dancing horses

dancing horses

Friday, August 30, 2013

A glimmer of hope

Okay, I am trying to not get my hopes up but for the past few weeks Irish as been sound and not sore. I've been riding him and he feels like his old self- forward, keen and, well fun.

He looks fabulous- he actually has flesh on his bones (that's another post). I've been riding him off and on for the past several months but not too hard and mostly walk. It was NOT fun at all- he felt sore and it made me feel awful to ride him. The vet had suggested keeping him moving would be beneficial but it was hard to be motivated.

About 2 weeks ago I was watching him in the field and he was moving very well. So I saddled him up and rode him. Other then being out of shape he felt pretty good. Yesterday I watched him trot around the field and his elevation was fabulous. Today I saddled him up our ride was so much fun.

First of all it just feels wonderful to be in a saddle. Second we were schooling which I love. I just stuck to 'Training level' with a little bit of higher stuff thrown in at the walk. Initially he was a bit resistent to the bit but I know he needs his teeth done (Irish needs to have his teeth floated every 6 months ((floating is where the vet or equine dentist files down sharp edges that form on the molars)). So I just concentrated on keeping my hands soft and using leg to bump him into the bridle rather then pull. I also have been working a lot on cuing transitions just from my seat. It's working really well for the downward transitions. In the upward transitions we needed to work a bit more. Initially he wanted to hollow and come against the hand but I stayed persistent. I brought him to the center of the ring and did a few turns on the forehand. I find that helps to 'unlock' him and get him listening to the aids. After that he stayed pretty consistent. I love how I can feel his back coming up under my seat. I haven't felt that in a long long time.

I kept the session short as I don't want to make him sore.

This may be a brief remission or his arthritis may have fused a joint and so is no longer hurting or giving him almost a year off allowed the inflammation and injury to heal. Time will tell. For now I'm just going to enjoy the ride.

Monday, August 26, 2013

In which I channel Yosemite Sam

Some of you may remember Yosemite Sam from long ago. I always enjoyed watching his cartoons. If you watched him you may remember the famous line 'When I says WHOA I means WHOA".

This came useful on Sunday when we did a lunge session. He was a bit energetic. To put it mildly. To start I was just looking for walking and halting. His idea was to take off into a power trot. I asked him to slow down but he was stricken with deafness. The last thing I want is a horse that thinks a lunge line is an excuse to run and carry on. Nor do I want a horse to think that my commands are optional. One command I am working on is 'easy'. When I say this I want him to slow down a tad into a more natural rhythm. While I don't want to battle with a horse I have to be in charge. The idea is to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard. I brought him in on a smaller and smaller circle until he had to walk. I praised immediately and then let him out on a larger circle.

It worked, somewhat. But I still had the impression that he was blowing me off.
"stop cramping my style mom!"

So I got a little firmer. That's when Yosemite Sam's line popped into my head. The next time he blew me off I said it to myself. And my whole body language was geared to one thing- WHOA. NOW.  I gave a sharp jerk on the lunge line. He came to a halt. Good boy.  that's the hard part for me- giving praise for doing what he should have done the first time. But the only way to learn is to be consistent in praise for good behaviour and correction of bad behaviour. We repeated this until his transitions were sharp and crisp and when I asked.  The task was simple- halt, walk and trot.

Today he was much better but we spent a bit of time in the first few minutes reviewing the lesson. Except this time he was appalled that he couldn't stop when he wanted to.  However, it didn't take long for him to figure out that going with the program led to much less harassment. 

As Irish says "if you think she's demanding now- just wait"

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Late Night Shenanigans

Or early morning. It's a matter of perspective.

And no, it wasn't Steele.

I've noticed a change in Irish the past little while. Rather than being quiet and sweet he's been a bit, well, saucy.

About two weeks ago I asked him to move over in his stall and he pinned his ears at me. I asked again, more firmly and he snapped at me. Not anywhere near but still. I was surprised but there can only be one person in charge when we're both in the stall and that's me. It's a non-negotiable. I don't care what the reason would be, if I ask a horse to move over in a stall they must move. So I didn't spend anytime worrying about it I just spent the next 5 minutes moving him around his stall. Once he was nice and respectful we were done. And then I could spend some time thinking on it. I had a few hypotheses- one was that he was in pain. The other was that I had not been spending much time with him lately. So he could be pining for attention or it could be that because he's in charge of Steele he decided that our relationship was up for discussion. I decided to tackle the easiest hypothesis. I started making sure that I spent time grooming him, fussing over him and just generally hanging out.

 He began to perk up. In the field I noticed him moving around and except for stiffness early in the morning he was looking pretty sound.

Which brings me to last night. Ed and I had some friends over for a couple drinks and some snacks by the fire. We went to bed a little later and all was fine. I had fed the horses a bit of extra hay so I could sleep in a little later.  I woke up in the night (I later found out it was around 5 a.m.) and Ed was not in bed. I didn't think much of it and rolled over. I then heard Belle downstairs and figured he had gotten up to let her out. When he came to bed I asked what was up.
"oh nothing. Just putting your horse back in the barn"
"WHAT?" I was fully awake.
"oh don't worry. Irish broke his dutch door and Steele was having a fit. I have it rigged until I can fix it later."
"You should have woken me"
"I wasn't sure what it was. But I handled it"

The benefit of our set up is that if the horses get out the dutch door, they are just in their field. So it's not a panic situation. But still....
I dozed back to sleep but not deeply.

Around 6 I heard Steele yelling again. I opened my eyes. Yes. I did hear him.
I got out of bed.
As I headed out to the barn Steele kept calling. I came into the barn.
"morning Steele" I grumbled. He looked at me in horror-
"Irish is out. HE'S OUT and-and-and I'M IN"
"calm down I'll get him"
I walked out Irish's door. He managed to get the two bolts off the wooden frame.
"Irish" I called.
d'Arcy ran out to the field. I figured that he was heading to him. Sure enough. There was Irish in the lower field. He raised his head and looked at me.
"oh, hi. Good morning."
"what are you doing?"
"Oh my doors opened and I was hungry so I started on the grass"
He came trotting up to me and I threw the lead line around his neck and we headed back to the barn.
I fed them, let them out and then headed into the house for some much needed coffee.

I have no idea what happened in the night. Sometimes I think I want a webcam but then I figure that it would drive me crazy.

Later this morning I rode Irish and he was pretty darn good. He did stumble a bit behind at the canter so I backed off. But what was nice about the ride is that he was keen and cooperative. We were schooling not just riding.

Everytime I headed out the barn today he was there to greet me.
It's nice to have my 'old' Irish back.

I think.
from 2010

Friday, August 23, 2013

What's in a name?

We bought our home in September of 2010. We spent a year renovating and moved in on July 2011. Then came the barn, the paddocks, the riding ring, not to mention Martin the Cat and Steele.

But there was one thing missing- a name.

I told Ed that we needed to have a name for our property. He asked 'why'. Not an unreasonable question I suppose.

My response was 'because it's the law. you can't have a farm without a name'.
'But we're not technically a farm. And I'm pretty sure there's no law about a name'.

See- I married a smart man. But sometimes he's far too rational.

The truth of the matter is that our place did not seem to be complete until I named it. But a name is not something to take lightly. So I spent some time thinking. Not deep thinking mind you, just occasional casual thinking. I received input from others from time to time but I didn't settle on anything. I'm sure that Ed believed that I would drop it.

Fast forward to this spring when some friends invited us to a fund raising dinner for a youth Football league. It also included a silent auction and a live auction. It was a lot of fun, the meal was delicious and  I had a few glasses of wine. The live auction was fun and I bid on a few items unsuccessfully. Then they brought out a carved wooden sign. It was beautiful but it was the football team logo. But the next item transfixed me- it was a voucher for a sign of your choice . I decided that I was winning that item. There were a few people bidding against me but I just kept going. Finally there was just two of us- me and a man two tables up. His last bid was nearing my limit but I used an e-bay maneuver- I upped his bid by $1.50.

And I won. I was ecstatic.
Ed looked at me- "now that you won it, what's your plan?"
"I'm getting him to make a sign for our farm"
"Oh you've settled on a name have you?"
"Yes." Of course, I didn't know I had until that  very moment.

I paid for my voucher and the next day I contacted my daughter. She's a Fine Arts student and very talented. I told her my design ideas and what I wanted. She came back with a beautiful design. I asked for a few tweaks and then I gave it to the person to make it. A few e-mails back and forth and a it was done. I picked it up yesterday.

Isn't it beautiful? As you can see I wanted to incorporate the beautiful Oak Tree in front of my house. After all, the tree is why I bought it.And the dressage horse is a given.

And I've incorporated Amanda's design into labels for our preserves:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Steele learns about clippers

As you know any show horse needs to be spit and polished groomed. This way the judge can see how truly beautiful they are rather then infer it from beneath all the mud.
what? it's good for my coat!
He does enjoy the grooming so it's time for him to get used to clippers. Irish is very good about clippers and always has been. Except for his ears. No matter what I tried to get him used to it didn't work. So I use a twitch. Saved us loads of aggravation- put the twitch on and 60 seconds later the ears are done and the twitch is off.

I brought out the clippers and put Steele in the cross ties. I gave him a groom and turned them on. He was curious and a bit wary. I slowly and calmly brought them closer. He cocked an ear at them and looked a little dubious. What I have learned with this horse is that hesitation leads to resistance. So does rushing. But quiet and steady works very well.

I started by running the back of  my hand along his body with the clippers turned away.
He shifted a bit  but was not alarmed. I did both sides. Then I turned my hand over and ran the body of the clippers along his neck. Again he shifted but realized that it didn't hurt him. I slowly ran it along his body and then down his legs on both sides. Every 30 seconds of so I told him how fabulous he was and gave him a piece of carrot. That it made it much more interesting. 
After a few minutes I ran it up towards his head. I saw him tense but before he moved I brought them away. I repeated this, each time getting closer.  Again repeating with the carrot.

When this became old news I brought the clippers to his head but didn't touch him with it. He backed up but I ignored this behaviour. Instead I brought out a carrot. I held the piece of carrot about 3 inches from the clippers. He was so cute- trying to be an elephant and take it with his lips but not come near the clippers. I didn't say anything, just waited. I knew that he can't really resist a carrot. After a bit he took the carrot. I repeated this a few times until he would take the carrot with no hesitation. Then I moved the clippers closer and repeated. It took a lot fewer trials this time. Eventually I held the carrot and clippers side by side so when he took the carrot he felt the vibration on his muzzle. His face was adorable every time they touched him- 'oooh that tickles' and he would wrinkle his lips.

Then I pulled the carrot treat away and just held the clippers. Because he had been taught to touch a target by his original owners, this task was not new. I just waited and he touched the clippers for a second. I gave him a treat right away. In a few trials I got him to touch the clippers and hold his muzzle there to a count of 3. I then turned them off and put them away.

It would have been easy to push it a bit farther but what's the hurry?


Monday, August 19, 2013

Martin comes for a walk

I used to walk all the time. When we lived in town I would come home from work, change, grab the dogs and we head for a local trail. It was a necessity with owning two high energy dogs. When we moved to our farm I walked less because there was more work to do when I got home and the dogs had lots of room to roam. But I still walked about 4-5 times per week. In the winter if we couldn't walk, I would snow shoe.

However, in the last few months I got out of the walking habit. First the spring was so wet that it was impossible to walk in the woods. I tried a couple times but after having my boot sucked off a few times I gave up. Then I hurt my hip. It became harder and harder to get myself going. I find myself with much less energy these days and I think it's because I stopped walking. Or it's the beginning of menopause. However, until I get further data, I'm going with option #1.

I've decided that it's time to re-introduce walking to my routine. When I came home from work today I changed and grabbed the dogs and we headed into the woods. The horses followed in the paddock until they were stopped by the fence.
good luck, don't run into any trolls!
As I entered the woods I felt my body relax and the tension/weariness from the day flow away. I stopped to take a deep breath and then I heard a meowing.
Martin, my cat decided to come along. I thought that he might just follow for a bit but everytime we got out of sight he would meow until I stopped and let him catch up. He really is a cat with character. He gave up trying to keep up with the dogs so basically heeled by my side.

"I've never come this far before."
However, I noticed that he was getting a bit tired. It was a humid and hot day and he was panting. I stopped to let him rest in the shade. d'Arcy and Belle came to see what the hold up was.
Belle: who invited him? He's holding us up. 
I decided to head home. Periodically Martin would flop down and meow and I'd pick him up and carry him for a bit. I'm glad that I didn't run into anyone- I'm sure that we made quite the sight- two dogs and a human carrying a cat hiking through the woods is not something you see everyday. Then he would squirm and I'd put him down. We'd get too far and then he'd meow. I'd wait, d'Arcy would run back to see what the hold up was, I'd tell him 'just waiting for Martin'. At that he'd look concerned and go off to find Marin. Belle, meanwhile would roll her eyes (I swear). "let him get lost. No one asked  him to come!'

When we got to the edge of our property I figured he could walk.
when the going gets tough, the tough get going
I stopped to take a photo of a toadstool. He came and flopped at my feet.
so. tired. carry on without me. 
But no worries- he made it out of the woods.

I wonder if he'll come with us again?

Happy 'Tails' to you! 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Hanging out

The other day when I was visiting my friend she brought up that her husband was doing a program called (I think) Waterhole Rituals with one of their horses. I was curious and he explained about the first lesson (game? activity?) was to go and sit in the field and ignore the horse. Then we got chatting about other things and I lost the thread of the topic.

On the way home I was thinking about it and became more curious. So I did what I always do when seeking information- I turned to 'google'. I couldn't find much specific info without ordering a dvd or taking a course. But now my curiosity was truly piqued. Rather then phone my friend or order the dvd, I grabbed a lawn chair and a magazine (Dressage Today of course) and headed out to the field. I set it up in the middle and sat down to read. I couldn't see Steele but I could see Irish's back just over the crest of the hill. Knowing that he can hear a flea fart in the forest, I was pretty sure that he  knew I was here. So I sat down and began to read. I looked up periodically and each time they were a little closer. They were grazing and appearing to be oblivious but each time they moved it was towards me. When they were about 50 feet away they dropped all pretense and headed over. Both gave me the full once over. They were both gentle but checked out my hair, my hat (no Steele, you can't have it), my chair and my magazine. Steele was really interested in my magazine. They then settled into to graze close by my chair. I stayed a little longer but they also brought flies with them so I got up and left. They followed me back to the barn. Total time- about 20 minutes all together.

I'm not sure if that was what was supposed to happen but it was interesting.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Dinner Theatre

Me: "Supper time!"
Irish: "hey, you get out my stall!"
Steele: "I think we should switch"
Irish: "it's just because I get more food"

Steele: "Do you see how mean he's being?"

Steele: "fine. But I don't think it's fair. I'm the one who's growing. mutter mutter mutter"

Thursday, August 8, 2013


I bought my very first horse when I was 32.

Wait, Let me back up a bit. 

I do not remember when I discovered horses. I don't remember a time when I wasn't passionate about horses. When I was a preschooler I wandered off to nearest horse pasture whenever no one was looking. I would be scolded and nod solemnly, but we all knew that I would do it again. 

 I did not get a chance to do much more than day dream until I was in my 20's and graduating university.  My mother asked me what I wanted for a graduation gift. I asked for horseback riding lessons. I know that she was taken aback- she was thinking jewelry or a nice leather briefcase for grad school. However, a local riding school was doing an intro to horseback riding course and I wanted it. I remember thinking that it was now or never. 

In those weeks I was well and truly hooked. I knew that I would be involved with horses for the rest of my life. I kept riding at various lesson places and did extra work for extra rides. I would muck out, groom, clean tack- whatever. Other people might have been gathering stuff for a house or children, I collected stuff for horse ownership. Once, at a show I won a halter. I was so thrilled and I saved that halter for my first horse. Whenever we moved it came with us. 

Between the age of 22 (when I started riding) and 32 I got married, did a masters degree, had children, did another masters degree (I always enjoyed university) and finally became employed. At32 I became a professional and we moved to the area we live now. My husband and I built a house and furnished it. Well, mostly. We now had a formal living room but no formal furniture. My husband suggested that we buy some. 

I had other ideas. So 'we' bought a horse. A 2 year old QH. When people came to visit and we gave them a tour of our new home there was always that awkward moment when they looked at the bare living room and didn't know what to say. I would smile and Ed would  wryly say "our furniture is in the barn"   

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Some Eye Candy

A friend of mine (one of owners of the company that bred Steele) recently imported an Andalusian stallion from Spain. She's had him for a few months and yesterday I had a chance to go and meet him.

Because Karen lives a good 90 minutes away we don't see each other much but I always enjoy talking with her. I arrived just as she was finishing up her ride on Kalimo VIII. I had my camera with me but was enjoying watching them so much that I didn't take many photos.

such a beautiful head

artsy shot

Not only does he have a lovely conformation and movement but I was impressed by how tuned in he was and how hard he was trying to figure out what Karen wanted. After she dismounted I came up to see him. I know he's a stallion but he was so calm and friendly my heart was taken immediately. Also, he's a rich bay- my favourite colour.

After we had an amazing lunch on her deck and chatted away. Before I knew it, it was late afternoon and I had to head home. But not before planning another get together. I am working on a plan so that Stelle can watch him and hopefully absorb some information.

As opposed to absorbing grass....

Friday, August 2, 2013

Playing with Ponies

On my fun weekend last week I brought my camera. Two of the young women headed out to the jumper field and I tagged along with my camera. We had a lot of fun and they were great sports - letting me get into the right position and repeating jumps.