Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What's going on inside that pretty little head?

With the help of my sister, Jenny, I got to ride my horse a little the other day. Really, I just had her lead me around like a pony ride. After a few times around the arena, we just let her walk where-ever she wanted and I  just went along for the ride. The next two days in a row I took her for walks, in hand, through the neighborhood. I can tell that she's the kind of horse that would get bored easily with too much repetition. She seems to enjoy going out and seeing new things and she's never spooky or worried. She made me laugh because she'll drag her nose along the asphalt or the rocks, like a hound trying to pick up a scent, then perks ups and looks around. I think that by spending more time in the neighborhood, she'll see that she can trust me as her leader. When we got out to the farthest point away from the stable, I gave her a snack and a rub down. I want her to look forward to going out and know that this is what she was made for, not standing in a stall all day. She gets irritated when it seems like when doing pointless drills. She needs to be challenged, and likes variety. That's a great quality for a trail horse. I used to have a horse that hated going down the trail.  She'd toss her head, keep looking over her shoulder, weaving back and forth along the trail. She was green  and so was I. I fell off that horse lots of times. She was more insecure, spooked at every rock and tree stump. She would have liked the repetition of arena work, to help her build her confidence. Calico is about as opposite from that horse as one can be. I've fallen off her too, but for a very different reason. I tried to make her do something without asking first, she bucked. What does Clinton Anderson say, "just before you hit the ground, you remember...ground-work!"  For most of her life, Calico has been able to do what ever she wants, with no one telling her what to do. She seems a little incredulous now when she is asked to do more than she wants, actually, she throws a little tantrum, bucking or rearing. Usually, I ignore it and just keep asking, then insist. She will always settle down and do what she's told, and then I reward her. The most important thing I've learned is to not let my emotions get in the way, not let the tantrum bother me.   Maybe I'm over analyzing, but I want to understand how she thinks, so I can tailor our training sessions to get the most out of them. Every horse is so different, and not knowing or caring about that can lead to hours of frustration. I want every minute with my horse to be fun for both of us. 

The Pictures under "Endurance" were supposed to be with this post. Oops.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


When I had my Arabian gelding, Majur Storm, I kept a training and conditioning log as we prepared for our Limited Distance ride (25 miles) in Washoe Valley. This was one of the happiest days of my life. It was a first for both of us, and I felt it was important to track our progress. When I brought Calico home, it seemed natural to keep a record of our progress, since she's just starting out. This blog is really my reflection of our journey together. I've been learning about endurance riding for the past fifteen years, and that one LD is the only ride I've had the pleasure of entering. I've been a timer, have crewed at other rides, been to the AERC convention trade show, sat in the Auburn Fairgrounds at 3:00 am watching the Tevis riders crossing the finish line. I love the sport but I've always found myself on the fringe. Now, I believe my hope of developing that deep bond with this one special animal is unfolding before me. My heart is full of gratitude for this wonderful gift I've been given. It's by the grace of God that I get to have her. Also, I have to thank my dear friend Carol, for introducing me to the sport and inspiring me all these years. It's because of her that in 1994, a 31 year old mother of five, got back in the saddle after a long, long time away, and discovered she's just as horse-crazy as she was when she was 12. Actually, I'm more horse-crazy than when I was twelve, ask my family.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


The first time I saw Calico, I thought, I want to ride that horse in the Helldorado Parade! It's funny because I'm not that interested in show-ring horses; they live an unnatural life, kinda like a  six year old beauty queen, but Calico is a part of Las Vegas history. She's flashy. She'll be an excellent trail horse, no doubt. My ultimate goal, of course, is endurance. I know the sport is dominated by Arabians, but mustangs do well. They may not be in the top ten finishers, but they can finish. Oh wait, there was that one that won the Tevis. That's the Western States Trail Ride that starts in Truckee and ends 100 miles later in Auburn. The completion award is a sterling silver belt buckle with a Pony Express Rider and the words "100 miles -One Day". I want that. Dave and I were pit crew for my friend Carol in this ride. She's made it 75 miles before her horse got pulled for lameness. I haven't even attempted that ride, so I should be pulled for lameness now! Only about half of the two hundred riders that start out make it to Auburn. I've never been very competitive; that's why I love endurance, "to finish is to win", that's the motto. With careful conditioning, and preparations we can easily reach my goal of doing a 50 (miles) when I'm 5o, then maybe we can do a 100 when I'm 100. Goals are just dreams deadlines, so I'm told, and lots of short-term goals along the way. Next step, riding her.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

First Ride

Today David came out with me. when I began lunging her she got all fired up and reared, bucked and galloped. I held the line and urged her to go. Even when she was ready to quit, I kept her going. I allowed her to come in and rest a moment and then did my regular ground work. She was very respectful and went through all paces beautifully. I saddled her and Dave got on. I led her around first, and she was fine. I continued through all my ground work as if Dave wasn't there. Walk, trot, canter, back-up, sending in the "C' pattern and circle- driving. She was great and so was Dave. He said the canter was definitely more fluid than the trot. I'm thrilled. This was a huge step for us. Once she has had a chance to play, she settles down very nicely and pays attention. She's very sweet. 

Valentine Fun


I turned out Calico in the arena while I cleaned stalls. She galloped around and around, one direction and then the other. It's the first time I've seen her run and play by herself since I brought her here. She's lovely. The weather had turned to a windy drizzle so that may have sparked her spirit. I didn't get a chance to do anything with her so I'm glad she got to kick up her heels


Today, I went through our regular groundwork, then saddled her. I got on and off several times, flexed her head laterally, yielded hindquarters and that was enough. I don't want to do more until I have a helper with me. It was great to be on her back. She was perfectly relaxed. Philip stayed home with his Daddy today. 

Labor of Love


I began cleaning stalls, for six horses, 7 days a week in exchange for free board. It seems that the reason I was created was for poop patrol. Yep, we all have a purpose, and my is excrement. My first duty as an apprentice midwife was poop patrol. I've been  on poop patrol for dogs, babies, rabbits, goats, fish, chickens, women and now, horses again. The study of poop is called scatology; you can learn a lot about a being's health by studying their crap. I wouldn't call myself a scatologist; just a causal observer. I've noticed that when I really like a horse, I don't mind their shit, but if a horse irritates me, I find their manure offensive. I wonder if there is any research on that, in psychology, perhaps. Yesterday was pretty cold so I left Philip at Jenny's. Today I took him with me in the backpack.  I only fill the buckets halfway, so they won't be so heavy to lift onto the cart. Then I have to push the cart into the arena, dump and spread. It takes about 45-60 minutes. 

When I brought Cali out, I decided we needed to spend more time on sending to the right. I realized that I needed to go back to the primary exercise of yielding the fore-quarters, especially on her right (off) side. She really does try. I want to keep it fun for both of us. She's understanding better today. Horses are left or right-handed like people. She's just more comfortable with me on her left, so we need to spend more time on the other side to balance her out.

Working on communication

I started with a few circles today, she's trotting and cantering well. Then I did some desensitizing with a spray bottle. Everything we do is an attempt to desensitize her from scary objects and sensitize her to my cues. Timing is everything. I picked up her feet. Put the saddle on, trotted to the left and right, backed, all the usual stuff.  We tried circle driving and the "C' pattern. She goes out to my left well, but gets stuck going to the right. I point, cluck, and tap her with my stick. She keeps  trying to go to my left even though I'm signaling right. When I waved the stick to 'close the door' to the left, she reared way up, then lunged toward me. I tried to stand my ground and wave her off, but with Philip on my back, I know I backed out of her way while I whacked her shoulder. We tried a few more times, slowly until she got it right. I wasn't worried about her rearing as much as I was about her pushing toward me. She has to respect my space all the time, but she still challenging that a little. We ended on a good note before I put her away. I want to be sure that I'm giving her very clear signals, correcting mistakes immediately and always ending with something she does well.

Saddle up


Today I got to the barn early and Cali was still eating.  I groomed her while she ate, then raked her stall. I'm amazed at how calm and relaxed she is compared with when I used to work with her. She lowers her head for the halter, stands quietly. I introduced her to the saddle. She trots and canters in both directions, doesn't flinch when I slap the stirrups. I tap the seat with my handy-stick, no reaction. I got this saddle off ebay a few years ago. It's cheaply made and I hate it. I thought it would be okay for training purposes though; I don't care if she tries to roll with it. I don't want to sell it because I don't think anyone should ever actually use it for riding. I'm saving for a real saddle. 

First Time Out

Today it's just Philip and me. We brushed her  before we took her to the arena. We play a few games, circling, backing, friendly (rub all over), yielding hindquarters, and forequarters. Then we went on our first adventure into the neighborhood. She was great. She wasn't spooky, didn't run over me (like she used to). She didn't care about the dogs barking ferociously as we passed their yard. We played in a wash in a vacant lot. It was quite a workout for me with baby in the backpack. It was 70 degrees out there. I stopped on my way home and bought Philip a hat. It's gonna be hot soon.

Happy Birthday, Calico Girl


Today is Cali's birthday. She's five years old. I decided to make her a carrot cake. I mixed oats, carrot pulp, flax, molasses and a little oil together. Jenny and Grace come over to the ranch. We give her a bath. She gets al little pushy with me at the wash rack. I don't think she's been tied up much and she doesn't like the hose. I have to introduce her to tap's cousin whack! She's more respectful of my space after that. The moment she steps off the wash rack she rolls in the dirt. She didn't even wait until we were in nice sandy arena. She rolled about six more times in there. We sing happy birthday  and she devours the cake. We work on sending out to the left and right; yielding hindquarters from driving pressure and backing up. This is the ground work we have to do before we get her started under saddle. For anyone reading this that doesn't know, Cali has had some handling, but minimal training. I got on her a few times in a round pen, but she hasn't been ridden really. We have a lot of training to do. 

Philip on Duke

Here's the Sweet old gelding; later his mom told me the girl's gave him the show name Put Up Your Dukes.

Sunday, 2-1-09

Rachel comes out with me after Mass. I clean stalls and then play with Calico some. We need to  spend time getting reacquainted and building trust. Another boarder is there with her girls. They have an older thoroughbred gelding, Duke. They let Philip sit on his back. He's a sweet old gentlemen, a baby-sitter. We introduce our horses to each other in the arena. While we're sitting there visiting for about 15 -20 minutes our horses are hanging out together. All of a sudden, the old  gent starts chasing my mare around the arena. She's running at a full gallop and he's biting her and ripping hair out of her tail and back. She tries to kick him a few times, but realizes she has to keep running. We tried over and over to break them up. His owner was shocked and upset, 'he's never done anything like this before'. Apparently he was defending his herd from this outsider. It did seem like he wanted to kill her. We finally got him into a corner long enough to get Cali back to her stall. I'm sure that's hardest she's ever worked in her life. I walked her out for a while after we got Duke put away. She needed to cool down. Debbie felt so bad, but I assured her that I wasn't upset. Horses have a pecking order. My horse was okay, just tired and humbled.

Settling In

(I've been writing a little everyday about my progress with Cali. I just started the blog, so I'll get caught up now)

David and Philip came to the barn with me to check on our girl. It looks like she'd been pacing all night. I turn her out in the arena while I clean stalls. I clean on the weekends for reduced board. I play with her and groom her. Her mane is a tangled mess. I bought a pack of tiny rubber bands so I could braid her mane as I de-tangle it. She grabs the plastic bag and starts chewing it. I had to reach way back in her mouth to get it out. Of course that tears the bag and  a life-time supply of rubber bands fall into the loose sand. She's a character. This is when I decide to change her name. Spirit of the Red Rock sounds like a title to me, so I'll keep it as the title of  her official name, if anyone besides the brand inspector cares. To me she's Calico Girl or Cali.

Coming Home

Jenny, Dani, Grace and I drove down to Leona Valley, CA to pick up Spirit. Tedi said that it was too much for her to try to keep four horses and I was the only person that she would want Spirit to go to.  I know it wasn't easy for her to part with this gorgeous mare. I hadn't seen her for two and a half years. The last time I had worked with her was before I knew I was pregnant with Philip. Tedi  moved her to California shortly after he was born. I wasn't sure how she would handle loading in the trailer, leaving her herd. She's never been separated from her mother. I would be taking her to a boarding facility that was very different from the pasture on 10 acres she'd grown used to. I couldn't sleep for a week before we left. I carefully planned the trip and tried to anticipate any problems, which could be many.

We left at 5 am on Friday, January 30th. We returned to Las Vegas at 5:30 pm. Everything went according to plan. I liked the way she turned around in the trailer, hesitated a moment then , jumped down and waited to be led to her stall. She seemed fine. I can't believe she's mine.