Friday, January 29, 2010

Ups and Downs

We have a new boarder at the stables. He is a 5 year old that stands 17.2hh. Gem is no longer the tallest horse, but I think he's still the biggest. While Dream is very tall, he is slender and actually delicately built compared to Gem's robustness. Dream is 3/4 Thoroughbred and 1/4 Shire. Dream and Gem are both classified black, but Dream is darker with white socks. I think he's darker because he is always under a blanket when he is outside. Dream likes to watch the lessons in the arena...yes, he is so tall that he can look over the wall of his stall into the arena. :-)

Dream's mom is training him in dressage. I had a nice chat with her when they first arrived about the difficulties in finding tack to fit a tall or large horse (she won that contest!). As I was standing next to Dream, I realized just how tall he is. Wow. His mom is about my height (5'7"). How the heck did she get on him?? "Oh, I have a 3-step mounting BLOCK". Really? I had no idea these things existed. The next time I was in the arena, I saw Dream's mounting block. My little 2-step ladder looked very insignificant next to this piece of equipment. :-)

I asked Dream's mom if she ever went out on trail rides. She said that every time she did, she got hurt, so she prefers to ride in enclosed areas. Having fallen off a tall horse myself, I can related. Getting on Gem from the ground was hard enough, so I can't even imagine having to get on Dream from the ground!

I have never been graceful getting on or off a horse (see Mounting and Dismounting). I could measure how bad my mounting and dismounting were by the number of bruises I would have on my arms the day after my lesson. For now I am grateful that I have improved to the point where I don't collapse on Gem's shoulders like I used to do with GM, and that my blue/white stomach and super sports bra are not regularly displayed after I slide down Gem's body when getting off him. I no longer have to worry about tipping over the saddle and doing a head plant on Gem's right side as I kick my left foot out of the stirrup. The days of holding on to the saddle for dear life as my dangling feet look for solid ground when dismounting are no more.

I think that my body is getting used to the motion of mounting and dismounting. My hip joints have opened up to allow for the up and over movement. My teeny tiny core muscles are strengthening. A year ago, I could hardly bend and touch my toes or do any stretches. I now think yoga is in my future! Now my leg clears Gem when I am getting on him. If I have had a hard lesson though and I am tired, I will dust his rump with my right leg during the dismounting process. I have improved quite a bit, but I am looking forward to the day that I can swing myself on or off Gem in one fluid motion, my right leg clearing his body by at least a foot. It will happen!!

The other night, I decided to try out Dream's mounting block. I let Gem look at it and sniff it. For some reason, Gem wasn't fussy on it. Up I stepped. Holy crap. I was actually quite high off the ground; a little scary. But, I could easily step into the stirrup and reach over to the saddle horn. I did not have to haul my bulk up and into the saddle. I just placed myself on Gem's back. So easy. So wonderful.

LA has commented on my improvement getting on and off Gem, which is encouraging. It takes me a sec to get my foot in the stirrup while perched on my ladder, but it's getting easier. As much as the block is super easy and I look so much more dignified getting on Gem when I use it, I think I will continue using my 2-step ladder. I think having to stretch to get my foot in the the stirrup and having to reach and pull myself on to Gem is exercise - every little bit helps, right? Gem's height intimidated me at the beginning, but after 8 months it's beginning to feel more and more natural. Besides, with my track record for falling off during trail rides, I need to continue conditioning my body to bend and stretch so I can reach the stirrups to get back on him from the ground!! :-)

What was I thinking....?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Flying Through the Air With the Greatest of Ease.....

The weather here has been fantastic the last few days. I actually skipped out of work early on Friday and headed to the stables. I didn't care if there wasn't going to be anyone there to ride with me. I just wanted to be out in the warmth and with my boy.

I found him half asleep standing in the sun with one of his roommates. He was very snuggly when I went to put the halter on him. As I put him in the cross-ties, his eyes started to close and his pink lip started to quiver ever so slightly. I rubbed and scratched him in all the right places. Half way through my grooming routine, AT came in the barn. She was on her way to get her pony and asked if wanted to join her out on the trail. Of course!!

Off we went. The snow was deep and heavy, but the sun was shining and it was hovering around -2C. We just walked around the property, chatting away. Horses came up to us a couple of times to check us out; no incidents. Gem was very well behaved and was a big baby when I was grooming him after our ride. He snuggled me and dozed off with me rubbing his pink lip. It was a wonderful afternoon.

Today, I arranged to meet up with two other riders at the stables, RB and CH. We tacked up and headed out to the water tub just inside the pasture fence. As Gem and I were standing waiting for my riding mates to mount, a couple of horses came in from the pasture for a drink. Gem started to get a bit anxious and pawed at the ground. I have never seen him do that before. "Oh, he's probably anxious to get on with the trail ride," CH said. We walked away from the tub as a group, and then the two loose horses went one way and our group went the other.

As we stood together trying to decide which trail to take, Gem got all wiggly and then he kicked up his heels, hard and high. I didn't even have a chance to blink. The next thing I knew, I was flying through the air and hitting the ground. I hit hard, and I took a quick inventory of my teeth and made sure I could move my fingers and toes before I attempted to get up. I had a terrible soreness on the inside of my left thigh. He stood beside me for a brief moment, then turned and started to gallop across the field after his two new friends. I have to say he looked magnificent; tail up, long mane flowing. CH and RB got off their horses and helped me up. RB walked after Gem and eventually brought him back in. RB said that when he caught up to the group, it was like they were standing around talking about the weather. RB had no problem gathering up Gem's reins and he was easily led away.

We all went to the arena. I got back on Gem and rode for an hour. Gem was fine, his usual self. Eventually, my body started to stiffen up and I could feel a lump swelling up through my jeans where my thigh connected with the horn when I bounced off the saddle. Gem was fine when I unsaddled him and groomed him. He put his head under my arm as I rubbed his head. Could this be the same horse that just an hour ago had no regard for my personal safety??

What the heck happened today?? What could I have done differently? How do you convince a horse that he should be with you and not playing with new friends? How do you get a horse to chill out when you don't have an opportunity to lunge him or warm him up? When I think back on events leading up to my high flying act, there were subtle signs that all was not calm with Gem. He was a little anxious in the cross-ties. He rushed me out the barn door and I had to correct him. He did a little dance after I mounted him and I had to circle him a couple of times. He pawed the ground. Meeting the two horses at the tub just added to the excitement.

This is the second time I have ended up in the snow (see Faster than a Speeding Bullet) and it's the second time he has run after a group of horses. I am actually thankful that I fell off before he took off after the other two horses. But the fact that this event is so similar to the last time I fell off has made a solution to this situation a high priority. I don't want to be dumped on the ground - it's harder than snow! CH and the new boarder think I am one tough lady! They are 10 years younger than I am and can't believe my resilience - sometimes is pays to be round! RB had an interesting comment....he said that the only time he sees Gem running is when it's away from me!!! :-) I will have to discuss options with LA when I see her for my lesson this week. In the meantime, I have my leg elevated with an ice pack on it to keep the swelling down. Where did I put my vodka soda?????

What was I thinking.....?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A E I O U and sometimes whY.....?

I am in a constant state of stiffness. I am stiff when I get up in the morning, I am stiff when I get into my car after work and I am stiff after I ride. I do stretch myself out to loosen things up, but some days it just doesn't work.
Advil is my best friend.

I have a mature body. I have come to grips with that in some ways, but not in others. I actually like my wrinkles. Not doing any regular exercise (does going to dance bars in the 70's and 80's count as regular exercise???), plus having a career for the past 30+ years that requires hours daily at a keyboard, has taken its toll. My joints and muscles betray me any chance they get.

Being a new rider, I am always a little nervous when I am on my way to the stables - excited to see Gem but nervous about actually riding him. This tenses my body. Before I leave for riding, I do some stretching exercises to help loosen my hips, shoulders and neck. While driving to the stables, I lift my shoulders up and down, roll my head around and look side to side, in an effort to loosen my atrophied neck and shoulder muscles. Sometimes I sing really loud to open up my lungs. I also work hard at not "killing the birds" while I am driving (see Those Darn Birds).

What I wasn't loosening up was my face. Yep, my face. When I was looking for my horse, one of the selling features listed in many of the advertisements was a "soft eye". I now understand what that is, but I didn't realize that the human in this partnership should endeavour to have soft eyes, too! It makes sense to me. What would encourage your horse to be happy when you look grumpy?

I squint and don't realize it. I wear reading glasses and unfortunately at the end of the work day, my eyebrows seek the company of each other and start creeping over the bridge of my nose. My eyes shrink to almost being closed. I never noticed it before. So, now I include exercises for my face as I am driving to the stables.

Here's my exercise routine in the car on the way to the stables: In a very exaggerated way, I say out loud "A E I O U and sometimes Y", over and over and over again. In addition, I lift my eyebrows up and down and up and down. Put all this together with sporadically singing really loud, rolling my shoulders and head and turning my head from side to side, I am pretty well guaranteed that by the time I get to the stables, my lungs are ready, my shoulders and neck have loosened up and my face and eyes have "softened".

Geez, I wonder what my traffic buddies think of my car calisthenics? Can you imagine seeing me in your rear view mirror?! Yikes!!

What was I thinking....?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Little Bit of This....

I get chided a lot from my riding buddies, particularly Jean, that I take too long to tack up. It takes me about 30 minutes start to finish. It takes her about 15 minutes. She rides a school horse who is regularly groomed. Gem is only groomed when I see him, so it's important to take a little more time. I have a routine that I go through and if I miss a step or don't do it to my quality specifications, it bothers me. Hmmm, perhaps I have some sort of obsessive/compulsive disorder. But, I think Gem is worth the attention. For instance, I give Gem a decent brush when I see him, which is two or three times a week. I brush him before I ride him and after. I clean his hooves before and after I ride, also. I take a minute to check him for lumps and bumps and I spend a few minutes loving him (see Breakthrough), so he doesn't feel rushed. He actually likes getting groomed.

Another time consumer for me is actually getting the equipment to where he is cross-tied. I have to drag my grooming supplies, saddle blankets, saddle and bridle out of the tack room and down to the end of the barn.

I know that you are supposed to warm up the bit before you place it in your horse's mouth. I know this and as I remove the bridle from its peg, I say to myself "don't forget to warm the bit!" But, do you think I remember to warm the bit?? I remember as I am getting ready to put the bridle on him! I frantically put the bit in my hand and give it 5 nano seconds of warming up before Jean asks me if I am ready to go. Gem patiently takes the bit in his mouth and off we go. Bad mommy! Bad mommy!

So the last time I rode Gem, I had a brilliant idea. As soon as I picked the bridle off its peg, I folded it up along with the reins, lifted up my shirts and put the half of the bridle that had the bit attached down my pants. OK, it wasn't "down my pants"! It was placed in the layer between my breeches and my snow pants. I pulled my shirts back down. The waistband of my snow pants held everything securely against my stomach. Cold leather and metal - not a great feeling against your body, even through my winter weight breeches! But, I was quite pleased with myself knowing that Gem was going to have the warmest bit ever.

There was a clinic going on at the stables on this particular day. Everyone was hanging out in the arena. I was alone in the barn except for one clinic participant, who was finishing tacking up. I am not sure if she saw me struggling to put my bridle down my pants. The light is not great at the back of the barn. I was taking advantage of the better light at her end of the barn, so I was facing her while I was stuffing it down. I'm thinking she probably did.

I went back to getting my boy ready for our trail ride. I guess all the movement from grooming made my bridle slip lower and lower from the security of my waistband. By the time I was ready to put the bridle on Gem, it had slipped down my leg and was now hovering around my knee in between the layers of my clothing. Crap. The reins were still poking out the top of my pants. As I mentioned, the lighting is not the best where I cross-tie Gem, so I waddled closer to the front of the barn. I undid the snaps and fly zipper of my snow pants, pulled them down a bit, grabbed the reins and started pulling. Just as the rest of Gem's tack came out of my pants, one of the other clinic participants walked in. I did an about face and headed back to Gem, a very warm bridle and bit in hand, holding the front of my snow pants to stop them from falling down.

Again, I am not sure if this other clinic participant actually saw the bridle coming out of my pants. I suspect she did. This is the conversation I envision between the two clinic participants during lunch break:

First: I saw a rider with her bridle down her pants this morning.
Second: I did too! What's with that?
First: I think she may have been warming her horse's bit.
Second: No kidding! I haven't heard of warming it that way before. Have you?
First: No. But you know, LA is very up-to-date on everything horse related. I wonder if she suggested this method to the rider.
Second: Well, when you think about it, if you stick your bridle down your pants it warms the leather too, making your reins and bridle more flexible.
First: True. You going to ask LA about it?
Second: No way! I don't want her to think that I am an idiot because I don't know about these methods!
First: Agreed. I am going to try it when I get home.
Second: Me, too.

Yeah.....right..... :-)

What was I thinking.....?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside....

In the past, I liked to look at winter through a window, preferably lounging on the sofa with a vodka soda and the fireplace lit. I rarely went outside. This is my second winter riding. Last year, I wasn't trail riding, just taking lessons in a heated arena. This year, I have been out in the snow 3 times. I love it! My friends can't believe how I have embraced winter. Now that I have experienced loping and galloping and falling in the snow (see Faster Than a Speeding Bullet), I am not as intimidated by the elements.

If I am going to continue riding outside, I will need some appropriate clothing! Our temperatures can range anywhere from -5 Celsius to -30 Celsius (today is -12C). I seem to be OK for the top half of my body, but I do have a down-filled jacket on order. Currently, I wear about 4 layers and a windbreaker, along with a neck cozy and head warmer on my helmet. I look square. Hands are fine, feet are fine - I have really good gloves and boots. For the bottom half of my body, I usually wear half chaps and winter weight breeches with tights underneath. I have discovered that it is not enough to give my legs the protection they need when we are out on the trails. Off I went to my local tack store, where I purchased a pair of winter riding pants that had a suede seat and inside seam. I tried them on with my riding boots when I got home and I couldn't move in them. I found them bulky and the inside seams would stick together and I couldn't walk properly. Darn those thunder thighs!! I started looking at other options.

Full chaps would have been the perfect solution given my unique body shape, but could not find any that weren't covered in fringe. STA swears by silk long johns and undershirts with a down-filled jacket, jeans and hot shots in her gloves and boots. She's 20 years younger than I am and her ensemble does not quite do it for me. LA wears winter weight coveralls....not a good look for me and would impede my frequent bathroom breaks.

A young lady at the stables recommended snow boarding pants. I have never even seen snow boarding, but I was interested in the pants. From the young ladies description, it sounded like a variation of skiing. I entered a sport store (there's a first time for everything!) and immediately felt intimidated. The sales clerks looked like they were 15 years of age and they were all in shape, which I guess is a good thing if you work in a sports store. A young man approached me.

Him: Can I help you?
Me: I need snow boarding pants.
Him: Sure, no problem. Do you know what size you are looking for.
Me: I am not sure what size I would be.
Him: They're for you??
Me: Yes.
Him: YOU snow board????
Me: No, I need them for horseback riding.
Him: For horseback riding?? YOU horseback ride????
Me: sigh

When it comes to sports clothing, is it the designer's goal to make them look as unattractive as possible? I could see where someone who was a bad snow boarder would wear something like this. It would make is much easier for the paramedics to find you. Tempting, particularly because of my last trail ride experience. But, frankly I didn't think this was a good look for me and I didn't want to frighten Gem or my riding mates. ;-) In any case, there were no ladies pants in "big butt" size.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, I found a pair of men's pants that fit. Brand name is respected and there are a few zip pockets, waistband is adjustable with velcro inserts, plus an inside leg/lining that can fit inside your boot so the cold air doesn't go up your leg. The product description basically said that they are hermetically sealed, and although they do not have a down type of lining, they keep your body heat from escaping and are waterproof and windproof. You wear your regular long johns and breeches under them. They are not the most attractive looking item I have every worn, but the focus is on how comfortable, dry and warm I will be. When I tried them on, I could move around quite well and when I walked, my thunder thighs did not stick together. In fact, the pants made a swish swish noise that brought back wonderful memories of when I was a child wearing a snowsuit. :-) They needed to be hemmed, though.

A few days later, I walked in to the local alteration shop. I put the pants on with my boots and stood in front of the mirror. The seamstress stood beside me, armed with her pins.

Me: I need to have these pants hemmed, but I still need them long enough so that when my leg is bent like this, the bottom of the pants still cover my ankles.
Her: Your leg will be bent that high???
Me: Yes.
Her: These are snow boarding pants.
Me: Correct.
Her: YOU snow board????
Me: No. I need these pants for horseback riding.
Her: YOU ride a horse????


What was I thinking....?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ice Fishing in Canada....

How some people embrace our Canadian winters! Enjoy!! ;-)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Balancing Act

Gem was eventually introduced to the herd; a couple of hours a day working up to being with the others all day. The change in him was immediate. He was not as mouthy, he was calmer, happier. He no longer had an anxious look around his eyes. Our lunging sessions were not has hyper and eventually I did not have to burn off his excess energy prior to riding him. He would actually nod off when I groomed him!

Seeing the horses out walking around freely was wonderful; they looked so peaceful. For the first time, I had to walk through groups of horses looking for Gem. Some would follow me, others would crowd me (scary!). When I found him, I was able to halter and lead him away from his new friends without issue. I was quite pleased with myself.

Everything seemed to be going fine. Then one day I saw him alone in the enclosed field at the back of the barn. This small field/paddock is surrounded by brush and an electrified tape fence. He could see the other horses if they walked through the bush, but he couldn't go up to them. LA explained that Gem got a little too frisky with the mares. A great number of the mares were in season and it was just a bit too much for my handsome boy. He went through the same behaviour when he was with his previous owner. They actually had him tested to make sure he was a true gelding (he is). I had disclosed all of this information to LA and the vet, but we thought that he would be fine out with the herd because he, and the other horses, had much more space to roam (and get away!) than he had at his previous home. No such luck. Gem was a ladies man.

LA and I both wanted him to be part of something. He was definitely a social horse. I didn't want him to be let out for a few hours a day in a paddock by himself and neither did she. What to do.

In the meantime, I was struggling with my lessons. It appeared that walking was going to be as fast as I could go on Gem. Every time he would trot, I would fall forward and loose my balance. In addition, Gem would do this "skip" and would throw me off balance even more. I ended up on his shoulders a lot. I blamed the size of my breasts; they were making me tip over! LA didn't buy it. :-) Trying to get him to complete a circle around the arena or paddock was a chore. Because I couldn't keep my balance, I couldn't keep him motivated forward. He would slow down to a walk and I would have to queue him again. I was getting frustrated.

Gem is versed in both English and Western, including neck reining. He is a talented boy and, yes, a lot smarter than me. After a particularly frustrating lesson, LA suggested that I try using her Western saddle for our next lesson. The stirrups would be longer and I could stand a little taller in the saddle and the horn would be a visual (and physical!) reminder not to lean forward and the seat of a Western saddle is a little wider.

The next time I was at the stables, Gem was out in the back field with a friend! A mare, Maddie, was with him....yes, a mare. Maddie was in the process of being purchased and was being kept close at hand so the new owner could have easy access to her when he wanted to ride her in lessons. My heart swelled. Gem was happy again! He and Maddie made quite a pair. She was definitely the boss, but she was a very kind horse.

At my next lesson, LA showed me how to tack up using Western equipment. Cripes! The saddle must have weighed 75 lbs! OK, maybe not that much, but at least 35 lbs. I could not lift it over my head to place it on Gem's back. LA fixed me up. When I got on, it felt soooo big and bulky. However, LA was correct. The horn was a constant reminder to adjust my balance. The length of the stirrups also helped me.

Maddie's new owner eventually took her to his property. Gem now has three other "roommates" in his pasture, all geldings that for one reason or another can't be out with the rest of the horses. Gem was top of the heap until a 14.2hh paint came on the scene. Gem is now 2nd in command. :-) LA reconfigured the electric tape fencing so that the herd has access to half of the field that the "boys" are in. The herd horses come and hang out (there is a water tub near by) and it really is like Gem and his roommates are part of the herd. It was a great compromise and brought balance back to Gem's life. He is very happy. LA is happy that she doesn't have to worry about her little mares and I am happy that everyone else is happy!

I am still riding Western in my lessons! My lessons are going much better and that saddle is getting more and more comfortable. My posture has improved immensely, my legs are much more quiet. LA allows me to use her saddle if I go trail riding. I recently bought a Western saddle blanket, Western bridle and riding jeans...... ;-)

What was I thinking.....?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Bum’s Rush

When Gem first arrived at the stables last spring, the herd was in the process of being reintroduced to the other pastures, after a long winter. It wouldn't be long before he would be joining them out there. I tried to put myself in his shoes....uh, hooves. He was in a new place, with new people taking care of him and he was confined to a stall for part of the day. In reality, for a horse that was used to being outside 24/7, I thought he was handling his new situation pretty darn well. In the meantime, he was bored and he became a bit pushy.

He would push open the stall door when I unlocked it and start walking out before I was ready. Let's go! When exiting the barn, I would put on the brakes and lean back into his body as I tried to maneuver out the door. Have you ever tried to block an eager 1500 lb. horse? He would try to rush me through the gate on the way to the arena. Hurry up!! Come on!! As we walked down the lane, he would push me or get ahead of me and I would have to turn him into a circle. Again, and again, and again. By the time I arrived at the arena, I looked like I was coming off a helmet was askew, my clothing twisted and covered in slobber marks (from Gem, not me!) and I would be sweating.

The barn was generally busy but on this particular evening, there was no one. Not a solitary soul. As usual, he pushed out of his stall. There were plenty of vacant rubber mats at the front of the barn in front of hitching post thingies, but they were a little too close to the open barn door for my comfort - wouldn't want Gem to see outside and push his way out the door! I cross-tied him near the back of the barn. The early evening was lovely, but our walk to the arena was not pleasant. I was starting to feel incompetent. I couldn't even hand walk my horse for goodness sakes; I was a looser.

On this particular evening, when we arrived at the arena he started pushing to get inside. Who's in there? Hurry up! I walked him in yet another circle. Unfortunately, it was a very tight circle for his 18-wheeler body and he ended up STANDING on my foot. Of course, I let out a yell. Gem was oblivious and continued standing on my foot while admiring the scenery. I could not move!! I went into survival mode and I pushed Gem hard on his shoulder which caused him to have to shift his weight and I was able to move my foot away.

This was a turning point for me. I was alone and a little scared. My foot was throbbing. There was a split second when I thought of packing it in and heading back to the barn. But I knew if I did, I probably wouldn’t get back on Gem for a long time. I sucked it up. If the toes were broken, there was nothing I could do about it anyway. It was my right foot so I didn't have to worry about mounting or dismounting. Leaving my foot in my boot was probably the best thing. Deep breath. We entered the arena and I rode him.

The next time I was at the stables, I was prepared for our walk to the arena. Instead of holding the reins really close to me in an attempt to control him, I gave him a bit more rein so he could maneuver his 18-wheeler body better. I carried my crop in my right hand in addition to the reins. He couldn't see the crop as it was positioned under his head. When he started to rush me through the barn door, I firmly said "wait!", at the same time flipping my right wrist, making a light connection with the crop on his chest in between his front legs. He hesitated. I had his attention. What the heck was that?? I didn't move until he had been still for a few seconds. Then I told him to "walk on". When he started to rush me through the gate, I went through the same routine. We then proceeded down the lane. Every time he tried to rush ahead, I would flip my wrist, the crop would connect and I would say "wait!". We did the same routine on our way back to the barn after our ride.

I am not sure if what I did was "correct" in the horse training world, but it worked for Gem and it worked for me. I used the crop as a tool to get his attention, not a weapon. He just needed to focus. My confidence improved. I felt that he was listening to me. I was relieved that Gem responded so quickly to this exercise. He was smart!

Our walks to and from the arena became more and more civilized. He became a little more polite. After our rides, I would hand walk him around the arena and practice "whoa" and "wait" and "walk on". We continue to do this routine. He now follows me around the arena on a loose rein, his head just behind my shoulder. There is no more rushing through doors. He waits for me. When I open the door to his stall, I ask him to step "back" and "wait". He does and stands until I invite him to "walk on".

When Gem stood on my foot that fateful evening, I ended up with a bit of swelling and bruising on the top of my foot and my big toe nail went black. The swelling and bruising soon disappeared, but the black toe nail lingered. I didn't mind. Nothing that a little nail polish couldn't cover. It was a reminder of what was and what is. Really, getting that black toe nail was one of the best things to happen to Gem and I.

What was I thinking.....?