Thursday, February 25, 2010


Disclaimer: I am obviously not a professional photographer!

View from my deck this morning.....

It was so quiet and peaceful. The pictures don't do justice to our view. Big, fat snowflakes were falling.

Soon we will be drinking our morning coffee out here on our balcony, looking down at our garden...really...we will.....soon...

View from the deck this evening....

Is there a mouse under this snow..???

Walk this way.....

Apologies for the delay in posting. Work has been taking up a fair amount of my time.

So, I have been wearing my spurs for the last two weeks. I am apparently strap challenged when it came to putting this ensemble together. LA had to do it for me.

I was a bit nervous at first, afraid that I might hurt Gem. LA assured me that Gem would be OK. I just pressed them into his side if he did not respond to my first cue. The first time I used them, I could immediately feel a change in his posture; it was subtle but I noticed it. His ears stood up like he was paying attention. He didn't freak out. What the heck was that? LA coached me on when to use them. However, once the novelty wore off, he started to challenge me ever so slightly. It's going to take time. I need to find the "buttons" and the right pressure. He's a "teenager", always pushing the limits.

Wearing the spurs while on Gem is one thing. Wearing them when I am on the ground is quite another. My lesson are at 6:30 p.m., so this means that I have to change into my riding gear at the office and head out to the stables. It's actually a bit of a rush. So, the first time I wore them, to save time I decided to put the spurs on my boots when I got changed. Driving to the stables with the spurs on my boots was not problem. When I parked the car and started to get out, my right spur caught my left pant leg (I was wearing riding jeans) as I swung my leg out the door. Having my left leg stopped in mid-swing made my upper body tip out the door while my legs remained entangled around the gas pedal. I smashed my arm on the door frame as I stopped myself. I quickly looked around to see if anyone saw my un-cool moves. Whew - no one. I proceeded to the barn and tacked up without incident.

I always have to go to the bathroom before we ride. Perhaps it's an age thing combined with the excitement of riding. The port-a-potty is located outside at the end of the front wall of the arena. Cars are usually parked in front of the arena and the port-a-potty. I believe someone with a sick sense of humour designed the port-a-potty. Only a person weighing in at about 98 lbs could use this facility with ease. So, imagine the contortions I go through at my size (I think my hair weighs 98 lbs) with the addition of 5 layers of winter clothing. I manage, but with effort. This particular time, as I started to exit, my spur caught my pant leg again (what the heck?!). I banged around the door frame doing some sort of contorted one-legged dance, pitched forward and came flying out of the booth, door slamming behind me, and bounced off the hood of a car parked in front of the unit. Z.'s father, who was sitting in the car waiting for her, peered over the top of his newspaper, eyes wide. Oh, dear. I smiled at him and continued on my way. Embarrassed, yes. But, I am thankful that I didn't actually tip the port-a-potty over!!!

Later on that evening, after the horses were put away, LA and I were chatting. I leaned my butt against the counter in the sink room and crossed my ankles. Yep, I smashed my spur into my ankle. I'll tell you, I couldn't wait for my vodka soda when I got home that night!

I had bruises all over my arms and legs the next day. My husband asked me how I got them. "From my spurs", I replied. He just shook his head. You know, I wear high heels all day. How is it that I can walk around in them without issue and then turn into some sort of coordination/motion-challenged idiot when you put a 1/2" piece of metal sticking out the back of my heel??? *sigh*

What was I thinking....???

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Spur of the Moment

The environment where Gem is boarded is Western, so everyone has spurs on their boots, even the younger riders. I sometimes sit and watch some of the kids ride their horses. Always the poke poke poke action going on. Not hard, but just enough to remind the horse and keep her/him focused.

I really thought that learning to ride without the use of artificial aids was the way to go for me. I wanted to be able to communicate with Gem using my body. But, I had a couple of things going against me: my physical condition (what condition!) and over-thinking each and every little thing.

It became apparent fairly quickly that I was not able to make Gem focus on me or what was expected of him. His mind would drift off constantly, to the point that he would daze over and trip over his own feet. He would get bored and start resisting my cues. I tried going au naturel for the first few lessons and but then had to resort to using a crop to gently remind Gem to focus.

LA has this rule that you ask nicely the first time and if there is no response, then ask a little more forcefully. But you always give your horse a chance to respond before you ask more assertively. Count one, two. Gem rarely responded to my timid taps with my heels. To add to the mix, I found that I was focusing more on when to start counting one, two than on what the message was!! By the time it came to give him a more forceful kick or to using the crop, the communication link was broken. Timing was everything and my timing was way off!

Eventually, I was able to improve my timing. But then there was a new issue. It was like Gem had become desensitized to my "assertive" cues or corrections. In particular, we have the same issue at the same spot when trotting around the arena. As we come up the wall on our left side, he has a habit of bending away from the wall and sort of trotting sideways into the middle of the arena. I don't know why it's always the same spot. It has nothing to do with the arena; he does the same thing outside in the front paddock. I started anticipating this move and would try to keep my inside leg on him pushing him over. Sometimes this worked and sometimes he would push against my leg and start bending to the middle of the arena. I tried using the rein of opposition and tapping my inside leg on to push him back to the wall. This was hit and miss. Eventually, I would have to hoof him with my inside leg to get his attention and then 'push' him over. Having to lift my inside leg off of his side to hoof him naturally would throw me off balance. *sigh*

Don't get me wrong, not all of my lessons are a fight with Gem. I manage. Gem is all hugs and cuddles when it comes to grooming or being hand walked around. But work? He has to be in the right frame of mind. :-) There was a positive outcome of having to correct him regularly though - my balance has improved.

Heading into winter, the stables organized an event where 20 riders did a choreographed holiday performance. I couldn't commit to the practice days, so I asked Jean if she would ride Gem. I thought it would be good for him socially and it would help his focus. After evaluating the horses and riders, the instructor that was managing the event told Jean that she had to get spurs. I was horrified and resisted. I said that if spurs were a prerequisite for participation, then I was pulling Gem out of the performance. LA calmed me down and showed me the type of spurs the instructor was talking about. It was not a Western spur with all the prickly points on it, but an English one. She guaranteed me that Jean had good balance and using spurs would not hurt Gem; using them on Gem would actually help get his attention faster, keep him focused and would eliminate the use of the crop. LA would be coaching Jean on how to use the spurs in our weekly lessons. I reluctantly agreed to let Jean try them.

Jean used spurs once a week on Gem for 6 weeks. I have to admit that I saw an improvement in his responsiveness when I watched the practices. He did wonderfully at the actual performance! He was great with the other horses, did not mind being squished into lines, didn't miss his cues and was not bothered by the audience. The event was a success and I couldn't have been prouder of my gentle giant at the end of the row, towering over the other horses. The instructor, who rides a police horse, had a particular fondness for Gem.

I checked the video I made of Gem when I met him for the first time. Megan, the lady who was selling Gem for the owner, was wearing English spurs when she was putting him through his paces. His previous owner rode him Western and wore western spurs. Could it be that Gem would only take direction seriously if it was punctuated with the slight poke of a spur?

After a particularly hard (good??) lesson recently, LA casually said that I could buy some small nub English spurs. What?! Really?! LA said my legs were much more quiet and I was ready. Three months ago I would never have entertained the idea of wearing spurs. But I have seen the result that they have on Gem. I think the request is clearer to him when spurs are involved and he responds accordingly. I am looking forward to learning how to use this tool. Hmmm, I wonder if there is a model that will make my feet look long and slender??? ;-)

What was I thinking.....?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

No Rollkur

As you know, I am a new rider. I am certainly no expert, but rollkur seems barbaric to me. It seems to be a way to have power over a horse instead of actually working as a team. Horse of Course ( and Grey Horse Matters ( express my sentiments regarding rollkur.

On Feb.9th, the FEI will hold a closed door, no press allowed meeting to discuss Rollkur for the fifth time.

The list of invitees is long but only one man has spoken up loudly against rollkur again and again and refused to be silenced is invited. That one man, Dr. Heuschmann will stand quite alone in a room dominated by interests that have nothing to do with the good of the horse. Please show him and the FEI that his fight, our fight has not been in vain and that there are thousands upon thousands of horse lovers who stand with him.

A petition is live on his publisher's website.

"YOU can HELP Dr. Heuschmann put an end to rollkur on Feb. 9th at the next FEI meeting by signing your name to to a list he will take with him. Every voice is needed, it is time to step up and be counted for the good of our horses. Go to and click "Officials! Stop Hyperflexion!". If you want to help Dr. Heuschmann prevail, end rollkur and horse suffering please share this message with everyone you know, use your Facebook page, twitter, blogs, phone. Together lets make a difference.

I am hoping that there will be a positive outcome for Dr. Heuschmann. My fingers and toes are crossed that the FEI will actually listen and do the right thing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Scoping and Coping with Loping

When I was with The Instructor, I actually got to canter 3 times. I didn't really do anything. GM did it all with The Instructor yelling encouragement to her. When Gem and I started our relationship last May, it was like I was starting from scratch. My goal for the end of the summer was to canter once and go on a trail ride. I shared these goals with LA and with STA. Both thought that they were attainable.

I worked hard last summer getting to know Gem and getting used to Gem's size. I worked hard at getting into the routine at the stables and making friends. I switched from my English saddle to a Western saddle and I worked hard at getting used to the difference. However, the end of summer was approaching and I didn't feel like I was getting ahead with my riding.

I felt frustrated that I couldn't communicate what I needed from Gem. I had seen someone ride him with finesse. He was graceful and his transitions were smooth; I knew what he was capable of. I just couldn't find the right "buttons" on Gem; my inexperience was getting the better of me. LA sensed my frustrations.

She made three comments over the summer that have stuck with me.

Patience. To succeed you need to be patient.

Even if you think you are not progressing, you are.

Gem has improved because of you.

It was the end of August. We were having our lesson outside in the front paddock this particular evening. Jean had been loping the last few sessions and was having a good run during our lesson. I was very happy for her. LA told me I was going to lope next. My heart started to pound. LA told me what to do, but Gem would not lope. His trot would get bigger and bigger, but he would not lope. I tried and tried. I broke out in a sweat. My legs were getting tired. The bouncing was rattling my teeth! LA's daughter had been warming up her horse up at the other end of the paddock. LA asked her to help me by showing Gem what was needed. Her daughter rode in front of me and started to lope. After some encouragement, Gem followed suit. I was flying! I had no idea how to steer, but I was loping!!! It was wonderful.

Later on in the lesson, LA opened the gate leading out to the front pasture. STA had joined our lesson and was first out of the gate. She led Jean and I out of the front paddock. My heart started racing again. Too much space! TOO MUCH SPACE!!! OMG!! I had 1,000 butterflies in my stomach. STA reminded me to breathe and the three of us walked around this small pasture twice. I had reached my goals. I had loped and gone on a short trail ride!!! I was elated. I actually hugged LA when I dismounted.

The last few months, LA and I have been focusing on my balance. My balance has improved, along with my confidence. It was now time to try to learn to lope. But, my loping cues continued to be misread and only got him into a very fast extended trot. It was exhausting.

After a few tiring lessons, LA had me ride a school horse. She wanted me to "feel" what loping was and how to cue. The school horse seemed minuscule compared to Gem. :-) After a couple of attempts, I was loping!!! It was wonderful. I am actually not too bad with sitting in the saddle, but my legs are not solid and I really need to work on steering!

I often think about the three comments that LA made to me. Learning to be patient has been a challenge, particularly when Gem is being an obstinate "teenager" or when I am disappointed in myself. But, I do make sure I finish each riding session with him on a positive note. Every time I think I am taking two steps back with my lessons, I remind myself that repetition and correction is actually progress. LA's comment about Gem improving because of me is way up on my list of some of the nicest things ever said to me. Her comment makes me feel good because that indicates to me that she has seen a connection between Gem and I.

Some of the other boarders make smiley comments and jokes about my inability to get my guy moving. I don't mind. I am older than most of the adults at the stables and have a lot fewer hours in the saddle. Yes, they are light years ahead of me as far as competence and skill goes. But they were, at one time, where I am now. I have come to realize that when you are involved with a horse there are no deadlines; there are goals to work towards, but no hard deadlines to reach them. One day it just clicks. Gem and I are on a journey. We are two beings that, right now, communicate differently. We are looking for a common language, because sometimes you need to ask for directions to be able to reach the destination. :-) I know he is trying and I think he knows I am, too. I am hoping to be able to lope confidently in the front paddock this summer. Yep, I want to be able to outrun the mosquitoes and flies. Giddy up!!

What was I thinking....?