state High School Rodeo was going on outside in the big arena--home of the Ellensburg Rodeo: Greatest Show on Dirt).
Though Maddie carried on a bit when she first came out of the trailer, she settled pretty quickly. I led her into the arena for a look-see during the warm-up between halter and riding classes, but didn't have a chance to ride her inside before her first class (I had hoped they would have a "green horse only" warm-up, but they didn't). Here she waits quite pleasantly for her first class.
Alert, but willing.
The speakers outside the announcer's booth would loudly "click" each time the mic was keyed. One horse lost it right in front of Maddie, but she was worried about him, not the sound, which was good.
She's starting to relax nicely. She went much better in this full-cheek, copper roller snaffle than the one I used for Western.
I really like this judge (who has done this show for several years). She gives good feedback to all of us "kids" (I need to keep my hands quieter). When I mentioned that this was only Maddie's 12th time being ridden, her jaw dropped. (This time last year Kate was on her ninth or tenth ride for this show.) We got first in eq and second in pleasure (green horse English walk-trot).
The out gate empties into a narrow aisle between the arena and another long barn. It looks like a dead end from inside, but if there are any other horses outside, it echos very oddly. This is where we had the most problems all day! I generally let everyone else leave first, then let Maddie take her time....
Once she would decide to go, she did okay.
Maddie did a lot of jawing at the bit in the afternoon Western classes: I'm not sure if she was ready to be done, or if she prefers the other bit over this Myler. She did a lot of counter bending, too, and wasn't listening to my legs nearly as well as she has been at home (and I couldn't very well reinforce my aids with too obvious use of the whip).
After the equitation class, the judge again talked about staying off their mouths. I made a conscious effort to leave her alone, and although she got a little fast, she did seem to relax more, and do less fussing with her mouth.
This little buckskin won all four green horse western classes. He was an cutie, and the gal did a nice job with him.
One advantage to the green horse classes is small numbers--there were eight in both Western classes, and four in the English: lots of room. During the lunch-break warm-up, I had taken her in with probably 20 other horses, all doing different speeds and sometimes directions. Tho she jumped a bit the first couple of times horses loped up behind her, she settled down quickly, and took it all in "stride."
The line up. The judge surprised us all a little by asking for a back-up in the last class--she hadn't all day--perhaps she was looking for a tie-breaker. I had just enough time to put Maddie back on the bit, but less time than I would have hoped to generate some energy, so we got a bit of a gaping mouth, drag-back. Oh, well.
Maddie took a fifth in each of the green horse Western walk-trots.

I couldn't have been more pleased with Maddie's behavior, considering it was her first show under saddle (she had done showmanship one time last year, where she screamed and carried on something terrible!). We still have lots to work on, especially with our aids (and my balance), but she's got plenty of time to learn!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Goodbye Spring

Well, it may seem that, in fact, Maddie and I got ate by the piranhas, but actually we've just been too busy RIDING! Kate, too, though tonight was going to be her turn after work, and the wind has come up again, and it's COLD again, and wah, wah, wah.

But I will give an update:
After Maddie's adventure in the training pasture, I saddled up Kate. (Sorry, photographer went back in the house. I'll fill in with related old pics.) Warming up in the arena, I did get a few steps of lope out of her, but the second attempt ended in a stumble, and she is even more convinced that she can't do that with me aboard. She gets such a nasty face when I ask her to move out, that I may have someone take a second look at my saddle fit, and see if there's something pinching her.

After that, I noticed that the neighbors were out in the cattle pasture doing something; that meant the gate was open (cows were eating) and we could ride right in (and this old lady wouldn't have to find a make-shift mounting block). So we did!
Kate and I circled the herd about 25 feet out, and rode down to where the ranch kids were trying to catch one little late calf that needed his vaccinations. Asked their Mom (in the truck) if there was any problem with me moving in among the cows and calves, and she said "Heck no! Can't get 'em worked up any more than the boys have!" So off we went.

In and out, waking up several dosing calves, who would jump up, startled, and run off. Kate didn't seem to notice or care. One black cow came towards us, looking like she might challenge our presence, but then she mooed, located her calf, and turned tail.

At one point a calf skittered right under Kate's nose, and I expected her to react. As I was watching it leave, Kate suddenly jumped towards it! I never did see what spooked her from the opposite side, but she went right back to moseying along. A little later, the boys chased a bunch of cows and calves up from the pond (where the calf they were trying to catch had retreated), straight at Kate. Again, no reaction. Nothing. NADA! Maybe I've got a cow horse here, though Kate is so inherently lazy that I don't know that she would ever actually work them....

Sunday, I got distracted by some other stuff, and didn't get out to ride 'til 3:00-ish. Since I want to take Maddie to a little 4H schooling show next weekend, she was my first ride. And since the green horse classes are pretty limited, and I can double my time in the arena by showing her English as well as Western, it was time to try her in my new (to me) Crosby Prix de St. George! Not wanting to change everything at once (I've had that backfire on me once, big time) I used the same Western snaffle bridle that she is used to (this is a photo from last spring, when I first got the saddle--can't believe this is the first time I've actually gotten to RIDE it!).

She was a dream! (So was the saddle.) I really need to build my stamina and leg strength, so we would do posting trot until my legs turned to jelly (not very long), then do bending and flexion exercises at the walk for a bit. Then repeat. Several times!

Then time for a bath, not wanting to depend on the weather to cooperate on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. She's about the farthest along on shedding out, and I've been working on the pretties (trimming bridle path, fetlocks, etc.), so she looked pretty darn presentable when we got done with the sudsies!

By then, however, after three rides in two days, I could barely walk! I decided to give Kate the night off, and work baby sister (two year old) Amy on showmanship--thinking I might take her to town next weekend, as well.
MISTAKE!Amy was an absolute snit! Terrible twos, personified. Wouldn't lunge, would stand, wouldn't halt, wouldn't trot in hand, wouldn't stay outta my space! By the time we worked through all that, it was all I could do to feed, throw a pizza in the oven, and collapse!

Next day at school, I was moving so funny, everyone kept asking if I'd had a wreck. Couldn't ride Monday (late school meeting). By Tuesday, walking almost normally, raced home and got on Maddie again, this time in my full cheek snaffle in the English headstall. Trot sets for half an hour, with a very nice response to the change in bridle. Sometimes it actually perks them up and enhances their response to try something new.

Tonight, I'm stalling to see if the wind dies down before the sun goes down (it doesn't look like it's going to--high wind advisory until 9:00). In the meantime, supper's ready.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Maddie's busy day

Well.... I can upload four photos at a time direct from Picasa. Unfortunately, they all end up in separate posts! So this will be a multiple [7] postings of one long ride--posted in reverse order, so the sequence of photos IS in order.
Warm up in the arena.
Letz go, Momma!

Looky out, mr. photographer! I canz go sideways!

Looky me go! My firstest canterlope!

Go Go GO!

Iz dun better than that silly Kate--she haznt done a canterlope in the arena YET!

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This is odd....

Why does Momma Laurie wantz me over here so close?

Oooh! The gate comin' to get me!

Well, why didn't ya jus push it open in the first plas?

I can walk over Kate's railroad tie.

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