Monday, June 29, 2009

Babies and Grandbabies (revisited)

It was a busy weekend.
First, Friday morning. this baby is growing up a bit: This was two-year-old Amy's first saddling, in my grandson's youth saddle. We lunged for about ten minutes first, then threw this on her. Because my babies are all blanketed late in the winter, to start them shedding out for spring shows and sales, they're all used to having things on their bodies, including surcingles under their bellies and leg straps around their butts. So usually, saddling is not much of an event.
This was as close to a buck as we got.
Then she settled right into a nice trot.
Friday afternoon, haying season got underway in earnest--more in a later blog.

Saturday afternoon (while I was baling hay), my daughter and her two little ones came over to "hang at the farm" (as Terri put on her FaceBook page), in anticipation for taking 6-year-old Brenden to church camp at the other end of the valley on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday morning, time for chores and some fun. Two-and-a-half-year-old Delaney went to fetch her brother.

Come on, Brenden, let's go for a ride!

One of my horse magazines (Practical Horseman, I think) had a nice article a while back about the "A-B-C's" of riding lessons for very young children: Attention span--they need to be able to take in what you're trying to teach them; Balance--they need to be able to stay on, for the most part; and Confidence--they need to not be so fearful of being on a horse that they can't focus on the task at hand.

Brendan pretty much has passed that threshold: he finished kindergarten with rave reviews; he rides his bike without training wheels; and he's so sure of himself that we had to remind him to give his Mom a hug before he went off to join the other kids at camp on Sunday afternoon! He is ready to start learning to ride.
Delaney has quite a ways to go, and will just get led around for a bit longer--though this will help build the confidence and balance needed for later years.
Kate, though still very green, has proven herself accepting enough of this new situation that I trust her with the little ones--though, obviously, I still choose to maintain control, and we are in a small, contained environment (the round pen).

Start with position. This is the first Brenden has been willing and able to ride, at the walk, without holding on--so I show him how to hold the hackamore reins.
Working on position at the walk.
Bad Grandma! We need to get him some boots!
Look up!

Wake up, Kate. Better position.
I had Brenden hold on for his trots, for now. He only gets to ride a couple of times a year, and this is his first time since last summer. Maybe after camp. He starts out okay...
But gets the giggles pretty quick, and hunches over. Eventually, he was able to stay centered in the saddle for most of a circuit around the round pen.
Did ya see me trot, Mom?
Next, we started on the basics of turning. He'll have to shorten up a bit to really communicate. (Mostly, Kate just followed my cues.)
Body English.

When is it Delaney's turn?
Right now!
Be nice, Kate.
Last year, her Mom side-walked with her, and Delaney was still pretty iffy about even being on the horse (she rode with Brenden). This year she was more willing, and stayed pretty much where she should be.
Not sure what that right leg is doing up there...
Tall in the saddle!
Hi horsies!
Thank you, Kate!
That ridin's hard work!
Time to cool off, helping grandma with the irrigation.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Virtual Preview

AareneX over at Haiku Farm, in the "Swamplands" of western Washington, has proposed a "virtual trail ride", after the success of her summer solstice "virtual picnic." Those who wish to will tell what horse(s) they are riding and who their traveling companions will be. One can propose a route for a local leg of the trip--which already looks like it will be covering a lot of ground, so get your virtual selves in shape! The link above is the original proposal, and the next newest one gives more details.

I proposed that when they all get tired of the mud and slop on their side of the Cascades they could swing over here to the "east side" via the John Wayne Pioneer Trail and meet at the Ellensburg Rodeo arena ("The Greatest Show on Dirt!"). Then we can climb up Ryegrass and look back at Mt. Rainier (WE don't have clouds to block the view!) Then down to the mighty Columbia. This trail is part of a rails-to-trails conversion, on the route of the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad. The entire trail goes from North Bend, just east of the Seattle metro area, to the Idaho border, near Tekoa, Washington. (Or one can head north to Spokane on the Columbia Plateau Rail-Trail.)

View Larger Map

I needed to go check the trail, right?
Wednesday, my friend Pat, and her older steady mount Rusty, picked Kate and I up and we drove to the Boyleston parking area, in view of I-90, just east of the Kittitas exit (#115). This is a well maintained take-off spot, complete with "facilities."
One climbs a short hill to gain access to the John Wayne trail, where you have to sign in, because much of the trail is across Federal land (the Yakima National Guard Training Center) and they want to know who's where.
And we're on our way.
Our goal: the pass tucked into the juncture of the two ridges in the top left of the photo. Being a railroad grade, it is not steep, but the climb is steady (the map tells me we gained about 500 feet in elevation). We were in the saddle by 10:00, but it was warm (by the time we returned to the parking area, the truck thermometer read 85f) and there wasn't any cloud cover to speak of. After only a mile or so, Kate was dragging along, probably only because she did not want to get left behind by her buddy, Rusty.
Because of the need to keep the grade slowly rising to the top of the pass, high spots feature "cut-outs" like this.

And low spots have been filled in, with fairly precipitous drop offs to either side! The rail bed is fairly wide, though, maybe 20 feet, so I wasn't too worried, as long as Kate kept plodding along. However, every time we headed out into one of these open areas, the wind would come whipping down the canyon from above us. Pat was careful to keep control of her hat--a spook here could be disastrous!

Finally: our first (and only) trees of the ride (I forgot to put on sunscreen, and got a horrible burn on my shoulders!). This little bunch of trees and a gravel pit off to the north of the trail are all that's left of the railroad service yard shown on maps as "Boyleston." I walked the last quarter mile or so into the "rest stop" to give my back a break, as it was starting to ache a bit. Pat assured me there was a mounting block along with the hitching posts, all courtesy of the Kittitas Valley Trail Riders.
[Please note Rusty's red and yellow halter.]
In the shade. Notice the red and yellow halter now? When we first tied up (and took off bridles and loosened cinches) it was very pleasantly cool in the shade. But moments later a gust of wind blew a hanging, dead branch right into Kate's face. She pulled back (something she never does, but which was pretty justified under the circumstances). Rusty joined her. Kate's in my heavy duty rope halter and lead, with no hardware, for just such a moment. I would rather they fight it a bit and find out they can't get loose (Kate's dam, Zoey, had broken a lead as a baby, before we got her, and became a life-long puller, though she did get better). But Rusty's inexpensive little halter was a goner! Luckily, Rusty stayed put. I dread to think what would have happened if Kate had gotten loose and they led each other off to who-knows-where!
After getting everything settled back down, and taking a little break, we set off again to Kate's big surprise of the day. Remember that pass that was our goal? It's right around the corner.
Watch, now, here it comes...
Whoa! The Black Hole of Boyleston!
She did slowly walk up to join Rusty, but I felt it prudent to keep both hands on the reins.
We didn't try going in today--Rusty is not a big fan of the tunnel, which is about a half-mile long, and curves off to the north, so you literally can't see the "light at the end of the tunnel." (For you virtual trail riders, there is an road option over the top of the hill, if you're claustrophobic.)
Kate wanted us to think she was dieing of heat stroke as she drug her way back down the grade.
Until she saw this sight:
"Der's mah ride home!"
But she carefully picked her way back down the hill.
It was interesting to note that she hardly broke a sweat through the nine miles or so, but what wetness was across her back was more even with the Tucker saddle than with my roper--another vote for a new wider-tree saddle.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Trial Trail Saddle

I have not been on a horse since the show, a week and a half ago,where Maddie unceremoniously dumped me. This is partly because the fall severely pulled a muscle in my back, partly because the weather got cold and nasty about the same time my back started feeling better, and partly because, in being laid up for a few days, I got seriously behinder on all the projects that had been waiting for summer break to get going.
Not to be discounted, as well, was the fact that my ego was bruised, and my confidence a bit shaken.

But last night I called my trail-riding friend Pat and basically committed myself to getting out with her by the end of the week.
So I needed to get back on a horse. This horse.
And I have a Tucker "Plantation" model saddle that a friend gave me to try out. Tuckers are supposed to be super comfortable for both horse and rider, and this one has an extra wide tree, and I wanted to see how it would fit Kate (and Maddie, too). It's also considerably lighter weight than my current roping style saddle, a plus for this increasingly arthritic lady. The Plantation is a hybrid saddle, with elements of both English and Western saddles: a fairly high Western style cantle, but no horn, instead having a pommel reminiscent of a McClellan; more free swinging stirrup leathers, though it has modified Western style fenders, making it more comfortable (less pinching) on the legs without having to wear tall boots. The Tuckers also have the "Euro-style" cinch set-up, which eliminates the back cinch, while still keeping the rear of the saddle securely held down.
It unfortunately is far enough from either "traditional" style that it would not pass muster in the show ring. So I don't think that I will be buying this particular saddle--the Tuckers are expensive enough that I would have to sell my good (but heavy) Western saddle--I can't afford to have one of each. And showing is one way that I market my young horses, so I have to have something acceptable, at least at the local level. So I am trying this Tucker with the idea that if it fits my wide-bodied beauties (and my wide body, as well), then I might start watching for a more traditionally styled Tucker, while trying to sell my roper.

So this morning, before starting on any projects (but after socializing a bit with Jackson), Kate came out of the paddock and got saddled up in the Tucker.

I didn't do any more lunging than a few times each direction at the end of the mecate lead. Kate stood quietly while I mounted, and we headed down the driveway, for a brief ride around the neighborhood.
But Kate felt that this was different than her past few outings:
For one, she was ALONE! No other horses in front or in back, just HER out in the world.
Another factor that no doubt had play was the fact that, as soon as we were on our way, everybody back at the barn started carrying on--calling, racing about their paddocks, and generally inviting Kate to be stupid.
And stupid she was!
In spite of the fact that this was where she had started her riding horse career, suddenly nothing in the area was to be trusted! We walked forward at the blistering pace of 10 or 15 steps, then 30 seconds of eying things and looking back over her shoulder at her buddies. And this was just down the driveway. Once on the road, heading north past the neighbor's house and feedlot was excruciatingly slow. Where I had hoped to make the four mile loop to the next cross road and back on the unpaved ditch road, I moderated my goal to making it to the hay barns and service yard a mere half mile ahead.
I don't like working on asphalt, so I didn't argue with her much, just insisted that we keep going forward. One . Step . At . A . Time . (okay, sometimes four or five).
Complicating the trip was the pickup that raced up behind us, despite me waving him to slow down several times--he finally did, but I think only because by the time he got up to us, Kate had whirled to face him, smack dab in the center of the road.
Then just before reaching our turn-around goal, the neighbor's teenage haying crew also came up behind us, towing a flatbed trailer loaded with baling twine. They approached much slower (they know better), but there was a strange "thu-bump" noise joining the raucous farm truck's engine noise. I pointed out that they had a flat tire on the trailer, to the point that the rubber was totally disconnected from the rim--they hadn't noticed, and would surely have destroyed the rim (the tire was already toast) by the time they got to where they were going. They waited for me to reach the better footing of the service yard, and then limped their truck in, as well.
Now on dirt, I got after Kate for her obstinate behavior. We did a bunch of yeilding and circles, backing, more yeilding, until she got the message that I was in charge of our itinerary. We worked around the barns, the boys and their dogs, and various farm implements until I had her full cooperation. Then we headed back down the road the way we had come, at a remarkably improved pace--though not jigging or otherwise being inappropriate, Kate's walk was free and willing--after all, we were headed for home.
Or so she thought.
At the end of our driveway I turned east on the cross road!
Kate got as far as our mailbox before she realized this wasn't the route she had hoped for. She stopped once, and I urged her forward; she hesitated once more, then agreed that I was in control, and we headed along the north end of the farm. Because of her cooperation, I then turned south along the ditch road at the east edge of the farm, thinking to cool out on our way to the south gate into our pasture, and the last leg home.
But upon reaching that gate, she threw a minor fit about being asked to side pass to the gate to open it. That particular spot is between two branches of the main irrigation ditch, with a distinct possibility of her backing into steep, wet trouble. My back had been starting to ache, so I took the conservative approach to this problem: I got off and worked her from the ground--yielding, circles, backing, more yielding. This was actually as naughty as she had been the whole ride, half-rearing as she changed directions on the circles. We both worked up a bit of perspiration before she finally settled down to listen to ME. Then, at my insistence, she stood stock still next to the gate for a minute, before we went through and I found a log from which to remount and ride down the pasture to the house.

One thing that was positive about the whole affair was that, upon unsaddling her, the sweat pattern across her back was more evenly distributed than with my roping saddle. So the extra wide tree on the Tucker was the right size. (The seat, however comfortable it was with it's "gel-cush" padding, seemed a little small for me, however.)
I hosed her down and put her back out with her friends.

So much for an easy first ride back after my lay-off!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

B.M.O.P. [Big Man On Pasture!]

Hi der, Uncle RT. Um...Hi.
Wanna play? Not really, kid.
Ooh! Mama, he lookded at me! Did not!
Meet mah spotty business end! Pretty puny, if you ask me.
I jus wanna play... Well, I don't.
Come baaack! I'm outta here.
Pleez play wit me? Pleez? Pleeeez??

Leave me alone, Kid, I think your Mama's callin' you!

Oh, all right....I'm comin' Mama!

Monday, June 15, 2009


When the horses first started going out to pasture this spring, I put RT (Royal Tardez), the 29-year-old Arab retiree I keep for a former riding student, in with Misty, so that they could "bond." Since losing my old pensioner, Corky, last winter, I needed a new "weaning baby-sitter" for Misty's foal, and RT fit the bill. He had actually been in with Beth and Amy last summer, and considered them his "herd." Now I needed him to switch herds.
When I started keeping Misty in a night, the week before she was due, RT insisted on being in the paddock immediately outside. When she went into labor, I tried to move him to his own, adjoining paddock, but he threw a fit, so I let him back outside the foaling stall. Here he is, checking on "his" new foal.
After that night, however, Misty must have had some choice words for RT, as he was content to be "next door," and actually spent a lot of time where he could see the older fillies. Now that Misty and the baby are out on pasture, RT, spends most of his time adjacent to them in the next pasture. Saturday evening I spotted Jackson making friendly overtures to RT through the fence. RT was sufficiently reticent, and Misty did not seem to mind.
So today I decided it was time to try them together. I fed Misty and Jackson their morning grain in the pasture, as I have been doing, and slipped Misty's halter on. This way I could snap on the lead when RT came out, to keep a little bit of control of the situation, since it would be Misty who would most likely be the aggressor, in protecting her baby (RT is your basic wuss). RT, however, had other plans. I had fed him in Misty's paddock, and just looped the chain over the gate while I went to feed the girls. I also wanted to wait until the power company crew that was working out on the road had finished , so that there was not this additional source of stress for mama or baby. RT finished his grain, knocked the gate a time or two, and let himself out to the pasture. I came back to find RT and Misty grazing peacefully about 50 feet apart, and 200 feet from the crew. Jackson seemed more concerned about avoiding the morning flying pests than about RT.

Although he watched RT, Jackson initially did not wander too far from Mama.

Still watching.

Jackson moved a bit towards RT, and started to lie down.
Misty decided that was too close and came between them and herded Jackson away a little bit.
This was the only threatening gesture she made all morning.
Only moments later, and she was back to eating, and didn't seem to mind when Jackson moved through the 20-25 foot space between the two adults.
All this meetin' and greetin' wore the little guy out, and he lay down to snooze.
Looked out later this afternoon, and RT was still keeping a respectful distance.
Look closely, and you'll see baby playing shy, underneath mama's tail!
When Misty's grazing crossed in front of RT, he graciously backed out of her way and conceded the territory.
So today's goings-on were, pleasantly, a non-event!