Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Closer and Closer

This past weekend was a long one for us Canadians. Monday was Victoria Day, in honour of Queen Victoria’s birthday. We had two sunny days and two rainy days. For most of us, it is the weekend that officially welcomes Summer. By the third week in May, the threat of frost is gone. Cottages and pools are opened up, crops are planted. Most of us plant our gardens on the long weekend and I was no exception. The construction of our new deck was done in early May so that I could plant without worry of work boots destroying anything. I actually started my long weekend last Thursday and hit the garden centre early to pick up my flowers and hanging tomato plants. I planted Friday and Saturday. The weeding and preparation takes the longest and my back reminded me regularly when it was time to take a break.

I went out to the stables on Sunday, as usual. There was a horse show on Sunday that a lot of people were attending and with others away opening cottages, etc. it was very quiet. My back was a little stiff from gardening, so I had already decided to give Gem a spa treatment instead of riding. I hadn’t seen him since the previous Tuesday. As soon as he stuck his head out the top of his stall door, I knew it was going to be a marathon groom session. Ho-ly crap. He had mud dingle-balls hanging from his mane. The mud swiped above one eye looked like an eyebrow, gave him a quizzical look. As he walked out of his stall, it looked like he was wearing grey boots. After I put him in the cross-ties, I further assessed the situation. He had mud so thickly applied to his butt that it had cracked and his tail had mud dingle-balls hanging from it. Sigh. The mud embedded in his hooves had basically turned to cement. My spray water bottle came in handy, and not for discipline issues! I used it to spray each hoof, letting the water soften the mud. After about 10 minutes, I was able to clean his feet. I think he was glad to see me - he was a bit of a schnook. I was so filthy when I left him, that I could taste dirt and my hands looked grey against the steering wheel.

I went out again on Monday. My back was still stiff from gardening, but I needed to ride. CA did not ride, but she babysat me while she was doctoring up her horse. My back did not cooperate for very long and after about ½ hour of walking and jogging, I had to get off. CA was surprised at the shortness of my ride, but when I explained she suggested that we free-lunge Gem. I had lunged him a few times when we first became partners, but I had never done this before. He needed the exercise, so I was game. I quickly took him back to the old barn and removed his tack, put him in his halter and returned to the arena.

CA met us in the arena with a long whip. I wasn't sure what to expect, so I lead him over the the side of the arena. CA told me to unhook him and when I did, he just stood there and looked at me.

Gem: What are we doing?? Why are we back here?

Then I started to walk away from him and he followed. I thought this was cute, so I started to jog down the track (My Husband would never believe that I jogged!!) and he jogged right behind me.

Gem: What the heck is going on? Have you lost your mind? I am supposed to be in my stall now, eating lunch. Come back here!

We eventually walked over to CA, who had positioned herself in the middle of the arena. CA gave Gem a little tap with the whip on his butt and verbally encouraged him to move out and trot. He looked a bit confused for a split second and then the penny dropped. Off he went. He started out slowly and then picked up his pace to an extended trot, moving out to go large. He kicked up his heels a couple of times. Was he looking at me??? He galloped around us. He did flying lead changes. He zigged, he zagged. His stops were very close to sliding stops (is there reining in his future???). The thundering of his hooves, the snorting, the head tossing. He pranced around like he owned the joint. O.M.G. I think my jaw was open to my chest. He was magnificent. CA continued to encourage him on with a tap of the whip or verbally. He kept moving and for about 10 minutes I was terrified, exhilarated, and in awe of him.

I told Gem “eeeeeeasy” and he slowed right down to a walk. I honestly can’t remember if I told him to “come”, but he walked up to us and I easily attached his lead. I gave him scratches and “good boy!”. I walked him around the arena and then we exited and slowly walked up the lane to the old barn. After a quick brush and picking his feet, he returned to his stall and chowed down on his lunch.

As I watched him munch his way through a flake, I replayed what I had just seen him do. For a biggish horse, he was so elegant and light on his feet. Sure, I had seen him occasionally at play, but most of our visits together are either getting ready to ride or grooming. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but Monday I was up close and personal and I could feel the power emanating from him. I felt closer to him than ever before - is that possible?? Call me crazy, but as I watched him eat, I think I saw him smiling. I know I was.

What was I thinking....?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Back-Seat Driver

Back when there was snow on the ground (not that long ago for some of us!!), I carried a sleigh bell in my coat pocket. Every time Gem would trot, you could hear its musical jingle. It was just loud enough to be heard and add some seasonal ambiance, but not too loud to be annoying. LA liked the sound and commented how it made her smile.

After a mention of the bell during one of our lessons, our conversation snow balled (pardon the pun!) into talking about the Canadian Horse and how versatile the breed is. It is a tough and hardy horse and was used for everything from pulling logs, farming, carriages and pleasure riding. The Canadian Horse is one of the strongest breeds and "has more power per hundred pounds of body weight than horses of any other breed" according to the Canadian Horse Breeders Association. Well, it certainly feels like that to me when Gem is resisting my request!! :-)

LA: He looks like black velvet against the white snow. I could see him pulling a sleigh with bells on the harness.
Me: Yeah, I could so see that!
LA: He's from GL's breeding farm, isn't he?
Me: Yes. Cool, eh?
LA: I am sure Gem would be started to pleasure drive if he came from GL's.
Me: (eyes widening) Really????
LA: You should find out.
Me: I could sit in a little red would have to be a red sleigh to match Gem's black coat....with a black and red checked blanket across my lap and maybe ear! my mohair beret! I would wear my "Marlboro Man" coat with gloves and go up and down the road waving at people as we go by and .....
LA: Whoa!! Wait a minute!!! Slow down! First, you need to find out if he can drive before you start planning your sleighing outfit and accessories!
Me: Of course! (to myself) Geez, that LA sure knows how to be a joy sucker....

So, I immediately contacted GL and sure enough he starts all of his horses under saddle and for pleasure driving. How cool is that?!!! Wow! Gem is trained to pull a cart! When I asked what I could do to re-familiarize Gem, GL suggested that I contact the local driving club and attend a clinic. He told me that it wouldn't take long to get Gem used to a harness, but the most important thing was that I would have to "put the miles on". I did contact the local group, but no one got back to me. :-( The thought of Gem pulling a sleigh melted with the snow.

I had my 2nd anniversary lunch with STA a couple of weeks ago. During our sometimes loud, boisterous, belly-laugh 5-hour luncheon, I mentioned Gem being trained to drive. STA immediately mentioned Brenda, the mother of one of the girls that has a horse boarded at LA's. Brenda has minis and has trained all of them to pleasure drive and competes with them!! What a stroke of luck.

Brenda happened to be at the stables on Sunday and I asked her for some hints on how to re-familiarize Gem with driving. One thing led to another, and she has offered to bring out some equipment that we can use on Gem!!! Cool, eh? I know what you are thinking....minis, could any of her equipment fit at 1300 lb. horse. Well, apparently we will be starting with really long reins attached to a bridle and running on either side of Gem's body with one person leading and the other walking behind him and steering him, using verbal commands, to reacquaint Gem with the concept. Initially, there were a lot of raised eyebrows from some of the other boarders when I used verbal commands with Gem (walk, wait, back, stand, whoa, come), but now I am glad I stuck with it! I think it will be quite easy to re-introduce "Gee" (right) and "Haw" (left) to him.

There's more! Brenda's best friend and neighbour has four Canadians that she competes with!! Brenda has offered to introduce me. Sadly, this friend may have to downsize soon. This may be an opportunity for me because she may be willing to part with some equipment that is already fit to a Canadian horse. :-) Gem + driving was meant to be, I think. What a great option to keep His Smartness on the ball and engaged. I will definitely keep you guys updated. You never know..... he and I may have driving or sleighing in our future!!

My Husband rolled his eyes when I told him about the potential additional equipment - in fact, he said "wouldn't it be cheaper just to buy a snowboard and have Gem pull you??" Ha, ha,...funny man....ha, ha. But, the way I look at it is that it may be an absolutely required expense to keep Gem happy and bored-free. Right? Right?....Work with me here...!

What was I thinking....?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Penning (Warning: may be disturbing to some)

Unfortunately, I am not referring to this type of penning:

I am actually referring to the penning of wild animals that will become the target for training hunting dogs to kill. There are those out there that live trap raccoons, rabbits, fox and coyote and sell them to secluded, illegal "training" facilities.
Live trapped coyotes waiting to be sold to a facility.

In turn, a hunter will pay a fee to the guy who has the illegal set up to have his hound dogs "trained". A wild animal is released into a confined/fenced area where it cannot escape and the dogs are set loose. The wild animal is run to exhaustion and then is then ripped to shreds by the dogs. So, let me be clear here: Someone traps the animals and gets paid for them. Someone gets paid for allowing someone to enjoy watching how well his dogs are trained based on how they run an animal and rip it apart. Did I mention that this activity is illegal? Money makes the world go 'round. Wildlife penning has the same underground culture as dog fighting. Sigh.

As a wildlife advocate, I not only find this cruel and disgusting, I find it deeply disturbing and creepy. What kind of person thinks that this activity is acceptable? Wildlife penning is a blood sport and is just wrong, plain and simple. Indiana is currently considering legalizing penning. I would urge anyone who would like to work towards putting an end to penning in the U.S. to sign the petition below or, if you live in Indiana, contact your state representative and tell them you want this blood sport stopped.

I guess you can tell I am worked up. :-) Sorry for the non-horse post, but education is key in having these types of activities stopped. Thanks in advance for supporting wildlife!!! My next post will be happier, I promise!!!

Monday, May 9, 2011

It's Complicated...or Is it??

I am the oldest daughter of three. I have one sister that is 15 months younger and one that is 6 years younger. I am close with both sisters but in very different ways. My two sisters haven't spoken with each other in 3 years. I am not sure why, and frankly I don't want to get involved because I don't want to be coerced into taking sides or being the peacemaker. I find it very sad.

My father's health has been in decline since last year. At 79 years of age, his 6'1" frame is no longer robust. He has had a few emergency trips to the hospital over the last month. As his "#1", I am primary contact when it comes to doctors, nurses, etc. I kept my sisters informed of what's going at the hospital via email, so they both have exactly the same information. He's home now, but doctor appointments are now going to be part of the norm. I have asked for my sisters' assistance when needed and have received it. However, they will not coordinate with each other....only through me via email. Why does it have to be so complicated? Sigh.

Needless to say, I have been a bit stressed lately. Recently, I have had to cancel outings with friends and beg off of work fun functions due to my current situation and the running back and forth that is involved. One thing I have not canceled, though, is my riding.

I can't honestly tell you how my lesson was last week. It's a bit of a blur. I guess my brain was full. :-) I remember that I couldn't wait to get to Gem. I remember that I listened to Santana, Michael Jackson and Sarah McLachlan on my IPod Shuffle as I groomed Gem. I remember that he walked nicely to the arena and I was able to mount him without a problem. I remember that I loped a small circle. I remember I felt better as I left the stables.

I was unable to see Gem on Friday. I had my usual date with CA to ride Sunday morning. I was tired and once again my brain was full of family drama. But as I got closer to the stables, I started to feel better. Gem and I greeted each other in our usual way. I took my time grooming him. Once we were in the arena, I could tell he was feeling frisky. But, I wasn't. He accommodated me. :-) Most of our session was done at a jog, but we also did some tracking work at a walk...apparently Gem needs some work in this area...he's a lazy walker. I cleared my mind and relaxed. I could feel the tension leaving my neck. His jog has improved SO much. Towards the end of our session, I loped him a bit. He loved the opportunity to burn off some energy. My confidence is improving each time we lope. It may not have been a fantastic session physically, but it was mentally. Our time together was so uncomplicated.

I hung around the stables most of the afternoon. I watched some of the riders participating in a games clinic. I swept the barn. I filled water buckets. I took Gem out of his stall and walked him to a little grassy patch so he could have a nibble. We stood in the sun, listening to the birds. I got home around 4:00 p.m., dirty and tired. However, my mind was clear and quiet. I slept well last night.

So, if you know someone who is considering seeing a therapist or feels that a good massage is not doing the trick in alleviating tension and stress, tell them to save their money and send them to your stables. Have them groom, walk, bathe, even smell a horse. Have them walk in mud and step in manure. Have them watch horses at play or simply grazing. Have them wrap their arms around a horse's neck and look into those liquid eyes. Spending time around horses has got to be the best therapy....EVER.

What was I thinking.....?