Saturday, January 29, 2011

Jogging in the Snow

I had a make-up lesson today because my regular Tuesday lesson was canceled due to cold temperatures. I met some new classmates today, Mel and Chris. This afternoon was gorgeous. Temperatures were around -8C, light snow and no wind. Instead of doing the lesson in the arena, LA decided we would hit the trails. My first winter trail ride of the season! Yipee! I ran back to my car and got my snow pants and heavier jacket.

LA rides Gem for me once a week. He's smart and she knows that he gets bored with repetition, so she mixes it up for him. Every once and a while she will take him on the trails. This serves two purposes; gives Gem a break from the usual routine and it also keeps him familiar with the trails so that there are no surprises when I take him out. LA took Gem out on a trail ride yesterday. It was his first time out this season, so I appreciated that he was already familiar with the snowy trails. LA said he was absolutely fearless. He did everything that she asked him to do and helped break some new trails. That's my boy!!

So, off we went today. As usual, I was a bit nervous as we started out, but I kept reminding myself to take a deep breath and relax into the saddle. LA asked that we keep some contact on the reins. There is a small family of deer on site and they occasionally walk out of the bushes, spooking horses.

Gem was fantastic. He walked through the forest with ease, occasionally grabbing at branches. You know after a heavy snow how everything seems muffled? That's what it was like. It was so quiet and peaceful. My collar, neck warmer and helmet cover managed to keep the snow-laden branches from depositing their load down my back as we walked through narrow paths. Mel and Chris were not always so lucky. :-)

Walking out of the forest.

My goodness, what furry ears you have!

When we came to the first first field after going through the forest area, LA suggested that we do a nice easy jog. Yep, my heart started to quicken, but I was game. LA started off with Mel behind her. I cued Gem and he bounced into a lovely lope...not what I asked for!! Easy! Easy! He responded immediately. Good boy! There were many opportunities to jog while we were out. As you know, under normal circumstances, I usually don't do anything faster than a walk, if I can help it. But, my new riding friends were used to going a bit faster and I didn't want to ruin their ride. They were my motivation. :-) So, every time an opportunity presented itself, I took it. And, I loved it! Gem was smooth and alert. He was enjoying himself. :-) I have to admit that I was quite pleased with myself for bumping it up a notch. It actually did a lot for my confidence.

I had a fantastic ride. Gem was so good and it's rides like the one I had this afternoon where I can feel how much better we are becoming at trusting each other. Mel and Chris were a bit cold by the time we were heading back in. I was grateful that I was wearing my heavier jacket and my snow pants. Last year about this time, I was a bit traumatized looking for winter wear. But, I persevered and have found an ensemble that works. OK, may not work as a flattering fashion statement, but it works from a warmth perspective. :-)

What was I thinking....?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sunny is deceiving....

Well, the cold has settled in here. The next few days will be a bit of a deep freeze. The highs for the next few days will be around -21C (-6F)....yes, you read that correctly....-21C is the HIGH. With the windchill it will feel like -32C (-25F). There is a cold warning in affect and it is recommended that people not go out unless absolutely necessary. Such a shame, because it's brilliantly sunny and the snow is crunchy.

I have a couple of girlfriends that want to meet Gem so they were going to meet me at the stables tomorrow, watch me attempt to ride, and then the plan was to go for lunch. One of these ladies is quite impressed that I have taken up riding at this stage in my life. She thinks I am brave. Crazy is still the word that regularly jumps to mind when I think about this adventure. Up until hearing about the weather, my biggest concern was what to wear in case one of my girlfriends decided to take pictures. :-)

I may not be a great example of what riding should be, but I am a bit of a keener. I brought a change of clothing to the office yesterday so I could head out to the stables right after work. Fridays are usually not a riding night for me in the winter. Quite often I am the only person there, and I won't ride in the arena by myself for safety reasons. It took a while to put on my 5 layers of clothing, but I managed to accomplish my Michelin Man look and off I went. It was about -20C. When I arrived, I saw LA bringing in some of the older horses from the fields so that they could overnight in the old barn. I asked her about riding in this weather.

Me: Do you think I can ride Gem on Sunday?
LA: No.
Me: But I have some friends coming and they want to see me on him.
LA: No.
Me: OK, I won't do any trotting. I will just walk him around, maybe a little leg yielding stuff.
LA: No.
Me: I will blanket him when I walk him to the arena and, of course, after.
LA: No.
Me: So, I guess what you are saying is that I shouldn't ride Gem in these temperatures.
LA: (sigh) If you can't breathe in this weather, your horse can't breathe.
Me: Got it. Thank you.

Thank goodness I have LA as my voice of sanity! I have canceled tomorrow's visit. This weather is not just hard on us; it's hard on all of our fur companions. The Dog House has some excellent suggestions on how to help our pets be safe and comfortable in these temperatures. For those of you who's weather mirrors mine, keep warm!

What was I thinking....?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

An Award!

I am quite flattered that Mare over Simply Horse Crazy, Gabriella at Horse Dayz and Canterbalance have given me this award. Thank you ladies!!

The rules are quite simple:

1. Thank and link back to the person who awarded you this award

2. Share 7 things about yourself

3. Award 15 recently discovered great bloggers

4. Contact these bloggers and tell them about the award!

Seven things about myself....hmmm....

1) I used to spend a lot of money on clothing. I was introduced to the paying-a-bit-more-means-better-quality concept by my mother (the Ava Gardner look alike, remember?). If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would wear jeans to work or out socializing, I would have said you were crazy. My how times have changed... :-)

2) I own way too many shoes....mostly sandals. Seeing painted toes through sandals makes me feel good. I rarely wear flat shoes; 3 inch heels are the norm.

3) I read.... a lot... I organized a small book club 10 years ago and we meet about every 6 weeks. We all get a chance to pick a book. We are not into the heavy duty stuff - what we read is for pure entertainment. BTW, our top books (10/10 rating) are To Kill a Mockingbird, A Fine Balance and The Kite Runner. We just finished The Summer of Katya (7/10).

4) I love music....all kinds of music. It gives me energy. I have always had a radio at my desk and I have been caught numerous times by co-workers dancing away in my chair or singing along.

5) My mother spent her childhood in Agra, India so I grew up with South Asian/Indian cooking and consider this my comfort food. Basmati rice is a staple in my home and my favourite dishes are biryani, butter chicken, and kofta curry.

6) My immediate family lives within a 30 mile radius, but I also have relatives in England, Australia and Newfoundland.

7) I am not a bystander and believe in getting involved if I see an injustice.

My blogger friends have been very supportive of me over the last year. It's Quarters for Me, Tucker the Wunderkind, A Year with Horses, Santana's Diary, Grey Horse Matters, Canterbalance, Horsecentric and Horse of Course have been with me from the beginning. The rule is to list 15 newly discovered blogs. These are newish to me, some more than others, some have horse connections and some don't!
  1. For the Love of Irish Wolfhounds
  2. Pinkglitterfae
  3. Joyous Art
  4. Learning to Horse Ride
  5. Daily Coyote
  6. All Gear No Skill
  7. Wearable Art
  8. Good Time to Review
  9. On the Ground
  10. A Fat Girl and a Fat Horse
  11. My Horse, My solitude, My New Country Life
  12. TB at X
  13. RebelRox
  14. Dun got Class
  15. Wolf Conservation Centre

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Football

Well, we got our snow base for winter trail riding (yay!!), but today it was bitterly cold (-20C) so I didn't ride. Instead I groomed my boy and then let him out in the front paddock to enjoy the sun with DH.

It appears that Gem and DH have caught the quarter finals fever and decided to play a little football. You may recall that last year, their football got them into a little trouble. :-) The "football" has gotten a lot of use and needs to be replaced. They still manage to entertain themselves, despite the ball being deflated. I just hope the paddock fencing can withstand their game!

The cold didn't seem to bother these guys at all. To be honest, I didn't stay out for too long trying to get shots of their game.....the tops of my ears were freezing and my hands were going numb! Damn you, Windchill, damn you!!!

What was I thinking....?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"My, what big teeth you have."

When I first started my lessons, I had set my expectations that I was going to fall at some point and I was probably going to get kicked. The two things sort of came with the territory when you are around horses. Well, I have fallen (twice), but haven't been kicked and I am OK with keeping it that way.

I was taught how to groom safely and I still follow the rules. But, I can see where you can be lulled into a false sense of security if you have been around horses for a long time. Perhaps a bit of complacency sets in. I see it all the time at the stables. No one thinks they will get kicked. Well, you know what? It can happen in a blink of an eye. It doesn't have to be an act of aggression either. Mrs. Mom at Oh Horsefeathers and Wiola at Riding Instructor's Diary have recently mentioned kicking incidents. I have seen Gem kick out once in self-defence and I hope I am never, ever within reach of his kick. His kick connected with the upper part of another horse's stall door, leaving behind two very distinct hoof impressions in the wood. Yikes!

While I can be aware and cautious regarding kicking, biting is another matter. I don't know what it is about a horse biting, but it terrifies me. The thought of those big teeth connecting with my flesh gives me the willies. I know that when a horse pins its ears flat, that's not a good sign. But, I have to say that there are a couple of horses in Gem's barn that pin their ears every time you walk by their stalls. Does that mean they are biters?? Are there any other signs to watch for that can be indicators?

There are a couple of horses that are identified as biters at our stables, including DH, Gem's paddock buddy. In fact, DH's previous owner had a chunk taken out of her forearm which sealed it for DH finding another home. He has a sign on his stall door indicating that he isn't a very sociable horse. DH came up behind me one time when I was trying to put Gem's halter on him. He came out of no where (note to self - always check to see where others horses are) and starting aggressively nibbling the collar of my winter jacket, near my face and ear. I was now pinned in between DH and Gem, with DH way too close for comfort. I had visions of Gem giving DH the business and my face baring the brunt of their scuffle. My heart was pounding outside of my chest, but I walked away as calmly as I could to the gate. DH continued to nibble on my collar all the way there. When I got on the other side of the gate, I was almost in tears and I was shaking. I had STA help me get Gem in. When I told her what happened, she said "Why didn't you swing the halter and lead in front of DH to move him off?" Didn't even think of it.

My first adult experience with horses was my school horse, GM. She tried to bite me from the time I arrived to the time I left. Imagine seeing a round, middle-aged person doing the Chicken Dance in the aisle of the barn next to a horse in cross-ties. That was me. Eventually, I got a reprieve on my humiliation when I had to start tacking up in GM's stall. I would find myself getting more and more anxious as it came time to bridle her though, because I felt that that was the time that it was going to happen.

Gem is mouthy. This is not a new thing. I don't think he will ever stop being mouthy. Part of it is curiosity, part of it is demanding, part of it is neediness. I can usually tell which it is and respond accordingly. Some days are worse than others. I rarely hand feed him because of his mouthiness.

Lesson was not great last night because we are both out of the routine and I really had to push him for everything I asked of him (yes, I am sore today). After I dismounted, I was chatting with one of my classmates. Gem was positioned just behind my right shoulder. In the middle of my conversation he pushed my shoulder - I didn't respond - then he carefully took a piece of the arm of my jacket and yanked the material!! He immediately looked up at the ceiling, looking all innocent. What? No, I didn't do anything. Must have been some other horse. I gave him a stern NO! I turned and continued my conversation and he did it AGAIN! What the heck??!

Technically, he didn't bite my person. But, his teeth did bite down on something that was part of me. A little too close for comfort. In a way, I have to admire his intelligence in getting my attention and reminding me that it was time to go. :-) Correcting his mouthiness while grooming is one thing, but having a sneak attack is a bit scary for me. I don't like the idea that his teeth are connecting, even if it is with fabric. I have visions of him turning into DH! Am I over-reacting? How would I correct this? My Chicken Dance skills are a bit rusty and I'd like to keep it that way!

What was I thinking....?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Bring on the White Stuff!

When you live in Canada, there are things to do all year around. Canada is a very "active" place to be. We embrace the different seasons and if you are up for it, you can be busy all the time. You name the sport and you can probably do it in Canada. Me.....I am not an "active" person....unless you call socializing an activity. :-) For years and years, I looked at winter from inside my house or office or restaurant/pub. Cold and snow were not for me. I did not participate in any of the outdoor sports available locally (skiing, skating, hiking, tobogganing, snow shoeing). Brrr!

Our winter so far has been cold and damp. Actually, it hasn't even been that cold lately; probably around the -4 degrees Celsius (25F) mark most days. We have had about 20 cm (8 inches) of snow since the end of November. The problem is we've also had rain and thawing temperatures. This mixture is not great for trail riding. The mud from the thaws has frozen into big bumps and clumps making it a bit treacherous to walk on. The thaws have also produced a lovely hard layer of ice lurking just under the innocent looking layer of snow. A rider went out on his Arabian weekend before last and both went down while trotting out on the trails. His horse hit an icy patch that was camouflaged. Fortunately, neither were hurt.

We have 3 new horses at the barn who are to be trained over the next couple of months to get ready for the upcoming reining season. This has shaken up the turnout situation a bit. Normally Gem would be put out in his regular field with a couple of other horses who have had their shoes pulled because the competition season is over. Now Gem is turned out in the front paddock with DH. They run around after each other and have a grand time.....and yes, they have already challenged the wooden fence around the paddock. :-) However, for a couple of weeks, Gem was not able to be turned out with DH because of the ice and frozen mud situation in the paddock and he and DH were relegated to separate round pens. Two horses running around like lunatics on ice and uneven footing in the paddock might not be a good thing . LA was being cautious and I appreciate that. The icy conditions have meant that the arena is quite crowded because going out on the trails is not really an option.

Well, it started last night....and is still coming down. Snow! Finally! I know some of you are sending frowns my way and probably even cursing me. :-) But, I am hoping that we get enough that it provides a good base and that trail riding can become part of my winter riding experience again. I want to be outside! What the heck??? Did I just say that??

This is what it looked like at 8:30 a.m. this morning looking out to the field from our deck:

Now, if you believe the 7-day forecast, we are to have flurries on and off for the next week. Yay!!! Oops - did I just say that??? People who really know me might think that I have been partaking in vodka soda for breakfast if I told them I was wishing for snow, but I am......wishing for snow that is, not drinking vodka soda for breakfast. :-) I am hoping that I can get out on the trails soon. "Who would have thunk it?" as my father says.....looks like riding has made me an "active" person. I know some of you have been suffering with way too much of the white stuff. Sorry! Perhaps the weather has shifted and we are going to get what some of you have. I hope so!!!! Did I just say that??.....

What was I thinking....?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Teenaged Teacher

Happy New Year! I hope everyone's is off to a good start. I think I may have broken my previous record for the amount of food and alcohol consumed over the last 10 days. I am looking forward to being back at work so that my body can detox!

Until last night, I hadn't had a lesson since the beginning of December and weather impacted riding regularly through the month of December. However, I did manage to get in a couple of short rides and one grooming session over the holidays.

My rides have been OK. It has been busy in the arena and I sometimes found it difficult to get a rhythm; there were a lot of start stops because of reduced space in which to work. I managed to get up to a lope a couple of times on Sunday - the first time in a month! - but was unable to keep it up for a complete circle of the arena. It amazes me that my body so quickly forgets what it's like to ride. I was actually nervous loping. A month ago, my goal of loping around the arena twice, controlled and balanced, was in reach. Now, it seems, not so much. I have to admit that I have missed my lessons! I missed the discipline and having someone push me. I think Gem missed them, too. Our last few rides have been sort of.....aimless.

Gem has a new neighbour one stall down from him. Rusty is a lovely quarter horse who became A.'s companion about a year ago. A. and I were grooming together last week and I had the opportunity to get to know her better. She's been riding since she was 7 years old, and started to compete in jumping at 9. She decided that she had had enough with competing. It was time consuming, she found it stressful, it was no longer fun for her. She felt burnt 15 years of age! Her parents supported her decision and Rusty was purchased for A. as an all purpose companion. He is well trained and he jumps. A. enjoys him.

I told A. that Gem and I had been together for just over 18 months and that I had been taking weekly lessons for just over 2 years. She looked at me and said "Shouldn't you know how to ride after taking lessons for that long?" Out of the mouths of babes.....sigh.

Now, I have to admit that the response that came to my mind first was not all that kind. :-) With A. being a jumper person, the second thought that came to mind was my one and only jump on Gem. Based on that experience, I said that learning to ride when you are older than her mother (yikes!!) can be hard on the body and a bit scary. When you are older, your body doesn't always cooperate. I told her that she had the advantage of starting young, with the size of her horses matching her physically as she grew. Her body automatically knows how to bend and wrap around a horse; mine takes a bit more effort and it's still not completely natural to me yet. I was pleased with her response; "It's great that you are trying it."

During the drive home, I thought about her comment. Taking weekly lessons for 2 years DOES seem like a long time! Will I ever get this??? After lesson last night, we went for our usual beer and burgers and I told my riding buddies what A. said to me. Jean and CA said, almost at the same time, "What are you talking about? You do know how to ride! You are improving your skills and confidence through lessons." RB added, "every rider I know takes at least occasional lessons or clinics....including LA!" I felt better. :-)

So, I guess I am going to be a student for a while yet. :-) Come to think of it, My Husband takes lessons and boot camps for golf regularly....and he's been golfing for 30 years. When I partnered up with Gem, it never occurred to me NOT to take lessons. A.'s comment has made me really think. Yes, lessons are a good thing for me, but based on my aimless rides with Gem over the past month, am I too dependent on lessons to feel like I accomplished anything? Do I need to learn to be more independent? Perhaps a long-term goal for me should be working towards achieving the status of "occasional lesson taker". I am going to approach my rides outside of lessons with a bit more discipline and with a plan in mind. A.'s comment will stay with me, but in a positive way. Can a 15-year old influence change in my middle-aged life.....I guess so!

What was I thinking.....?