Monday, October 24, 2011

11 Years Young

I took the afternoon off on Friday and met Jean for a trail ride. As much as I was looking forward to the ride, I was also little apprehensive. We have had a lot of rain the last few days, sometimes torrential, followed by a lot of wind. It was going to be MUDDY. We got saddled up and out we went. Jean led the way initially, and I have to say that when I saw her small horse slipping and sliding, particularly in the forest, I was a wee bit nervous. I started thinking about how cold the mud was....and visualizing how I was going to be covered in it when Gem slipped and I came off....and how I was never going to be able to get the black mud stains out of my clothing...and.... WAIT!!! STOP!!! I gave my head a shake!! Not going to happen!!! I gave Gem lots of rein, he checked out where he was walking and.....he rocked it! There was a heart-stopping moment when Gem tripped over a rock hidden by leaves and went down to his knees, but he recovered nicely and so did I.

There was a swampy area that we just couldn't walk through, so we cut back up into the forest, into a less popular area. There were obstacles - mud, rocks, saplings, low branches - and at one point, we became sort of trapped. The recent high winds had taken down a bunch of branches and a large one now blocked our way. It was too tight to turn around, so I asked Gem to go forward and left it to him to decide what he needed to do. I trusted that he would get us through, and he did! He carefully picked his way over the branches and led us out.
* * * * *
Gem turned 11 on October 17th! I can't believe how times flies. Gem and I get teased a lot about his birth date. I am told that his birth was probably an "oops-ie". If that's the case, I am grateful for this particular mistake. :-) I posted a notice on the barn bulletin board asking that anyone interested in participating in a birthday trail ride be saddled up for 1:00 p.m. on Sunday. Eleven of us went out! Four of those that went out were new boarders.

It was cloudy, but temps were decent. We walked through the brush, into the forest and across the open fields. For most of the ride, Gem and I and DH and his mom were leading. This was for two reasons; DH's mom knows all the trails and the trails that we took, particularly in the forest, needed to be wide/tall enough for Gem. :-) There is one incline that whether you are going up or going down, it can be a bit of a challenge. We are not talking a Man from Snowy River incline, but it's enough that it can unseat an unprepared rider. It's also rocky. DH's mom has had to coach/calm me up and down this incline on a couple of occasions. Sunday, DH started to slide down the incline and his mom opted to take him through the bush. I yelled a "slippery!" warning back to the others. I gave Gem rein and asked him to move forward, leaving the option open to go into the bush if he started to slip. Gem didn't hesitate and carefully picked his way through the rocks and down the slope. :-) DH's mom yelled "awesome!" when we got to the bottom. Another confidence/trust boosting incident for Gem and I.

Trail riding is what he did in his previous life. Coming to live with me and spending a great deal of time in a lesson environment was a huge adjustment for him. But, I think the fact that he has not become a bitter, grumpy horse because of this change in his lifestyle shows a great strength of character and work ethic ....oh, and how much patience he has! :-) There have been some frustrations in lesson, for sure. Sometimes I feel that I am never going to get it. But, it's important to me to learn how to communicate with him properly and I am looking forward to when we both understand how and why I am asking him to do things.

My confidence level is getting better all the time when it comes to trail riding. I now realize that Gem knows what he's doing. :-) There were a few times that we actually jogged ahead of everyone and we loped a bit! Crazy, eh?! Could he have known that the ride was in his honour?? His winter coat is coming in and he looks quite magnificent, if I do say so myself. :-) We were out for just over an hour. I gave my boy lots of loving and extra treats while I was untacking him. Then, my trail riding buddies and I met in the bunkhouse, which was nice and toasty warm; LA's mother had started up the wood stove while we were out. I served up carrot cake, chips, soft drinks and beer. It was a lovely way to get to know the new boarders and part of a lovely memory of Gem's birthday.

Pooped after a birthday trail ride.

Happy birthday, handsome Gem!! xoxo

Monday, October 17, 2011

Erin and Tonk

A friend sent this to me and I thought you might enjoy it, too. I have embedded the link to the interview below. How beautiful is Tonk??!!! :-)

The Equine-Human Bond: More Than Meets the Eye
A Tale of Courage, Inter-Species Communication & the Human-Animal Bond Published on October 14, 2011 by Lee Charles Kelley in My Puppy, My Self

"The phenomenon of thought-transference ... is so close to telepathy and can indeed without much violence be regarded as the same thing." —Sigmund Freud 1932.
David Letterman had an interesting guest on his show the other night, a horsewoman with a great story of courage: not only her courage, but her horse's as well. Her name is Erin Bolster. She's a guide at Swan Outfitters, operating near Flathead National Forest in Montana.

On July 30th of this year, Bolster—who's been riding since she was 4—was leading 8 horses and riders on a trail into the Montana wilderness. The riders included a family of 6, along with a California dad who'd brought his 8-year old son to Montana for his first riding experience.

They hadn't gotten far when Erin's mount Tonk—who's described as a possible Percheron mix, and was s rental horse, not owned by Erin or the outfitting company—stopped in his tracks. Erin knew instantly that Tonk sensed danger nearby.

Then she heard the sound of branches breaking and underbush crashing, followed by the sight of a young male deer, running for his life, directly toward the riding party. Because of a hard winter, the bears in the area had been more active than usual. So Erin wasn't surprised to see a huge grizzly coming after the deer. The young buck ran straight to the group, grazed Tonk's shoulder with his horns, frightening Tonk, then he veered away.

Seven of the horses—including the California dad's mount—turned and galloped back in the direction of the barn. The deer, perhaps feeling that there's "safety in numbers," followed suit. But Scout, the horse carrying the man's son, stepped back at a 90 degree angle to the trail.

The bear immediately switched from chasing the deer to going after Scout. Bolster said that Tonk wanted to follow the main group back to the barn. But she dug in her heels, forcing Tonk, through her strength of will, into a spot between Scout, the boy, and the charging bear.

The boy—who'd never ridden a horse before—was having difficulty staying on Scout. Bolster knew that if she was going to save the boy's life, she had to convince Tonk to stand his ground. Somehow, miraculously, she did just that. She got Tonk to square off and face the bear. Tonk wanted to turn and run but Bolster held firm. Then, once Tonk was facing the bear, Bolster was able to do something even more amazing. She got Tonk to charge at the bear!

The grizzly was no fool. He knew the easiest way to his next meal was to circle around the bigger horse and go after the smaller horse and boy. Bolster wasn't going to let that happen either. She wheeled Tonk around to charge at the bear again. "Nothing in my body was going to let that little boy get hurt by that bear," she told a reporter for Spokane Washington's Spokesman Review. "That wasn't an option."

After three attempts, and three instances of Bolster and her horse charging the bear, he turned tail and ran back into the brush. The boy and both horses were in shock. But they were all alive and well.

The studio audience cheered at various points of the story during Erin Bolster's appearance on Letterman. I did a little cheering myself, as I watched from my spot on the couch. Even Dave felt his eyes getting a little misty when he thought about what an amazing horse Tonk was, and what an amazingly courageous and level-headed woman Erin Bolster is.

Since I normally write about dogs, you might be wondering why I've chosen to tell this tale. It has to do with the bond that develops between humans and animals, and how that bond deepens our ability to communicate in a way that doesn't involve language, training, or conditioning. As Erin Bolster said, "No amount of training could keep a horse from running away from a 750-pound bear charging at him."

So what was it that kept Tonk on track, willing to face that bear?

First of all, it was Bolster's courage; it had to be. Secondly, it was Tonk's trust in her. And finally, it probably involved a form of communication that can't be explained empirically, through the lens of Western science, which brings us back to what Freud suspected about telepathy.

"One is led to a suspicion that this is the original, archaic method of communication between individuals and that in the course of phylogenetic evolution it has been replaced by the better method of giving information with the help of signals which are picked up by the sense organs. But the older method might have persisted in the background and still be able to put itself into effect under certain conditions." [Freud, "Dreams and Occultism," in J. Stracey (Ed.) The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth, 1964, 53, 54.]

The relationship between a horse and a good rider develops over time. The human and animal move together with a certain rhythm, sort of like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Many dog owners experience this same phenomenon with their dogs. I know I have.

Psychologist William Roll writes, "The human self is not restricted to the body studied by physiology and behavioral psychology. The experienced self is a larger self, a ‘long body,' to use a Native American metaphor, that includes significant other people, places, and objects."

On her blog, Zen poet Genine Lentine discusses this idea of the "long body." "When you pick up the phone just as your friend is calling, that’s The Long Body. Or when you are five and dream your grandmother has died and your mother delivers this news to you the next morning."

Telepathy is a daily occurence, one that we're mostly unaware of. The problem with university studies is that they're looking for mental telepathy when it doesn't exist. The word telepathy comes from the Greek for "distant feeling," which suggests that it's a body state, not a mental one.

So in order to study the telepathic connection between dog and owner, or horse and rider, we need to focus our attention on synchronous firing of neurons in the limbic systems of both species, or perhaps the millions of neurons located in the solar plexus, often referred to as "the second brain." Or, since dogs communicate via pictures, the visual cortex. [1]

Horses communicate via pictures too. And I would venture to say that this may have been the primary reason Tonk was able to do what Erin Bolster wanted, despite his terror. She probably had a clear vision in her mind of the two of them successfully scaring the grizzly off. As long as she held that image, Tonk was willing to do whatever she asked.

This process works both ways; animals send us pictures as well. A dachshund named Noodles often stays with me. He's a picky eater; I'll sometimes put his food down, he'll come over, sniff it, then go take a nap. So I was a bit surprised the other day—while working at my computer (as Noodles napped under a blanket on my couch)—that I had a sudden image of Noodles happily eating his dinner.
I turned around to find Noodles not napping at all, but staring at me.

"You want your dinner now?" I asked.

He jumped down, then followed me happily to the kitchen where I put down his provender and he scarfed it up.

Movies, TV shows like Lassie, and even some scientists, tell us that dogs communicate with yips, barks, whines, etc., that are analogous to human language. I don't think that's true at all. Yes, dogs may resort to such measures, but I think they only do that when their owners ignore the telepathic signals they're already sending.

By the way, since her ordeal, Erin Bolster bought Tonk from the stable that was renting him out each summer to Swan Outfitters. Tonk is her horse now, and probably will be forever.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Here's Mud in Your Eye....

First, I want to thank Mare at Simply Horse Crazy for giving me a Lovely Blog Award. Thank you!!!! Mare and her horse Missy are a dynamic duo. If you haven’t checked out Mare’s blog before, I urge you to do so. :-)
* * * *
The past two weeks have been AMAZING weather-wise. Temps have been around the 23C mark and it’s been sunny. It has been perfect riding weather. This is my favourite time of year to ride. Not too hot, not too cold, no bugs and the trails are beautiful.
My friend, Jean has been easing me out on the trails when we have managed to get together outside of lessons and I have reconnected with another boarder (DH’s mom) who is an avid trail rider. Her and I have managed to get together the last three Sundays. To refresh your memory, DH is Gem’s turnout buddy and he is the leader. It’s actually quite hilarious to see a 14.3hh gelding push around a 16.0hh horse. I used to ride regularly with CA on Sundays, but she prefers the arena environment. As long time readers know, my ultimate goal is to trail ride comfortably and safely. Who knows....maybe trailer somewhere with friends and feel confident on new trails. Now that Jean has helped me with my trail riding confidence this past summer (baby steps!), I am fortunate to have found DH’s mom available to hit the trails on weekends. I have had as many trail rides in the last few months as I did all last year!

Most of the horses where I board are Quarter Horses that are around 15.0hh, with a couple of Arabians and Paints thrown in for good measure. While there are quite a number of open fields to wander around in, some of the more interesting terrain means going through some bushy areas or (my favourite) the forest. The paths through these areas are clearly for smaller horses. I can't tell you how many times I had to duck to get under branches or push saplings aside as we wondered through the brush, when no one else had a problem. Could all this bending and stretching and reaching actually be helping my balance???? Geez, I hope so!!! Sometimes the paths get so narrow, I have to pin my legs against Gem to avoid getting my knees bonked by trees.

DH and his mom have no problem negotiating the trails; they are both "petite" shall we say, while the gy-normous black beast and his proportionally sized rider tried to keep up without loosing an eye. You see, when your horse is 5 inches taller than just about every other horse on the place and you are tallish (5'7"), you have a whole different set of obstacles to deal with than other riders when out on the trails. Branches that clear the tops of other rider's heads hit you at face level. Trail openings that accommodate 900 lb. horses can be a tight squeeze for a ~1200 lb horse. A challenge, but one that I am up for! :-)

So here's the thing. My horse has a certain kind of quiet strength that allows us to maneuver through the herd when we come upon them in the forest without being challenged. He does not spook when the wild turkeys fly out of a bush and he only shows interest and not fear when the golfers next door yell suddenly. I can ride him in the arena during thunderstorms. Loud machinery noise, doesn't blink an eyelash. His weakness?.....Gem does NOT like mud! He may have had a bad experience in his previous life, or maybe it’s because he actually sinks quite deep in the mud because of his size (and my additional weight-whaaaa!!). Whatever the reason, he panics a bit. He will do just about anything to avoid mud.

Me: Gem, it's just mud. It's wet dirt.
Gem: I will walk in it and never come out.
Me: We will come out, I guarantee it!
Gem: You have eyes in the front of your head. What do you know. I see everything. There are demons in there that will grab my ankles and pull me under.
Me: Pleeeese....
Gem: You are embarrassing yourself by begging. Ain't going to happen.
Me: Sigh.

This can be a little nerve-wracking when we are on the trails. He will rush through it and push his way around the horse in front. Or he tries to take me through the bushes to avoid the mud all together; thank goodness I wear safety goggles when I trail ride!! So the first time DH's mom took us through a swampy area, my heart started to pound. I tried to tell her that Gem didn't like mud, but she told me to give him some rein, so he could lower his head and see the mud, sit square in the saddle and relax. I did as told. Gem was hesitant, but when he saw his fearless leader DH walk through it, he did too!! Now, I am not going to say that Gem was 100% calm walking through the mud…he still high-stepped trying not to get his feet dirty….but he did not RESIST going in the mud. Yay! Since that ride, DH’s mom has us going through muddy areas every ride and each time my anxiety has dissipated a little more and so has Gem’s. I am hoping that by the time winter rolls in, we will have beaten the horse-eating mud demons down completely!

I have not come off the trail rides unscathed, though. Monday, I suffered a trail riding injury...No, not as bad as the two times I was catapulted in the air by Gem! :-) There we were, in the forest, winding our way through a very narrow, rocky path. As we followed DH and his mom, I leaned to the right to avoid a branch, right into the stub of a broken branch on another tree. Gem was fast-walking down a slight incline at the time and the stub went into my upper arm and caught my blouse, ripping the sleeve open to my elbow. It hurt! I quickly checked to see if skin was broken (no), but a bruise was already welling up.

The bruise is now about an inch wide, 4 inches long and is a lovely purple black colour. Oh, well. Makes for interesting conversation. Cripes, I am going to miss that blouse though!!

What was I thinking....?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Lovely Blog Award!!

Look what Grey Horse Matters gave me! What a fabulous way to start our long Thanksgiving weekend! Grey Horse Matters has been a blogger friend of mine since I first started blogging and I appreciate her support the last couple of years. The deal is that I pass the award on to fifteen other blogs and tell seven things about myself. So many have already been recognized, so I am going to limit my choices to blogs that are newer to me. Check them out!

I apologize for the formatting. For some reason I can't get it sorted out.

My Equestrian World


Living a Dream

Hmmm, seven things about me.....
  1. I stopped colouring my hair in May. I used to have black hair, which I lightened to dark brown. It will take about a year to grow out, but I am already excited about the pewter colour that is coming through.
  2. I hate bad table manners. I have a hard time sitting across from someone if they don't eat in a civilized manner.
  3. I love movies, old and new, and can actually spend a whole day on the sofa watching one after another. Shhh, don't tell anyone but I actually like western themed movies. Some of my favourites are Lonesome Dove, Dances with Wolves, Legends of the Fall, Hidalgo, 3:10 to Yuma and Appaloosa.
  4. I am actually stronger than I look. :-)
  5. Laughing is one of my favourite activities.
  6. I prefer muscle cars to sports cars.
  7. Halloween is right around the corner. Some of the costumes I have worn over the years include Scarlett O'Hara, Magenta (Rocky Horror Picture Show), Friar Tuck, Elvira, a flamenco dancer, Goth girl, Anne Boleyn, Dolly Parton, Robin Hood and will be (hopefully) going as Dame Edna to a party this year.
Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian blogger friends!


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Big Redux

Jean contacted the Clyde breeder soon after we met them at the fairAfter a few email exchanges, Saturday was the day to go and meet the whole family.  :-)  I met Jean and her mother early Saturday morning.  It was the first cold day of the season and the sun was absent, but the weather did not dampen our mood....we were excited.

The purpose of the visit was to see the horses in their natural living environment and meet some of the yearlings, the three mares that are carrying foals and the stallions.  The idea of buying a baby is becoming more appealing to Jean.  She would know her horse from the beginning and can work with the breeder in training the horse for riding (they have a couple of Clydes that they ride).   However, if the perfect adult Clyde became available and the timing was right she would consider it. 

The Mr. and Mrs. met us as we pulled into the lane, along with their son and daughter.  What a lovely family!  So pleasant and welcoming.  We walked down the lane a bit and met the mares.  Initially, they were grazing but when Mrs. called them, they walked over to the gate.  Jean went through the gate and waited for them to come to her.   They were very courteous....curious, but courteous.

Hello, nice to meet you.
Oh, you brought a hostess gift!  Yummy!

What struck me about these big ladies is that you could see gentle wisdom behind their eyes.There was one mare that took a shine to Jean.  Sure, treats were involved initially at the meet and greet, but after the treats were gone, she just followed Jean around like a puppy dog. 

The turnout areas were large and clear of scrub weeds and rocks.  Lots of space to kick up large heels.  :-)   The trees around the parameter of the field provide shelter.  The horses are left out 24/7 unless there is freezing rain.    Then they are brought into the barn.

Now it was time to meet Stallion 1.  He has been part of the family for 8 years, purchased as a yearling. I have to say that I had a preconceived idea of a stallion; unpredictable, wild, untouchable, fire-breathing, relegated to a small paddock out of sight.  So, when Mr. and Mrs. invited us into Stallion 1's field, we were surprised.  In fact, I was a bit nervous.  However,  I wasn't so nervous that I didn't turn my video on.  :-)  Check it out.....

Stallion 1 was galloping right for me, but I didn't move.   My heart was thumping a bit, I admit.  :-)  Jean and her mom got a bit of a fright when he veered.

Mr. and Mrs. handle their horses a lot.  Having them socialized is important not only from a resale perspective, but from a showing perspective.  You can't have a spooky 2,000 lbs horse in the show ring.  So while Stallion 1 was eating his treat, Mr. stood behind him and untangled his tail which was full of burrs. 

Next we went into the barn to see the babies.  The stalls were twice the size of normal stalls.  We were allowed into each of the stalls and encouraged to rub and touch the youngsters, which were around 7 months old.  There was only one almost nipping incident, but other than that they were better behaved than a lot of the horses at my barn.  :-)

Does this tail make my butt look big?
Mr. showed us the saddle he uses when he rides Clydes.  I forgot to take a picture of it.  It's a Western saddle with two stirrups on the left side.  One is the regular fender/stirrup combo and the other, placed behind it, almost looks English with a very long leather strap and metal stirrup attached.  Because of the potential torque on the horse's back when you use the long stirrup, someone has to be on the right side of the horse pushing down on the stirrup to make sure the saddle doesn't move when you mount.  Once you are up, you hook the long stirrup to the back of the saddle so it's out of the way. 

Stallion 2's stall was in amongst the babies.  Stallion 2 has shoes on for showing, so he is in a stall for the time being or in a small paddock.   I was actually scratching Stallion 2's chin and ears for a while before Mr. mentioned that he was a stallion.  Again, another preconceived idea about stallions being untouchable blown out of the water.  Stallion 2 was a big schnook!  Every time I stopped rubbing, he would lean into the bars.  I asked Jean's mom to take my place so I could get a pic.

Schnook alert!
I realized that I was not at all nervous around these horses.  Perhaps it was because I am (finally!) used to Gem's size and even though these horses out-weigh him by +400 lbs and are 6-8 inches taller, it didn't seem that big a deal to me.   The Mr. and Mrs. love their horses and it's evident; the horses are calm and friendly.  Being around these gentle giants was almost soothing and like time was standing still.  But, time wasn't standing still and after a couple of hours of visiting, it was time to go.  We were invited back any time.   On the drive home, Jean said that she was happy with what she saw and believes that she has found her Clyde connection.   I am glad that she has found her connection and that her dream is within reach.  I am glad that I was able to sample the Clyde magic....geez, I hope Jean invites me to go with her for another visit soon!