Monday, November 10, 2014

Being Social

When I first met DH, I was told to steer clear of him.   I was told that he wasn't a pleasant horse, that he bit people and was nasty with other horses.  For a gelding, DH displayed studdy behaviour and was not social with animals or humans.  What I found out was that DH was actually used as a stud before he partnered up with DH's Mom.   Because of that, he was kept in a stall away from everyone, only brought out in public when he was expected to compete or breed.   Gives you a whole different perspective on his personality when you take the time to understand his isolating circumstances prior to teaming up with DH's Mom.  Of course, it was a big culture shock for him when DH's Mom bought him and transported him to LA's. 

DH lost no time in establishing that he was the top horse when he was turned out with Gem and two other geldings in a small field.  Sort of funny to see a 14.3h paint giving 16.0h Gem the business!  It could be a bit nerve-racking getting Gem from the turnout area;  DH would try to come in between us and try to herd Gem away from me.  He was doing his job as leader.  Eventually, what I ended up doing was bringing a handful of horse treat kibble and throwing it off to the side.  While DH was busy looking for kibble, I would hook Gem and walk out of the gate.  The other geldings eventually were put out with the herd and Gem and DH remained roommates for the next 5 years. 

This past spring, DH was turned out with the herd.  He is now 16 years old and not as grumpy as he was 5 years ago.  After a bumpy start, he has settled in and has 3 girlfriends to call his own.  :-)  He is happy.   He is really socializing for the first time in his life.  I thought Gem might miss him, but it was basically a non-event for him.  Gem's turnout area is right on the main throughway for the herd to get to the watering trough, so he gets to see the comings and goings.  He is also surrounded by other turnout areas so any way he faces, he sees horses.  Sometimes nickers pass between him and members of the herd.  Gem is socializing from afar.  He's like me.....I nod to my neighbours over the fence or have a cordial chat as I am getting out of my car, but I don't encourage anyone to walk on to my property.  I like my privacy.  :-)

A few weeks ago, LA asked if it was OK to put Hank, a 15.1 QH, in with Gem.  As winter approaches, the older horses are brought into the largest turnout area near the house so they can be monitored.  If she could double up on the number of horses in the regular turnout areas, it would allow for horses to be out all day instead of rotating between morning or afternoon turnout.  We have been on trail rides with Hank and his person, and in fact, Hank's turnout was right next to Gem's so they know each other.  Made sense to me and I said go for it.

Later that same day I got a call from LA:

LA:  "Well I wanted you to hear it from me and not another boarder with added drama...."
Me:  "Oh, dear...."
LA:  "It didn't work out with Hank and Gem.  It started out well, but a couple of hours later I heard screaming.  I raced over to the turnout area and Gem was beating Hank up and I had to separate them."
Me:  "Is Hank hurt??!!!"
LA:  Well, to be honest there are some pretty bad bite marks and he already has a couple of areas that are swollen due to kicks.  I don't want to chance a more severe injury and I am sure his owner doesn't either."
Me:  "OMG!!!  I feel so bad."
LA:  "Don't feel bad.  This is what horses do.  Don't take it personally."

I saw Hank a few days later, and my stomach flipped.  His neck and back had quite a number of bites that were scabbing over - he was a mess.  I suspect that due to where the bites were located, his owner was not riding him.  I felt awful.  And as much as it's horses being horses, Hank's owner did take it personally and has not spoken to me since the incident! 

Rascal looks like this guy.
Early last week, LA called to ask if it was OK to try Rascal in with Gem.  Rascal is a beautiful white-faced QH, closer to Gem's size.  Somehow this gorgeous guy ended up on a feed lot and LA rescued him.  Up until 6 weeks ago, he was a stallion; LA had him gelded when he arrived.  Perhaps there was some residual chutzpah after he was gelded that would make him a match for Gem attitude-wise?  I said go for it.

I happened to be riding in the arena on Thursday when I overheard LA talking to one of her staff about turning Rascal out in another area.  What???  So I called LA to see what was going on.  Apparently, everything was fine between the two of them for three days.  But then all hell broke loose, resulting in Gem kicking Rascal in the mouth and one of his teeth being knocked out.  Sigh.  The vet had to be called in.  Again, LA told me not to take it personally.  But it's hard!  I don't want my horse to be the one that gets a bad reputation.  I don't want him to be thought of like DH was.  I don't want people or staff to be nervous of him.  LA told me that wouldn't be the case.  DH continues to have incidents with humans (he nipped a guy on the chin), but Gem hasn't been mean to the humans around the barn so there shouldn't be a bad reputation issue.  So, Rascal is now turned out with another horse and Gem is.....alone..... again......

When Gem left the farm where he was born to go live with his new owner, he was the only horse on her property.  He was out 24/7 and was ridden occasionally.  He was more of a pet.  I believe that it was this lack of socialization with other horses over a number of years that has impacted how he behaves when it comes to roommates.  He gets rude and territorial.  I often wonder how DH ever became the boss of Gem.  Being an aggressive horse to begin with, DH must have just bamboozled Gem from the moment Gem entered the turnout area when he first arrived 5 years ago and the hierarchy was set instantly and remains to this day.   

I think both LA and I have come to the realization that Gem will probably never have a roommate again.  This will mean that he will only get a half day outside during the winter, instead of 10 hours.  Better than a kick in the pants!  Makes me sad though, but it doesn't affect him at all, which is the main thing.  

On Sunday, I was sitting on Gem, waiting for my trail riding buddy to arrive when LA, accompanied by her Aussie cattle dog, came up to chat.  Her dog commenced wagging his butt and assumed a slightly submissive stance in front of Gem.  I have seen this many times and have never been concerned.  Although initially concerned because her dog had been kicked a few times by horses, LA no longer worries when he's around Gem.  I loosened Gem's reins, enough so that he could lower his head and allow the dog to lick around his mouth and nose ever so quietly and gently.  Gem then licked the dog back a couple of times.  I smiled and I could see that LA was amused also.  You see, when Gem was with his previous owner, his only real companions were a lab and a barn cat.  LA's dog knows that Gem won't hurt him.  And, the cats at LA's make themselves comfortable on Gem's window ledge regularly (sometimes leaving a present of a dead mouse!) or walk along his stall wall, allowing him to sniff and nibble at them.  So he may not be socialized with horses, but Gem is certainly socialized with the other barn residents.  He has company when he's IN the barn, which is sort of cool. 

I am OK with the current set up.  I think that Gem is getting what he needs.  If he wasn't, he would be a lunatic.  Perhaps he just has discriminating tastes when it comes to who he wants to spend time with....I think I might have made his short list.   :-)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

When An Easy Keeper Isn't

Every once and a while, I realize how much I take for granted when it comes to the care of Gem.  The things that LA does are transparent and just "happen".  Recently, she had her hay tested to see exactly what it contained (it's very good hay).  She has the hay tested regularly and then adjusts the feed to complement the hay.  She felt that she could do better when it came to the feed she was giving our horses and decided to try something different.  After deciding on a new supplier, she asked the feed rep to come in and give us a presentation on horse nutrition and answer any questions we might have about what our horses are eating.

Holy crap, horse nutrition can be complicated!  When I was looking for my forever horse, my wish list included "easy keeper".  In my mind, "easy keeper" translated into a horse that was not fussy on what he ate and didn't require any special additives.  When the Cheval Canadien was first developed in the late 1600's, they were used to clear lumber in the forests of Quebec.  They needed to be smaller than the usual draft breeds to be able to maneuver in the trees and bushes, but strong enough to pull out the lumber.  There weren't a lot of open fields on which to graze and in the winter they were turned loose to fend for themselves.  Quebec winters are harsh.  They survived by eating whatever they could find on the forest floor and tree bark.  Whatever they ate, they were able to efficiently extract every single bit of calories and nutrition and store it for long periods of time; they could survive on very little food.  Those that survived were used as breeding stock.  As the breed became more refined, the Little Iron Horse became a strong, muscular, sound horse and very "easy keeper".  Sounds pretty good, right?  Well, maybe not.....
These vintage photos are of "working horses" in Quebec.  Although not specified, in all likelihood the horses are Canadians.

Surviving in the wilds of Quebec is one thing.  However, when your "easy keeper" is part of today's normal animal husbandry routine, where food is plentiful and provided in nice round bales or square flakes, it can be a challenge.  Who knew?!  That trait of being able to store calories/fat for longer periods makes easy keepers prone to weight gain.  This is quite common in ponies and draft breeds.  And, weight gain can lead to other problems, like joint issues, metabolic disorders and laminitis.  Yikes!!

After the presentation, the rep volunteered to give horses a body condition rating.  Wow.  This was really interesting.  She used the Henneke body condition guidelines, which was developed back in the 1980's, in part so that there was a standard guideline for law enforcement agencies to judge horse cruelty cases.  

The horses that were examined were all Quarter Horses and one TB/QH cross, all bright-eyed, shiny and healthy (thank you, LA!).   As it turns out, the majority of the horses she looked at were around a 5-6 body score, which is good.  To be honest, I thought one of the horses would have been scored higher because her belly was big.  The rep explained that what we were looking at was a "hay belly", where fermentation has occurred.  This could be caused by poor quality hay (not the case), not enough protein in the feed or perhaps this horse's digestion had slowed a bit due to her age (21).  This will be rectified with the new feed and mixing yeast in her portion.  The TB cross mare was a 4-5.  She's a barrel racer and a bit high strung.  LA will work with the owner now that show season is over to beef her up a bit for winter. 

Then we came to Gem.  :-)  She took his breed and the amount of "work" he does into consideration when she examined him.  He scored "7".  He does not have a hay belly or fatty deposits....his weight is evenly distributed.   While scoring a 7 is not bad for his breed, there are two things that we decided to do to ensure that he would never get above 7.   There was a major change to his routine back in June;  Gem no longer has a turnout roommate to compete with when it comes to the bale of hay (DH is now out with the herd).  He has the luxury of being able to eat all day, without fuss.  Going forward, LA will be rotating him between his turnout area where the bale is and the large round pen, where his intake will be flakes of hay at specific times during the day.  He will continue to get his "taste" of feed when the others get their scoops.  In addition, he will be worked a little more during the week; either LA will lunge him once a week or I will try to make it out one more evening a week.  Gem was actually much bigger when we first partnered up, so there is hope.  :-) 

There is an extreme cowboy clinic that is happening next summer and I am very interested in participating.  To be honest, I don't think either Gem or I are any where near being in condition to participate in this all day event; I believe I am also a "7" on the Henneke body condition score.  :-)   You never know....if winter weather cooperates and I am able to keep up the routine, come Spring we could be in good enough shape to do the clinic.   I have signed us up for weekly lessons over the next month to get us back into a routine.  Giddy up!! 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Apples, Thundering Hooves and Quicksand

At last!  The temperatures are dropping and the last week has been wonderfully coolish.  DH's Mom and I went out the other day.  It was a very relaxed ride, the two of us not talking much.  Gem has taken to walking with purpose when we go out, that plus his bigger steps means that we usually get ahead of DH's Mom.  So when we entered the old orchard through a very narrow, dark entrance, we were way ahead of DH's Mom.  The sight that greeted Gem and I was quite funny....picture being greeted by five horse butts sticking out from bushes.  That's all you could see...their butts.  It's the height of the apple season.  The horse's couldn't have cared less about us being there; there were apples to be eaten!   We stopped and waited for our slow poke companions.   When our friends entered, the horse butts pointed at DH made him spook a little.  Really?? 

We walked through the orchard (Careful!  Horse butt up ahead!!) and then entered the scrub brush area.  Gem made a bee-line to his "special shrub".  Over the summer, he started walking right through this large shrub located in the middle of an open area, then backing up through it...back and forth a few times.  Initially, I thought he was just being a jerk and would force him forward.  Then DH's Mom pointed out that he was scraping the flies off of his belly.  So this has been part of the routine all summer.  The flies aren't as bad I think he does it because it feels good.  :-) 

On the way back to the barn, Gem lowered his head looking for some apples that had fallen from a nearby tree.  He tripped over his own front feet and his whole front end went down!  In fact, the side of his head hit the ground.  WTH?  I was pitched forward on to his neck...I have to say that getting a horn in the gut isn't pleasant.  However, my concern was righting my boy so I quickly sat back in the saddle and steadily pulled back and braced the reins to give him something to "lean" on to help him up.  He was none the worse for wear, thankfully.  DH's Mom was impressed that I stayed in the saddle.

Last Friday, Gem was a bit frisky (cooler weather??)  Because of this, I took the time to warm him up in the paddock.  He was not paying complete attention to me and DH's Mom asked if I wanted to lunge.  I believe that lunging has benefits, but I prefer to ride it out and get his head back when I am in the saddle.  When Gem consistently responded to me telling him "easy", then I felt ready to hit the trails.  Looking back, I am glad we had a warm up session.

The ride started out pleasant enough.  DH's Mom and I were joined by CL riding a beautiful Clyde, Marty.  Gem looks delicate next to this guy.  :-)  CL, like DH's Mom, has ridden most of her life.  Marty is still a youngster - I think he's 4 - and he still has some youngster behaviour.  But CL corrects and moves on.  I like riding with them.   CL/Marty were leading us across the large middle field, with Gem and I close behind and DH's Mom/DH a little further back, bringing up the rear.   About 5 minutes into our ride, we started to enter the winter feeding field to gain access to the forest.  CL/Marty stopped dead at the entrance on high alert.  Then I heard it....the pounding of hooves!   We couldn't see exactly what was going on because of the trees and shrubs against the stone wall. 
Direction of thundering, crazy horses.

I moved Gem to the right, away from the entrance and tried to take cover against a couple of bushes as the herd of 30 horses thundered through the small opening, with a couple breaking off and either jumping the wall (WTH!) or veering into the forest.  Holy crap, Batman!!   I had an adrenaline rush and my complete focus was on Gem and keeping us safe.  I was thinking quite clearly and honestly, there was no room for panic.  I implemented a half-halt and luckily in the excitement, I managed to convince Gem to do small circles and that there was no need to follow the herd.  I had my palm on the horn pushing my butt into the saddle.  The thunder of the herd galloping by me pretty much drowned out any other noise, but I do remember hearing DH's Mom yelling at me to hang on.  Understandably, Gem was a bit bouncy.  There was one point that I lost my balance slightly and thought that I might be coming off, but I righted myself.  I got it together in time to watch the last of the horses continue galloping down the bottom of the field.  Beautiful. Then I started to breathe again.  :-)     Of course, this whole incident only lasted, what, 30 SECONDS???  We have no idea what caused the stampede.  DH's Mom admitted that she was a tad nervous...her main concern was a horse kicking out and hurting her or DH.   Gem and I survived our first stampede!  Yay!   OK, it needs to be said - DH's Mom was not wearing a helmet.  This is a perfect example of how the situation can change in an instant when you are out on the trails.  Just sayin'. 

As we rode along the golf course, a golfer's ball connected with, I think, the flag pole resulting in a loud twang! noise...right next to us.  Come on...really??  Gem did his beautiful two large side steps...his version of spooking (geez, I wish I could get him to side step like that when I asked....his cross-over is amazing!)    

Then CL decided to take us into the marsh..."oh, it's not too muddy", she said.  Good grief.  I should have known better.  With all of the rain we've had, how could it not be muddy, for cripes sakes!  She led Marty through deep mud that caked his feathers.  I have to tell you it was like you walked, it was like you got sucked in deeper and deeper into the black goo.  Gem, in the meantime, was trying to convince me that walking along the edge of the trail through very thick bushes to avoid the ankle deep mud was OK...not!   Believe me, if walking through the brush was a viable option, I would have been all over it.  However, it was actually safer to walk right down the middle of swampy mud.  Convincing him took some effort, but he listened more often than not.  I know, hard to believe, right?  Me convincing him that mud was OK.  Crazy, eh?  DH's Mom was struggling a bit as DH is only about 14.3hh and his tiny feet were really sinking into the mud.  In retrospect, it probably wasn't the safest situation for DH's Mom and DH to be in.  Interestingly, although I was apprehensive as we got deeper into the marsh area, I focused on the fact that we were almost through it, and I was OK.....I did not loose my mind.  Weird, eh?  When we emerged, Gem and Marty had mud and splashes half way up their legs and on their bellies.  DH was covered and DH's Mom's jeans were splashed up to her knees.  Sometimes there is an advantage to being on a taller horse.  :-)   

The whole ride, I was the a good way.  :-)  DH's Mom was reminiscing to CL how last year I would yell or scream like a girl in certain situations, or how I would tell DH's Mom to go fly a kite if she wanted me to try something, etc. etc.   We laughed a lot.   Later on, CL gave me a high five for being a good sport and for having a great ride.

As I drove to the pub to meet DH's Mom, I reviewed the ride and smiled...a lot!  I did pretty good!   Over beers, DH's Mom mentioned how pleased she was with how I managed the various situations presented over the last few rides.  And then she said it.  She said that I was ready to go with her for an off-site trail ride.   Nice to hear, of course, coming from her.   If she had said this to me a couple of months ago, I would have been jumping for joy and asking when.  But the reality of it was that her suggestion did not carry the "approval" weight that I thought it would.  You see, I think the last couple of rides have pushed me to the next level.... I have spite of riding inconsistently.   I don't need an offsite to add variety to my riding experience or to prove anything to anyone.  I am more confident, my seat is better and I am learning to go with whatever the ride throws my way.   Gem's confidence in me shows and I would rather continue to build on that and focus more on jogging and loping out in the fields at LA's.  In fact, the stampede proved to me that horses can run really fast through the fields and not trip on anything.  :-)

I appreciate DH's Mom recognizing my recent achievements and I thanked her, but I didn't take the bait.   We enjoyed our evening.  When I got home, I told My Husband about my super, awesome ride...and he was suitably impressed. :-)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Love, Like and Dislike

I love summer.  I love sitting on a patio with friends having a cool drink.  I love BBQs.  I love sitting with my feet in the pool, hypnotized by the shimmers on the water.  I love the brightness of the sun.  I love the colours of the gardens.  I love the birds.  I love wearing linen and sandals.  But I am not a huge fan of summer riding.  I don’t like the bugs.  I don’t like the fact that, with temperatures hovering around 30C coupled with high humidity, I have sweat dripping down my face before I even get the saddle on Gem!   I don't like the feeling of sweat-soaked clothing sticking to me after I ride.  In addition to heat, this summer we had the added bonus of severe storms…..nice to watch through a window, but not great for anything else….  

Gem has been enjoying his life of leisure.   He loves his private turnout area, where he spends the day munching on hay or lounging under his tree.  DH, his roommate of 5 years, was turned out with the herd in June and now has his own little harem.  I thought Gem might miss him, but he took it in stride.  Besides, Gem is not alone; there are five other turnout areas bordering on his that have one or two horses in each.  They are separated from each other by electric tape fencing but are still able to socialize.   LA lunges him once a week, just to keep him loose.  He looks big and shiny and in spite of the heat and the horrific number of flies, his humour is generally good.  When I see him, we enjoy each other.  Maybe it’s an age thing (he will be 14 in October), but he seems content.  You would think that my inconsistent riding schedule over the summer would cause him to be impatient with me when we do ride, but it hasn’t.  I like the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any anxiety for either of us. 

There were a few times that I just didn’t want to ride out in the fields; too hot, too many bugs, etc. etc.   So Gem and I did short sessions in the front paddock.  We hadn’t really “worked” in a while, and I really enjoyed communicating with him this way.  He was patient and responsive.  One time, we actually did Keyhole with a young lady getting ready for a competition.  What fun!   Of course, his turn wasn’t tight after he went through the barrels, but he sure enjoyed loping home.  :-)


I actually love riding in a soft rain.  I love the quiet that comes about when it starts to rain, I love the sound of it on the leaves and I certainly love the coolness of it on my skin.  A fellow boarder and I were out on the trails last week and it started to rain, soft at first and then a little harder.  We ended up going into the forest.  We stood and watched the golfers on the other side of the wall.  It was refreshingly cool in the forest.  We were quite dry under the trees and it was peaceful.

I went out with DH’s Mom recently.  We had had quite a storm the night before and I wasn’t too happy about going out on the trails…..there’s mud after it rains…..mud.  Anyway, I sucked it up and off we went.  The forest is great, but for a big guy like Gem, it can be confining.  Some of the trails are too narrow, some have trees that are too low.  I have to be careful and remind my riding buddies of Gem’s size.  It’s happened more than once that we had to back out of a tight spot.  The forest is also a great place for deep mud….it never gets a chance to completely dry so when it rains, the mud gets deeper and squishier.  After walking through some deep mud without issue, I relaxed.  Yay!   We were on a narrow path and I was gabbing to DH’s Mom over my shoulder.  Then…wham!  Gem swerved to avoid a puddle and my left knee was slammed into a tree, pulling my leg out of the stirrup and half unseating me.  It hurt!!!  I iced it as soon as I got home.  My knee did swell a bit and I still have a really nice black bruise covering my knee cap.  The reality is that I should have been paying attention to where we were going in the forest, not turned in the saddle having a conversation.  Lesson learned.  It seems that I always end up with one injury every summer….I am hoping that this is it.

 DH’s Mom, TS and SS have gone on quite a few off-sites over the summer.  In general, the excursions have been good.  I guess you really get to know someone when you travel with them.  :-)  There were a couple of scary incidents, including TS experiencing a runaway.  DH’s Mom mentioned that she didn’t like the fact that SS believes that it’s OK to let his horse graze untethered…apparently, he believes that he has trained his horse to “stay”.  I agree with DH’s Mom.  If something were to spook the horse, he could take off and be a danger to himself and others.   The three of them did manage a camp overnighter mid-summer and said that although it was stifling hot, laying out under the stars and hearing your horse munching next to you was pretty awesome....I agree.  :-)

My plans to do an off-site trail ride this summer sort of went by the wayside.  The weather was a major factor for me.   LA and I talked about it on and off, with plans to do something the end of August.  Then LA sustained an injury to her forearm.  She was loading a usually calm mare, a mare that she knew well and had ridden, into her trailer.  This mare had trailering experience, but for some reason freaked out and kicked.  Her hoof narrowly missed LA’s head; fortunately her forearm happened to be positioned in front of her head and took the brunt of the kick.  It was confirmed after a visit to the hospital, that no bones were broken, but skin was broken (in the shape of the hoof!) and her arm was so swollen that her fingers were numb. Her arm looked like Popeye’s.   She was on pain medication for a week and had to take it easy.   She did not have an unkind word to say about the horse....stuff happens when you are around them and some things cannot be predicted. 

 The flies have been horrific this year, but for some strange reason, Gem only has a very, very small smattering of bot fly eggs on his legs.  What’s with that???  I am not complaining!  I like the fact that his legs don’t look yellow from the knee down!

Lady - May 2014
Lady is doing well!  She has put on weight and is loving her life.  She's now 35 years old and I like that she has found a forever home that allows her to mingle with other senior horses.  She is at a peaceful stage in her life and looks great.

I don't like barn politics and I certainly don't like being involved with barn nastiness.  There was  unrest at the barn this summer.   My understanding is that a boarder had LA look for another barrel racer for them.  The thought was that this second horse would also be boarded at LA's.   LA put time into locating a perfect horse for them.  They waffled back and forth, then bought the horse, did not pay LA a finders fee and then set the horse up in a out building on their hobby farm.  Then the boarder took her daughter out of lessons and started coaching her on the new horse at home.  WTH??  This woman doesn't even ride!  Her thought was that because she had sat through so many lessons that her daughter took with LA, she could do the same at home and save the money.  Then, to add insult to injury, this boarder started encouraging others at LA's barn to take gaming clinics at another facility; some boarders did, so there were two camps - the loyals to LA and the betrayers.  Sigh.   Disappointing for LA from a business perspective, yes.  But also devastating to her personally because this boarder and LA were friends!!  Well, not so much any more.   I am not sure if LA asked her to leave or if she did on her own but her other barrel horse is gone and so is her tack.  I like that the tension seems to have been lifted....and I also like that there is more space in the tack room!

I like the fact that the temperatures will start to become cooler.  My favourite time to ride is the fall and winter.  I love the colours and breathing in crisp air.  There are predictions that we are in for a mild fall.  If it means that I don't have to seriously layer-up clothing-wise until the end of November, then I will like that.  :-)

Thursday, June 5, 2014


I am the type of person that doesn't like being dependent.  As an example, I loved smoking.  I smoked for a very long time and for the most part enjoyed it.  But when I realized that it was becoming inconvenient to smoke and that I was planning my social time around smoking, I quit.  Just like that.  And it was freeing.

After DH's Mom's conversation with me regarding trailering offsite, I gave my head a shake and set my jaw.   I was reminded that I did not want to be dependent on others when it came to riding and frankly, no one was going to tell me that I couldn't handle an offsite ride!  :-)

I booked a private lesson with LA, out in the loping field a couple of weeks ago.  I told her that I wanted to start riding on my own safely and confidently.  That I wanted to be able to have the freedom to come to the barn when I wanted and not feel the confines of having to ride with someone.   She eventually got it out of me how inadequate DH's Mom's comments made me feel.

LA:  Do you think DH's Mom is a good rider?
Me:  She's a confident rider.  She's been riding since she was a kid.
 LA:  Yes, she is confident.  But she's far from perfect.  We all have little technical quirks when it comes to riding.  But I can tell you right now, neither DH's Mom, TS or SS is qualified to make an assessment of your skills.  You are a much better rider than you give yourself credit for.  Stop listening to them and don't be so hard on yourself!

Of course, after her little pep talk, my lesson was awesome.  :-)  Gem and I jogged around the field numerous times.  The ground, with it's lumps and bumps and hardness, feels sooooo much different from sand!  Gem was fresh at the beginning, but he eventually calmed down.  He was very responsive to my requests to slow down or speed up.  He eventually dropped his head a bit and I think he was enjoying being out in the open.  I enjoyed being one on one with him.  LA did point out that the uneven terrain causes me to pitch forward a bit, so I have to work on keeping my back pressed against the imaginary wall. 

LA:  I think you should lope now.
Me: OK.
LA:  Walk him a few strides and then queue him.  It will be fine.  Don't over-think it.  Loping around a field is fantastic.... it's the most freeing feeling.

I cleared my head of thoughts tripping on rocks or small shrubs and focused on the sun, the view and how powerful Gem felt....and, of course, how beautiful his flowing mane looked.  :-)  There were a few times that I thought Gem was getting away from me, but I gently sat back and he ever so slightly slowed his pace to something I was more comfortable with.  Strangely, I didn't seem to notice the differences in the terrain like I did when we jogged around the field.  One time when we were going around a bend, he actually self-corrected his lead by doing a flying lead change!!!  LA clapped at that.  :-)  I felt wonderful....and free.  :-)

After that lesson,  I went out the trails with DH's Mom, TS and SS.  As we entered the large field from the orchard, TS said she was going to lope.  SS and DH's Mom said they would join her and asked if I was coming.  I told them to do their thing.  One of the things that LA told me a long time ago was to not always lope when others did; you didn't want your horse to think that he should lope every time others took off.  So, Gem and I came to a stop and watched them all take off across the large open space.  Gem's ears were pointed towards them, but at no time did I feel his body coil up and indicate that he wanted to lope after them.  We stood and watched them come to a stop at the other side of the field.  It was then that I asked him to jog across the field towards them....which he did at a beautifully easy and consistent pace.  

And that, my friends, is how awesome my horse is.....he stayed with me. He didn't race after the group and when I asked him to catch up with them he did so at the pace I determined.  I will admit that my heart did swell a bit, and I had a big smile on my face as we came up to the group.   As we jogged past my fellow riders, who had stopped to catch their breath, I mentioned that Gem and I were going to hang out in the loping field and left the group standing there.   He and I spent some quality time together walking around the field, enjoying the sun and the apple blossoms.  Bliss.  Yes, the umbilical cord has been cut.....  :-)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Shades of Scared

Bucking Beauty:
The weird weather over the last month meant that most times we were riding in the arena.  I don't mind riding in the arena.  However, when the weather doesn't cooperate, it can get busy.  The last two times in the arena, a young lady and her friend joined in.  The young lady has a new horse....a 4-year old ex-race horse that she wants to train for games and barrel racing.  This mare is not used to being ridden.  She carries her head very high and doesn't actually walk, she prances.  She only knows to go straight and fast...really fast.  She bucks when she's asked to trot or lope in a controlled manner.  She is spooky and will take off.  Not a great scenario when it's crowded, but the young lady wants to expose her new mare to everything so that she's ready for the show scene.  I get that, but I really hate hearing "look out!!" from behind me as she is trying to get her horse under control.   Perhaps part of the problem is that it's sensory overload for the mare and she's frightened???   It was so bad one afternoon, that all of us exited the arena because the mare was totally out of control.  It was thought that lunging might get her "head" back.  I didn't stick around.....I had had enough of her horse taking off and bucking.  Sigh.

Full Speed Ahead!:
Flooding has affected the trails around the barn, but the nicer weather and crowded arena encouraged people to get out.  Obviously, the grass and trails are slippery because of the wet, muddy conditions.  The other day, DH's Mom, TS and SS were out on the trails.  TS and DH's Mom started to walk into the forest, when suddenly they heard the thumping of hooves and SS yelling "WHOA!!!!  WHOA!!!".  For some reason, SS's horse spooked and bolted at a full gallop across the muddy field.   It took a while, but eventually SS was able to convince his horse to stop galloping.  It was very, very scary for both rider and the observers.  The other horses went into high alert, wondering why SS's horse took off in the first place.  Every little thing set them off.  The ride was a short one.  My first thought was why didn't SS execute an emergency half-halt?  Perhaps the slippery conditions would have caused his horse to fall???  He has been using a bit-less bridle lately, and I wondered if he had been using a bit would it have made a difference in slowing his horse down quicker??? 

Too Big!!!
I had a friend from downtown Toronto visit over the Easter weekend.  He had never been near a horse and was excited and afraid at the same time about meeting Gem.  He was totally freaked out when he saw how big Gem is and he tried very hard to mask his nervousness because he knew that Gem might feed off of it.  Initially, he wouldn't touch Gem.  Eventually, he started helping me groom and tack up.  :-)   There were a couple of other riders in the arena when we arrived.  My friend put on a helmet and made himself comfortable on a stool.  Initially, he was nervous as horses passed in front of him, but after a while he relaxed; he was my cheering section when I loped around the arena.  :-)  At the end of my ride, I asked if he wanted to sit on Gem.  He hesitated and I could tell by his colour that he was very nervous, but he said "yes"!  Up he got.  Gem was a gem as usual and I led my friend around a few small circles.  He was mortified at how high up he was and how powerful Gem felt, but when he dismounted and was on the ground, he was so excited that he had faced his fear.  I was impressed!  He could now tell all of his Toronto friends that he "rode" a horse.  :-)

LA took Gem for a spin the other day and texted me this:  " Gem's mouth is lovely and soft.  Good work!"  I was very pleased.  :-)  She also mentioned that she had him in the water and that I should take him out to the pond because he enjoyed getting wet.  OK.  So the next time I went out, DH's Mom and I went to the pond.....and I froze.  I could not believe how flooded the area was and how large the pond was!  Deep breaths.  Deep breaths.  DH's Mom went right in.  Gem and I walked in about 10 feet.....and he splashed and splashed, soaking DH's Mom.  :-)   I was uncomfortable, and when I felt it was too much, I asked him to walk back to the shore....and he did.  In fact, we went in and out 3 times!  This was huge for me in the "trusting your horse" department.   So the next time we went out on the trails with DH's Mom and TS, we went into the pond and continued walking right across!!!  The water was up to his belly.  I think I held my breath the whole way.  lol!  I was elated when we reached the other side.  We stood for a moment on shore and then walked back through the pond without hesitation!  He absolutely loved it.  :-)

DH's Mom purchased a truck a couple of weeks ago and is in the process of purchasing a trailer.  Initially, she was going to purchase a two-horse trailer but she explained to me over after-ride burgers and beer that if she had a three-horse trailer, her, TS and SS could trailer to other equestrian trails in the region and spend the day.  

Me:   "I would be interested in that!!!" 
DH's Mom (very dismissively):   "You don't like water. We are looking for variety and we really want to ride these trails.  There's all sorts of terrain. You couldn't do it."
Me:  "Oh, I see."
DH's Mom:  "You only ride a few hours a week and we ride almost every day."

I was, well....crushed.  After her comments, I immediately felt inadequate.   Since that time, I have listened to DH's Mom, TS and SS talk amongst themselves about how they will have to drive a couple of hours to this trail and how they would have to stay over night at that trail and how much this one costs compared to this one....and on and on. 

Enter Lady's ex-caregiver.  We actually got together this past weekend for lunch.  A conversation we were having about horse trailers (she used to trailer her Percheron to dressage competitions), transitioned into a discussion about her new Clydesdale, a beauty that she got for trail riding on her property.....yes, she owns 100 acres with trails....oh, and her property has access to a couple of service roads that are connected to neighbour fields who have given her permission to ride through....a trail riders paradise it sounds like to me.  And, she has invited me and Gem to come to her place and ride with her!  She has offered to pick Gem up in her trailer and if I wanted I could leave Gem over night so we could trail ride over a weekend (she's only 30 minutes away from my house, so I would go home and then come back in the morning).  Nice, eh?  

The next time I rode with DH's Mom, I told her about my lunch with Lady's ex-caregiver.  I have to say that I felt great satisfaction in telling her about my invitation to ride with Lady's ex-caregiver on her property.  I also felt great satisfaction when I realized that DH's Mom was envious.  This adventure, which she and the others crave, was handed to me.  
DH's Mom and the others may think my capabilities are lacking, but my horse rocks and makes up for my shortcomings.  He's not the one that spooks regularly (SS) or takes off (SS) or rears and sits down when a bird flies out of the brushes (TS) or buck-a-lopes when she's pissed or in heat, which seems to be all the time (DH's Mom).  My Gem is sane.  Hmm, now that I think about it, do I really want to go off site with these guys???

Knowing that I have a friend who would like to ride with me on her trails (how awesome is that!!!??) has rejuvenated my confidence.   So, my goal over the next few weeks is to ride on my own and go in the pond, play in the mud and when the ground dries out, lope in the field to get used to the feel of the ground under foot.   All of these really push me outside of my comfort zone, but when the stars align and I do get to ride at Lady's ex-caregiver's place, I will be prepared! 

Monday, March 17, 2014


Hope everyone is well!  Winter is almost over...really.... it is!!  

There have been moments over the last six weeks where I felt like I was in some sort of vortex.  Stress was a normal state for me.  Here's a snapshot:
  • Work life since January 2014:  membership renewals, closing year-end, office reno and move of department to new space, setting up invoicing for new European office (damn you, VAT!), yearly audit one month earlier than usual, Board meeting, workplace harassment.
  • Personal life since January 2014:  A house that My Husband and I really liked came back on the market so we listed ours on Feb 1st and had 5 showings the two weeks, my mother's caregiver quit three days before I went on holiday mid-February, Lady's caregiver had to transfer Lady to the actual rescue group's farm because she couldn't feed Lady as often as she needed to keep weight on over this cold winter, my mother became very cranky that my youngest sister and I were going away for two weeks (we manage her care), came back from holiday to find that my other sister has convinced my mother that she should be taking care of her and her finances.....what???
There were times when I really thought the top of my head was going to blow off. didn't.  :-)   In fact, as much as there was a lot of stress, there was also awesomeness.

I haven't been on a real holiday since 1997, when My Husband and I did a wonderful tour of Scotland.  Other holidays over the years have been a week here, a week there.  I sort of got used to that routine and when my youngest sister asked me to go on a two-week holiday with her, I was a bit hesitant.  Two weeks?!  Then I gave my head a shake.  :-)  We had a fantastic time cruising around the Caribbean!  She snorkeled and swam with sea turtles, we went to an amazing butterfly farm, we got kissed by dolphins and we rode on a beach.  We ate and drank ourselves silly.  It was exactly what the doctor ordered for both of us.

I'm not that round!'s the wind!!
The riding on the beach was a highlight for me.  It was very windy and the ocean was very rough that particular day, so for safety sake we did not wade out into the water.  Nobody wanted to get caught in an undertow!   The horses were clean,  healthy and happy.  Our saddles were interesting; the guides called them military saddles, sort of an English saddle that had a roll bar on the front that you could grab on to if necessary.   They were very comfortable and light.

My riding at home has been sporadic over the last few weeks, mostly due to weather.  If we weren't experiencing a blizzard, then the temperatures were very low.   Arena riding has been crowded and the stir-crazy horses let their grumpiness show through when being ridden.  Lots of bucking, running and general bad attitude.  Who could blame them?  When a horse (or human) is used to having a work out 4 or 5 times a week and then down to once a week or not at all, of course there is going to be some grumpiness!   Fortunately for me, Gem is quite happy with the routine of only being ridden once or twice a week.  :-)  When I was able to ride, Gem was attentive and responsive and our rides were good.

We actually had a fantastic trail ride the day before I left on holiday. The weather was perfect; -5C, no wind, sunny.  The snow was pristine, very deep and we had to break the trails.  Gem was almost up to his chest in places, but he never wavered.  DH's Mom's feet and stirrups were actually touching the snow in places as we plowed through.  :-)  It wasn't a long ride because it's very tiring for the horses, but it was a great memory to take with me on holiday.  

I have been able to ride three times since I got back the beginning of March.  I feel pretty good.  The sun and warmth of my holiday has rejuvenated me and Gem has kept me centered since I returned. I could have let my sister's actions with my mother while I was away really get to me and take away all the good that my holiday did...but I let it go.  I guess feeling like my life spinning out of control occasionally can be a positive thing because it makes me appreciate the good stuff and savour when things settle down.  This weekend, Gem and I are participating in another Western Dressage clinic.  Should be fun.   Oh, and our house sold and we bought the house we wanted all in the first week of my holiday!  Yay!  Looking forward to a slower pace, warmer weather and sipping a cold beverage by my new pool.  :-)

Have a good week, everyone!!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dressage Goes Western

At the end of January, I participated in a Western Dressage clinic (thanks Calm, Forward, Straight and It's Quarters for Me for the encouragement!).  I had never heard of Western Dressage until LA mentioned it to me in December.  It's still fairly new and is drawing quite a following.  Western Dressage uses the classical dressage techniques to help improve communication, softness and balance between western rider and horse.  There is no specific "western dressage" breed of horse.  Any western rider and horse can participate and benefit. What's not to like?   I can't find many videos of Western dressage, but perhaps this one can give you an idea.....

Boarding in a reining and games barn, I see a lot of sliding stops, gallops at full speed, sharp turns around barrels, etc.  This seemed a little more up my alley.  :-)

It was a balmy -15C day, with just enough wind to blow snow off the roof of the arena. My team mates included Nervous Classmate, who was riding a dead broke lesson horse (this was good because she was anxious about the snow blowing off the roof) and Wade and his crazy Arabian, Dar.    I was a little nervous, not because of the snow or Dar, but because there was quite a crowd observing.  

We had to walk, jog and then do a working/posting trot so that the instructor could evaluate us. Considering I haven't been getting in much riding lately, Gem and I were working together nicely.  As we moved up from a jog to a posting trot, the instructor said "Wolfie, you have a good seat."  Why, thank you!  It was a good way to start the session.  :-) 

There are some advantages to being in a group; you get to learn and observe a variety of things.  For instance, in Wade's case,  he competes in endurance events and his horse only goes forward; Wade does not know how to back up, side pass or turn on the forehand/haunches.  Interesting, eh?  I hadn't really thought of that.  I assumed that if you were competing, you would know at least how to back up.   Also, Wade has been riding for a few years, but does not know how to post.  His understanding of posting was having the horse pitch you forward, popping you out of the saddle and then plop back down in the saddle.  So when the instructor explained about using his legs to post, you could see it was a light bulb moment for him.

Personally, I was glad that the areas that we worked on were mostly at a walk or jog.  I know that I need to know how to lope confidently (I am getting there!!!), but to be honest, Gem and I could jog or post trot all day long; we both love it and have the stamina.   Here's what she helped me with:
  • I shouldn't plan too far in advance of where I want to end up.  When I do that, I turn and look and my shoulders inadvertently move to follow my head, making Gem start to change direction sooner than I want.  So, I should know where I want to end up, but only plan two horse lengths in front of me so that my shoulders stay in the correct position.
  • I tend to ride with my elbows sticking out.  Sigh.
  • I have always wanted to side pass consistently and she broke it down for me.  When side passing right, I tilt Gem's head ever so slightly to the left so I can see his nostril and then lightly bump with my left leg at the girth, keeping shoulders and hands straight.  Easier said then done, but we were able to get a few good cross-overs with nice big movement.  With practice, Gem and I will get it.
  • Turning on the forehand; Gem ends up counter bending regularly (my fault).   Same set up as side pass but I need to keep my left leg just a smidge back from the girth (I was too far back), my right leg ever so slightly on to stop him from bending and bump (not push) so that his hind end moves over.  Again practice, practice.
  • Oh, and I should stop looking at Gem's mane all the time.  :-)
The snow did come down of the roof a couple of times, causing Dar to bucked and dance during the session.  Wade is so used to this behaviour, he just sat through it.  I could tell Nervous Rider was, well, nervous, about the snow and about Dar, but she survived.  :-)  The feedback from all participants was positive.  I can see that Dressage would help in endurance, trail class, reining; using Dressage principals can only help improve the communication between rider and horse no matter what activity you are involved with.   Gem seemed to enjoy the challenge of this clinic and he was very well behaved and light on his feet.  Would I do it again?  Definitely.

Have a good weekend, everyone!!