Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Learning as we go

I can't believe it's been so long since I posted anything, oh wait, I've been posting the trot! Calico has been ridden about seven times now and she's doing great. She seems very relaxed and we've been working on trotting a lot more, doing lots of serpentines and circles and some backing. I've been using Dr. Cook's bit-less bridle on her, but she manages to flip the reins into her mouth and she's almost chewed through the bio-thane. I ordered a similar style from Crazy Ropes by Debbie Hanson. Tamara from the Barb Wire blog recommended it. It came yesterday, and she did very well in it. I love the teal color on her and she's not that interested in chewing on it. I watched some of Chris Irwin's riding videos last night, and I feel like I don't know anything about riding. I thought I was doing pretty well and she was responding to my cues, but now I see that I make all kinds of mistakes, and I'm inadvertently sending her mixed messages or throwing her off balance, which throws me off balance which REALLY throws her off balance. There's always so much to learn. It's gonna take a while for all this info to start sinking into my brain, settling into my seat and leg and becoming automatic, fluid messages to my horse. I'm going to have to build up to the physical demands of riding a posting trot. I've got miles to go. Part of me is afraid to ride her for fear of messing things up; and part of me knows that the only way to improve is by doing. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

There's trails in them thar hills

The question is how do I get to them? I drove around today trying to find a way out to the edge of town. I board my horse in urban sprawl that is criss-crossed with gravel shoulders they call bridle-paths. It's better than the other side of the 95 freeway which has horse zoned properties interspersed with tract homes and sidewalks. I started mapping out mileage, so when I get out of this arena, I'll have some idea of distances for conditioning rides. The 215 Beltway girdles our fair city in an attempt to contain us, but I'm sure there's a way to cross and get out to those hills. The obvious solution would be to trailer out to where the good trails are located, of course, but, oh wait, I don't have a trailer. Ann Road intersection looks promising. There's a traffic light there and it's the narrowest part of the beltway. I have an image of that 14 year old boy indelibly impressed on my mind. He and some friends tried to run across the 215 at night; he didn't make it. I happened to drive past his body just before the EMTs covered him. My heart goes out to his family. Needless to say, I'm looking for the safest way to cross. There's also a pedestrian bridge that specifically allows horses at another location. We'll see. I told another boarder that I had a goal of doing an LD in October. Of course, it depends on how we're doing. She said,' that's ambitious'; she doesn't know me very well, clearly. I'll have to beg, borrow or rent a trailer.

Philip helps with Chores

He helps most when he stays asleep.

Recurring Dreams

Here I am, again, I starting out with a horse that I think has the potential to go great distances with me. I was here ten years ago with Kiss, a Spanish arabian mare. I just purchased a SR endurance saddle from our local 4-H leader for $400. I had big plans, but little skills. I was just starting to learn about Parelli horsemanship, and I had a great friend that was inspiring me toward endurance. I was trying to learn all I could about endurance then and even went to Robie Park to watch the Tevis riders start out. We lived only 45 minutes away, then. With a large family, and one income we've struggled and my goals seemed selfish. I let the horses go. We had two arabs and a pony; I gave them away, but before I did, I spent Mother's Day riding with my girls. It was one of the happiest days of my life and my husband video-taped it. A few years later, as I completed my apprenticeship and anticipated an income, I got another horse, Majur Storm. I sold the SR saddle for $1000, and put it as a down-payment on him. I had a new set of endurance goals and more experience. I discovered Pete Ramey and Jaime Jackson, and Stormy and I completed our first LD at Washoe Valley barefoot and bit-less. I was using a side-pull hackamore that Linda Tellington-Jones recommended. It was so fun, but I came off at the start of that ride because Stormy was, well...stormy, a Spit-fire really. then we had to go up this steep hill and I didn't have a breastcollar, and my saddle slipped. I did the second half of the hill hanging on to his mane, with all my weight off the saddle. When we got to the top, I jumped off and readjusted my saddle as rider after rider trotted by. Finally someone stopped and waited until I remounted, and Stormy took off to find the little mare he'd been traveling with before. We had done a lot of conditioning rides, but had only ridden with others twice before. He was thinking, "If this is a stampede, then I want to be up front where it's safe" Never mind that your trusty friend is still trying to stay on your back! Yeah, he pretty much forgot I existed. I'm sure the other riders were hating us, because they tried to ditch me at the 10 mile potty/water hole, but Stormy wasn't fooled. He just galloped for two miles to catch up. Once he found is friend he settled down for a lovely trail ride, we finished 4th. I apologize to anyone we might have annoyed. I can hear someone saying, ' Yeah, I remember my first ride'. I loved Stormy, but again, our financial situation looked bleak, and I was still making payments on him, so I let him go. Now here I am again, new horse, same goal. Most of my kids are grown and have incomes of their own, my midwifery practice is steady, my hubby works two jobs, and my horse and board are free. Yes, of course there are regular expenses, but I think we'll be alright. I've learned so much in ten years. I think this dream can become reality.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Today is 3-9-2009. The last few days have been very exciting for me. On Thursday, March 5th, I rushed through my chores, met Jenny at the barn and tried to get in some warm-ups and ground work in a hurry (that was a mistake). The barn owners were coming to ride their horses and I thought, if all went smoothly, I'd ride with them. I have only walked with Calico up to this point, getting her familiar with cues from the saddle. I only got to trot one small circle in the arena before the other people came in with their horses. Well, this was very exciting for Cali! I kept trying to refocus her attention on our work instead of what the other horses were doing, then we just started following them around. When one of the others broke into a trot, Cali did the same, I thought, okay I'll relax and allow her to go with it and just follow, just ride the horse. Of course she immediately broke into a canter and when she felt me bouncing around, she bucked and I saw the ground coming up fast. I'm embarrassed to admit I let out a loud "F***" as I hit the dirt. The other riders, of course, asked if I was okay and I replied, "Yeah, it's just adrenaline" What? I still don't know why I said that. I'm so happy to say that I stood up, shaken, but unhurt and when I turned to Cali, she looked a little sheepish and I held out my hand and she walked up to me. I felt no anger toward her; I loved that she came to me. In the past, with other horses, I would have reacted, held a grudge. I'm learning. I mounted again and we walked around for another twenty minutes or so. I rode her again the next day, alone and had Jenny lunge us at the trot. Not too bad. Saturday I didn't get to do anything but groom her because it was my true love's birthday; we had other plans.  Then came Sunday. Jenny came out with me again after church. I went through all our groundwork. One thing we haven't done is practice a trot-out. Every time I ask her to trot along side me while I jog, she drags her feet and says, "What are you doing, you're suppose to stand still in the middle." Today she got it. We jogged together back and forth across the arena. So fun! Then, we saddled up, and I went through our routine, moving off of leg pressure, lateral flexion, one-rein stops, yielding hindquarters. We did lots of circles, I want her to have a nice relaxed, even bend throughout her body, several times she tried to evade the circle and we'd end up kinda side-passing across the arena. Finally, we trotted, both directions! It was wonderful. I really felt like we made a huge leap in our progress. I cried a little when I dismounted and praised her profusely. I'm sure this seems rather silly to anyone who trains horses, but this is the first horse I've started from scratch. I've only had her just over a month, so it's huge for me. I've worked with a few very green horses, but never one that had no training. This is bliss.  She's so smart, and I'm crazy about her. If this is how I feel about a trot in the arena, I can only imagine what it will be like to go over Cougar Rock! A girl can dream.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Conditioning MY A**

Okay, so I'm 46 years old and gave birth to my 6th child 2 years ago on my back porch. It's taken me this long to get motivated to get back in shape; needless to say, the birth was a little harder on my a** and back at this age. When I found out I was getting a horse, my first thought was "if we're gonna do endurance, I need to start working out! Stephan and I get up at 5:00 am, go to the gym and I walk on the treadmill  for 30-40 mins. I've been adding longer sessions at a steep incline mixed with fast walking. Then, I do 20 minutes of weight training. Of course, I have to clean stalls, which involves an hour each day of pretty heavy work, all while keeping up with the 2 year old who wants to say "hi" to all the horses. Most days, I feel like I've been beaten with a stick, but hey, if I'm gonna do endurance, I need to endure. I actually enjoy cleaning the stalls and interacting with each horse. I feel completely at home in the barn. I'm sure some folks would be mortified to see me nursing my baby next to a pile of manure, but from what I can tell, no matter what you do someone will be bothered. My point is, I finally have Calico to motivate me to push myself beyond my perceived limits and make me try activities I've only dreamed of before. If I'm going to condition her for endurance, then she's going to condition me too.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

 Here's a short video of one of our first rides. The battery on my camera died; otherwise it would be longer.  This was taken 2-28-09. You can see her exploring my leg with her teeth; she has to get use to leg pressure. She was very calm and did everything I asked. We walked all over the arena, turned, stopped, yielded hindquarters, she's great!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Exploring the hood

Today Jenny and I loaded the kids in her double stroller and I saddled Calico and led her on a walk through the neighborhood, Very soon, we will be going down these streets with me on her back, but for now, I want her to accept the saddle and all the strange things we encounter, huge dumpsters, barking dogs, garbage trucks. We went through some vacant lots where we had to go up and down small hills, she stepped onto some man-hole covers with some encouragement. She's very curious. The only thing that made her nervous was a large palm branch. It must have been 8-10 feet long, (date palm) and was very dry. We were just stepping over it when Jenny came up behind with the stroller and ran over the other end, making it jump a little and making Cali jump a lot. We went back and picked it up and shook it and let her investigate it. Pretty soon I was rubbing her with it and she was chewing the end off. She's very trusting and easy to desensitize if I give her a little time to figure it out. We had so much fun.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

More thoughts on Endurance Riding

As I go through all these steps with Calico, I'm always thinking about our ultimate goal of being an endurance team. Endurance, to me is the greatest of all human-equine relationships. I just read a back issue of Horse and Rider magazine about an endurance horse who just completed over 20,700 competition miles; the horse is 37 years old and still sound and healthy!!! What a testament to the care this owner has for her horse, what an inspiration to me. In other equestrian sports the horses are used up, sometimes before they are five years old, then tossed away. The horse racing industry is the most devastating  of  all, for horses and jockey, alike. As long as there's money to be made, of course, it won't change. In order to continue in the sport of endurance, you have to help your horse to be fit, take extra special care of every aspect of it's health. You spend long hours conditioning and riding that horse through every type of terrain, so that in a ride  you pass each vet check 'fit to continue' . You develop a close bond with a creature so different from yourself.  You get to  travel to places that you might never go on foot, and definitely would never see from a car. Most of these places have historical significance; Pony Express trail, Twenty Mule Team ride, Santa Fe Trail and so on. Already, my thoughts are traveling down to my horse's feet and we are going places. We're moving as one.  Soon it will be time to "really ride".  ( Me and Philip have matching horses!)

Much Better

Now here's the right way to do it.

Lessons at the walk

The last couple of days I've been working Cali in her usual groundwork routine, then saddling-up and doing a little more. Yesterday, my 15 year-old, Dave, came with me. He got some pictures of her reaction to going to the right at the canter; it was a little bronc show. I just kept asking and finally she figured out that I was serious and when she did it right, she got a break and praise. Today when we went through that routine, I could see her thinking about bucking, then she remembered it wasn't worth it. She likes the praise better. I rode her some more and she's doing great. I asked for more of everything today. Instead of just doing a passenger ride, asked her to move forward, to bend left and right, to stop, to yield her hindquarters away from the pressure of one heel or the other. She was great, except that nearly every time I asked her to flex her head around she'd try to grab my shin, toe or the girth with her teeth. Notice I didn't say bite; okay, maybe she was trying to bite that 'bug' in her ribs, but I don't think she was trying to bite me! I try to remember this is all new for her and she's trying to figure it out. I had to resist the urge to kick her in the face, I just shook my foot wildly. I pleased with our progress, and I really like that girl. Once she's consistent with her cues at the walk, we'll move on to the trot.