Friday, December 13, 2013

Confidence Lost and Found

The trails that we ride are through forest, brush, swamp and open fields.  The trails are good, but some have become inaccessible because of fallen trees and overgrown bush.  LA has been busy the last couple of years with improvements to the facilities, so clearing the trails has not been a high priority.  A couple of weekends ago, one of the boarders organized a trail clean up day.  Her son has some serious chain saw equipment, so he came out in the morning and cut down encroaching trees in the forest and cut up those that had been downed over previous winters.  A few other boarders walked through and started cutting up the branches, etc. for easy hauling.  

Later in the day, a few of us tacked up and started through the forest trails, snipping at branches that were at face level or grabbing clothing.  In addition to DH's Mom, TS, SS and myself, were were joined by the tallest herd member, Martin, a Clyde-mix standing about 16.3hh, and his rider MC.  Martin and MC lead the way, which was good for me because if they made it through then Gem and I would.  :-)  

The horses were on high alert, ears forward and a little on edge.  The forest trails had been altered and looked different to them.  There was the smell of downed trees.  Deer and other wildlife had been disturbed and were making their own noises. The herd horses were actually further into the forest because they now had access. There were snapping and chopping noises in the distance as other boarders were breaking up piles of branches for those of us that would be dragging them off the trails later.

We sort of weaved our way in and out of the trails bordering the winter feeding field and came to an entrance that Gem and I hadn't used before.  We had to step over a fallen tree to gain access to the forest.  To be honest it was a bit close, but Martin and MC were crashing their way through, which meant we could.  :-)  SS, bringing up the rear, had brought a little mini saw with him and decided to saw off a branch that I had to limbo under.  Kind thought, but when Gem heard the unfamiliar sawing sound right at his butt, he didn't like it.  This coupled with the altered scenery, the tension coming off of the other horses and the lumberjack noises, started him prancing.   SS stopped sawing immediately, but then a boarder appeared out of no where, stomping through the brush and trees....another unfamiliar sight. Gem started doing a pirouette, like this only faster:

To be honest, I was starting to get nervous, which didn't help the situation.  I turned Gem around and took him back outside the forest entrance and walked him in small circles, telling him "easy".  After a bit, I thought I had it together and that I had his "head" back.  I turned him towards the opening.  In an instant, I could feel him start to power up.  Holy crap.  I didn't have any time to react.  He squared himself up, took two big trotting steps and JUMPED over the fallen tree to gain access to the trail.

It was obvious that he wanted to catch up to the group, who had continued walking through the forest.  He started trotting through the trees on a not-quite trail path.  I don't recommend this, particularly when you are on a tall horse.  Maintaining my balance, while simultaneously trying to rein him in, protect my face and body from branches and screaming like a girl was a real challenge.  

I managed to execute a half halt while telling Gem to "WHOA!!!  WHOA!!!".  It worked, but like a crazed idiot I continued pulling back so hard on his face we ended up backing up into trees and bush....snapping and breaking branches, bending small trees over....again, not something that I would recommend.  Visions of us both being impaled flashed across my mind.   DH's Mom made her way back to me and told me to stop screaming like a girl, and to stop pulling him; I was to put my butt in the saddle, move the reins up his neck, and cue him to go forward.   Yep, OK, that worked.  And when we got out of the bushes, he stopped immediately.  I took some deep breaths.  My heart was racing and I informed the group I was getting off....the first time I have EVER been that nervous on Gem.  DH's Mom vetoed me getting off.  I didn't argue......actually no one argues with DH's Mom.  :-)

We continued on.  My heart was still racing and I continued to take deep breaths.  SS was riding beside me and when I told him that was the most nervous I had ever been on Gem, he looked at me and said that if that was the worst, then Gem was a very sane horse.  :-)   All of the horses continued to be on edge.   Each horse took a turn at acting up.  TS's horse actually reared in the forest and scared her.  Gem didn't spook, but occasionally he would show us how beautiful he looked doing a side pass when he suspected that another lurking lumberjack was going to jump out and swing an axe at us.  

At one point, we left the forest and started walking across an open field.  I had had enough. I said my farewell to the group and headed back to the barn solo.

The next Sunday, I saddled Gem up and went to the arena; no trail ride for me.  We had not been to the arena in a while - I have taken a break from weekly lessons.  There were a couple of other riders there to keep us company.   I have to admit my confidence had been bruised from the previous ride.  However, as soon as I sat my butt in the saddle, I knew it was going to be a great ride.  He was attentive, his eye soft and once I saw how responsive he was, I just relaxed and went with it.  He easily adjusted his jog speed when I asked.  His trot was big and floaty and I could have posted all day.  After a while, he dropped his head and was nicely collected!  Where the heck is LA when you need her to see stuff like this?!!  We loped a few times around the arena each way, at an even pace with my butt in the saddle!   We did squares and backing up into a box.  We trotted over poles.  We attempted turns on the forehand and haunches.  We rode for well over an hour and when we were done, he had nice foam around his lips and a little bit of a sweat on.  We did all these things ON OUR OWN.  No LA, no riding buddy coaching.  On our own, communicating with each other.  It was wonderful.

My confidence was temporarily lost, but that arena ride a couple of weeks ago helped me find it.  Actually, Gem helped me find my confidence.  He gave me what I needed at the time I needed it.  He's a gentleman.  :-) I think it will be one of those rides I will recall when my confidence is being challenged, just like I refer to my first solo ride around the fields when I need a boost.  I have since been out in the snow with Gem a couple of times.  He has led the group with a purposeful walk, breaking through the snow and making the base for the trails.  He loves the winter.

 LA has asked me to participate in a western dressage clinic in January.  Perhaps word got back to her about the forest ride and Gem being a potential eventer/dressage candidate.  :-)  I may consider it....who knows!?  

Have a good weekend, everyone!! 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lady Luck

So, on Thursday I bought another horse.  I know...crazy, eh? I have named her Lady Luck, Lady for short.  She's a Morgan, dark, with a little white star and white socks.  I wasn't planning on getting another horse.  But, Lady spoke to me.  I had to have her.  You see, at 34 years of age, Lady ended up on a feed lot, destined for slaughter this week. 

At the feed lot.
The reasons for having older horses trucked varies. Sometimes people don't want to have to provide special care over the winter.  Sometimes owners don't want to have to deal with the expense of having the horse euthanized.  Some believe that an older horse going through auction will be purchased as a companion (sometimes they are).  Some owners are not up to the challenge of the maintenance of a senior horse.  Owners pass away and uneducated family members don't realize the fate of senior horses that are sent to auction.

I found Lady through some volunteers that go to the local feed lot and see the new horses that are brought in every week. They lightly groom them, tack them up and sit on them, or lead them around.  They then post a picture on FB, giving a brief description of their experience with the horse, hoping to find homes for them before they are shipped.  They act as middle men between the dealer and the public, collecting and paying the bail money.  They are not rescuers, just concerned women who love horses.  These volunteers are amazing.  I have helped with bail in the past, so I texted my contact.  No offers of help had come in for Lady.

So the stars aligned and I was able to purchase Lady, secure a forever home for her through a horse rescue group, get the transfer of ownership done and have her transported to her forever home, an hour away, on Sunday.  Yay!  My mother is sponsoring her care for a year through the rescue group.  They will be responsible for her well-being going forward.

It was miserable, wet and windy yesterday, but nothing could have dampened my spirits.  I have to say that seeing her in a field made my heart swell.  Just after her arrival at the farm, two other rescued seniors arrived; a gelding 26 years old, and a mare a little older.  The full time residents include two large dogs, two younger Percherons and a llama. The owner, who specializes in special care cases for the rescue group, greeted us with a big warm smile and told me, My Husband, my sister and my niece to make ourselves at home.  My Husband stayed near the car, but my sister, niece and I walked into the field.  

For 34 years of age, Lady is actually in great shape.  She's a good weight, her winter coat is in, her feet are a bit long, but look good.  Her mane and tail are long and thicker than some of the other horses at my barn.  :-)  I think she was loved and cared for in her previous life.  How did she end up on a feed lot.....?

Lady enjoying being out in the wind and rain.

Lady trying to make friends with the other seniors.

The gelding didn't like her near his friend and ran at her a few times. 

There was some prancing and posturing by the 26 year old gelding.  Understandable.  He was stressed and in a new environment.  Apparently, he has arthritis in his ankles, but you wouldn't know it the way he was moving around!

Percherons to the rescue!

They told the senior gelding to back off.  Were they showing respect to Lady because of her age?

They stayed with Lady until things calmed down.
The Percherons are just gorgeous.  The owner actually rides the larger one (16.3 perhaps??) in competition, although I can't remember what discipline.  To be honest, I was amazed at how energetic the seniors were.   There was lots of walking and trotting.  A little stiff maybe, but there was still a lot of life and vibrancy left.

The resident llama really liked Lady.
First contact.  What a gentle soul.
Lady was patient with us, allowing herself to be petted and fussed over.  She enjoyed the little treats we gave her - she still has teeth!  :-)  But after a while she had had enough and simply walked away.  Can't blame her.  Even though the last few days for her must have been extremely stressful, she was still a class act.

This experience with Lady has been very rewarding.  She may just last the winter, or she could live on another few years.  Whatever happens, at least she is somewhere that will give her good memories.  This experience is also a reminder that horses live a very long time and the responsibility of horse ownership is a big commitment.  The owner of the farm said she liked me and I was welcome to visit any time.  :-)  Lady has quite a fan club now, so I suspect that I will have company when I go out to give her a brush!

Have a good week, everyone!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sweet and Sour

Sunday before last was Gem's annual birthday trail ride.  He turned 13 in October!  He's now officially a teenager.  Where has the time gone.  It was our first really cold day, but after a couple of dark rainy days, the clouds parted and the sun shone through for the ride. Yay!  

Starting to get ready!
For the last four years, I have hosted a little trail ride/get-together in honour of Gem's birthday.  I post a notice on the barn whiteboard, saying that all boarders are welcome.  I pick up plates, napkins, forks, cake, chips, pretzels, beer, soft drinks, hot chocolate, coffee and Bailey's to go with the coffee.  :-)  I bring an extra table to set up the food/drinks and a couple of extra chairs.  It's a bit of an effort, but Gem's worth it.  :-)   Last year, a fellow boarder made chili, which was great.  There is a bunkhouse on site, and LA's mother puts wood in the stove and when we get back from the ride, we all hang out in the warmth.  It's fun.
Gem excited about his party...or not...

This year, Gem shared his birthday celebrations with Mary.    Her mom, R., mentioned that she was going to have a few of Mary's friends over on the weekend to celebrate her birthday.  Mary wanted to participate in the trail ride so R. asked if she could extend the invitation to her daughter's friends to come out on the trail.  I appreciated her asking.  Sure, why not!   R. made the chili this year (delish!!) and I brought everything else, as usual. 

Heading out!
Word has spread about the event, and this year we had a total of 15 riders, which was awesome. Gem and I were leading the trail ride this year.  :-)  It had rained for 2 days prior to the ride and it was muddy!  In a way, it was a godsend that the grounds were so wet and slippery, because everyone had to walk or slow jog; no crazy galloping!  I was feeling quite confident, even as we waded through some pretty boggy areas.  Surprisingly, a couple of the very experienced riders asked occasionally to take a different route or not to go through the forest because they didn't like mud.  WTH?  I felt vindicated!  I wasn't the only rider that didn't like mud!    :-)

Birthday boy!
Gem was a star.  Mud?  We don't care about no stinking ankle-deep mud!  Thick brush?  Bring it on!   Water?  So what!   He walked with purpose the whole time and I felt connected to him.  There was an incident with a horse from the herd coming over to the group and causing a bit of a ruckus.  Gem didn't like his attitude after a time and pointed his butt at the horse and indicated that he was going to give him what for.  But this was a fleeting display, and we continued on without incidentIt was a really good ride in spite of the conditions.  We were out for over an hour.  Lots of laughs, lots of talking, lots of rosy cheeks.

The apr├Ęs-ride in the bunkhouse was packed!  People were chowing down and the chatter brought the noise level up.  Over the din, a woman, whose child had joined in the ride, started whining and complaining to anyone standing around the food table about the variety of soft drinks I had brought.  I found her complaining irritating.  I didn't know her or her daughter; I assumed that her daughter was part of Mary's birthday group.  When she continued on and on, I finally said to her, "Then don't drink them!" and stared at her.  She backed down.  Then I heard someone else complain that all of the hot chocolate was gone.  Then someone started whining that the coffee wasn't as hot as it should be.  WTH? The fact that I had bought and schlepped all this stuff to the barn was lost on them.   I went outside and ate my chili in the sun with other boarders, and sipped my cold beer.  It was a good move.  The 6 of us talked music and movies (could Chris Hemsworth be any more handsome???!!) and shared a few laughs.

At one point, R. and I were together outside and I mentioned the woman who was complaining about the soft drinks.  It turns out that this woman's daughter was not part of Mary's group!  The woman saw my post on the board while her daughter was having her riding lesson, called LA's mother and asked if her daughter could join in.  Now, my note on the board specifically said "boarders only", but LA's mother said she could!   In her defense, I guess LA's mother thought it was OK because of Mary's friends participating. 

The next day, I received a text from R.  Unfortunately, word had spread through the lesson people that there were apparently exceptions to the "boarders only" rule when it comes to the birthday trail ride and some people had their noses out of joint!  Great.  Sigh.
The Birthday Trail ride was a sweet success, the best turnout yet.   Clearly, people enjoyed themselves. There were lots of positive comments flying around on FB.  However, unless the barn hosts a Fall event next year, there won't be a repeat.   Having a couple of Mary's non-boarder friends join in,  LA's mother allowing a lesson person to participate and some inaccurate wording of FB posts giving the impression that it was a barn event, have created a bit of a problem.  

Frankly, it's getting too complicated and I don't want to be the bad guy by putting my foot down and refusing to open up the invitation because of barn politics.  Why should I fund an open invitation?  So, I am thinking that it's time to transition the ownership of this successful event.  Maybe it's time for the barn to host it, then LA can manage the politics.  Or maybe R. could host it as Mary's birthday event.  Perhaps I am being a sour puss...... but, I would rather stop my event than have the fun for me slowly sucked out of it.  Ending Gem's Birthday Trail Ride at it's peak is a good thing in my opinion......always leave them wanting more.  :-)  Happy birthday, my handsome boy!  Don't worry....we will find a way to celebrate your special day.  xoxo

Enjoy your week, everyone!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Being Morbid

First, checkout the Sunday Serial The Cursed Gift over at Joyous Art.  The weather has turned  colder and the days are shorter...the perfect time to snuggle up on the couch and get lost in magic and mystery!  

* * * * *

A friend of a friend of a friend is trying to re-home 9 cats for a lady who passed away.  This is not a hoarding case.  Individually, these cats came into this lady's life because they were in great need and she took them in out of the kindness of her heart.  She could afford their upkeep; they were all well-fed, vaccinated and groomed.  Unfortunately, as much as she cared for them in life, she had no plan for their upkeep should something happen to her. Now neighbours and friends are scrambling to re-home the cats so they don't end up at the shelter.

This is not a unique situation.  I regularly see dogs that were obviously cared for and loved by their owners, end up in shelters after something happens to their caregiver.  I see the same situation for horses who end up on feed lots.

I have always had a plan for my four-legged companions should something happen to me.   When friends and I talk about our companions, most stare at me like I have antennae sprouting out the top of my head when I mention that I have a plan for my dogs, and now Gem, should I become incapacitated or die.  I am amazed that not one fellow boarder that I have spoken to on this topic has a plan in place for their horse should something happen to them.  Horses live a long time (my friend's horse passed away at 36 years of age).  Gem has another 20 years of living yet to come and his long-term needs need to be considered.  My friends and fellow boarders think I am morbid.  They don't want to think about the future or their death; they want to enjoy their horse NOW.   I find it intriguing that no seems to think like I do.  :-)    

The reality is that your Will outlines your "wishes" and it's important that you have someone you know well and trust to make sure your wishes are carried out.   My Husband will obviously manage the care of the dogs and Gem should something happen to me.  I have an amount set aside for Gem's board and care so that he can retire (hopefully at LA's) without worry.   My Will states that he is not to be sold under any circumstances.  Depending on his age, having him ridden by a staff member a few times a month to keep him tuned is OK, but only my niece is allowed to ride him socially.  If he cannot stay at LA's, he will be moved to a reputable retirement farm 1.5 hours away.  I have a very close friend who act as my executor should My Husband pre-decease me and she will take over the responsibility of the care of my dogs and Gem. She also happens to live 10 minutes from the barn.  So, if she is managing my estate or helping me if I am unable to get to the barn, she has committed to grooming Gem on a regular basis and checking on his well-being.  My niece will be helping her in this area.  

I am guessing that the topic of this post has probably got you squirming a bit.   But you know, it gives me comfort to know that my companions will be looked after.  Does thinking about my death make me morbid?  I guess in some eyes it does, but I look at it as being prepared.   I would be interested to know if there are any other "morbid" people out there.  Hello?  Hello?   :-)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

In an Instant.....

This past weekend, My Husband and I attended a wedding in Montreal.  It was a lovely affair, with about 250 people in attendance.  We were booked into a chic hotel about 5 minutes away from the event.  There was a cocktail party prior to the 6:00 p.m. ceremony and a dinner/dance after.  Very civilized!  :-)  The food was fabulous, our table companions were fun and the band was awesome.  It was great.

I bruise fairly easily.  On top of that, I have a high pain threshold.  Not a good combo, actually, because when I knock myself about I REALLY knock myself which results in big bruises and lumps.  Sigh.  So, after a couple of bad bruises on my forearm and the top of my hand (WTH??) a couple of weeks ago, I decided to be careful when I was around the barn and out on the trails.  I didn't want to look like I had just gone 9 rounds when I was at the wedding.   :-) 

The day before the wedding, DH's Mom and I decided to take advantage of the 21C temperatures and bathe our horses for what would probably be the last time before Spring. The wash station is located outside in the "yard" that separates the house and the two barns.  She bathed her horse first, while I kept her company and then she helped me bathe Gem.  

Squeaky clean!!
While Gem was in the cross-ties being soaped up, a horse trailer was backed up right behind him and parked.  Then the father of one of the boarders drove his truck through the yard.  Gem didn't bat an eye as these vehicles came within a few feet of his butt.  Good boy.  A few of the younger riders were sitting around a phone squealing while watching something.  Two other horses were lined up, waiting their turn to be bathed.  The yard was a busy place!   After his bath, I walked Gem across the yard next to the house and let him graze in the sun, just to dry him off a bit before he went back to his stall.  He was a horse on a mission to eat every blade of green grass, head down facing the house.  I, on the other hand, was standing next to his head facing the opposite way with the sun on my back, relaxed enough that my eyes were glazed over.  :-)

The next thing I knew I was flat out on the ground with people gathering around asking if I was OK!  To be honest, I was dazed and a little unfocused.  As I struggled to sit up, my immediate concern was Gem but I realized that he was now standing next to me on the other side. My second thought was how many friggin bruises I was going to have!  Darn!!   After a minute, DH's Mom and someone else helped me stand.  I did a quick check.  My jaw was sore, I had a cut from a tooth on the inside of my right cheek, my cheekbone and brow bone hurt, I had the beginning of a bump on the middle of my forehead, my neck had a kink and my sciatica was coming into play.  WTH??!!!  Was I unknowingly in the path of a truck or trailer and got hit?? 

DH's Mom saw what happened as she was walking towards me to chat.  The father of the boarder unloaded a lawn mower from his truck and decided to start it up to see if it still worked....right next to Gem's head.  1300 lbs. of horse spooked and jumped to the side, hitting me jaw to jaw and knocking me down.  What idiot starts a machine next to a grazing horse???  Apparently, this arrogant bastage does.  He didn't even apologize.

People volunteered to drive me home, but by this time I was a bit embarrassed and really sore and just wanted to get the heck out of there.  I drove myself home and after taking Advil, I stretched out on the couch with an ice pack for my face and a heat pack for my back.  I was not missing this wedding!!!  :-)   I had some time to think about the incident and I sort of laughed to myself about being so careful to avoid bruises and then to have this happen.   

Then anger set in.  How could a man who is around the barn all the time think that starting a lawn mower next to a horse is OK??  To let go of my anger, I tried to focus on the positives.  Yes, there are could have been a whole lot worse: 
  • Gem is not a lunatic kind of horse; his spook was just a couple of big side steps and not the snorting-and-running-around-the-yard kind of spook that could have potentially caused injuries to the other horses and people in the yard.
  • I was standing sideways beside Gem, shoulder to shoulder; if I had been turned facing his shoulder, his head connecting with my face would have broken my nose, no question. 
  • I was standing close enough to Gem that when he swung into me he did not have his full body momentum behind the step, so the hit wasn't as forceful as it could have been.
  • Gem did not trample or kick me.
  • Other than the bump and bruise on my forehead, I didn't have a visible mark on me.  :-)
I have been in worse pain from falls off of Gem while riding.  But this incident shook me because it happened while I was on the ground.  Other than getting stepped on or shoved or even bitten, I hadn't really considered being injured by a horse while on the ground.  When you are around horses, things can change in an instant and you must be prepared to react or be proactive in avoiding dangerous situations.  True, you can't predict idiocy.  And, the reality of it was I couldn't see this guy unload the mower or him starting it because Gem's body blocked my view.  But, perhaps if I hadn't been so relaxed that I was "glazed' over, if I had been more in tune with what was going on around me, I would have heard him and investigated??

The drive to Montreal the next day was a bit of a challenge, but Advil helped.   The bruise on my forehead was covered by make up.  The fun (and vodka!) I had at the wedding made me forget about my aches and pains.  My back survived dancing and my 3 inch heels.   :-)   My new outfit made me feel like a million. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.  Sort of hard to believe that just a day earlier I was sitting on my couch with ice and heat worried about a black eye and a bad back!   

Enjoy the rest of the week, everyone, and be safe!   Remember....there are idiots out there!!!  :-)

Monday, September 9, 2013


It was my birthday this weekend.   I started my birthday month (yes, month!) celebrations on Friday evening.  A girlfriend hosted a dinner party in honour of my birthday.  I have been celebrating and laughing with this core group of friends for over 25 years.  How awesome is that?   Saturday My Husband and I went for a lovely sushi dinner with another couple.  I actually introduced them to each other over 20 years ago and My Husband and I stood for them at their wedding.  Cool, eh?   There will be lots of vodka sodas over the next couple of weeks.  I am up to the challenge.  :-)   

Sunday there was a Fun Day at the barn.  Boarders and lesson people competed for little prizes in Command, Poles, Barrels, Key Hold and Apple Bobbing.  It was awesome seeing all ages competing.  I think the oldest competitor was 65ish and the youngest 11.  The sun was shining, temps were around 17C with a sight breeze.  Perfect.

Gem and I did not compete.  A number of people tried to cajole us into competing, but I held firm and declined.  Today was the day; I had other plans for Gem and I.  :-)  I did not want to share my plans with anyone, in case I jinxed them.  There was a lot of excitement in the barn as everyone got tacked up.  I could tell that Gem was a little pumped by the activity.  And when everyone was finally out in the front paddock warming up, he was anxious to join them.  Not so fast, handsome. 

I walked him to the arena, past the spectators and the riders warming up.  After his initial look at everything, he turned his attention back to me.  We were alone in the arena.  We warmed up and eventually worked our way up to a lope.  Yes, lope.  By myself.  In the arena.  He did try to give me the business initially, but he eventually agreed that loping was a good thing.  :-)  My butt was in the saddle - a good sign.  It was awesome!

After we loped a couple of circles each way, I noticed that the warm up period was over in the paddock.  I decided to take advantage of this.  I dismounted and walked Gem right through the paddock to the trail obstacle course on the other side.  All the competitors were there, standing around waiting for the competition to begin.  We walked through the crowd to the mounting block.  He stood perfectly still as competitors walked around and behind him; I mounted him without issue.  Good boy!

Gem giving the stink eye to the loose horse.
We milled our way through the crowd (maybe 20+ riders??) and did some of the trail obstacles, loosening up and getting used to all of the noise and horses.  He was friggin amazing.  Nothing bothered him and he did not resist at all.   He was attentive and I felt really connected to him.  Some of the horses from the herd heard the excitement and came to join the party, walking in amongst the competitors. There was the odd squeal, and one horse did sort of give Gem the business as we stood there, but both he and I dealt with it.  

 We stood at the fence and watched most of the barrel competition.  Lots of cheering, clapping, yelling and whistling.  Gem stood majestically, facing the spectators on the other side of the paddock, patiently waiting.  OK, it was time.  I took a deep breath, turned him around and started walking him away from the crowd of competitors.  We walked along the perimeter of the front field; our first time walking on our own, in a field.  No riding buddies, no instructor.  Deep breaths.  I admit that I did talk to him as we walked in the sun; in fact, I might have been a bit of a Chatty Cathy.  :-)  He politely listened, he ears twitching back and forth.  When we got to the bank of bushes at the end of the field, we crossed the bottom of the field and walked back up to the paddock from the other side.  His head was low, one ear front one ear back, head occasionally turned slightly to look at me.  It was awesome.

So for the rest of the afternoon, we alternated standing and cheer on the riders (he stood perfectly still each time), going through some obstacles (he is getting really good at backing up through the "Z" layout!) or I would walk him around the field solo.  My confidence continued to increase and at one point I actually did a slow jog down one side of the field and back!!  :-)  I even walked him through a small pathway to the Loping Field, thinking that I might even try jogging him around the field on my own.  I know!  Crazy, eh!!.  Unfortunately, there were a number of herd horses grazing there and I didn't feel THAT confident about riding around them.   That day will come.  :-)

As our ride came to an end (time to set up the potluck!), I realized that he and I had been outside for over 3 hours!  I took him over to the apple tree next to the paddock.  The last few weeks, our routine has been that before we head to the barn, I stand up in the saddle and pick some apples for him (all of the apples on the lower branches have been eaten by the other horses).  I can no longer reach apples this way, so now I walk him right into the tree, stand up, grab a branch and start shaking it.  Apples fall and he chows down, slobbering his version of apple sauce all over the place.  :-) 

As I untacked my handsome boy, I didn't want our time to end.  It was such a perfect afternoon.  I think he felt it, too.  He actually let me give him a lingering hug.  :-)   As I was driving home and reflecting on the day's events, I came to the conclusion that this was probably one of the best times Gem and I had had together.  Sure, there have been great lesson experiences and trail rides, but this particular afternoon was just him and I.  No one else.  We did everything on our own.  And it was OK!   You know, I knew it would be.  I had started forming my plan to ride the front field by myself on Saturday afternoon and did not deviate from the plan, even when I had people trying to shame me into competing.  :-)   I visualized it over and over again and I believe my determination helped my confidence when the time came.  My goal of riding the trails solo is within reach!  Awesome!!

And, just to put the cherry on top of a terrific weekend, I donated the outstanding amount still needed for the purchase price of a 20-year old draft cross that was to be shipped today from a feed lot to slaughter.  She's a very well-trained, lively girl and I am delighted that she will be given a second chance.  It's difficult when there are so many that need to be saved, but in this case there was a foster ready to take her if the kill buyer's fee could be paid.  She is now safe and in foster care until she can be permanently placed.  How awesome is that?!  

Have a good week, everyone!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Getting Reaquainted

Jean and Stu left today for their new digs.  Their new location is about an hour and a half away.  The distance is not so great that there won't be opportunities to get together in the future.  She doesn't have an onsite trainer, so I gave her the book 101 Arena Exercises by Cherry Hill.  She seemed quite enthused with it.

* * * * *
Gem and I have been making up for lost time!   I have to say though, that after not riding him for almost two months, my muscles (what few I have) have had to go through an adjustment period.  I had forgotten how big he is and my inner thighs have been reminding me! 

We have participated in two lessons now and we have been out on a few trail rides.  Because of the varied terrain, I believe the trail rides have helped him to get back on track physically.  He has been awesome out on the trail.   As I mentioned before, I think we have turned a corner in our relationship and I am feeling much more confident in him and in me.  Oh, he still gives me the business on occasion just to keep me on my toes, but I seem to know better how to bring him back to reality.

LA took me out on a trail ride last week.  It was a beautiful day.  Gem and I were the leaders.  Of course, because we were leading, I tried to avoid the areas that made me nervous.  :-)  No such luck.  LA instructed me to go to the dreaded creek.

Me:   I heard the bugs were really, really bad in the forest.
LA:  All the more reason to keep moving.
Me:  I think it will be really slippery because of all the rain yesterday.
LA:  Let Gem pick where he wants to step. 
Me:  The swamp area mud will probably suck those leg protectors off of your horse.
LA:   Let's go. Move it.

Off we went.  Yes, it was muddy.  Yes, it was a bit slippery.  But going through the forest without incident eased me into facing the black horse-eating mud around the creek.  The mud was coronet band deep and it did get a bit close - the bush was overgrown and really tight.   At one point, Gem refused and started to dance a little and back up.

Me:  Holy crap!  Holy crap! 
LA:  Push him on.
Me:  I can't see where we are going!!!
LA.  There is a path.  Trust me.  Move forward!  Be decisive!

Well, I somehow convinced Gem to carry on.  Then came the dreaded creek.  I have to admit that it was a shadow of it's former self in the Spring, but it was still a creek.   I took a deep breath and then Gem and I crossed. Yipee!   And, leading LA and her mount back through the muddy path to the forest was....well....fine.  WTH?!  :-)  The rest of the trail ride was awesome.  We went through brush, mud, the pond and open spaces.   Last year, my heart would have been fluttering, but not so much this summer.  :-)

My last couple of lessons have been interesting.  Having gone from school horses back to Gem has been an eye opener.  The horses I rode in lesson had training as reiners or in dressage.   Over countless years of training riders, they are very responsive to what is being asked.  It's easy to ride them and it helped my confidence tremendously.   Gem is sometimes stubborn and lazy, but he is much, much better than he was a year ago.  He and I are so much better, in fact, that our new project is to learn how to do a lead change while doing a pattern at a lope!  Cool, eh?  

This week's lesson was very good.  Gem was a bit frisky - head tossing and the occasional little happy dance -  but it didn't interfere with what I was asking him to do.  He made me laugh.  In addition to the usual work, we incorporated some of the trail obstacle course into our lesson.  Gem LOVES when we do stuff like this - he is easily bored with the usual lesson routine of walk, jog, lope.  He's actually pretty good at backing up through the "Z" pattern of logs!  It's a great exercise for rider, too.  Your horse has to trust that you know where to go because they can't see behind them and you have to be able to communicate to your horse where to place their feet, when to start turning, etc. etc.  Gem's feet hit the logs regularly, but he didn't move any of the logs out of place.  This is one exercise that I am going to continue practicing!  Side passing over a log - not so great; Gem rolls the log up his leg, puts it in his mouth and then starts to carry it.  Sigh.  We jumped/stepped over a cavaletti a number of times at a trot and crossed over a bridge without incident.  Then LA said we were going to the Loping Field.  Gulp.

The Loping Field is a small field that is completely surrounded by trees and bush.  It is a natural circle, so of course it's the perfect place to learn how to lope in the open.  As we walked over, LA suggested that I lope the field.

Me:  Are you mad?? 
LA:  You will be fine.
Nervous Classmate:  Do it!  Do it!
Me (to Nervous Classmate):  Easy for you to say.  Listen, I will lope in that field when you do (knowing full well that she never would).

I had just about convinced LA and Nervous Classmate that loping was not going to happen when DH's Mom, out on a trail ride, joined us and put in her two cents worth.  Sigh.  I agreed to lope in a straight line first.  And you know what?  Gem and I did it!  I queued him and he responded right away.  We loped at a very even, gentle pace in a straight line, turned and loped back to the group.  I couldn't believe it!  Everyone was cheering.  Then I decided to go the full circle!  We repeated our performance and you know what?  My butt was pretty much in the saddle the whole time!  :-)  BTW, Nervous Classmate did not lope the field.

Loping on grass instead of sand feels completely different.  I am going to end every trail ride with a lope around the Loping Field.  It will help my balance a lot.  My goal is to get my confidence up to the level where I can lope straight through one of the larger fields.  Oh, and I think I am ready to walk around the field next to the paddock solo.  Yep, you read that right - solo!   :-)  Giddy up!!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

There's Good News and Bad.....

Bad News:  There were some abnormalities with some blood work I had done for my 13-year old Cairn Terrier.  Her liver enzymes were elevated.  In addition, a small growth was found near her hip and the biopsy indicated that it was cancerous.  It was decided to do an x-ray to see if there was anything else going on with her liver - unfortunately the results were inconclusive.  An ultrasound was done, showing that there were some tumours on her liver.  My vet booked an appointment for us with an oncologist.  Initially, we talked about using ultrasound to guide a needle to her liver to collect material for a biopsy.  I explained to him that I wanted a definitive answer on whether or not she had liver cancer.  We decided that while she was knocked out to have the little growth removed from her hip, that he do some exploratory surgery so that we know what we were up against.
Good News:     The doctor removed the tumours on her liver; they were benign!  Yipee!!!   The small growth has been removed and sent to pathology, but he is quite hopeful that all the bad stuff has been removed.  Yay!

Gem's version of free lunging.....
Bad News:   Gem's recovery from his abscess was slow.  I took him out of his stall last week and he was still limping!  I free lunged him or walked him as recommended whenever I saw him.  I was starting to worry.  My vet was on holidays, so I decided to wait for his return and have some x-rays done. 
Good News:  LA mentioned on the weekend that he looked fine during turnout (running and bucking), so I saddled him up on Sunday and rode him at a walk for 20 minutes.  He was actually happy(?) to be doing something, I think.  He had a spring in his step and was enjoying being out.  With LA's permission, I took him on a lovely trail ride yesterday - the first real ride on him in 6 weeks!   He was amazing.  We walked through some really muddy patches, without issue.  I know!!  Mud!  It felt so good to be riding him.

Bad News:  The flies around the barn are horrific.  Gem's stall is located at the end of the barn, next to the back door.  Under normal circumstances, it's a great spot; sun, fresh air, nice view.  However, flies multiply in the manure pile around the corner.  I have a fly trap at his stall, but it has not had much of an impact this year.  When I took him out of his stall over the weekend, his left eye was a bit swollen, red and gunky; conjunctivitis brought on by the flies irritating his eyes.  I picked up some eye ointment and he has been wearing his fly mask. I hope there is some improvement soon.
Good News:  The fly spray I have been using has been doing a really good job.  Neemella not only smells nice, but it seems to keep the flies away for longer than the traditional sprays.  And, even with the billions of flies around, Gem does not seem to be suffering with bot eggs like previous years (knocking on wood as I type that).

Bad News:  Jean and Stu will be leaving the barn soon.  Jean's husband has been transferred so she will be leaving at the end of the month.  Back in June, Jean had another fall off of Stu.  A few of us met on a Sunday to go out on a trail ride.  Her lessons had been going fairly well, and Jean felt she was ready to try Stu out in the open.  Jean, RO and I were walking our horses around the paddock, waiting for DH's Mom to join us.  Jean was at the far end and all of a sudden, RO and I heard "whoa!  Whoa! WHOA!"  We turned our horses around to see Jean basically lying flat on Stu's back pulling on the reins with all of her might as he cantered out of control.  We had (stupidly) left the gate leading to the yard open, thinking that DH's Mom wasn't far behind us and Stu took advantage of the opening and raced through.  Fortunately, Jean fell with a thump before Stu ran into the barn - she would have hit the top of the barn door and sustained major injuries if she had stayed on him.  DH's Mom was still in the barn and was able to calm Stu before he hurt himself or another horse.  She made Jean get back on him (unlike the last time she fell) and she held the bridle and walked Jean around for a bit before she got off.  Jean is not exactly sure what it was that set Stu off; it might have been her boot scraping the side of the fence.  Unfortunately, Jean has been sort of reluctant to ride Stu ever since.  She will be going to a very small boarding facility that does not have an instructor or arena.  My fingers and toes are crossed that she will push herself to improve Stu's (and her) confidence and abilities in spite of the limitations at her new place.

Good News:  The weather has been decent and I am looking forward to riding my boy this week!   

Hope you are enjoying your summer!


Monday, July 15, 2013


What I like about summer is the warmth and light of the sun.  I have much more energy in the summer.  My creakiness doesn't seem as noticeable during the summer months.  I have no problem awaking at 6:30 a.m. and ease into my work day by having my morning coffee as I water my little garden and hanging pots.  After that is done, I have my second cup reading the paper and chatting about world events with My Husband, before I go upstairs to get ready for work. Summer replenishes me.

Summer + riding doesn't work for me, however.  The first summer I had Gem, the temperatures were normal and I was injury free; I was able to ride regularly but in the arena or paddock only, because of my lack of experience.  The next summer, I was still recovering from surgery, so my riding was limited.  The summer of 2011 was tolerable hot although I remember the flies being horrific; they made horse and rider miserable.  I actually had flies hit me in the eyeball a couple of times.  Gross.  The summer of 2012 was awful.  The high temperatures hit us in May, starting our drought, and it was so uncomfortable that I stopped lessons.  Trail rides were far and few between.  In July, I fell and decided that recovering from a pulled groin was the right time to put Gem into 30-day boot camp.  This summer we have been hit once again with high temperatures (32-35C/+90F).  This year, however, it's wet.  The humidity makes it feel like +40C/+100F and the only relief we get from "big hair" days is when we experience torrential rain storms coupled with thunder.  There doesn't seem to be any relief in the near future; these conditions will continue to linger for the next while. Tragically, a lady that I know lost her older horse to a heart attack attributed to the sweltering conditions.  Just when my confidence has improved enough to accommodate the sweltering heat and hit the trails, our time together was sabotaged by Gem's abscess.  It appears that I am not meant to be a summer rider.

We thought we had the abscess licked a couple of weeks ago.  In fact, after the vet checked him the first time and my farrier put a little hole in his hoof where some pus escaped, he was sound enough at a walk for me to saddle him up a few days later and get on him for 10 minutes; I did try him at a jog so that LA could assess him and he was still off.  The next time I took him out of his stall, he was lame at a walk.  The heat was back in his hoof.  I freaked out.  LA happened to have a QH trainer friend visiting; Larry is also a farrier, so he re-opened the hole that my farrier had done and sure enough a very small amount of pus came out.  Was this abscess ever going to go away????  Or was it just going to linger on forever???!!!

Abscess at coronet band.
We continued to soak and poultice daily. The vet was out to float some teeth, so I asked that he take a look at Gem.  As he felt around the coronet band, Gem pulled his hoof away when he applied pressure to the front of the band, straight up from where the hole in his hoof was.  The vet believes that the original hole closed up, even with us soaking and applying poultices daily.  When Larry re-opened the hole, residue pus escaped, but the rest of the infection was already traveling upwards toward the coronet band. When I rode him, even though it was at a walk, it aggravated the infection.  Now it was a waiting game.  He recommended that I take Gem for short walks or light free lunge to stimulate the blood flow to the hoof and encourage the abscess to blow.

I have been continuing to soak his foot, just to keep the original hole clean, and have been hand walking him or allowing him to run around the paddock.  He is sound at a walk, but still off at a jog.  When he lopes/canters (at his instigation, not mine) around the paddock, he seems sound but I suspect that it's an illusion because of the gait.  Standing in direct sun, in hot sand, is not my idea of fun.  The sweat drips down my face, even into my eyes.  Thank goodness for waterproof mascara!!  :-)  But watching Gem look somewhat normal as he moves around the paddock is a big relief.

Something that I have observed since his abscess is that some of his manners have gone by the wayside.  He sometimes revert back to being pushy.  Could be the heat, could be his discomfort.  But, it's something that we will be working on over the next couple of weeks while we are spending time on the ground.   Yesterday, I let him loose in the paddock.  He wouldn't move away unless I did, so I started walking around the paddock with him following me like a dog.  We worked on whoa (pretty good), stand (pretty good) and come (not so good).  He crowded me a couple of times and I had to correct.  There is an exercise ball in the paddock and I kicked it to him and he "threw" it back to me a number of times before he lost interest.  It was just too friggin hot!!

Gem appreciates the 15 minutes out of his stall when I walk him or let him run around the paddock and he especially enjoys the grass treat afterwards.  I have to say that I am so pleased that he's not out during the day in these temperatures.  He gets to nap is the coolness of the barn and then appreciate more acceptable temperatures at night when he's turned out.  I know, I know....he's a horse and they can easily accommodate the weather, but it makes ME feel better to know that he's as comfortable as he can be.  :-) 

As of yesterday, there is no indication that the abscess has blown and there wasn't any heat around the coronet band.  Perhaps the abscess has been reabsorbed??  Keep your fingers crossed that Gem as at the end of this incident.  Hope everyone is staying cool!!!  I find Mojitos help.  :-)