Friday, December 24, 2010

Work it, Baby....Speak to the Camera.....

I am ready. I am excited. I have made all my donations to various animal rescue and wildlife groups. I did a whole bunch of wrapping last night. I braved traffic yesterday and picked up the last of my gifts and a few groceries.

I dropped off gifts for LA and her family last Sunday when I was out at the stables. I handed out hand-made chocolate candy canes to the young ladies and men who help around the place and left a bottle of wine for my farrier with LA. One of the people I ride with has no family locally and mentioned in casual conversation that he did not receive any gifts from his siblings.....so I left a little something in his car for him to open on Christmas morning. He was quite touched. I love this time of year!!! :-)

Today, I went to the stables. I haven't spent much time with Gem over the last couple of weeks and I was looking forward to seeing him. I was the only one there. Perfect. I brought my camera and some holiday lights, determined to get some great festive shots of my boy to include in this post. What I wanted was a few head shots of Gem, with the holiday lights incorporated in the background somehow. He has no fear of the flash, so I was looking forward to getting many pictures of my beautiful boy. Here are the results of our photo session:

These are the lights...they really are quite bright....really...they are...


This is Gem's butt as he turned away from me when I tried to position him....



This is Gem looking at the lights and saying to himself "no way"....

Then I come up with this brilliant idea to put him in his stall and take the picture from the inside, hoping that the darkness of the aisle way would enhance the lights.


Here's Gem saying, "no, I am not moving any closer to those stupid lights"....



"Nope, I'm not going over there....."


"Hey, I think there's a piece of hay over there!....."

Geez, some models can be so difficult!!! Oh well, I hope you get the gist of what I was attempting to accomplish.



Gem and I hope that your holiday season is what you envisioned it to be. Be safe, enjoy your family and friends, have a blast and best wishes for the New Year!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Caw!

Every morning, I sit at the kitchen table and have my first cup of coffee while I glance over the newspaper. My seat at the table faces out our patio door into the back yard and I can see the field over our hedge. I initially picked this seat when we moved into this house 15 years ago, because I was able to watch the dogs when they were outside, making sure they didn't get into too much mischief (those of you who have terriers know what I am talking about!). In the spring and summer, I can enjoy looking at my garden, in the fall my mornings are filled with the gorgeous yellow, red and orange of the trees in the field, and in winter, this seat now allows me to enjoy the birds at the 3 feeders I have set up.

Every morning, between 7:20 a.m. and 7:45 a.m., hundreds of crows fly over my house and across the field to an unknown destination. Sometimes a few of them will sit in our trees and torment the dogs (and humans!) with their cawing and gesturing. This morning ritual fascinates me and I have, over the years, asked people who live in outlying towns if they know the secret place where the crows hang out during the day. No one does. This morning was particularly magical; the crows were flying through a light snow and it looked like diamonds were floating down against their dark wings.

I really like crows. They are actually one of my favourite birds. They share my favourites listing with Cardinals. Chickadees and Goldfinches. As a young person I never really paid much attention to crows. Like a large portion of the population, I guess I was subconsciously buying into the historical bad press that crows and ravens represented nasty (actually any black bird or black animal gets a bad rap).

Many years ago, I worked on the ground floor of an office building, looking out on to a greenspace with some trees. Very nice. One day, I happened to notice two crows outside my window. It was hard not to notice; one was screeching at the other. I thought they were fighting over food because the slightly larger crow had a piece of bread in its mouth. She would let the other crow hop over to her and then she would fly about 10 feet, very low to the ground leaving the other crow screeching at her. This went on and on, with the slightly smaller crow hopping all over the grass chasing the crow with the bread. Initially, I thought was some sort of cruel game. She started flying a little further away, and eventually the smaller crow started flapping his wings and flying a few feet. It dawned on me; she was trying to teach her youngster how to fly!! I watched this lesson for about 20 minutes. Eventually she got her youngster to fly up to the lower branch of one of the trees and gave him the bread. They sat there for a while and then she flew off low to the ground, with her youngster right behind her. After that incident, I looked at crows with different eyes. How can a bird this loving and responsible towards its young, have such a bad reputation?

Crows are smart and are problem solvers. I personally have seen a family of crows working as a team trying to figure out how to open a snap-lid garbage can. :-) They live a long time and mate for life. If one of the mates dies, the other will remain single forever. They mature slowly and live in family groups, with the youngsters helping raise the newer chicks. What I witnessed when I saw the mother teaching the youngster to fly was just another day in the life of raising their young. I think it's part of human nature to focus on the negative; yes, crows and ravens are opportunistic and will feed on garbage, other birds' eggs and crops. But, they also eat crop-damaging bugs and rodents and help keep other small wildlife populations in check . In nature it's all about balance. Crows actually share a lot in common with another one of my favourites, coyotes. You can find out more about crows here.

That day so many years ago when I watched the mother crow reward her youngster for his effort has stayed with me. It changed the way I look at the wildlife around me. There aren't many crows around the stables, but when I do see them I smile and know that they are helping the barn cats keep the rodent and insect population in check . Cats and crows seem to get along. Perhaps they understand that they are working together. I think the crows around the stables also enjoy observing what we are doing as we work around or ride our horses; we're sort of like their TV. :-)

If you are disappointed that this post was not about my adventures with Gem, I apologize! :-) I haven't been able to ride for the past week due to weather. But, I hope the next time you see a crow, you think of their intelligence, how majestic they are, their sense of family, how important community is to them and how mysterious they are. Crows, in my book, are very cool.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tween to Teen

My soon-to-be 13-year old niece spent the weekend with me. I always love spending time with her. She is the only girl in a set of triplets. I was my sister's birth partner for the triplets; her husband had to stay home with the other two girls! My Niece and I had a connection from day one. We just clicked. She is the quietest in the family and my sister admits that sometimes My Niece gets "forgotten" in amongst the ruckus that the other kids make. My Niece said to me one time that she just liked being with me.... and for that I am grateful. :-) We get together every few months for a nice weekend visit.

Of course, part of being with me includes being at the stables. When I first started lessons a couple of years ago, My Niece would patiently sit and watch, sometimes in freezing weather. She didn't complain then and she doesn't now. Her "reward" was to help me groom my school horse (strangely, GM did not try to take a chunk out of her) and on one occasion, she actually got to sit on GM. She was over the moon. On the way home from lesson, she would tell me how I did and how I looked better from the last time. :-)

So, when Gem came into my life she was very excited. We went out and bought her proper paddock boots and a helmet. I enrolled her in a couple of riding camps, which she loved. She knows how to groom (except for feet-that will come), she can clean tack and sweep up. To keep her busy while I ride, she videos my performance, or lack thereof. :-) When I have completed my routine, My Niece "cools" Gem down for me. ;-) Up she gets on Gem, as if it's nothing to get on a 16.0hh horse, and I walk her around, holding the bridle. Gem likes young people and is especially kind and patient when he has one on is back. This was our usual routine up until this past August.

Last August was a turning point with Gem, My Niece and for me. I hadn't spent a weekend with her for a few months and we were both anxious to get out to the stables. After I completed my ride, My Niece donned her helmet and got up on Gem. She looked different this time. I couldn't quite put my finger on it.....then she asked me to lengthen the stirrups for her. Good grief. That's what it was. She's taller...she's more mature looking....she's....growing up!!! I did as she asked and started walking her around. It hit me hard that the person on my horse was no longer a little girl. After a few steps, I asked her if it would be OK if I didn't hold the bridle. She was fine with that. :-) I continued walking beside her and Gem and gave her a refresher on keeping her heels down, how to whoa, and how to use her legs. We walked around for about 5 minutes. Then, I stepped away from her and asked her to walk to the fence, turn Gem around and come back.....and, she did. Gem was pretty good with interpreting her requests. I walked further and further away from her and each time she communicated to Gem what I asked her to do. Then.....she asked if she could trot.....gulp.

Of course, I said "sure!" My heart was pounding as I walked away from her to the other end of the paddock. She fell off of one of the school horses during summer camp, so she knew what it felt like and yet still asked to trot Gem. I admired her fearlessness. As I stood at the far end of the paddock and reminded her what she needed to do, I gave her my biggest smile and encouraged her on. You know what? She did it! Not once, not twice, but three times, up and down the paddock. Gem was fantastic.

So yesterday, after I finished my ride, My Niece got on Gem to cool him down. Again, we went through a bit of a refresher. She is pretty balanced, in spite of having to be reminded to keep her heels down (I think I was reminded a ba-zillion times!!) and she needs to improve her tension on the reins, but she got Gem up to a sitting trot a couple of times and was satisfied with her ride. It was a good afternoon.

So, My Niece is no longer "little" and is starting to show her independence and her confidence. In fact, she told me that she could have ridden Gem over the past year without me holding on the the bridle, but she thought that it made me feel better to hang on to it. :-) When she rides; she is in the moment and I admire that. The first few times I rode Gem, I was terrified. I love how Gem is so patient with her and I am glad that he is a good teacher. Seeing him with My Niece makes my heart swell and I really appreciate seeing this side of his personality. Perhaps Gem and My Niece will have an ongoing relationship through her (and his) teen years. I can only hope.

I have discovered, through instructing My Niece, that I have actually retained what I have been taught in my lessons! Isn't that great?! Now.... if I could just execute what I have been taught....easier said then done!!! :-)

What was I thinking....?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Here you go, Kristen!!

This post is for Kristen over at Sweet Horse's Breath. :-) About a week ago, we were "chatting" over at Sarah's blog (Miles on Miles). Sarah's dogs were having some skin irritation issues and I mentioned that my sister makes her hound dogs a special stew. Kristen asked for the recipe, but I thought I would post it in case anyone else was interested. I am actually glad that I now have this recipe....I was dependent on my sister giving me some of hers. :-)

So, Kristen....all the way from Africa (my sister is traveling).....here you go!

"Here is the dog stew recipe with rough estimates of quantities:

base: 1 small turnip (or half a large one) 1 sweet potato, 2 small white potatoes, 1 parsnip, 1 celery stalk options:
  • 1 cup of meat of your choice cubed (I prefer to choose meats that are considered traditional for my breed -- you can google to find one, mine came from Animal Wellness magazine)
  • 2 or 3 additional veggie options (I either use up the veggies in my fridge or use the frozen California mix -- cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, but green beans are also excellent. There are some veggies not suitable to dogs, so google Animal Wellness to find out which ones).
Other ingredients:
  • fresh rosemary (promotes good heart health)
  • garlic (helps with the immune system)
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
Put everything in a slow cooker and cook on high for 3 to 3.5 hours. If you are worried about your dog's weight, then remove the root veggies -- sweet and white potatoes and the turnip and add brown rice afterward (I tend to store the brown rice separately because it tends to 'spoil' when mixed and stored with the stew for more than a day or two)."

I am telling you, this stuff smells delish when it's cooking! My sister separates the stew into weekly portions and freezes what she's not using. Mix a couple of heaping tablespoons of this stuff with a good kibble and your dogs will never leave you!!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Back to Regular Programming

The fog is lifting! I am still getting into my pajamas when I get home, I am still a little anti-social, but I am no longer eating everything in the fridge: carbs are a little safer around me! Whew! I just had to get over the hump and let my body adjust to the winter darkness. This blogging thing is amazing. How wonderful that people that share a common interest with me, but who I have never met, can be so supportive. Thank you!!!

The weather has been quite amazing the last couple of weeks, which has been great for my SAD. Lots of sun and warm-ish temperatures. I have managed to get in quite a few rides.

Recently, I have been working on having a loose rein and just using my seat and legs to tell Gem where I want him to go. This exercise is based on a routine from Chris Irwin's Riding the Waves DVD, which Shannon over at It's Quarters for Me recommended (yes, Shannon, I watched the DVD!! :-)). The exercise that Gem and I do is part Chris Irwin and part LA and is to promote more effective communication with your horse through your legs and seat. We do this exercise at a walk. It doesn't look like much when you are watching someone else do it; the cues are so subtle. However, it does take balance and good seat and leg position, areas that I definitely need work on.

I do my usual warm up with Gem - walk, jog, walk - and then move him to the middle of the arena. There we do a few back ups, walk ons, and 90 degree turns. After we have loosened up, I start the exercise. While we are standing, I relax contact with the bit allowing the reins to hang a little but they still touch the sides of Gem's neck. Then I start using my legs and seat to ask him to walk on, turn, zig zag. In some ways, this is the perfect exercise to do when you are in an unbalanced state of mind. :-) It promotes relaxation and loosening up. I can shut out the "noise" going on around me and feel my body. The first few times we did this exercise, my lower back hurt; an indication to me that my balance was off. I am getting better at turning my upper body in the direction I want Gem to go. When you do that, everything else just falls into place. Go figure! :-)

Now on to something near and dear to my heart - fashion! It can be challenging for me when it comes to riding attire. I am curvy....just a little too curvy. :-) I am currently looking for a pair of heavier weight stretchy jeans for riding, preferably with tummy and thigh control....kidding!!! I am looking for something that I can wear in the colder months and that will cover the top of my boots so the cold air doesn't blow up my pant leg. I tried on a pair of Q-Baby Wranglers in my regular size, hoping that my fairy godmother would appear and make me look like the model in this picture. No such luck. While they looked decent when I was standing in front of the mirror, I think getting on Gem may be a problem and even if I could manage it, I think the supply of oxygen to my brain would be cut off by the waistband once I got in the saddle. I understand that they eventually loosen up with wear, but should I chance passing out while riding? Have any of you out there had experience with Q-Baby's????

Happy Thanksgiving to my American blogging friends!! Enjoy your family and friends.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Wayne

Thoughts are with Dun Got Class. She had to say good-bye to her Haflinger, Wayne, yesterday. He was a beautiful horse and quite a character. Always tough to make these decisions, but he is now pain-free. If you have a sec, please show Dun Got Class your support during this sad time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

SAD, don't you know it......

I apologize for not being an active blog participant recently, blogging friends and followers. It’s not that I don’t care about what is going on in your worlds; I do! Rest assured, I am keeping up with what's going on with you and I appreciate the comments you have made on my previous posts. The lack of daylight messes with me. My focus recently is, once I get home, getting into my pajamas and eating any carb that is within reach. You see, I suffer with SAD.

I never quite understood what happened to me during winter months. I would sleep away weekends and when I wasn’t sleeping I was eating. I did not want to socialize. I did not want to think. My Husband read an article about SAD 20 years ago, and based on that article I started making some changes to my usual routine that helped alleviate some of the symptoms. One of the biggest factors that contributes to sluggishness is lack of sunlight. It's dark when you get up and it's dark when you drive home. My office furniture is arranged so that I look out the window while I work at my computer, allowing me to soak up as much daylight as possible. My Husband bought me a blue light a few years back and I use it in the dead of winter when it's still dark outside in the morning, while I am blow drying my hair. I used to have it on while I was putting on my make up, but I found that the blue tinge it projected on my skin made for interesting make up application. :-) Taking vitamin D has helped a lot. But, without a doubt, once again riding has been the biggest help in keeping me well.

I didn’t realize the how much of a positive impact riding had on dealing with SAD until My Husband mentioned it. Two years ago, when I started my riding lessons, my personal test was if I could make it through a winter; if I could push myself to go to my two lessons a week (one evening, one early morning) when it was cold and dark and snowing, then riding was for me. My school horse, GM, was not very fond of me, or any student for that matter. She would have been a convenient excuse to cancel. But I didn’t. Even when I was injured and couldn’t ride, I still attended the lessons. Riding had drawn me in and I was addicted. I persevered through the winter months. I started to feel better and more energized as winter progressed. I still had some down days, but they were no longer the norm. After surviving that first winter, I started looking for my own horse.

Last winter was my first with Gem. Unless it was too cold, I held to the routine of riding him three times a week. Being outside with him, getting exercise, socializing and having FUN was good for body and soul; my winter was not so bleak. I do not see sleeping away another winter in my future. I am already getting adjusted to the recent time change and I know that I will feel better very soon. I am so glad that I found the best prescription ever for SAD - Gem!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hello Vodka Soda, It's Mommy Calling....

My last few rides have been so-so. Can't quite put my finger on it. I have had some successes but I feel like I am not quite getting it. In general, though, I feel a bit like I am letting Gem down. It's like he's waiting for me to do something. I can sense it. I have been working on some weak areas, but frankly they are making me weak! I have been experiencing jelly-legs lately when I dismount.

We are still having issues with the way he bends when going around corners. I feel like a failure in this area. He tends to turn his head to the outside just a smidge as we round corners, causing his neck and shoulders to bend inside. This has been an issue since day one. As we come up to a corner, I apply my inside leg to get him to bend around it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Sigh. I end up using my reins to reinforce my leg, which I am not too keen on.

I am still not able to ask him for a large posting trot. He will do one instead of a lope, but he will not do one if I am asking him to speed up from a jog. Our sitting jog is quick-ish already, so I guess he just thinks he's going fast enough. :-) I can apply leg pressure all I want, but he only speeds up a little teensy bit. I can almost see it in his eyes that he is routing for me to ask him correctly so he can respond. Come on, you can do it!! Sigh.

It's getting busier in the arena because of the change of temperature. It's hit and miss on keeping Gem's attention on me. I now keep him walking, even in lesson. I want him to realize that we are working and it's not about standing in the middle of the arena gabbing. Keeping him moving helps, but I feeling like I am pushing or pulling him all the time to keep him focused on the task at hand. If I give him one nano-second, his attention will move over to the other horses in the arena. I don't mind him being curious or friendly, but currently when he does this he disengages from me completely. I am trying not to take it personally. :-) Hopefully, the novelty of having new arena friends will wear off.

On a positive note getting on Gem has improved. Out of the last 3 times I got on him, he gave me the business once and it was minor. I changed the location of where I get on him and I think that made a bit of a difference. I also walk him around the arena a couple of times with whoa and back up thrown in a few times for good measure prior to taking him over the to mounting step-ladder. I believe this exercise sets the tone, so when I ask him to stand, he does.

I have been tired after the last few rides and looking forward to my vodka soda when I get home. My body has been in a constant state of sore the last week, a side-effect of working hard at trying to dial into the right number. Not Gem's fault, really. He's waiting for me to get it so he can answer and we can communicate. I hope I find the right number soon. I don't like feeling like I am letting him down.

What was I thinking....?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spunky

My thoughts are with LA today. LA told me last night that Spunky, her 29-year old mare, is being put down today. Spunky stopped eating and LA had the vet out yesterday afternoon. The diagnosis is that Spunky's liver is giving out. She had a rough winter last year and rather than force her to recover and face another winter, the difficult decision was made. Spunky was put in Gem's field last night, along with her special friend, another retired mare. I watched them for a few minutes. Spunky was standing, looking around at her new surroundings. But, I could sense that Spunky was "tired". Her special friend was standing close to her, almost touching, as she grazed.

I did not really have an opportunity to know Spunky well, but I will share what I know. She has lived 27 of her 29 years with LA. This means that LA was about 17 or 18 years old when Spunky became part of her life. I believe LA's father had a soft spot for Spunky and she may have been his horse. Spunky eventually became a lesson horse. Her patience made her a good babysitter, and quite a number of people learned to ride on Spunky. She was officially retired 5 years ago and has been living outside with the herd ever since. Her gentle nature and age put her near the bottom of the herd hierarchy, but she managed. She and her special friend could be seen grazing together in their preferred field, just outside the forested area not far from the barn. I would watch in amazement as she trotted across the fields like a youngster to receive her special supplements when LA called her name at the gate.

Spunky has had a good life. She has been loved, appreciated and cared for. I remember that Spunky was in rough shape late winter and LA was worried that she would have to put her down then. Routines were changed up a bit to accommodate Spunky's special needs and she was able to enjoy another summer.

Personally, I think that Spunky has made the decision not to endure another winter. She decided to take control of her destiny by allowing her body to stop working. Her liver failure has made it easier for LA to cope with the decision to assist Spunky on the next part of her journey. A gentle lady to the end. RIP Spunky.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, Gem!


Gem celebrated his 10th birthday on October 17th. Today, we went on a celebratory trail ride. Five of us braved the cold and rain. He was well behaved and I relaxed enough to let him do what he needed; I didn't interfere with him as he wound our way through stony trails and shrubs. I am trusting him more and more. After he was back in his stall, I gave him a carrot and then went to the lounge to have some carrot cake with my riding buddies.

Birthdays and anniversaries make me reflect. I have been thinking about Gem's first life, pre-Wolfie. Ellen, his first owner, had wished for her own horse for a long time. She researched what she wanted: something unique, brave, strong, solid, an easy keeper that could withstand our cold Canadian winters and keep her safe out on the trails. Her breed search came up with the Canadian, or La Cheval Canadien as the breed is known in Quebec. The history of the Canadian breed can be found here. My dream horse wish list included the same things.

Gem started his life at a breeder's facility not far from where I live. When Ellen purchased him as a 3-year old, she had him transported to Guelph, Ontario and Gem lived on her property for five years. Ellen's wish had come true and Gem was to be her forever horse. She had his name tattooed on her back. Over that 5 year period, he lived outside and she rode him on the trails on her property. He was the only horse and I believe he had a dog as a companion. I get the impression that Gem was more of a pet than a riding companion. He was spoiled.

Over that 5 year period, Ellen's circumstances changed dramatically. The business that her husband and she owned was suffering, they had to sell their property to pay bills, the business eventually went under, her marriage broke up. She had a friend that owned a boarding/lesson facility about an hour away from where she was living and asked if Gem could be housed there until she found a job and her financial troubles were sorted out. Gem moved and shared a field with other horses. It didn't work out very well. Having no real herd manners and being a big guy, he bossed everyone around and took to herding the mares so aggressively, he was separated and Ellen had his blood tested to make sure he was a true gelding (he is). Gem just didn't know how to play nice, so he was kept alone in the front paddock while the herd was kept at the back of the property. He was used in some lessons to "pay" for his board. Time passed. He got fat.

Eventually, Ellen had to make a decision. Her friend was downsizing to a small hobby farm that could house her two personal horses and her 4 dogs, but that was it. The facility had been sold. Ellen could not afford to board Gem anywhere. She was still unemployed. Gem was put up for sale.

While Ellen's life with Gem was unraveling, I was surfing the Internet looking for my dream horse. I actually found a 15.0hh Fjord (LOVE Fjords!) that seemed perfect and was being offered at the top end of my budget. Jean and I drove for hours to see him. We both rode that sweet guy and loved him. Unfortunately, when I had the vet exam done, he came up sensitive on his right front leg after being lunged in a circle for a while. In fairness, the owner did say that he had been sensitive before when being lunged, but had never had a problem with him out on the trails. I needed a horse that could do circles in lessons, so I had to walk away.

Then, I found Gem. When STA and I went to see him, I also met Ellen. Initially, she was a bit hostile to me. But, once we started talking about Gem and his history, she broke down and started crying. I actually got teary-eyed myself; it was obvious how much she loved this horse and now one more thing in her life was disappearing.

Megan, STA and myself rode Gem, and I was smitten. When we all sat down to negotiate - Ellen with her friend and STA and I - I started off by asking Ellen if she was OK with this, if she was OK with me. I was prepared to walk away if she was not comfortable with this situation. I would accept her decision. She said she liked me and was absolutely fine with Gem going with me.

Ellen sold Gem to me for the same amount she paid when she purchased him from the breeder. As I shook her hand to seal the deal, she grabbed me and hugged me. I reassured her that everything would be OK. The next Friday, Gem had his vet check and STA and I picked him up. The adventure began on April 18/09.

Initially, Ellen emailed me about once a month to see how he was doing. I would give her a light update on how he was adjusting to his new environment and being in a stall at night, about his new roommates and how he was doing in lessons. On his birthday, she asked if I could give him an extra apple for her. I did not hear from her over the winter months. Then, this past spring, on the anniversary of me becoming his companion, Ellen contacted me to see how Gem was doing. In her email, she indicated that her situation was much better. She had found a job over the winter and moved into an apartment closer to friends and family and was much happier. I was pleased for her and gave her an update which included a recent picture of Gem. She responded that she was grateful that he looked so good and content. He looked loved and she knew I was the right person for Gem. She thanked me for helping him become the horse she knew he could be and told me that she could finally let go. I have not heard from her since.

Sadly, what happened to Ellen is not uncommon. In a heartbeat, circumstances can change. The closing of one door in Ellen's life, opened another for me and another for Gem. Having him in my life has had such a positive effect on my well-being. I hope he feels the same. Gem started his life not 20 miles from where he is now; I brought him "home". Strange how these things happen. Was it meant to be?? Here's something even stranger. The second or third time Gem was getting his feet done, The Farrier, who recognized him as a Canadian, asked me where he was from. I explained the story. The Farrier broke out into a big smile. It turns out that, for the last 15 years, he has been doing all the farrier work for the breeders where Gem was born. He did Gem's feet for the first 3 years of his life!! Cool, eh? Yes...I think that Gem has really come home...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wanting to be Hated

My riding class expanded this past summer to include CA and BF. CA is an experienced rider, but has not been riding much over the last year because her horse is recovering from a leg injury. LA offered her a horse to ride during our lessons to keep her skills up. BF is a newbie and has been taking lessons for almost a year now.

Gem was a schnook last night. He is not usually affectionate; he's not fussy on having his face touched unless you are putting on a bridle. However, last night he allowed me to softly rub his face and eyes, hug him and scratch his ears. He sniffed my hair. He touched my butt when I was cleaning his feet. Yep, we were going to have a good ride.

Last night, LA set up two cavalettis and four poles in the middle of the arena. Gem was very interested in them. Ears up. We walked up to them and he checked them out. He sniffed and sniffed. No problemo, he said. Alright!

As I have mentioned, our usual routine is walk, lope, rising trot, jog, with leg yielding exercises thrown in for good measure. And, as usual, when BF takes his turn at whatever he is being asked to do, he does it with ease and finesse. His tall, lanky body seems to float effortlessly with his horse when he lopes. He's balanced. He makes it look easy. He doesn't break a sweat. And, when he completes his turn, we tell him how much we hate him. Last night was no exception. We told BF fairly early in the evening that we hated him.

In general, Gem and I were having a pretty good session. He was responsive to my leg and verbal cues. He was relaxed. His jog was OK although we are still working at slowing it down a tad. On the other side, his rising trot could have been a bit faster and larger. Oh, well. After one false start, he and I loped one full circle, at a consistent pace and I believe my butt was in the saddle for most of it. Yay! I managed to reprise my loping performance a number of times. My goal of going around the arena twice at a lope is in sight!! My classmates were quite impressed.

Now it was time for the cavalettis and poles. We all walked over them a couple of times, to allow the horses to get used to them. CA's horse refused a couple of times but eventually realized that the cavalettis were not going to eat him. The poles were set up beside the cavalettis. The pattern would be trot up and over the cavalettis, turn and trot over the poles. We took our turns and as usual told BF that we hated him.

LA: Let's bump it up a notch. Wolfie, you and Gem pick up a lope and do the pattern.
Me: No.
LA: Well, thanks for thinking about it.
Me: Are you mad???? I am still trying to stay in the saddle under normal circumstances when I lope! You want to throw in jumping???
LA: It's not that high.
Me: I'm not loping over those poles.
LA: *sigh*

Gem and I managed quite nicely at a trot thank you very much while others loped/hopped over the cavalettis and poles. After we trotted over the obstacles, Gem and I loped down to the far end of the arena to join the group. I think I may be getting the hang of this loping thing! Jean did amazingly well on a new horse. They actually did jumps over the cavalettis! OK, the elevation of the cavalettis is probably, what, 6 or 7 inches??? But Jean and her horse jumped them. It was lovely to watch. We told her that we hated her.

LA then added another cavaletti, positioned on the same side as the poles. So, now we had to go over the first two cavalettis, turn, go over the new cavaletti and then the poles. No sweat. Gem and I gracefully trotted over the first cavalettis. However I made my turn very sharp and didn't give him much room to reposition his body before taking on the new cavaletti. We were almost at a standstill and in my effort to keep him moving I pushed a secret button by mistake. With no room to actually take a stride, he went up. Like, straight up. He jumped over the new cavaletti and then continued to trot over the poles. WTH?! He JUMPED! He JUMPED that cavaletti like it was a 2 foot jump instead of 6 inches. And, I stayed in the saddle!!! Everyone was cheering. I am sure the group thought that it was a smile on my face, indicting that the jump was planned. But, in fact, I was checking to see if I had chipped any teeth. As I joined my classmates, CA leaned over to me and said: "Loping, jumping....soon you will be the one we hate!" Wow!!!

The rest of the lesson was a bit of a blur. I have to admit that I was grateful that Gem made the decision to go forward, or up in this case, instead of freaking out or refusing. It reaffirmed my gut feeling that I can trust him. He did what needed to be done to continue moving on, but didn't overdo it.

I had jelly legs when I dismounted. I could already feel the effects of whiplash settling in as I was leaving the stables last night. Getting out of the car when I got home took some effort. Sigh. Today is an Advil day....boy, is it an Advil day.

What was I thinking....?

Monday, October 18, 2010

U.S. Bill H.R. 503 and Canadian Bill C-544

You may or may not be aware of Bill H.R. 503 and Bill C-544. They are to stop the transport of horses to be slaughtered for human consumption (H.R. 503) and to stop horse slaughter for human consumption (C-544); basically eliminating horse slaughter for human consumption in North America. I am not a political person and I certainly don't want my blog to turn into a political forum. However, I received this notice from the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition and feel compelled to pass on this information to other horse lovers. The information outlines ways to voice your opinion on horse slaughter to your federal government. Personally, if it weren't for groups like CHDC, I would not be aware of documents like these bills. I have already contacted my Member of Parliament outlining my desire to stop the slaughter and asking where he stands on Bill C-544.


"From our friends in the U.S., we have an urgent message to call on Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday, Oct. 19/10 and ask her to schedule a vote on the Prevention of Equine Creulty Act - H.R. 503. Please read the following from EWA:

..... Tell Speaker Pelosi that this bill has 183 bipartisan cosponsors in the House, 28 in the Senate, and tremendous public support. After you call Speaker Pelosi, 202.225.0100 or her San Francisco office, 415.556.4862, call on Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid 702.388.5020 / Fax: 702.388.5030, and Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Dick Durbin 202.224.2152 or fax 202.228.0400 to schedule a vote on the senate version,
S.B. 727. Don't wait. Do it now. For the horses.


For additional info, visit Animal Law Coalition at
http://www.animallawcoalition.com/horse-slaughter/article/1443



CANADIAN PRIVATE MEMBERS BILL C-544:



Petitions are still active for our Canadian Bill C-544. Deadline for petitions is DECEMBER 31/10. If you haven't started to gather signatures yet, please download a new petition here:
http://www.defendhorsescanada.org/pdf/chdcpetition2010.pdf (English version) or http://www.defendhorsescanada.org/pdf/healthpetitionfr.pdf (French version).
Please continue writing your MPs, you can find your MP link here:http://webinfo.parl.gc.ca/MembersOfParliament/MainMPsCompleteList.aspx?TimePeriod=Current&Language=E
As well, please keep your letters flowing to our Ag Minister, Gerry Ritz at: Ritz.G@parl.gc.ca and make the liberal opposition aware of your thoughts - contact MP Wayne Easter, Liberal Agriculture Critic at: Easter.W@parl.gc.ca. A full listing of people to contact can be found on the CHDC web site or blog.


To ensure your petitions are accounted for and read in Parliament, please forward them to MP Alex Atamanenko's office directly. His contact information is:
MP Alex Atamanenko
337 Columbia Avenue
Castlegar, BC V1N 1G6
Tel: 250-365-2792
Email: atamaa1@parl.gc.ca

Humane Society International (HSI) has been instrumental in gathering names and signatures on this bill. Since they already have a tabulation of many Canada-wide supporters, HSI is assisting to keep track of all support efforts across the country. After you send in your petitions to MP Atamanenko, please notify your MP of your actions, and take the time to write a letter or email to say why you're supporting this bill and the number of names you've gathered.


Also, please notify HSI how many signatures were gathered, and in what riding. If you have already sent in your petitions to your MP, please follow up with them and ask that they be tabled in the House of Commons. Please notify HSI with details of your petitions. If you have sent in your petitions or copies to the CHDC, we will ensure they are tabulated together with the others. By accomplishing this tabulation, we will ensure all signatures are properly accounted for, and that all petitions get tabled.


Humane Society International (HSI) - Canada

372 Ste-Catherine O/W Suite 319
Montreal, QC H3B 1A2
Tel: 514-395-2914 (EST-5h)
Fax: 514-395-8021
info@hsicanada.ca
www.hsicanada.ca

Thank you all for all for your continued support,



For the horses,
Canadian Horse Defence Coalition"
www.defendhorsescanada.org
info@defendhorsescanada.org
http://canadianhorsedefencecoalition.wordpress.com/

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bad Mommy, Good Mommy


It was a fantastic long weekend. Lots of sunshine, lots of friends, lots of family and lots of riding. It was a very relaxing weekend for me. For the first time in a number of years, My Husband and I did not have to prepare a huge meal or entertain. I had Friday off so I got my nails done and went for a ride. Saturday I met a girlfriend for lunch and Saturday night, My Husband and I went to friends' for dinner. Sunday we did some work around the house and went to my parents' place for Thanksgiving dinner - my sister prepared everything from appetizers to dessert. Yummy! Monday, My Husband and I had late breakfast and he went golfing and I went on a trail ride.

The weather was amazing all weekend and continues so far this week. My ride on Friday was interesting. I was the only one riding Friday afternoon. One of The Arena Gang was grooming her horse, so I took advantage of the company and rode in the arena. Gem was "off". He was fidgety while I was grooming him. He moved around as I saddled him up. He nipped at my clothing a few times. I thought it was because he was missing mid-afternoon snack. When we were in the arena, I couldn't get on him. It didn't matter what I tried, he always seemed to be able to move just out of my reach. I had to ask for assistance from the other boarder. While riding him, he pushed back on everything I asked him. He was resistant to my cues through the whole 45 minutes I rode him. He pulled on the bit. When I was untacking him, LA's 75-year old mother (she lives on-site) asked how Gem was when I rode him.

Me: He was not himself. He was off. Why do you ask?
Her: He didn't get up this morning when we arrived to feed. Usually, he's up and very vocal because he wants his breakfast.
Me: (alarmed) He was lying down???
Her: Yes, his head was up, but he was lying down. It took him a while to get up.
Me: (very alarmed) Was he struggling??!!!
Her: Oh, no! I put his breakfast in his stall and that encouraged him to get up. He ate. Perhaps he has an upset tummy.

I spoke to LA about it and she thought he was fine. His poops (along with other horses) have been a bit loose on and off because of eating apples that have fallen from the trees and perhaps some other Fall grasses that they don't usually eat. She has been monitoring poops. Whew! But, Bad Mommy!!! Gem was trying to tell me that he wasn't well. This explains his behaviour. I hate the thought that I pushed him when he wasn't well. :-(

Monday he seemed like his old self. It was a stunningly gorgeous day. Warmish and sunny. I was pumped about going on a trail ride, but also nervous. I placed my Confidence Vest in the trunk of my car, and headed out to the stables.

Driving through my neighbourhood......




Crossing the river....

There was quite a turnout at the stables on Monday afternoon. We were all in the front paddock. Gem was excited and frisky, not exactly how I would like him to be going out on the trail. I jogged Gem on and off for 20 minutes. I wanted him loose and calm when that gate opened out to the fields. Once we were ready to go, I put on my Confidence Vest and the gate was opened.

Loosening up the horses before going out.....

There were 8 of us that went out. I positioned myself with a very experienced adult rider. I was stiff and had to keep taking deep breaths to calm myself. About 5 minutes into the ride, I found myself LEADING the trail. At first I panicked, but then I realized that Gem liked it! Because I am such a chicken, I usually try to position myself in the middle. He is always rushing when we are in this position - I thought it was because his stride is bigger than the quarter horses. But now I am wondering if it's because he likes to be out front.... I started to relax a bit and let him do his thing.

I did try to take some pictures while we were actually walking on the trails, but I wasn't coordinated enough to get my camera ready and ride at the same time!

Stopping for a drink.......

I survived two horse-eating squishy mud puddles - Gem was able to hop like a bunny over them and I remained in the saddle. I survived him telling another gelding of lower rank to get out of his face. I survived Gem being happy and breaking into a jog - he allowed me to bring him back to a walk. We were out for a couple of hours. Gem loved it and after I calmed down, so did I! I am sure he had a smile on his face. I felt good that Gem was out of the arena and that we were riding on grass instead of sand. What a great way to end a great weekend. I have already started arranging another trail date. :-)

This last picture was taken a couple of weeks ago from my deck. I was putting the dogs out when I got home from work and the sky was an amazing pink colour. It's not a very clear picture, but I think you can get the idea of how brilliant everything was.


Sigh.......

Friday, October 8, 2010

Temporary Insanity

First, Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians!! I hope you are able to spend time with your families this weekend. I certainly have a lot to be thankful for, and I am grateful every day.

So, my last lesson was all of 20 minutes. I actually left work early and got to the stables 1/2 hour before my usual arrival time. As I started to get out of my car, my cell phone rang. One of my co-workers was trapped in the hallway of our building. Let me explain..... our offices are on two floors of a professional townhouse with a hallway on the main floor that also allows access to the basement where the bathrooms and kitchen are. The offices on each floor lock individually. My co-worker was down in the bathroom, the other employees left locking up the offices behind them. They assumed my co-worker had a key to lock the front door as he left. Nope. So I drove back to the office through rush hour traffic (45 minutes), locked the door and drove back to the stables (45 minutes).

I am not good with rush hour traffic at the best of times, let alone having to face it 3 times in one evening. You see, I have a condition.....there's no flowery way to say this.....and I am little ashamed to admit it......I turn into lunatic. Put me on a crowded road, crawling along over a period of time and I unravel. My happy demeanour starts to slip away. My patience level diminishes to zero. Yes, I am the one yelling unflattering names at the person that is stupid, inconsiderate or pushy. Granted my yelling is done through my windshield, but I exaggerate my pronunciation so that the person can clearly make out what name I am calling them if they look at their rear-view mirror. Fargin Icehole!!! Fargin Bastage!!! Throwing my hands in the air or shrugging my shoulders is also part of this display. What the.....??? As my frustration escalates, my hand somehow finds its way to the horn. Yep, I may even accentuate my yelling with a little horn blowing. I am sure a vein starts to pulse on my forehead at this stage. I wasn't always like this..... there just seem to be more incompetent rude drivers out there now. So for my own peace of mind and to avoid looking extremely unattractive, I don't drive in rush hour. My personal office hours are 9:30-6:00 p.m. :-)

Needless to say that by the time I arrived back at the stables, my face was pinched, my lips thin lines. My lesson was well underway. LA had saddled Gem up and was sitting on him when I arrived. I still felt like the top of my head was going to blow off. She asked if I was going to get on my pony and I replied no. I just wasn't in the right frame of mind. She gently insisted that I get on him, so I brought my mounting stairs to the centre of the arena and got on Gem. He didn't move as I mounted. HE DIDN'T MOVE AS I MOUNTED. Now, it could have been because LA was standing basically in front of him. It could have been that he knew I was still suffering from temporary insanity and was anticipating some sort of awful repercussion if he didn't behave. Or, it could have been that he was just being a really good boy. Frankly, it didn't matter why. HE DIDN'T MOVE AS I MOUNTED. I sat on him for a minute, giving his neck and mane a good rub and thanked him.

We didn't participate in any of the loping. Instead Gem and I walked around on the inside of the arena while my classmates waited for their turn to trot or lope on the rail. We did some limbering up; small circles, 90 degree turns. I did not chat with my classmates (my new rule) and continued to focus on being with Gem, keeping him moving. I could feel the tension slipping away and I could feel my body melting into the saddle. My pleasantness returned. When LA asked me what I wanted to do, I said I wanted to try to do a side-pass. What?! Yep, a side-pass.

LA coached me on rein position and leg position and on the fourth try, Gem and I did a side-pass from the middle of the arena to the rail. :-) It wasn't the straightest example, but it was a side-pass none the less. Good boy!

So within a 3-hour period, I managed to go from office manager to lunatic driver to saviour to lunatic driver to Zen rider. Yes, I am woman and I am amazing. Geez, I sure hope I don't have to go on this emotional roller coaster on a regular basis, though. It's exhausting!

What was I thinking....?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Seeing Into the Future

All of my usual classmates were away this week, so LA combined a make-up lesson with mine. The other 3 riders are much more experienced than I, as they have all competed in some level of reining or games. There were two adults and one of the Young Ladies. It was a nice change. The atmosphere was a little different, perhaps a little more serious.....no, more focused. I was not intimidated by my classmates; I know all of them quite well and have adult beverages with one of them quite regularly after riding.

My lesson was....well... awesome! We had a few moments where Gem was resisting my leg cues a bit and bending in rather than out as we went around the arena, but other than that he was pretty attentive and consistent. He did have a big trip once when we were warming up - yes, sometimes he forgets what he's doing or how big his feet are. :-) After our usual warm up, we managed to get a good posting trot going and for very, very brief periods of time, he actually extended his legs a bit! :-)

LA changed the routine up a bit. Instead of loping towards the end of the lesson, she decided to get the loping in at the beginning, right after the walk/trot warm up. We each took a turn loping large. I was second up and for some strange reason, I was not apprehensive. I calmly positioned myself on Gem, inside leg on girth and outside leg slightly back from girth and squeezed. He loped from stand still, on the correct lead! Everyone yelled Yay!! We actually transitioned from a stand still to a lope not once, not twice but three times! LA applauded me - twice! There was one occasion where I was on the wrong lead - sit, sit, squeeze - and we continued on the correct one. As I was standing next to the young lady waiting for my next turn, she said "Wow, you are doing really well!" I am sure my face was beaming.

Because I was loping so consistently, LA instructed all us to lope around at the same time. Lope with everyone?....at the same time??!! What??!! I didn't even blink an eye!! We gave each other plenty of room and off we went. Gem's stride is much bigger than his quarter horse classmates, so I would catch up to the person in front of me quite quickly. Sometimes I would cut across the arena and find a new spot or sometimes I would trot off the rail and then jump in again.

I wasn't my usual nervous nelly self last night when it came to loping. I believe my hands were "quieter" and I wasn't doing my usual impersonation of a bird flapping its wings (not be be confused with Killing the Birds). When Gem was rounding the corners, I could tell I was more balanced and had more control of my legs and feet. LA did point out that I was still tending to lean forward, causing my butt to lift up. I need to practice "sitting on my pockets".

After loping, LA set up some poles and we did circles around them first at a walk and then at a trot. Gem's flexibility has really improved thanks to LA riding him once a week and I was quite impressed at how close he was to the pole when he was bending at a walk. Trotting around the poles still needs work. :-)

It was such a relaxed, yet productive, session last night. Do you think that Gem picked up on the other horses' level of training?? After all, they weren't the usual school horses. Do you think that he felt their competitiveness and that pushed him to perform better? Perhaps Gem was feeling spunky because my riding ensemble matched his saddle blanket. ;-) I don't know what the heck was going on last night, but I felt great! I am starting to have a better idea of what Gem is capable of and I caught a little glimpse last night of how our future could be..... I am excited!!!!

One big difference comparing last night's lesson to my usual - it was quieter. My usual classmates and I tend to get chatty, particularly while we are waiting our turn. Last night, except for LA's instructions and cheers of encouragement, there wasn't much chatting going on. So perhaps the biggest lesson learned last night for me was to keep my head in the horse space; watch what's being presented in front of you and not what's being talked about beside you. Focus on what's being taught....now, there's a novel idea! ;-)

What was I thinking....?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Backing up an 18-Wheeler

I wasn't able to ride on Friday after work. My birthday month celebrations continue and on Friday vodka sodas and girlfriends beckoned. What the heck - my birthday only happens once a year! :-)

I had a good ride yesterday, though. It wasn't very busy at the stables; everyone was at the last big show for the season. He was still in his stall when I arrived, so he was a little antsy. He soon settled down when I started grooming him. I could absolutely tell from his demeanour that it was going to be a good ride. I love that we are connecting in this way.

Sundays are usually pretty good for us. It is the only ride where I am not rushing from work, so I am stress- free when I arrive to see my guy. In addition, I had visitors watching me ride. A girlfriend and her 11-year old daughter came to visit the stables. Gem likes an audience and he actually likes kids. Perhaps they put out some sort of pheromone that tells him that they are not a threat or perhaps it's their size. I don't know, but I am glad that he's gentle with them.

Another boarder was riding her mare at a walk and slow trot when we arrived at the arena. Her horse had an injury that required stall rest for the past 4 months and is now getting back into the swing of things. Unfortunately, the mare doesn't like other horses around her, so we were relegated to the inside portion of the arena, while the other boarder rode large. That was OK, but I couldn't give Gem as much of a work out as I had planned. However, we still had a splendid ride. He felt light on his feet, supple, responsive and balanced. It was a very smooth ride. We worked on leg yielding exercises at a walk and a trot, backing up and some 90 degree turns. I did transition from a jog to a lope a couple of times (yay, me!), but couldn't practice going around the arena because of the other rider. It seemed everything I asked of him, he did. Gem was terrific.

After I rode, I allowed my friend's daughter to climb up on Gem's back (yes, she had a helmet on!!) and I hand walked her around the arena for 10 minutes. She was thrilled to be "riding" and Gem couldn't have been more patient. I just love him. This picture was taken by my friend at the beginning of my ride....yes, that is a piece of hay sticking out of his mouth....he can't resist taking a swipe at the bales when we do our walk around! :-)

Since the beginning of the year, I have been working on verbal commands with Gem. At my age, I think that it is important that he know verbal commands, so that I have a back up plan just in case there are times when I need to reinforce my cues because of lack of physical strength on my part. Some may think I am being lazy, but in my mind I am being prepared for when I get older. He already knows walk, trot, canter, whoa and easy. In addition, we have been working on back, come, wait, over, NO and hup!

I am going to review "back" in this post because he was really showing off his moves on Sunday. :-) After a rough start late last winter (head tossing, stamping his front feet), Gem has mastered "back", both when I am on him and when I'm on the ground! Initially, I was nervous about this maneuver. It is showing submission when a horse backs up and Gem did not want to back up. Others at the stables are quite aggressive with their legs and reins when it comes to backing their horses up and I was quite intimidated. But, I determined a level of asking that I was comfortable with and Gem responded to it.

When I am in the saddle, I have contact with the reins, move my legs in front of the girth and apply a little pressure and then softly say "back" and he backs up! I keep saying "back" to keep up the momentum while still maintaining some leg pressure and if I need to straighten him, I apply very slight tension on the rein of the side that I want him to step back. This is quite a breakthrough because I think it shows that Gem is not only listening to me, but he also trusts me enough to agree to move in a direction where he can't see. We are up to about 10 straight steps!! I suspect that he looks good when he's doing this; he drops his chin closer to his chest which rounds out his neck. :-) When I am on the ground, all I have to do is turn and face the opposite direction next to his shoulder and start walking, saying "back" until it's time to say "whoa". No fuss, no pulling, no yanking. When he is in his stall, I ask him to "back" and he will move away from the door when I open it and will "wait" until I ask him to "walk on".

Yesterday, I had to move some upright poles set up in the arena. I had Gem walk right up beside them, and then I verbally asked him to back up a little - I didn't cue with my legs because I needed to maintain my balance in the saddle to be able to pick up the pole - and then asked Gem to walk on while I was carrying it. Using this technique, we were able to move three poles to different locations. I was amazed that he knew that I wanted little steps when he was backing up next to the pole. How is that possible??? I was also amazed that he had no issue with me carrying a 5-foot pole beside him. In addition, we were working together, in sync!! Wow! He got lots of praise, of course.

It wasn't a strenuous ride yesterday, but it was a good ride, one that left me elated and smiling. I would compare it to finding a gorgeous pair of shoes on sale or perhaps being given something sparkly...No, you know what??? That feeling doesn't even come close to the kind of delight and satisfaction I felt on Sunday ....my, how times have changed!!.... :-)

What was I thinking....?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gem, get over yourself....

First, I want to thank my blogger friends for their suggestions regarding my current mounting block issues with Gem. I only see Gem 2-3 times a week, so it may take longer to correct this problem. The couple of days in between sessions seems to erase his memory banks and we have to start again. :-) I am trying a combo of the suggestions that you guys provided and will let you know what finally works.

Well, the weather is changing. I actually like Fall the best out of all the seasons when it comes to riding. It's still warmish and dry, fewer bugs and the colours are amazing. Of course a change in season means a change in riding fashion! I love being able to layer clothing to accommodate the weather. In the summer, all you can do is melt into your t-shirt, and believe me when I say that the wet t-shirt look is not a good one for me. :-)

With the change in seasons, comes a change in attitude. I find that Gem is a little more energized. The stifling heat that we had here during the previous few months seemed to zap the energy of every living thing. Now that it's cooler, Gem is revitalized and frankly, so am I.

LA is still riding Gem once a week and I think I will continue with this. He gets a decent workout with her, which he doesn't get from me...yet. :-) She does not ride him on one particular day; it's whenever her schedule allows during the week. LA has been concentrating on laterals to help with his flexibility and working at having him release the bit instead of pulling on it. I have noticed a big difference these two areas; he is much more responsive to my leg and he is better at softening on the bit (not sure if that's the right terminology!) when I ask. He continues to bend inside rather than outside when going around the paddock, but it's not as frequent. He now gets a nice foam around his lips when we are working.

Two areas that I still have problems with are the extended trot and loping. I just can't get him into an extended trot when I ask. I can only apply leg pressure and kiss the air for so long! It's like he knows that if he just holds out a little longer, I will collapse...which I do. I know he can do it because regularly we end up doing an extended trot (which apparently looks quite beautiful!) when I am trying to get him to lope! Good grief.

LA has mentioned that she still has to push him to lope. It seems that he just doesn't like loping. Well, let me clarify; he doesn't like loping when someone is ON him. I have a goal of being able to lope around the arena twice, balanced and with my butt in the saddle. May not sound like much to most of you experienced riders, but it's a big deal to me. :-) I will be practicing loping over the next while, so Gem will just have to deal with it.

I actually can tell when LA has ridden Gem by his attitude towards me. If she has ridden Gem the day before I see him, he is pushy with me. It's like he takes out his grumpiness from being made to work by LA out on me! He doesn't come when I call him, he's mouthy, he shakes his head in the cross-ties, he pulls his feet away from me when I am cleaning them and there's a lot of tail swishing going on. What the heck??? I worked yesterday! This is torture! Leave me alone! If LA has not ridden him the day before I see him, he's a pussy cat. He comes to me, he stands quietly, he leans into my hand when I scratch is neck and ears, he almost starts to doze off in the cross-ties and when we are riding, he's almost lighter (it's hard to explain).

I think part of his snarky attitude could be that he is a little sore from his workout with LA. I know she is tougher on him than I am. LA makes him work and doesn't take any of his crap. LA reminds me regularly that he only has to work 4 hours a week and when he's with me (or her), he should be focused on working. I know I let him get away with a lot.

Me: I am cuing you to lope, please.
Gem: No.
Me: Please, I want you to lope.
Gem: Forget it. I will trot, but I won't lope.
Me: But I really need to learn how to do this.
Gem: I don't care actually. I have tried loping in the past, and don't like it.
Me: Please!!!
Gem: No, I would rather stand in the middle with my friends and that is where I am heading NOW.
Me: OK. We can try loping another day. Sigh.

I am getting better at not taking NO for an answer, but it is a work in progress. As my confidence level increases, I hope that his respect for me does, too. It's getting better. Last night was actually a great lesson when it came to boosting my confidence. In amongst all the false starts and inconsistent runs, there were a few highlights. I actually got Gem to lope from a standing position, not once but twice! I was able to change from an incorrect lead to the correct one while we were moving! I lost the reins at one point and although I wasn't able to steer him properly, I remained balanced and solid in my seat while I was trying to get my reins organized as we continued loping. I was able to get him to lope once around the paddock without him loosing momentum. I experienced Gem being on the correct lead in the front, but not in the back - the feeling of my brain banging against the top of my skull is not one that I want to experience any time soon! I was also told that my butt was in the saddle more often than not. :-) My classmates and LA were very complimentary and supportive.



So, listen up Gem.... It's going to happen. You can't avoid it. Don't look at me with those big brown eyes. I am not going to cave! We are going to nail the extended trot and we are going to lope around the arena..not once, but twice. The sooner you accept this, the better.

What was I thinking....?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pedigree Adoption Drive



Pedigree® is sponsoring an Adoption Drive (thanks for posting this Grey Horse Matters), whereby they will donate a bowl of dog food for every "like" they get on their Facebook page. It takes less than a minute of your time to guarantee a bowl of food for a dog!

In addition, if you mention this drive on your blog between Sept. 16th through Sept. 19th, Pedigree® will donate a 20-lb. bag of food to a shelter. How awesome is that?? So please post about the Pedigree drive and enter the link to your blog over at Life With Dogs, a great blog for dog lovers, by the way.

I personally support three rescue groups in my area and this is a great opportunity to help dogs in need. Thanks in advance for your support!!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Dismounting when Mounting

It took me 10 minutes to mount Gem today. Yep, 10 minutes. As soon as I step on the mounting block, he moves a couple of steps, forcing me to get off the block and rearrange things.

He started doing this when I came back from my surgery. It wasn't too much of an issue when I first noticed it. I put it down to the flies bothering him. But then I started to noticed that taking a few steps was becoming the norm. I know, I know - I should have nipped it in the bud when I first noticed it. I started to move him into a corner when I got ready to mount, hoping that having walls on either side of him would help. It didn't. He just backed up.

Today, after 4 or 5 tries at getting on, I stopped trying and hand walked him around the arena - walk on, whoa, back up, wait.....good boy. A couple of times while we were standing, I grabbed the horn and pulled/leaned on the saddle, simulating that I was getting on him. He was fine. Didn't move at all.

I took him back to the mounting block and let him stand there for a minute. I was able to get on him, but as I was swinging my leg over him he shifted his weight a bit, enough to throw my balance off very so slightly.

So, I am really hating this. To me, he is being disrespectful. I asked LA about how to correct it. She had no corrective measures to offer. She has never had this problem and he's fine with her, but she doesn't use a mounting block. I don't want to have the kind of horse that needs to be held while someone is mounting them. I don't want to have a horse like my lesson horse, GM.

One possible solution I was thinking of was having Jean stand a couple of feet away from him on the other side of his back end with a crop. While he's quiet, I will continue telling him he's a good boy. But, when he starts to do his side step, he will basically swing his butt into the tip of the crop, while I say NO. I am hoping that poking himself with the crop will be enough of a deterrent. If anyone out there has any advice on how to correct this situation, I am all ears!!

What was I thinking...?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Riding Under the Influence....

We didn't have lesson this week - waaay too hot. My lesson last week was sort of a non-event for me. I wasn't there mentally for the first time in a really long time. I was psyched for the lesson that morning, but my up mood completely deteriorated in the afternoon. I had to drop everything I was doing and clean up a big, time-sensitive mess that someone else made and my anger, frustration and stress left me with a bitter taste. To be honest, I was more in the mood for a vodka soda and a good ear to listen to my ranting and raving instead of riding.

I was not as patient with Gem when we were tacking up. He has started pulling his feet away from me when I am cleaning them. It's really annoying and he pulls me off balance. The first few times he pulled his foot away, I just kept picking it back up and when he eventually let me hold it for as long as it took, I told him he was a good boy and gave him a little scratch. But, by the time we were going through this routine on the third foot, I lost my patience and yelled "NO!" every time he pulled away which was, unfortunately, a lot. I am sure I looked like some crazed middle-aged lunatic....sigh. Not a good way to start.

I went through the motions of my lesson, but LA could tell something was up and asked me later in private. I didn't go into detail, but she did sense that I was still angry. She said that if my head really wasn't in it, it was OK to not to ride. She would rather me be aware and safe, not distracted or angry.

But how do you determine when you shouldn't ride because you are mentally not there? I mean, you are mental, so how would you know, right? There have been many times that I have tacked up and still had residual stress from work clouding my brain. Yes, I have ridden under the influence of stress!

Spring and summer are pretty easy for me work-wise. But, I am now getting into my busy season at work (last fiscal quarter, year end, renewals, yearly audit and two major conferences). The next 6 months will be brutal. There are going to be times when my mind will not be on riding, but thinking about what deadlines need to be met the next day. My patience level will start to lower. Last year, there weren't too many times that I rode under the influence because, frankly, I was still nervous of Gem and I was focused on staying in the saddle! This year will be a bit different. We are more familiar with each other. I have been working on his boundaries, so I am more assertive with him when he pushes them. This is where it can get tricky; depending on how much under the influence I am, I may be more physical and rough with him without realizing it.

Most times, riding has actually helped dissipate my stress and tension. But where do you draw the line between relieving stress or being unsafe? I find that doing my stretches before I ride helps reduce my physical tightness. Tacking up also helps relax me. But sometimes even my AEIOU routine does not help get rid of the pinched look on my face that appears when I am stressed. No soft face for me.

I want to get the most out of my lessons and my time with Gem. I want to be safe while riding. We all know how quickly a situation can change while riding and how dangerous it can be on occasion. You need to be aware of what is going on so that you can take care of yourself and your horse. There will be a few things over the next few months that will help me determine whether I can ride on any given day -

* maintaining an acceptable patience level with Gem
* being able to change my focus from work to the ride
* if I can loosen up my body and face to an acceptable level
* if I can remind myself that I am going to have fun riding and
not resent having to change clothing at the office and drive
40 minutes to get to the stables
* if I can stop hitting my head on the steering wheel of my car
long enough to drive to the stables
* if I can clear my mind of plotting revenge and remember that
stupid people don't know they are stupid, so deal with it
* if I am not in jail for verbal abuse

OK, I may be exaggerating a bit on some of that list but, seriously, I don't want to take my frustration out on Gem or my classmates. I am not the type to wimp out (I think I was a terrier in another life); it would have to be pretty bad for me not to ride. But, after my chat with LA, I know I can say "No" to riding under the influence, guilt-free. I am actually OK with sitting a lesson out if I am under the influence and not fit to ride....I can just groom my boy, watch the others ride and let the insanity leave my mind... at least, for a short while. You know, perhaps chilling out in this manner will be a lesson in itself. :-)

What was I thinking....?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Monsters under the Bed...

We had a horrible storm blow through our province on the weekend. We were visiting some family members at a lakefront cottage. I thought of my boy and wondered how he was reacting to the thunder. The lightening show Sunday night was spectacular. After the storm cleared, it left behind beautiful temperatures and blue skies. The remnants of the gale force winds have provided a lovely breeze. The last couple of days is what summer should be like.

I arrived for my lesson on Tuesday half hoping that we would take advantage of the gorgeous weather and go out on the trails. As I grabbed my helmet from the trunk of my car, I looked at my vest and grabbed it too. Yes, I bought one. I bought a "racer" vest. The regular vest was too long in the front and would have caught on the horn of my saddle. As I walked up from my car, LA came out of the arena and confirmed we were hitting the trails.

My heart rate increased and once again I visited the bathroom 3 times before I even got on Gem!! But, it was like magic when I put on that vest. It was like I had put on my Confidence! I almost felt... well....invincible! I stood up straight, puffed out my chest, donned my helmet and sunglasses and walked with purpose out of the barn with my trusty steed.

My ensemble turned a few heads. DH's mom said that all I needed was a side arm and my look would be complete. Sigh. As I jogged Gem around the paddock, another boarder asked if Gem and I were in training for a SWAT team. Sigh. What do these earthlings know? They obviously don't understand that they are looking at Super Wolfie!

Gem picked up on my new persona, too. When LA opened the gate, Gem did not strain on the bit, he did not show any impatience. He calmly walked through and then stood while my other two classmates walked through the gate. Yay!

A trail ride is pretty basic for most people. But for me, it's an opportunity for the monsters lurking in the shadows to grab Gem's leg causing him to deposit me on the ground in a quick and painful manner. Our local monsters include wild turkeys, fox, deer, coyotes and Canada geese. I have seen wild turkeys fly out of the trees (geez, they are big birds!) and make the horses stampede away from the watering tub. Deer have bounded away suddenly, causing the herd to run. But it doesn't take a largish critter to spook a horse. Many years ago, STA and her horse fell down a small ravine because a quail flew up in front of them, causing her horse to rear and fall backwards. Yes, a 1 lb. bird took down a 1,000 lb. animal. Both survived the fall. The horse had some bruises. STA sustained back injuries which she fully recovered from. But, her fear paralysed her and she did not ride for almost a year. The main reason I wanted to ride was to be able to go out on the trails to observe wildlife.....so it's sort of weird that I am now nervous of the main thing that drew me into riding in the first place.

I worked at sitting deep in the saddle, using the "potato" technique. Instead of leaving the reins loose, I kept some light contact on them, but still allowed enough length to let Gem look and navigate the stony areas. I used a very subtle see-saw movement with the reins when he started to rush up the butt of LA's horse and he immediately responded and backed off. I recognized his apprehension as we came up to muddy spots (he doesn't like mud!) and worked at calming myself (cleansing breaths) and him down (eeeeasy, good boy) instead stiffening up and hanging on to the reins for dear life. It worked! My Confidence and I coaxed him through.

After we were on the trails for a while, LA suggested I try jogging Gem to the opening of the next field. I have never gone faster than a walk on a trail ride, so I resisted at first, but then agreed to try. Gem listened to my cue and we did an evenly paced jog across the field! I jogged a couple of more times in different fields. It felt great! Gem enjoyed it, too. The last time I asked him to jog, I felt him power up for loping - he does this head flip thing before he lopes - and I was able to gently pull back and make him refocus and do a jog. Yay!! This vest has AMAZING powers!!

Gem is not a spooker, thank goodness. It's a characteristic of his breed. He's curious, but he's not scared - not even when wild turkey monsters swarmed the trees in his field! But Gem is not as used to these trails as the school horses are, so some things are new to him. The first monsters we came upon were the dastardly sparrows. :-) They fluttered around us as we stomped through the trails. Gem was interested, but not disturbed. Squirrel monsters made several appearances running and jumping overhead, with no reaction from the group. The swishing branch monsters were a constant, and Gem took care of a few of these by just grabbing them in his mouth and shaking his head and either breaking the branch or ending up with a mouthful of leaves. "Drop it! Drop it, you maniac!" My classmates, rolling their eyes, reminded me that he was not a dog so my commands wouldn't make a difference, but I am not buying it. I think he understood exactly what I was saying.

As we were walking along the stone wall that separates LA's property from a golf course, the golfer-monster made a sudden appearance right beside us (well, his voice did) on the other side of the wall and Gem did a very LARGE two-jumps-to-the-left move that caught everyone off guard. It was quite a big movement, but my butt was firmly planted in the saddle and I moved with Gem and other than loosing one stirrup, my first spook wasn't bad. Super Wolfie!

When the ride was finished, I felt elated. I think Gem did, too. He was having a "good" day (will expand in another post) and was amazing. Wearing my Confidence helped me relax and focus on Gem's movements and at the same time enjoy my surroundings. Rest assured, blogger friends, that I will continue to use my newly acquired powers for good and not evil. Monsters are no match for Super Wolfie and her trusty steed!!!

What was I thinking....?