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 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....?

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Farrier and the Horse Whisperer

Gem's got really good feet. He is barefoot. Even as a newbie owner and horse person, I can recognize that he has strong feet. They are not perfectly shaped, but they are big and hard, with a healthy frog. I give Gem's feet a good clean every time I see him, before and after I ride him. I will run salt water (I use salt water for everything!) in the crevices of his frog if I think there is something funky going on in there and then use the pick brush. If you are thinking of going barefoot, you may find Sophie's blog, Barefoot Horse a great reference.

The terrain that Gem lives and works on is sand (arena), sand with some fine stone (paddock) and pasture. I sometimes walk him up and down the lane which is dirt and gravel. I walk him up and down the lane because it's a harder and rockier surface and I like the idea that his feet are experiencing all kinds of surfaces. I am a little obsessive about his feet. :-)

Today Gem got his feet done. I haven't actually seen The Farrier since last year. He comes every few weeks to the stables. You put your name down, he does your horse's feet and the bill is left with LA. Gem chips his feet all the time. When he is let out in the morning, he generally expresses himself through loping around his field and kicking up his heels. I am sure the rocks that are in his field take a beating from his antics. :-) While most of his chips are minor, in the early summer, Gem had two huge chunks out of his hooves from expressing himself while experiencing spring fever. It took three visits, three weeks apart for The Farrier to smooth them out.

I am having my stay-cation this week and decided to help LA out at the stables today. Ten horses had their feet done and 12 young riders were registered for riding camp. It was busy! But, it was a great opportunity to get re-acquainted with The Farrier. While LA helped the riding camp attendees, I held horses for him.

I am one of those people that puts The Farrier at the same importance level as my vet. They both play an essential role in the health and well-being of Gem. I am very fortunate that in my neck of the woods, I have the cream of the crop in both areas looking after Gem.

The Farrier always has a smile and enjoys company as he works. LA has 40 horses that need to be looked after and will not work with anyone but The Farrier. That reference in itself is good enough for me. But, I did take this opportunity to ask The Farrier if he attended any educational conferences. He attends two a year in Canada. I like the fact that he keeps current. On top of everything else, he is a kind man. Some horses he worked on outside (they like the distraction and it helps them not to feel trapped) and others he worked on inside. Some of the horses were fidgety, but he was patient. He spoke calmly and did not force anything. I once saw an old timer at another barn hit the horse in the belly with his hammer when the horse got fidgety....I didn't like this and was worried that this was the norm....and was relieved that it wasn't, when I met The Farrier. Whew.

I enjoyed being with The Farrier and handling horses that I wouldn't normally be around. It was cool to see how other horses behaved and I think it was good for my confidence. I also heard some great stories today. Most events happened when The Farrier was a newbie...he's much smarter now. :-) Here are a few:

Young stallion lunged at him as he was walking in front of him and bit his face! The top of the horse's mouth connected with his forehead and the bottom set of teeth under his nostrils. He had to go to the hospital and have the base of his nose stitched up. He still has a scar on his forehead....he was thankful that he still had a nose!

A gelding reared and struck out at him, hitting him in the chest so hard that it knocked him to the ground and left a horse shoe bruise on his chest.

Reining horses have long tails and a lot of owners braid them to keep them clean and pristine. Unfortunately, The Farrier once got hit so hard in the eye with a braided tail that it caused blurry vision for a few days. He now requests that all tails be unbraided prior to his visit.

He got body slammed by a scared horse. Ouch.

There is one horse that purposely whips his very long, very thick wiry tail in The Farrier's face. It hurts and makes it difficult to work. Smart horse. :-) Now someone has to hold the tail while he works.

Most of horses that I held were well behaved, including my Gem. There were two that had issues. The first was Gem's next door stall neighbour, an ex-halter Arabian, who over the last year has had mood swings and exhibited some aggressive behaviour. I think he may still be having back issues. I spoke softly to K. and gave him scratches on his withers and in his mane. "Is that a good spot? Oh like that, don't you? How about here...?" It worked. K.'s anxiety melted away and he stopped fidgeting.

The other horse was DH. DH is just not a very nice horse and has something in him that makes him resent everything. He was giving The Farrier a hard time by pulling his feet away from him. As DH wildly swung his head up and down in the cross-ties, I tried to calm him down the same way I did K. It was hit and miss, but in general he would have short periods of calmness that would allow The Farrier to nail on his shoes.

The Farrier thanked me for all my help. I thanked him for the stories. So I didn't ride today. Instead, I spent the first day of my stay-cation at the stables, holding and whispering to horses and walking them either back to their stalls or putting them out in the pastures. My stay-cation is great, so far. :-)

What was I thinking....?

Monday, August 2, 2010


I have been "back in the saddle" for about 6 weeks now since the required break due to my surgery. I have been trying to ease back into it and not overdo it. My balance right now is awful and although it's improving, I feel like I am where I was last year. My legs get tired quickly. My back and stomach area are in a perpetual state of stiffness. I have started back on my elliptical. Sigh.

The good news is my confidence improves with each ride. I can now do a wobbly jog and posting trot without too much discomfort. A couple of weeks ago, I told LA that I was ready to try loping during our lesson. I managed to cue Gem pretty consistently during my lesson, but my legs and steering were non-existent. My butt was so far off the saddle that, if you were behind me, you could probably see the back of Gem's head in between my legs! LA explained that during the winter months, I was learning how to cue Gem to lope. Now it was time to concentrate on my balance and steering. She noted that I am still very rigid around my neck and shoulder area; my body is still probably trying the protect itself. This rigidity has an effect on how I hold my arms; I start to lift them up, causing my butt to lift up. In addition, my core strength (what there was of it) went on vacation while I was recovering from surgery and has not returned. Sigh.

My friend STA and I went riding yesterday and today. I always enjoy my sessions with STA. She reinforces what LA teaches me. It's like having extra lessons when I ride with her.

The last two days with STA focused pretty much on potatoes. LA also likes potatoes and they are regularly part of our lesson. Well, I like potatoes - I like them fried, mashed, scalloped and baked (great, now I'm hungry....). Yes, potatoes are delicious and they are also a teaching aid when it comes to riding.

As I lope I tend to lean back, keeping my arms extended out front and my shoulders stiff. I needed to relax. Yesterday, STA had me do some shoulder rolls as I jogged Gem around the paddock. Once I was loosened up, she asked me take a piece of Gem's mane in one of my hands along with my rein. This was to help keep my hands from moving upwards when riding. Then, she told me to hunch over and imagine that my body was - you guessed it - a sack of potatoes. I felt my seat bones better connect with the saddle, my back and my arms started to relax. I continued doing a jog until I became familiar with the feel of this awkward posture. Then it was time to lope.

Gem picked up on my cue fairly quickly (yay!) and off I went. STA told me to feel the rhythm of Gem's movements. She then told me to be a sack of potatoes and repeat out loud potato, potato, potato, potato in time with his motion. This part of the exercise is to help you move to the rhythm of the horse and roll your hips and just dust the top of the saddle with your butt. LA coaches the others in my class in this technique also. Jean's balance has benefited from potatoes. Unfortunately, even with a butt the size of mine, dusting the top of my saddle seems impossible.....for now. :-)

Today was basically a repeat of yesterday. My whole body hurts, but in a good way. I will continue to work on my balance by being a sack of potatoes. I already have some experience in the potato area - I used to be a couch potato. :-)

What was I thinking....?