Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Training News

I managed to get a quick "first-ride-of-the-year" ride in on Maddie last week, after returning from the vet's with Jackson (the It-Boy).

I really wanted to get at least three rides in during my spring break week, as this coming Saturday, Maddie is in for a workout! The KVTR's are hosting a little demo-clinic with a local trainer, and Maddie has "volunteered" to be one of the demo horses. He will be working on her confidence issues (and, indirectly, mine), and we may even walk out to Reecer Creek for a water-crossing session (if not during the clinic, before we leave the place).

She stood very quietly at the mounting stump, then moved off equally quietly when asked. We walked and jogged around the arena for a few, asking her to give to the left and right.
Then we headed out for a short loop around the farm. There were moments of slight hesitation, but only one or two full stops, mostly to look at things that were different than she last saw them in the fall (the empty irrigation ditch bothered her as much as it does when it's full of water!). At the back corner of Hank's cattle pasture, I had to dismount to open a gate, so we walked a bit to a log where I could remount. She fussed a little bit about standing here, as she could see her buddies at the barn, and Al had just pulled into the house from work, and Sandy the dog was getting all excited. But after a few tries, she stood again and I remounted and we walked up the pasture to the road, away from home, then returned down the driveway.

It was discouraging that the weather during my week off was not very cooperative. I had so many little jobs to get done, not the least of which was getting another 120 shrubs in the ground. Then I tweaked my back Saturday--must have been all the kneeling over for plants, or maybe the two sets of horses' hooves that I trimmed... At any rate, that was the only ride I got in. I even passed up two opportunities to get Kate (or even Maddie) out with the Trail Riders!

Sunday I loaded up with Tylenol and drove out the small ranch where the clinic will be. If I were just taking Maddie for the day, I wouldn't feel it as necessary to check things out. I had talked to Blake on the phone to let him know the issues I had with Maddie last summer (water crossing and loping), and liked what he had to say about his training approach (he's a little bit of a Clinton Anderson type, but, like me, draws from lots of different trainers' techniques and philosophies). I could always pull Maddie out if I felt he was taking the wrong tact.
But I had another thing stewing, and wanted to check his place and training methods out a bit closer.

Beth is Maddie's younger half-sister.
She is now four years old.
She is reining bred and very quick.
She is feminine and cute (but not spotted).
Smart and a little (okay, a lot) sassy.
And for sale.
But she is not broke.
I've done plenty of groundwork with her: She'll carry a saddle and D-ring snaffle. She lunges fairly well.
I have ground-driven her at home and around the neighborhood.
I have weighted her stirrups and laid across her back, flappin' and slappin'. I have done everything short of climbing up on her.
Why haven't I climbed on?
Mostly because she's quick. And smart. And sassy.
And because, when Maddie unloaded me last summer, I hurt my back a little. And shook my confidence.
As I've mentioned before, I'm closer to 60 than I care to admit (though I've admitted it several times, haven't I?). I can't afford to get hurt.

So Beth is the first baby I've raised that I am going to send to a trainer to start.
If I had some invincible teenager who was willing to climb on her the first few rides, I might have gone that way, though the insurance issues would have made me hesitate. But I don't, so I have been shopping around for a local trainer, that would work with Beth, and me, for a short 30-day stint. Then I can put miles on her until she is sold.

I found one guy who came highly recommended, and is only a couple of miles up the road--that would have been ideal, as I could have stopped regularly to participate in Beth's work. But he's got a full barn until June, and doesn't like to do less than 60 days (and preferably 90). I can't afford to put $2000 worth of training on a $1000 horse, especially since I can do much of the "wet-saddle-blanket"work myself.

So when I was chatting with Blake about the clinic, I was also feeling him out about taking Beth on.
The visit Sunday was positive. I met with Blake and his wife Annette for a bit, in their house in the sagebrush region at the rim of the valley (above the irrigation system). They have been building their place over time, as have I, but things are sturdy and safe, much more important to me than "fancy." There is no shelter in the training horse paddocks, so I'm glad Beth will be going in the spring, rather than the heat of summer. There is immediate access to thousands of acres of national forest, and, just like me, Blake believes in getting young horses out and about as soon as he gauges their temperament and cooperation.
Then we went outside and Blake worked an older mare he has in for re-training (she's been a broody most of her life), who reminded me a lot of Beth's mama, Misty. Did some "lunging for respect" in the round pen, then we walked down the drive to the creek for her second lesson there. He was consistent and patient with her and it only took a few minutes before she was circling quietly in and out of the water--he said the first time took about 35 minutes, so she remembered her lesson well.

I was impressed enough that we shook hands and I will be bringing Beth along with Maddie in the trailer on Saturday.

The major glitch is that he's way the h*** and gone, 30 miles at the opposite corner of the valley. So I'll have to bribe Al with something sweet, to stay in town a little later after work, so I can run out for an hour a couple of days a week. Or we could just drive separately, but that means 40 extra miles on the gas-guzzling truck (and gas prices are creeping up again).

I'll have my friend Anita along on Saturday to take lots of photos of the clinic, and I'll keep you posted on Beth's progress.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Goodbye, Stud Muffin...

Hello, It-Boy.
A pictorial essay.
[warning: graphic photos (needles, scalpels, a little bit o' blood) half-way down--not too bad, just thought I'd warn ya... Oh, and testicles.]

Thanks to Dr. Joan, and vet tech Michelle.
(Sorry about those butt shots Michelle--necessary to tell the story. =D)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hormone Poisoning!

Jackson is suddenly no longer a sweet little spotty weanling.
With the coming of spring he has become a snorting, strutting, prancy-dancing bundle of sassy, sexy stud colt!
And he's been driving poor little RT crazy!

Now that it stays light later after I get home from work, I've been working with Jackson a bit this week: leading, grooming (he's one big hair ball), trimming up his feet.
I had considered taking him along to pony from Pat's horse Rusty, on one of the recent KVTR rides. But we want to try it at home first. [I'm glad I didn't-- he would have been a pest.]

Last night the plan was to load him in the trailer and take a ride around the block. He's hasn't been in the trailer since last summer, and always with his mama. But it was a bit windy, and everyone got themselves all worked up just because I pulled "their baby" out of his pen, so he had all sorts of excuses to be naughty. And the trailer was in the driveway, with no fenced "safety zone" in case he might get away from me. So we stayed in the arena and tried some of the very first efforts at lunging at the walk (well, I wanted it to be at the walk). He caught on pretty quickly.

Tonight was calmer, so I pulled the trailer into the arena for loading.
I should say, the weather was calmer. Jackson was an absolute POOP!

When I went into the paddock with he and his old babysitter gelding, Jackson was busy chasing RT around, herding him like a mare with his head all snaky, trying to mount him! RT would give gentle kicks to get him to back off, but it worked only momentarily. As soon as I tried to catch either one of them, the race was on! Round and round they went, Jackson herding his "mare" to keep "her" away from me. When RT finally got tired enough to stand his ground, I haltered him and led him to an adjoining paddock, that I planned to separate him to next week anyway. Jackson was concerned enough about that to let me catch him up, and I tied him in his stall to take his blanket off and groom him a bit.
At this point, however, Misty could see neither her son nor her boyfriend, so she got all upset, which got the fillies all goofy in their pens and everyone was now worked up as much or more than last night!

Between all the running around and worrying, Jackson got himself into a little bit of a lather, and he continued to challenge me, invading my space and charging forward on the lead. We worked in the stall on him respecting me and behaving himself. When he settled enough, we walked quite appropriately down the barn aisle and out to the arena and the waiting trailer.

The approach to the trailer was hesitant yet curious. Jackson stopped for a moment, then stepped in with one forefoot, then backed down for just a moment before stepping up again. It only took a light pull to convince him to step up with the other front foot. I let him stand for a moment to check things out, then asked him to move forward again. He stepped up behind, scrambled a little with the last hoof, then was inside. He willingly walked to the front stall, where I let him stand and look around. He started to get a little startled looking,
("What the HECK am I doing in HERE?")
but responded well when I scratched his withers and talked to him. I looped the lead through the Blocker Tie Ring, asked him to move over to the front wall, and shut the partition. This was the first time he hadn't been left loose in the back (with his mama), and he started to test the limits of the stall, forward and back, side to side. By the time I shut the trailer up and started the truck, he was calling to the other horses (who encouraged him by answering back), pawing and was clearly unhappy. I got the rig moving, to give him something different (keeping his balance) to think about.
I had about a five mile loop planned, with no steep hills, only a few curves, and intersections that, if there was no traffic (there wasn't), I could slide through without coming to a full stop. Two-thirds of the way, we stopped for a few minutes at Pat's place and I opened the stall window so Jackson could see Rusty and Rambler. He was considerably less fussy now, but in a heavy sweat and had a small scrape over one eye.
He traveled the rest of the loop quietly. When we pulled back into our home arena, the other horses immediately reacted, but Jackson stayed pretty calm--
maybe relieved that he had survived to tell the tale?

I wanted him to learn to stay still until I asked him to come back, so I retrieved the end of his lead rope, but left it in the Blocker, which will give if he pulls, but I can control the tension. Jackson has always been good about respecting pressure on the rope since our early tying lessons, so he stood quietly while I opened the partition.
I came to his head, rubbed on him some, undid the lead, and asked him to step back. He was a little confused, as always before he had been allowed to turn around and exit the trailer looking where he was going. But he's a big boy now, and time to learn the grown-up horse method--it's safer to back out than the handler possibly getting caught between the horse and the trailer wall during a turn.
We would back a few steps, then stand a second, them one or two more, until his rears were at the edge of the back door. The slow backing is accompanied by the word "eeeasy," then just before he reached the step down I stop and use the word "step" to teach him the cue I want him to recognize for "you've gotten to the yawning chasm behind you, and you're going to have to trust me."
His first hoof stepped down, then bounced gingerly back in. I asked him again, and maintained just a little bit of pressure once the first hoof went out, and he followed with the other hind. I let him stand and cogitate a minute, then pushed gently on the lead again, with a hesitation and the cue "step" when it was time for his fronts to step down. When he dropped that first fore, just a little bit of reassurance kept him moving, and all of the sudden...
He was OUT!
He looked around somewhat incredulously, snuffled at Kate over the fence, then led nicely inside to get rubbed down and blanketed. I left him tied for a bit, while I started on evening chores. When I let him loose in the paddock, it was a toss-up whether he should worry about his dinner, or the fact that RT was no longer in with him (he was right next door).

I might try to do the same routine tomorrow morning, before I head to Spokane for my grandson's birthday. And again Monday some time.

Why all this focused work on hauling Jackson? Well, there's still the prospect of ponying him on trail rides. And there's that little schooling show in three weeks--it would be good for Jackson to start experiencing the big wide world.
But most importantly, next week is spring break, which will give me several days to stay home with him. Tuesday morning, I will haul him to the vet's for his "brain surgery" -- none too soon! I am not set up to keep a stud, especially a young, energetic one. As well built as he is, Jackson's breeding is nothing extraordinary, and neither parent has any kind of show record. I don't have the money or skills to help him develop a performance record of his own, so I don't consider him to be stud material. So it's time to nip this hormonal spurt in the bud [if you'll excuse the expression].

Also slated for the week home:
insulation into the tack room ceiling;
the last 100 of the trees arrived today for planting;
I need to get Maddie legged up (I have yet to get on her this year) for an adventure I'll blog about later.
Oh, and I need to get my taxes done....

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The West Side of the River

So yesterday, the KVTRs stayed a little closer to home, dropping down the old Vantage Highway and jumping off at "Recreation Road," in the Ginkgo State Park. This road leads to the old ferry crossing, from before the BIG bridge across the Columbia was built, just down river.

The trailhead is well marked, but not very "plush": no porta potty, no specific parking area, just a nice wide roadway (though on a fairly noticeable hill).
We again had six trailers and ten riders, plus two horses being ponied. (Pat says that only a few years ago this would have been considered a huge group for the club, but these days it seems to be somewhat the norm, as long as the weather is pleasant.)

Here's a new mapping feature I want to try out. It's similar to Funder's Garmin mapping, except I have to input the route by hand after the fact. Please let me know if the commercialism is too annoying.

It's based on Google Maps, but I can't figure out how to show the terrain image, so here's the Google version of the area (without spiffy route marking).

View Larger Map

I had worried so much about having the big camera with me last weekend (my cheap little one died over the winter--too much hay in the workings!), so today I took the video camera instead--still hoping to figure out THAT technology someday soon. But the wind was blowing so cold in our faces on the way up the canyon, that I stayed rather bundled up.

Kate did a really nice job climbing up the trail: calm, steady, and keeping up with the pace of the group well (unlike last year, when she always seemed to be dragging along a hundred yards or so behind everybody else). My goal today was to ride without contact on her mouth as much as possible, so I let Kate gauge her own pace. After checking her once or twice when she tried to shuffle-jog forward, she figured out that she was in charge and that she needed to keep her attention on where she was walking, and settled into a very nice energetic walk.

Another rider was having trouble keeping her horse's boots on, and each time we stopped, Kate stood patiently while the errant boot was retrieved and replaced. (KVTR president Walt had told us the jeep path had good footing, so I only put Kate's front boots on. It turned out much rockier than expected, and I wished I had put the backs on as well, though she really didn't have any problems.)

When we turned to start back the way we came (a loop trip is available, but would have added three or four more hours to the ride), I thought that having the wind behind us, and with the mid-day sun nicely warming the air, I could go glove-less long enough to shoot some video.
Shortly after turning downhill, a gust of wind blew something up the butts of three horses, including Kate, and we had a little bit of a crazy scramble. Kate jumped forward into Pat's horse, Rambler, who himself was already discombobulated, and the horse behind us likewise scooted into Kate! Kate half reared, and did some nasty head-shaking that is her way of telling me she's on the verge of losing it, so I decided that I'd best keep my focus on riding for a bit longer.

By the time she settled again, we found ourselves towards the front of the pack! I think Kate realized we were headed back to the trailers, and that was enough that she didn't need her trailer companion/ BFF Rambler for confidence. I thought this was a good exercise in confidence for her, so again, I let her pick her pace. (However, it meant there was not much of anyone in front of us to video, so the camera stayed in it's bag, and we just enjoyed the ride.)

After one more stop for boot replacement on Denise's horse, we were, uncharacteristically, the second horse in the line. John was in front, riding his little Tennessee Walker, and he likes to wander off the trail bunches, into the uneven terrain of the sagebrush surrounds. Each time he did, Kate found herself with no one to follow! She kept a sideways eye glued on John, to make sure she was still heading the right direction, but continued at a steady pace several yards ahead of the rest of the group.

About the fifth time John veered off, however, he and his horse (whose name I never got) dropped down into a little bit of a gully, where Kate could no longer see them! She down-shifted to second gear, then first, but not quite to "full stop" before Pat and Rambler caught up and joined us, about the same time John popped back up onto the track. Her buddies back in view, Kate returned the rest of the way to the trailhead in a pleasant and cooperative mood.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Ancient Lakes Trail Ride: No Swimming Allowed

The Kittitas Valley Trail Riders have started their spring rides way early this year. I missed out on a nice one a couple of weeks ago (I just had too much to do around here), but I got all my weekend chores and a few small projects done Saturday, so I could justify going along Sunday.
We were to venture across the mighty Columbia River to the Quincy Lakes wildlife area, and ride to the Ancient Lakes, between two levels of coulees--cliffs scoured by the release of glacial Lake Missoula as the glaciers receded-- where Columbia Basin farms and wineries give way to the river gorge.
We would park just south of the small farm patch to the far north west in this map. Our destination was Ancient Lake in the south east corner. That's the edge of the Columbia to the west. From straight up one can't really appreciate the height of the cliff surrounding this group of lakes...

Pat offered to haul Kate and I (it's my turn next ride) and we met up with four other trailers in Kittitas. We headed over Ryegrass Pass...
...and down to the bridge at Vantage.
On the way up the other side of the gorge, we passed these larger-than-life steel sculptures, called
based on the Native American legend of how the horse came to the plains.Picked up another trailer on the way, and headed down the first level of the coulee. This small herd of buffalo watched our caravan's progress.I wanted to get Kate a little settled before I pulled out the camera--she had done a little of her "airs-above-the-ground" when I pulled her out of the barn. So we just ambled along for the first couple of miles. But she was much better behaved than a couple of the other horses, who were feeling the effects of brisk night temperatures (25f.) and spring-like days. So I pulled out the Nikon.
Looking south-east towards the lake.We stopped for a rest overlooking the lake, and a hiker offered to take our picture. The lake is just to the left of my shoulder, here, but because it was reflecting the cliff above, it looks much like the rest of the surrounding terrain in this photo. Note the little waterfall tucked in under the shadowed rock face.The rest of the group. There were ten riders in all, but several other smaller groups of horses left the parking area as well (though we didn't see any of them during our 2 1/2 hour ride).Mounted up again and ready to move out.Headed northwest along the base of the coulee. The Columbia is straight ahead, but down a very rocky path through a cut in another cliff...Another day...Back at the trailer. Kate is still wearing most of her winter coat, so she looks soggy here, but she really only worked hard climbing a few of the hilly spots. Pat had suggested that I put her boots on all around, and I glad I did: much of the trail was soft dirt, but a few places at the base of the cliffs were covered with jagged basalt (volcanic) rock. We bush-whacked through a lot of sage as well.Crossing the mighty Columbia on the way home.

I was definitely pleased with Kate's behavior and effort. She kept up with the group, and didn't buy into any of the shenannigans of the other horses. We crossed several large muddy puddles, with only a slight hesitation. After the first mile or so, she would stand quietly when we waited for others to adjust their gear, or stragglers to catch up.

All in all, a great ride!