Sunday, July 31, 2011


  • As I was backing up out of my parking space at the barn, I saw over my shoulder LA's husband on one knee in the parking area next to LA's mother's house. He was giving the resident German Shepherd dog a lovely, gentle rub. The dog was stretched out on his side, his tail lazily thumping the dirt. The dog is a retired police dog, living out his retirement with LA's mother as her companion. I watched the scene in my rear-view mirror. LA's husband is not known for his emotional attachment to any animal and I found it particularly touching to see his kindness towards this elderly dog.
  • Gem was grazing next to the bushes bordering one side of his turnout area. As I stood at the gate and called him to "come", a very large female wild turkey made an appearance from the shrubs next to where Gem stood. My immediate thought was that Gem hadn't seen the bird and would be taking off like a maniac as soon as he did. The bird continued out of the brush followed by 8 or 9 chicks. Now these chicks were not little; at least a foot high. Bringing up the rear was another mature female turkey. They walked in a single file beside Gem, just a few feet away. He stood and calmly watched them file by him, one by one. They continued down the field on the edge of the shrubs. Once all of them were well past him, he came to me.
  • Jean and I have been "cooling" our horses down after we ride by walking them around a small field outside of the front paddock. The first time we did it, I had anxiety because I didn't have my "vest of confidence" on. But since that first time, our walks have grown to now include two other fields and a bit of jogging. The last time we rode we went to our favourite shade tree in the "loping" field. All of a sudden we were surrounded by 8 screaming riding camp children trotting their horses in and around us, playing tag. Some of the kids got very close to us as they weaved their way in and out, avoiding whoever was "it". As we walked away from the commotion, Jean pointed out to me that I wasn't even fazed by all of the activity.
  • The barn cats seem to prefer my tack box to others when it comes to finding a place to sleep. I always find one of them on my box. I think it's because they appreciate me keeping Gem's saddle pads and towels clean and folded nicely on top of the box.
  • There are a couple of elderly horses that get special mush to complement their grazing. LA's mother is 76 years of age, 5'3" and probably weighs in at 110 lbs. She is charged with getting the mush ready and feeding these senior citizens. LA's mother has to guard the seniors while they eat so other horses don't push the seniors out of the way and chow down. Last week, I saw LA's mother chasing a nasty mare, yelling and waving a crop over her head. The mare galloped off, squealing. LA's mother is an example that sometimes size and age doesn't matter, attitude does.
  • In attempt to be cooler in these awful temperatures, I tried going sockless in my Ariat All Terrains. The experiment was a failure; I got blisters. The solution was ankle socks. Having my legs bare under my jeans is much cooler.
  • When I put Gem back in his turnout on Friday, his roommate DH nickered and came over to greet him. The two of them stood together, each facing a different direction, but putting their mouths on each others neck. Their mouths moved ever so slightly, sort of tickling each other. I was surprised at how gentle DH was. This only lasted a short while and then they separated and went to different parts of the turnout area.
Hope you are keeping cool!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Let's Get Physical

I had my lesson last night, in 28C heat. Our cut off is 30C. I was actually hoping that lesson would be cancelled, but no such luck. All I can say is thank goodness for waterproof mascara. I think what I hate the most about this hot humid weather, in addition to Brillo hair of course, is that my t-shirt sticks to my body....not one of my better looks. Damn you, weather!

After we had warmed up and done a little loping, LA decided it was time to have some fun and we did Keyhole. Two large rubber barrels were set up at the far end of the paddock and we each took turns. The object of the game is to go through the barrels without touching them, turn around, come back through the barrels and come on home. In Games, this is a timed event. We did the first couple of runs at a jog and worked our way up to a lope. Gem loved it! As a matter of fact, we set the pace by doing a very fast lope (hand gallop??) each time we were on our way home! It was great. The added bonus was that the wind in my face helped dry my melting eyeliner.

As we were cooling down, LA said that I rode well and that I was improving. Her homework for me was to work on my hands (sigh) and to work on mine and Gem’s stamina. Stamina?? WTH?? Hmmmm…. OK, so we both huff and puff after we have loped a little. And, yes, I do have to take “senior” breaks during lesson. Now that I think of it, Gem tries to take “senior” breaks, too. Gem’s age in human years is around 35. He shouldn’t be huffing and puffing like me! Good grief! I have turned my horse into me!!! Yikes!

How can I improve Gem’s stamina? After thinking about it, I realized that I have to improve mine first! I admit that I have never done any real exercise. OK, wait… I did go out to a lot of discos and dance clubs just about every weekend in the 70’s and 80’s. Olivia Newton John, with her song and very risque (at the time) video “Physical”, was a sort of inspiration for women to squeeze into leotards and join a gym, well before Flashdance became a hit. During this time period, I made a fashion statement at a local gym (in reality most gyms were just another place to strut your stuff and had bars conveniently located off the main lobby!) wearing my bright blue and red stripped leotard, with red tights and a blue head band. Quite fetching! :-) Did I break a sweat?...uh, no, not really. Didn't want to ruin the look! But dancing and going to a gym has got to count for something, right??

The first year I had Gem, I was intimidated and didn’t push him or me. However, I was using my elliptical 3 times a week. My good friends couldn't believe that I was EXERCISING. Starting into the second year with him, I had surgery in April and my recovery didn’t feel completely done until last December. I was advised not to use the elliptical for 2 months. It was a slippery slope. During that time period I got out of the habit of using the elliptical and I just never seemed motivated to pick it back up again.

Gem is certainly in better shape than when we first partnered up. He’s lost weight and he has built muscle. He’s actually rounding himself more when he lopes. He looks magnificent. The issue is that he’s plateaued because of MY lack of endurance.

Gem is now my motivator. I want him to be strong and healthy. That means that I will have to do some work, too. I am being realistic. If I can build up my core muscles enough to give me correct balance and improve my breathing, I will be happy. I am not asking for the moon. There’s really no excuse not to use the elliptical. I used to use it in the morning while the coffee was brewing and that routine worked out well. Using the elliptical will also give me quiet time to read my Book Club book (Little Bee), which I never seem to be able to find the time to finish! So, I will be dusting off the elliptical and getting up 15 minutes earlier and starting a regular routine tomorrow. Wish me luck! Now where is that leotard?.....

What was I thinking....?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Newfoundland Magic

  • Cjay over at Artemis Areia is going through a rough time right now. Her horse, Cas, has a serious injury. If you have a sec, please show her your support.
  • Gabriella over at Horse Dayz has an interesting challenge. She is challenging other bloggers to do a post or series on how you would train a horse from the time it is a foal to being broke. If you have already raised a foal, perhaps you could share your experience so that others can learn.
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Yesterday I had my first Pleasure Driving lesson! Through a friend, I found an instructor that is only 30 minutes away from me. Shelley has competed in Jumping, Dressage and Pleasure Driving. A back injury due to a jumping accident has turned her focus on to Driving. She has a small boarding facility; 11 horses and ponies, 23 acres.

The day couldn't have been more beautiful. Temps were around 25C with a slight breeze and plenty of sunshine. From the get-go it was obvious that Shelley loves driving and her pony. Shelley doesn't use horses when she competes....she uses Magic, her gorgeous Newfoundland Pony. Magic is the Mini Me of Gem!!

Handsome Gem

Handsome Magic

I was very excited about meeting Magic. Newfoundland Ponies are considered a rare breed. My father is from Newfoundland and we spent many a summer on The Rock. Dad's family had a Newfoundland Pony named Blackie when he was a kid. The Newfoundland Pony is known for its hardiness and is a very easy keeper. The Canadian and the Newfoundland Pony share a similar history. Both breeds were instrumental in helping Canada be settled. They were used as work animals and to pull carriages. Machines and automation greatly impacted the need for the hardy little Newfoundland Pony and hundreds and hundreds of them were rounded up and sent for slaughter, ending up as dog food. By the late 1970's they were on the verge of extinction. Like the Canadian, a strict breeding program has saved them from that fate and these ponies are now recognized as a provincial heritage animal.

Shelley went through the different parts of the cart. Safety was the focus of her overview, and I liked that. After we went through the different parts of the cart, we brought Magic in and started our grooming. The tacking up part of Driving is very least right now. There is a sequence to how the harness is put on and you have to be very careful that pieces of the harness aren't hanging down where your feet or your horse's feet can get tangled up. Fortunately for us, Magic stood like a pro. :-) Hooking up to the cart was interesting. The horse has to stand while you pull and position the cart behind him and attach the harness. This part of the process seemed to take much less time than putting on the harness. This is a picture of her cart. It cost around $1,000.00.

It was now time to go for a spin. We donned our helmets and off we went. It was a bit weird at first. I felt...I don't The seat was comfortable, but there's nothing to hang on to really. And where was the brake?????!!! :-) We slow trotted around part of the property, which included a couple of very steep little hills. Eventually, Magic worked his way up to a working trot and then to a road trot. Amazingly, all of his speeds were communicated verbally by Shelley. All commands were prefaced with his name. "Magic! Road trot!" Which direction he was to go was communicated through the reins, by the flexing of the fingers. I could easily feel the difference in the speeds. We went down to the sand ring and Shelley showed me how to turn. Think you just sit there??? Wrong! You still have to have great balance and use your core. You have to assist the horse by shifting your body weight in the carriage when going up or down a hill, for example. You have to be able to feel the connection with the horse through the reins even though they are really, really long. No, you sure don't just sit there. :-)

Then Shelley let me take the reins! It was awesome!! I operated the reins while she told Magic what to do. It was harder than it looked and it took me a while to get the hang of it. It was great and I could soooo see Gem pulling a cart.

I have committed to taking two more lessons to get a real feel for it and see if it's something I want to pursue. It's quite expensive. To have her come to my stables and work with Gem would cost approximately $80.00 per session, at least twice a week. Shelley did say that it would take a few months to get Gem up to speed. It would mean giving up my lessons with LA for a while because I couldn't afford both.

It was time to wrap up our session (3 hours later!) and I went to pay her. She decline the money, stating that the first lesson was at no charge; she was happy exposing someone to her passion. Nice!

It was a great visit and I felt sort of "satisfied" when I was driving home. Let me share a captured moment of pure Magic......

Have a great week!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Help! I Need Somebody....

"Help, not just anybody,
Help, you know I need someone, help."
~John Lennon~

I have to admit I am more of Stones fan. :-) But, this lyric fits the bill of my experience after lesson on Tuesday.

I rode on Thursday and Friday of last week. On Friday's ride, Jean and I actually ventured out into the pastures for a very short trail ride.... by ourselves....!!! Yay!!

Lesson was so so on Tuesday evening. It was hot and humid. Horse and rider alike were sweating and huffing and puffing. After a long weekend of 30C temps and really big hair humidity, by the time lesson rolled around I had no energy. We didn't do anything too strenuous - walk, jog, a little loping in a figure 8 pattern. I am finding loping in small circles a challenge. It's difficult for me to maintain my balance while steering and pushing Gem on. This is one of the things I will be focused on over the next couple of months. The other is side-pass and, believe it or not, an active walk. Two Horses has been working on this with her horse Cassie. Gem will speed up his walk if I encourage him but as soon as I release pressure, he slows right down. We will keep working on it!

Anyway, after lesson I untacked my sweaty boy, gave him a brush and took him outside to graze a bit. After 10 minutes, I walked him back into the barn. As I opened his stall door and started to walk through into his stall (I make him wait until he's invited in), he started scratching his chin on the top of the door. He was really enjoying himself so I stopped mid-way through the door and let him scratch to his hearts content. His lead chain was banging up against the door, making quite a bit of noise.

Gem finished up his scratching session as CA walked into the barn with her lesson horse. He tried to pull his head up and couldn't. He tried again, and couldn't. He started to pull back while moving along the side of the stall, pulling the stall door tight and successfully pinning me. WTH?? Basically we were standing beside each other, our heads next to each other, with the wall of the stall separating us. I managed to look over the top of the door and could see that his scratching love-in had looped the lead chain around the latch and that some of the links in the chain were threaded through the sliding handle.

He was starting to back-pedal and I could hear his hooves smacking the concrete floor. There was a look of concern around his eyes. He started to pull, not in a jerking motion, more like a dog playing tug of war. I could hear the wrought iron hinges on his stall door protesting. I have to admit that when I heard the hinges starting to give, the possibility of an even bigger dangerous situation flashed across my horse-tearing-out-of-the-barn-dragging-a-stall-door-behind-him kind of situation. I didn't want to upset him any more than he already was. So, instead of yelling, I said in a loud but calm voice, "CA, I NEED YOUR HELP NOW!" Moving at the speed of paint drying, she responded "I'll be a sec. I just have to put my horse in her stall." WTH?! The reaction I was looking for was her moving with a sense of urgency and QUICKLY putting her horse in the stall and QUICKLY coming to my assistance. No such luck. Meanwhile, Gem was still back-pedaling, the stall door was still protesting while my body continued to endure the door being pressed up against it. I realized that I was going to have to defuse this situation myself.

I spoke quietly to Gem. "Easy....easy..." I reached over and started to stroke his neck. "Easy....there's a good boy..." He stopped back-pedaling and in doing so released some of the pressure on the door. I managed to squeeze the rest of my body into the stall and look over the door at the tangled chain. I thought I might be able to just undo the clasp, but it was tangled up too. It was sort of like getting a knot out of a necklace, but I managed to do it. No easy feat when you are looking at it from over a door. :-) I chatted with Gem while I worked and he stood like a gentleman. After I got the chain untangled, I asked him to back up, allowing me to open the stall door, exit the stall and walk up to him to give him a rub and tell him what a good boy he was.

How easily and quickly something so "normal" can become something dangerous! Holy crap! In reality, this whole situation with Gem probably only took 2 minutes max, start to finish. It seemed much longer. :-) I am thankful that Gem is not the panicking kind, and frankly neither am I. In a strange sort of way, I think this exercise was beneficial to both of us. It added to my confidence level. I can take care of Gem and he got to see that I helped him. I hope that translates into the level of trust that he has for me being elevated just a smidge. :-)

It was after I led him into his stall that CA walked up to us and asked what I needed (what took her so long??!!). I explained what had happened and that when I called for her I needed her help immediately. I showed her the hoof scrape marks on the concrete where Gem had been back-pedaling. She responded that she heard it but just thought he was giving me the business and didn't realize that it was an urgent situation. Sigh.

I don't believe I was over-reacting but obviously I failed in communicating that I needed help. So, my question to my blogger friends is this: Is there a particular way that "horse people" communicate an urgent situation to others, whether it's when you are in the barn or riding?? In other words, should I have asked for Help! differently (yelling?)??

What was I thinking.....?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Birthday, Canada!

Happy Canada Day to my Canadian blogger friends! Hope you are celebrating with friends and family. Have fun!!