dancing horses

dancing horses

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Hunting Tale. Well sort of.

It seems that we have a mouse in our house. Ed and I can hear it in the walls in the evening and we're pretty sure that we hear it eating Martin's food. It also seems to have found our stash of toilet paper and has been using it to build a cosy nest.

Martin remains uninspired to catch it.
shhh I'm napping

I've overheard Ed trying to strike a bargain with Martin "if you catch that mouse I will give you this whole carton of cream". It does not seem to have worked. Ed set traps in the basement with peanut butter. Yesterday he reported back that both traps were sprung but no mouse. However, given that I have a cat who takes pills by dipping them in peanut butter I'm not 100% convinced that it was the mouse that sprung them. This morning Ed goes into the basement and I hear him call out "My trap is missing! The damn thing stole my trap!" I hear him muttering and looking for the trap in the basement. I wisely stay upstairs. After 28 years of marriage I've learned a few things. 

Martin does make a good show of patrolling outside. 
can't pose right now I'm on sentry duty
Now that the weathr is warmer he goes out all night and comes back in the morning. I swear that sometimes he looks hungover so I have no idea what he's up to.

Belle, my austrailan sheperd fancies herself a hunter. While I ride she's often hunting in the tall grass looking for field mice. To her credit she has caught and killed at least one mouse and one rat that I know of.
cat, schmat. I'm all that you need

Martin and Belle have a relationship based on mutual respect and some bickering. Belle brooks no liberites from Martin and seems immune to his charms.

The other day I was riding Irish in the ring and all three critters were hanging out: d'Arcy was keeping a close eye on us while Martin and Belle were either side of the ring hunting. Irish was keeping a close eye on Martin, perhaps remembering earlier run ins (http://journeywithadancinghorse.blogspot.ca/2012/09/dogs-cats-and-horses-oh-my.html). Martin finally gave up on his side and sauntered casually over to Belle's to see if the hunting was any better. I was working on my trot-halt-trot transitions and turned down the center line where we executed a nice square halt. Irish and I then spied a small tail-less rodent (mole?) scurry into the ring away from the area where Belle and Martin were hunting.

Me: "uh guys"
Martin & Belle: "shhhh not now, we're busy"
Me: "but it's in the ring"
they ignored me.
The rodent is now at the quarter line
Me: "guys, the mouse is in the ring!"
Belle: "what's she on about?"
Martin: "no idea, just ignore her"
The escaping critter reaches the half way point and starts to pick up speed
Irish and I stand there watching this play out.
Irish: "are you kidding me?"
Me: "I know, right? GUYS! MOUSE! RING! It's getting away"
No answer was the stern reply. Martin and Belle kept their noses down.
Belle: "keep looking, I know it's here somewhere"
Martin: "I'm on it!"
The Mole (?) reaches the far side of the ring, puts on the after burners and leaps up to the relative safety of the grass on the far side and disappers. "phew, made it! That was a close one"

Irish and I roll our eyes and carry on. Martin and Belle stayed in that spot for the rest of the ride.
Hunting. Futilly.

I may need another cat.
hunting is sooo exchausting. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rides # 4 & 5

While I am continuing to ride Irish do not worry- I have not been neglecting himself.

Over the past week I worked with Steele in the ring. He's becoming very tuned in and prompt- which is lovely. I had Royce come back this weekend and we did some work with him on saturday and sunday.

On Saturday during the lunging Royce suddenly fell to his news. Both Steele and I were alarmed. Turns out he does this so a horse learns to stop when a rider falls. Not a bad idea at all but hard on the knees I think. After a couple trials Steele would just stop and look at him as though to say 'whatver'
Royce rode him and he was fabulous. I have a video I'll try to upload. I got on to cool him out.

On sunday the saddle fitter was coming back (with a saddle yay!) so we made an appointment for early morning. I fed the horses early and then came in for a coffee before heading back out to the barn. Irish got to go out but not Steele. He was totally miffed about this and did his level best to get it through my thick head that he goes outside in the morning. He does not stay inside. Otherwise Irish will eat all the grass and he's starving.  Especially on the rations I give him. I was firm though and we headed up to the ring to work. At first Steele was highly distractible but soon learned that life is easier when he pays attention. This time Royce fell much more dramatically then before. Steele stopped dead and looked at him and then at me.
Is he okay? Should you call 911?

He's fine. He's just training you. 

I think you should try CPR- I can't with my hooves, that wouldn't end well. I can wait for the ambulance down in the pasture. 

At which point Royce got up and went back to work.

I rode much more this time. It was interesting. He was far more balanced then before. As we went along I steered him towards the far end of the ring (the spooky spot). He flatly refused to go there. Although 5 minutes ago he spent a lot of time with Rocye with no problem. After a meandering path with many course corrections we made it down there. I did my best to ignore the idea that he was going to run away and guess what? he didn't. I did a lot more trotting this time as well. After a while I only had to squeeze gently and he was trotting off with enthusiasm, albeit the rhythm was a bit inconsistent.  We finished up and I brought him back to the barn and hosed him off.

The Saddle fitter came at noon. I brought Steele in and I could see him thinking but..but..but I already worked today. 
We tried the saddle. It seemed good. The gullet was the right one so we didn't have to change it- just alter the padding a bit. I brought him up to the ring and lunged him in it. He was very very sluggish on the lunge. She asked if he was always like that? Nope. I worried that maybe he was stiff from the work. I sat in the saddle and it seemed good to me. She led us around and he didn't mind the saddle and there didn't seem to be any pressure points.  After I let him out again he trotted and cantered down the field looking fresh as a daisy. Sigh. So I guess that the sluggishness was not soreness but more like a kid not wanting to go to school. I rode Irish yesterday (he was fabulous by the way- no yellow VWs in sight) but I couldn't muster up the energy to do it today. Instead I puttered around at some barn chores I had been putting off.

At supper time rather than head back to the house I opened a beer and sat in the barn listening to the horses munch on their dinners. That is one of my favourite sounds. When he was done I went into Steeles stall and gave him a groom and checked for sore spot. None. After I finished he put his head on my shoulder very gently and blew in my ear. We stayed like that for a few minutes.

Life is simple. Just the way I like it.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Well I didn't see that coming

Today after work I snagged Irish out of the paddock to have a ride before dinner. Ed was not home and usually I send him a text when I start and I'm done. That way if he doesn't hear from me he knows I might be in trouble. This time I forgot until I was mounted and decided to wait because Irish was a bit tense and I wanted both hands free.

As I started my ride it was obvious that the Issue-of-the-Day was tenseness. In this case I usually do lots of stretching movements. I had some some stretchy circles at the walk with some progress so I picked up the trot. As I was going down the long side of the ring towards the road I was letting out the rein encouraging him to stretch out over his back and reach for the bit. I saw a yellow VW bug on the road slowing down to watch. It isn't unusual for cars to slow down when we ride and I don't really think about it. All of a sudden Irish slammed on the brakes, deked backwards and then spun to the left. It was a total surprise. One second I was flowing along and the next millisecond my horse was no longer underneath of me. The principles in inertia kicked in and my body kept going forward and then to right as Irish went left. I had only one foot in the stirrup (on the right) and one rein. I lost both my left rein and stirrup and I was leaning dangerously to the right. Irish became further upset with this and began to run away. I realized that there was no salvaging the situation so I jumped off keeping a hold on the reins. Irish came to a stop and looked at me wide eyed. I suppressed the urge to curse but walked over to the mounting block and got back on. This time with shorted reins and making sure I had my inside leg on. The VW bug had come to a stop but now trundled on. I have no idea if it was the car that caused him to spook. I couldn't see anything else.

what's scary about this? 

I got back on immediately and we went to work. It really was not a great ride. I spent the whole time trying to get him to be relaxed. I did finish on a good note. Back in the barn I checked and he had no sensitivity in his back so I'm going with the idea that it's all mental.
I have no idea how I can come off a horse and land on my feet ,but I've always been able to. Years ago Irish would buck  and I would fly off, landing on my feet and holding the rein. Of course now that I've said that, next time one of you sees me come off I'll probably land on my butt.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

So how is Irish these days?

I realize that my recent posts are all about Steele and very little about Irish. I guess that's fair-it is his blog after all.

However, Irish is an important part of both of our lives so he deserves some exposure.

In a nutshell he's fabulous. I've been bringing him along slowly- I don't want to cause a recurrence of any problems. I may be going too slow but we're both comfortable with it and I have no agenda so it's no big deal.

I usually mount down by the barn and ride up to the ring. This lets me to sense how he's feeling- is he stiff? agitated? lazy?

Once in the ring I try to be proactive- we do lots of walking and stretching. I want to feel that he's striding forward and reaching into the bridle. If not I need to figure out how to fix it. We do lots of bending, leg yielding and changes of direction. We then pick up a trot. My preference is to start by trotting on a long rein so he can stretch over his back. However, if he's hollowing and/or feeling spooky I shorten my reins. A long rein with an inverted back is of no value whatsoever. Whne we first start trotting he's often stiff. I don;t worry about it too much I let him work through it. And so far he always does. By the end of our rides he's soft and over the back.

Irish does have one problem though- he's addicted to grass. Once the grass starts to come in he loses all interest in hay. This means that he drops weight. I don't worry about that because once he's on the pasture he comes back. However, until he gets over to the pasture he's a pain in the behind. Every time anyone walks anywhere in the vicinity the gate from the front paddock to the grass  he runs as fast as he can and makes faces  demanding to be let in. He's happier now that I've let him over there. However, last weekend Ed wanted to fix up some posts in the grass pastures- the corners had tilted over the weekend so he wanted to dig them up and put them in cement. This means that the fence was down and I had ot move them back to the front.

You can imagine how that went over. I had this brilliant brain wave to let them into the riding ring. That way they could eat the grass in the corners and along the edge. It was win-win for both of us. I made sure that I worked both of them first so that they would quiet. It went as well as I planned. They were happy. When I came to the gate to get them they came right up. I led them both down to the small paddock. I kept the lead on Steele but let Irish off. I figured that Steele would be more likely to try to escape. I turned around to shut the gate. At that point Irish blew past us charging gleefully into the pasture while Steele and I goggled unbelieving. I quickly shut the gate one Steele and went to collect Irish. I watched him run down to the lower pasture. Steele was pitching a fit and I was trying to figure out the best approach. I knew that I could push him too hard because he might go through where the fence was down.

I slowly approached him saying 'whoa!' in a firm voice. He trotted off with a saucy flip of his tail. I headed to cut him off from getting out the side by the barn. I figured he was less likely to run out on the woods side. Fortunately just a few places were down. I stood there watching him chowing on the grass like he hadn't eaten in weeks. I angled slowly to him. He pricked his ears but stayed in place and allowed me to sidle up and snap on the lead. I lead him back to the barn and he came along like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

Sigh. What chance does Steele have with role models like the two of us?

Steele: "I can't believe that you left me!"
Irish: "shush" 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ride # 3- now with photos

After Steele's busy weekend I went away for conference. I figured that the time would be good for him (I might as well believe that because there was no choice anyway).

I spent last week going over ground work with him. I'm also working on teaching him to ground tie. That seems to be coming together. I did manage to have Royce out yesterday. As always we started with groundwork. Royce and I have been working on getting a 'whoa' very firmly established. He was doing some things to startle Steele and then asking him to stop. The idea is that his first response is to stop when spooked, not run away.  A friend came over to watch and she observed that while Steele had one ear on Rocye at all times he was also checking in with me as well.

After the ground work Steele was tacked up and Royce rode him first. He worked on steering and brakes and showed me how he rides a horse to keep them balanced right from the beginning. He trotted quite a bit more and then started cantering under saddle. Once again I was impressed with how balanced Steele seems carrying this extra weight on him. He didn't look too upset by the whole idea either. Not a hint of stress sweat at all.

Then it was my turn. Royce asked me if I was okay with it. I'm thinking that he must be used to more nervous riders. I hoped up without hesitation. He gave me some instruction that I did my best to apply. It is different than what I'm used to so I got a bit confused at times. However, I always try to listen. he then told me to ask Steele to trot and then he was going to say 'whoa'. He explained that he wanted a way to shut him down right away if things got 'exciting'. So I urged him into a trot and then Royce called out WHOA. The brakes slammed on and I slid forward a bit in the saddle. So with that info I went back to work. Then Royce asked if I was okay if he put his stuff away.

Oh yes. I wanted some time to process this on my own. So he walked away and I worked on steering, brakes and trotting. His trot is very very smooth. We were totally focussed on each other- me trying to give clear signals and him trying to figure out what I want. He whoas right off my voice and of course I told him what a good boy he was.

So we're still working away at it. I can't wait for our saddle to arrive.....

These photos were taken by my friend Joanne.

steering? what steering?

steele and I doing our best to be attentive students

right? left? 
standing stock still while I dismount. I love his expression

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Is it time for the mid-life crisis?

Today is my Birthday. I have now been on the planet for 50 years.

It seems that if I'm going to have a mid-life crisis now would be the right time (of course I'm going to make it to 100). But what is a mid-life crisis and what would that look like exactly? I did what anyone would do in my situation- I turned to the internet. Based on my research this is a time when I'm supposed to question my choices in life and may make rash decisions. Hmm. Nope. I think I'm good. I guess that is one thing about aging that I will forego. I am still rediculously happy with my home, children, husband, career and critters. Not that I would say that our lives are perfect. Far from it. We have our stressers. I'm not always as smart, kind, pretty or as thin as I would like. I am thrilled that I managed to drop 25-30 pounds the past few months and feel in great shape.

I returned home last night from a conference. I woke up this morning happy to be home and eager to get out to the barn and greet the horses. I had a ride on Irish and then worked with Steele. The sun is shining Ed is barbecuing steaks.

And what does a woman want for her 50th birthday?


Ed picked it up while I was away. I took it for a test drive today. It's a sweet ride. I no longer trusted our previous tow vehicle but now I can hit the road......

Since it's not a convertable but a very practical and handsome vehicle, I've decided that this doesn't count as a mid-life crisis. However, if I start talking about running away to South America and living on an island you may want to sit on me until I calm down.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Flying Solo

So last night as I was heading to bed I saw that I had a voicemail from Royce. Seems that he'd been thinking and he wanted to do a short lesson sunday morning with Steele and I. I immediately sent him a text saying 'yes' (it was too late to call).

That morning we connected and set a time for 9 a.m. So much for the plan of a quiet liesurely coffee. I dressed quickly and headed out to get Steele. He came right up to me and I brought him in to get ready. I then took him out to crop on some grass. I was pleased that he moseyed along with me and while he was clearly eying the lush grass he waited for me to take him over to graze.

When Royce arrived we tacked him up and headed up to ring. Again, Royce started with groundwork. It was interesting- although clearly mellow when he started Steele suddenly decided that he was incapable of going to the right. Royce of course clearly believed that he could. A battle of wills then ensued. I was impressed with how calm but firm he was. Steele was being a brat "sorry man, I just go counter-clockwise, not clockwise". Of course he ended up going the way Royce wanted. I was glad that that was worked out on the ground- it would be a far worse idea to have the discussion while mounted. Royce got on first and introduced the concept of short trot segments. Again, Steele was pretty balanced through it. When he lost balance he dropped back to walk and Royce waited until he was sorted out before asking again. This didn't happen often though because usually Royce asked him to walk before he lost balance. He commented on how smooth his trot was.

Then it was my turn. We did a bit with me on the lunge and then he asked if I was okay with him unclipping me.
"you sure"
My philosophy is that if you don't want to risk coming off then you shouldn't get on. But it should be a calculated risk.

It was fabulous to sit on him and be responsible for these first moments. The lovely thing about babies is that they telegraph where their attention is so I was able to immediately recognize when he lost focus on me and ask him to change direction. We worked on the rudiments of steering and ensuring that the brakes were working. They were pretty good if I do say so myself. Royce then suggested we stop. Part of me was all 'no, I didn't get to try the trot yet' but on reflection I decided that he was likely correct and we should finish there.

I am away at a conference this week so he has the week off. this is perfect. It will give him time to relax and absorb what was a huge weekend for both of us.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Guess what I did today?

After a long (but productive) week at work I was really looking forward to the weekend. I had all sorts of plans for Saturday. None of which involved leaving the property. I set my alarm and got up early so I could get started on my chores.

As I was having my morning coffee my phone rang. It was Royce and he wanted to know if I wanted him to come out today. I thought about it quickly and said 'yes'. He said that he'd be there in about 30 minutes so I got dressed and went out to bring in Steele. As I was walking to the barn I spied him enjoying a roll. sigh. After a good groom to get the mud off I put him in his stall to chill while we waited. It didn't take long. Steele was markedly calmer this time around. Royce started by reviewing what he covered last weekend. Steele of course showed that he remembered it all. I really enjoyed watching the two of them work together. It was evident that Steele had decided that this guy was trustworthy.

After a bit of groundwork, he put on the tack and then spent some time mounting from both sides. Steele never even moved. Then Royce began to start showing him how to walk with him in the saddle and to steer.
Steele was trying hard to figure out what was being asked and looked very proud of himself when the penny dropped.
'ooh so you just want me to walk'
Look at how balanced he looks.

After  a few treks around the ring consisting of walking, steering and 'whoa' it was my turn. Royce kept him on the line and I put my foot in the stirrup for the first time. I stood up in the stirrup and reached over to pat him on the neck. His ear flicked back but he stood rock still. I swung my leg over and settled quietly on his back. I was torn between glee that I was in the saddle after all this time and worry that I was going to screw it all up. As I was led around I felt like a kid on her first pony ride. Slowly I began to take over the steering. We stopped and I dismounted.

Royce asked if I wanted him to come back later and we could repeat the riding. I agreed. When he left I sent a friend a text and told her what was happening. And that I needed a photographer. She and her daughter got in their car and drove to my place. In the meantime I tacked up Irish and rode him for about an hour.

Then Cynthia and Ashley arrived, followed shortly after by Royce. We tacked up Steele who was looking a bit confused that he was going out again. A brief session of groundwork and then Royce mounted. This time Steele understood the walk forwad, whoa, back up signals. Royce even trotted him a wee bit. Then it was my turn again. I did some groundwork and then mounted. This time I did more of the steering and my brain was a bit more focussed so I could pay attention to the feel. He felt easy and comfortable as we were going around. As soon as he became alert or tense by something outside of the ring I could feel it right away. I simply asked him to turn to get his attention back of me. It was fabulous. Ashley took a ton of photos. Here's one:

And one more:
He's 15'3 now and takes up my leg well I think

After I put him away and fed him a well earned supper. Cynthia, Ashley and I went out to supper and it's a miracle that I didn't fall asleep into my supper like a toddler.

I have just enough strength to type out this blog post. I feel like a kid at Christmas. You know- the one who got the pony.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Nothing up my sleeve

Horses have long featured in myth and folklore. That's because they are magic.

You might be rolling your eyes and thinking that I've lost all common sense but bear with me. I promise to not get too transcendental on you. I don't mean magic in the 'poop rainbows and fart butterflies' kind of way. But they are magic nonetheless.

To be honest I can't see any other explanation as to why else we spend so much time, money, sweat and tears on horses. I know that there those who are in horses for the money- that's why so much money and horseflesh is thrown into sports like racing and high end competitions. But there's money in it because of those of us captured by the magic.

I truly believe that for a small proportion of the population it's there from birth. I don't remember not being drawn to horses. My mother tells of me being brought home by neighbours as a preschooler because I was in the horse pasture. I have friends who tell me of their toddlers and young children (often girls but not always) who are fascinated and drawn to horses even though the parents are not.

You can dismiss me as an aberration. But consider the case of Ed.

Ed freely admits that when we first started dating (back in 1985) he knew that I 'loved horses'. But he did not truly appreciate what that meant or how it would impact our lives. For a few years he was quietly supportive. There were times he resented the time and money I spent on it and he waited for me to grow out of it. That never happened. He had a choice: accept that this was part of my life (and therefore his) or leave.

I'm glad he never chose the latter.

Fast forward to 2011 and we finaly make my dream come true and move to Oakfield Farm. We build a barn, install fences and bring home Irish. In 2012 Steele joins us. Ed is clear. He'll do the farm work but doesn't want a horse or to ride. He'll do the chores if I'm away but has no interest. He shares this belief with others. Of course I don't argue.

There was no big flash. No sudden conversion. Still the horses have slowly been weaving their spell. There were all sorts of indicators:

  • texts about whether the horses should be brought in from the rain
  • worrying that he was mixing the feed properly. 
  • not to mention helping me stack hay
A few weeks ago I was away and talking to Ed. He was talking about how hard it was to groom the mud off the horses. I silently digested that bit of information. 
"you know you don't have to groom them when I'm away?"
"yeah but you said that it helps prevent rain rot if they are groomed regularly" 

More silence as it hit me that he was actually listening to this. I was sure that when I talked about the horses all he heard was the Charlie Brown teacher voice of 'wahwahwah'

"oh. Well thanks"
"no problem"

When I got home I found him in the barn putting a new mailbox on a post (our old one didn't survive the winter). Steele was watching avidly from the stall. We chatted a bit, catching up. I saw him struggling to remove the numbers off the top with a hack saw. 
"wouldn't that be easier if you put it in the vise?"
"well yes but then Steele couldn't see me"
Steele looked at me as though to say 'well duh'
"um. okay"

This week I was away for a few days for work. Today is my daughter's birthday and I brought her home with me so we could give her dinner and presents. We were chatting over dinner. Ed casually mentioned that he groomed the horses yesterday. 
"thank you"
"they were pretty muddy"
"you know it's kinda soothing grooming them"
"I know, right?"

Amanda stopped chewing and looked at him. 
"who are you?"
Ed looked a bit sheepish. "I don't know what's happening to me"

I do.