Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sunglasses Required

I rode outside in the front paddock yesterday!! It was about 12C (54F) and sunny for most of the day. Gem's turnout was not scheduled until later in the day, so when I arrived late morning he was raring to get outside. Not only that, but as I saddled him up, lunch was being served to the other horses. He did give me a snort when he saw the flake being put in his stall. I have to admit, I was expecting to have to deal with a very grumpy, perhaps obstinate, horse. I was pleasantly surprised!

Sunshine has an amazing affect on human and horse. You smile from the inside out. I think Gem was smiling, too. He did not rush me when I lead him out of the barn. As we walked to the front paddock, his ears went up.

Gem: Where are you leading me? We aren't going to the arena?
Me: No. We are going to enjoy the bright, beautiful sun.
Gem: You mean, OUTSIDE?? Where I can see grass and listen to birds?
Me: Yes. You are going to feel wet, cool sand under your feet.
Gem: I am OK with that!

Me: There may be M-U-D. Squishy mud.
Gem: Um......that's OK! Let's rock and roll!
Me: Hey hang on there a sec, Sparky...I have to put on my cool sunglasses.

He pranced into the paddock. He stood quietly while I mounted. We walked around, breathing in the smell of dirt and wet grass. We could hear other riders chatting as they tacked up in the barn, getting ready for the clinic. I could hear faint music coming from the radio at the barn door. The robins were out in force and singing. Canada geese could be heard honking in the distance. The sun was warming my face. As we walked around the paddock, I think we were both daydreaming a bit. Ah. It was terrific.

I have mentioned before that I think having a video done of yourself while riding is a great learning tool. Once I get over how unattractive and square sweatshirts make me look, I start analyzing the technical aspects of my ride. I happened to have my camera with me yesterday, and my riding buddy, CA, took some pics and video.

Here's me pitching forward as we transition down from a jog.

This would be me looking at handsome Gem instead of steering.

This would be me loping around a corner - reins are too long and dang! my heels aren't down!

Well, it's not all bad! As I reviewed the pictures and videos, I noted that at a lope, my butt was nicely dusting the saddle the whole time and despite my reins being long or my heels not being down consistently, I still managed to steer Gem around the big horse-eating squishy mud puddle with ease a number of times. I also saw how amazing our jog was. It was slow, even and easy and my butt didn't leave the saddle. And, you know what? My lack of technical skill did not put a damper on how great it was to be outside with my handsome boy. :-)

Here we are doing a lovely, smooth jog. :-)

As our ride was coming to an end, so was the sunshine. By the time I had untacked Gem, it was overcast. It's been pouring rain all day today. Doesn't matter, though. I just have to remember yesterday's ride and I start smiling from the inside. :-)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

2nd Anniversary

Two years ago today STA delivered Gem to where I board him with LA. I can't believe how time has flown! For those of you that are new to my blog, STA was my sanity check when I purchased Gem and was instrumental in making sure that I chose the right horse for me. I actually purchased Gem on April 11, 2009, but the deal wasn't sealed until he passed his vet exam. With the exception of him being "over conditioned" or in other words fat, he passed with flying colours. :-) STA drove him home to her place on April 18th where he waited out the results of his Coggins test and then she trailered him to LA's on the 23rd. STA and I will be having our anniversary lunch next week.

Our first year together was definitely getting to know each other. There was so much to learn!!! In particular I had to get over his size. Now I can't image riding anything smaller! This second year has been about me gaining confidence and for both of us to learn how to work as a team. It's been bumpy at times, it's been amazing at times, it's been magic every time. We still have a long way to go. Boy, he is definitely teaching me how to ride! :-) He has also taught me a lot about myself and for that I am grateful.

This year was almost starting over again for me. I had surgery last April and my recovery took me into the fall. Physically I didn't have the endurance to pick up where I had left off in my lessons before surgery. Gem knew I wasn't 100% and was generally pretty patient with me. I feel better about where I am in my lessons now. Hey, I loped around the arena twice, controlled and (pretty) balanced in the saddle! And, I jumped! :-)

A big "thank you" to my blogging friends for your encouragement over the last year! :-) I can't tell you how much your support, insight and knowledge sharing has meant to me. You guys rock.

This coming year, I am hoping to lope small circles, learn how to do a proper sidepass and go on tons of trail rides. As much as I am looking forward to the next year with my boy, I almost wish my time with him would slow down.....it just seems to rush by and I really just want to savour every minute we are together!

I love him.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall....

Who's the fairest of them all? Well, apparently Gem is.....at least at my stables. :-)

I admit that when I am grooming him, my heart will sometimes skip a beat at how handsome he is. I compare him to the other horses at the stables and love his uniqueness. I think he knows he is different. He has a confident attitude. He loves being groomed (thank goodness!) and he usually stands tall while I brush him, willing other humans and horses in the barn to look his way.

Gem: Look over here. See how handsome I am?
Me: They have heard it before. Kinda getting old.
Gem: But, they should come over and admire me. I am, after all, magnificent.
Me: It's not all about you, Gem.
Gem: It's not!? What the heck?! I believe you are mistaken.

Sure enough, someone will eventually come down to the back of the barn and say hi, admire him and give him compliments. I swear he gives me that "I told you" look. Hmmm...perhaps Gem has some sort of hypnotic power of suggestion over humans.....

My riding "outfits" are colour coordinated. Fortunately, we are both dark haired, so what looks good on me will look good on Gem. ;-) His saddle blankets are coordinated and complimentary to the saddle and bridle. When we are in lesson or out on the trail, we look good! I mean, really, you have to be responsible to your public, right? You just never know now a days when someone will snap your picture. OK....have I gone mad?? :-)

Personally, Gem's hypnotic powers took hold of me the first time I saw him. His good looks have a drawback though. My classmate, CA, pointed out to me a couple of weeks ago that when I am loping Gem, I sometimes watch him and not necessarily where I am going! A couple of close calls with the walls of the arena have proven her to be correct - I was looking at him instead of steering! What?! Could this be why LA is always telling me to look ahead when I am loping??? !

After CA mentioned this to me, I realized that she is right! Yes, I do watch him. As we lope, I watch his long black mane flowing behind him sometimes brushing the back of my fingers, the rhythm of his shoulders and his strong legs out in front of him. I feel his power. I am mesmerized by his beauty! I am transported to my childhood dream for that brief few seconds; I am riding my big Black Beauty.

CA and I ride on Sundays. I have been practicing loping the last few times we have been out. There have been a few occasions where my steering has not been so great and she has asked "Were you looking at him? I think you looking at his flowing mane!" Probably guilty as charged. Must...learn...to....stop....looking....at....him. Must....stop....

Now that my loping confidence is better, LA is working on fine-tuning my hands, steering and seat. I suspect if Gem's beauty continues to dazzle me , learning how to steer and sit properly in the saddle at a lope may take a while. But, I am sort of OK with that if it means reliving my childhood fantasy, even if it's only for a few seconds. I just hope I can come out of this with the walls of the arena intact. :-)

What was I thinking....

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Armed and...Confident

I went to the stables on Friday to groom my boy. I can’t remember him ever being so dirty! We had a lot of rain late last week and I believe most of the mud that was in front paddock ended up caked on Gem. I had to go over him three times to reach some semblance of clean. It took over an hour.

After the grooming marathon on Friday, I decided to take him for a walk up and down the lane way to stretch his legs. He got excited about being outside and started getting pushy. I regretted not having my crop with me. We have five new horse in for training, two in his barn and three in the arena stalls. The ones in the arena stalls started squealing as we walked past, which made him even more pushy. I had to stop and back him up numerous times. Small circles were also incorporated into the walk. He started pulling on the sleeve of my jacket, coming closer to nipping than I would obviously like. What was supposed to be a nice quiet walk turned into a wrestling match.

As much as I can sympathize with the new horses adding to his confinement grumpies, I am now officially tired of this bad behaviour. Enough already!! I don't want to be pushed or pulled or nipped!! I don't care if he is grumpy!! He's making me grumpy!!! I am not the enemy!! Whaaa! When my dogs would start exhibiting undesirable behaviour, I would simply grab them, flip them over on their back and tell them NO! It’s a little more difficult to do this with a 1300 lb animal! :-)

I thought long and hard about it on the drive home Friday night. I certainly don’t want to use my hand as a weapon to discipline him; my hands should be for love and softness. My elbows have been used to try and stop his mouthiness, but I think it turns into a game for him. I have growled at him, I have used backing him up. My voice does have some affect and he understands No! How can I reinforce my voice?? Then I remembered my water bottle!

When I arrived on Sunday morning, I dug out my pump water bottle. It's actually an old detangler product bottle that I cleaned out and put water in so I could spray Gem's hooves if I was having a hard time dislodging solidified mud. This water bottle is now going to be part of the disciplining program for Gem. I believe that there has to be a balance and if you discipline for unacceptable behaviour, you have to reward for good. Everyone at the stables has told me not to treat Gem because he's mouthy. Sigh. But, giving him scratches does not seem to be enough in certain circumstances. I am going to do what I think Gem will respond to. I know he likes treats (what horse doesn't!), so rewarding him with a couple of little kibbles for good behaviour seems like the right approach.

Armed with my water bottle and a pocket full of horse treat kibbles, I carried my saddle down to his rack. He has started biting the horn again, trying to pull the saddle from the rack. A well-aimed squirt from a distance of about 6 feet connecting with his nose followed by NO! got his attention. He flinched, backed away and thought about it. He tried biting the saddle again while I was arranging his grooming gear. Another well-aimed squirt followed by NO! He backed away. Now, he's wondering What the heck is going on?? When he stood quietly, I gave him a couple of kibbles and a Good boy!. He didn't touch the saddle again. Sometimes, when I walk in front of him while I am grooming, he will nudge me with his head. Recently, these nudges have been a little more assertive. The first time he nudged me on Sunday, I squirted and said NO!. He immediately backed up a couple of steps. I purposely walked in front of him a number of times and when he stood still, he got a reward and a Good boy! Towards the end of our grooming session, he did nudge me again and got the squirt routine. After letting that soak in for a minute (pardon the pun!), I allowed him to redeem himself and he got rewarded for standing respectfully while I walked back and forth in front of him. He's testing boundaries and I am trying to show that pushing them out is no longer an option.

Getting ready for lesson last night was calmer. He did not grab the saddle. I did have to squirt him once when he reached his head out of his stall to grab my arm as I walked by. He backed up immediately. After a few seconds, he came back to the door and put his head out. He stood quietly and he was rewarded. When I groomed him, he nudged me once and got the squirt routine. He stood quietly and respectfully for the rest of the grooming routine and was rewarded a number of times. He was calmer when we walked to the arena. Walking back from the arena and untacking after lesson were incident free. Have I finally found the magic combination??!

Using the water bottle as a tool to reinforce a verbal reprimand so far has been good. You don't have to be next to the horse to discipline; you can be 6-8 feet away. It's harmless and invisible. I don't hold the bottle out in front of me when I squirt him; I actually try to keep the bottle hidden as much as possible so that he doesn't associate the bottle with the squirt. I wouldn't want him to get shy about me spraying product on him. :-) I have used a squirt bottle to help with behaviour modification with one of my dogs who used to bark incessantly when outside and, coupled with rewarding for good behaviour, it works. I suspect that I am going to have to keep the water bottle handy for a little while yet. Consistency is key, but Gem is a quick study. Perhaps my new found confidence is having a positive impact, too. :-) Here's hoping for a quick resolution to the Spring Grumpies!

What was I thinking....?