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Folks, I Feel Like A Big Girl

Tuesday. Oh Tuesday. It’s become my riding day at home since Dusty has agreed to leave work early and get Wyatt which allows me to head straight home and ride before dinner. It’s really nice.

This week could have been a disaster. In fact, I could probably write it up that way if I tried hard enough to focus on the crap moments. You know what though? It wasn’t a disaster. It was actually pretty flipping fantastic.

My attempts to walk away and get a good picture were thwarted by a needy horse who couldn’t stand me being more than 30 inches from him

It started off terribly. The temps had dropped 20 degrees, I hadn’t worked him in exactly one week due to various excuses (sickness mostly but rain and farrier too), and all three horses had been lunatics in the field the last couple of days for no discernible reason.

He was nearly vibrating walking in and when Dusty and Wyatt came tearing out of the house to play with the dogs barking madly and Wyatt screaming in delight, well poor Doofus lost what little control he had. I hurriedly grabbed at the quick release on the cross tie as the whites began to show in his eye and he threatened to come apart at the seams. In the process my precious saddle hit the dirt and I just about lost it.

A scratch on the cantle. It makes me very sad. I conditioned it but now it’s scarred. Sometimes I wish I boarded.

And a month ago this all would have translated to a tense hot mess of a ride. He would have shaked that head, curled behind the bit and cantered off to nowhere all while screaming for his friends. And I would have become tense and frustrated myself. Probably had some tears and or choice words about him and ended it by stomping back to the barn.

But not this time. This time I buckled down, forced the knot to release in my stomach and ride anyway. Even while I walked him to the arena to lunge and the thought “I’m going to die” ran through my head.

He lunged ok. A bit wild but listened promptly to all my transition requests and didn’t pull on the line one time. I could see him thinking about it but he didn’t and I was so proud of him for that.

Trying to eat the tree by the arena gate. I’m not sure it is edible and keep telling him to leave it alone

When we returned to the arena fully tacked up, I felt the energy radiating off him and briefly questioned my life choices but you know what? As soon as I mounted he sighed into the work. It’s like he was waiting for something to do.

All antics stopped. Sure he was still a bit quick and reactive. Sure he tried to canter a few times when all I wanted was a trot but it was all acceptable given his high strung nature that night and not over top like in rides the preceding months.

I’ve found that working on the halt is a great warm up for him. The first time he always tries to blow through me and I have to get a bit more harsh in his mouth than I’d like to back up the halt aid. Then when I ask him to walk he shakes his head in annoyance at the pit stop. As I keep working on the halt eventually he blows out and will halt with only my seat and legs.

Once that happens I can get to the real work. Tuesday I started with leg yields on the straight and then into a 20 m circle. We are getting pretty darn good with the right bend. I’m really starting to get the feel for timing all my aides. A bend with the inside rein, pushing out with my inside leg while providing a slight squeeze on the outside rein to let him know I mean “over” and not “forward” and then a quickly applied outside leg to keep him moving and not stalling out. It works beautifully when I get the timing down.

The left is pretty meh mostly because my left leg still has Alzheimer’s and is pretty useless. I’m beginning to wonder if I had a stroke and didn’t know it. The difference in strength is almost embarrassing, but I’m working on it and I know it is me and not him.

In the past, when he has felt this energized I’ve gotten tense in the trot transition due to his propensity to shoot off like a rocket and ignore me. Or I avoid it and call it a day with walk work. Tuesday I forced myself to put away the past and do it.

What’s your problem?

The first time he started his annoying head shaking that let’s me know he wishes I’d go screw myself and let him be a wild horse galloping on the range. A half halt put him in his place though and I began work in the trot.

It wasn’t perfect. I let him veer off my planned path too many times, he tried to canter some and then eventually used a half halt as an excuse to halt.

But I worked through it, didn’t get emotional, didn’t let him bully me and after a much shorter time than usual he settled and we ended up having some really great work. I felt good enough to pop him over a jump as a reward before working on the canter.

The transitions are getting a lot better. Less rocket launch and more controlled which allows me to start the canter with control versus hanging on for dear life a few laps. He is getting more balance and more strength and able to canter slower and more deliberately which is way more enjoyable to ride.

My biggest issue in the canter at the moment is his decision to take all half halts as a true halt. I need to remember to add leg which is hard when I’m trying to use the half halt to slow but when I don’t he stops. I need to remember to use all my aids. It’s hard folks.

Still a no on a good picture. I told him that if he rolled with my saddle on he’d be glue

I got off him an hour later not feeling defeated as in rides past. I dismounted with elation. I rode. Really rode. I used my brain to work through things. He met me half way and came ready for work. Neither of us are perfect or advanced but we are growing as a pair finally and it is the best feeling. The future is getting brighter and brighter.

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My Heart is Full to Bursting

Tuesday night Gemmie was taking her sweet time licking her bowl out after dinner. Since the grass is now back in full force, they have all been reduced to a mere handful of the ration balancer. She isn’t particularly pleased by this turn of events and has taken to very pointedly licking her bowl for a full 5 minutes after she is done to prove a point that she is starving. You’ll see shortly that is she anything but.

I grabbed H’Appy and Dusty took Pete and we walked them out to the far pasture across the driveway leaving Gem to her anger licking. Wyatt was out playing in the yard. Dusty and I left the pasture and started walking back towards the barn to get Gem and put out the morning feed.

We stopped in our tracks.

No she isn’t pregnant

There was Wyatt leading Gem out to the pasture all on his own without us asking. He had taken it completely upon himself to stop playing, go into the barn, attach her lead, and bring her out for us.

My smile could not have been bigger. The fact that he stopped playing to do chores was mind blowing. The fact that he can get Gem all by himself was mind blowing. Gem is amazing with him. She tolerates his attempts to show her the world, walks in tiny steps avoiding his erratic path, and when he asks her to trot she trots with the teeniest steps imaginable. That mare is worth everything to me. She is irreplaceable.

My heart about burst.

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Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better

On January 25th, I noted a weird crack in the front of H’Appy’s right front hoof. The farrier wasn’t due out for another three weeks, so I shot him a quick text asking if I needed to worry about it. With H’Appy being sound he said to keep it clean and monitor.

At that next appointment he took a look and said it was doing fine. The hoof hadn’t grown much in those three weeks and he recommended I keep it cleaned out and use thrush buster or similar product. With the near constant rain and the mushy ground, it was a hard fight but it never seemed to get any worse and he was sound.

Farrier was due out again this past Friday and I sent him a text making sure he looked at that front right again. It was lingering and I don’t like things that linger.

I guess somewhat fortunately I was feeling like complete and utter crap Friday after a week of little sleep and a worsening sinus infection. It was bad enough that I bailed at work at lunch time to go sleep on my couch. This got me home in time to meet the farrier who I haven’t seen in about four trims now.

I was quite shocked when I walked into the barn and saw this

Ugh. It made my stomach go squee.

That crack had turned into or possibly always had been white line. I’ve never dealt with white line as Gem has amazing feet. H’Appy not so much.

I asked how this happened, mostly for my own education and partly hoping it wasn’t all my fault. Farrier thinks it’s multifactorial as most things are. Mostly, he came with poor nutrition and as a result poor foot health. He is still very very slowly growing out the hoof he came to me with and it is plain old not healthy enough to fight super muddy gross conditions. Add to that the fact that farrier had to pretty aggressively trim that hoof to cut back the elf slipper shape and relieve the mechanical laminitis that made him lame all summer, and now we had an unhealthy and extremely thin hoof wall standing in sloppy mud.

Basically we were screwed and lucky it was only this bad.

He cut it all out and cauterized the surrounding tissue to prevent recurrence. I’m to clean it and use my thrush buster every other day. There is no chalky substance left and with it being an anaerobic infection, getting air to it alone is a “cure” though I’m not taking any chances.

I thought of KC immediately and texted her that H’Appy wanted to be like Pilgrim. Hence the post title. I’m clever, aren’t I?

The good news here is that he is still sound so I can ride now that I’m back to feeling like a human instead of a zombie thanks to sleeping the entire day Saturday. The hoof is clean and hard and required only minimal resection. Farrier warned me though that with the location his hoof may start to separate and spread outside the confines of the shoe. If I see that happen at all, he is to be notified ASAP and will come out and either do pour in pads to get more weight in the sole and off the hoof wall (hard to do with him since he used to be so sole sensitive) or use clips to hold the hoof together (also hard to do with him since this is the shoe he typically rips off and ripping it off with a clip could cause major hoof damage all over again). Since neither option is a good one for him or my sanity if he should have yet another summer off due to a bad right hoof, let’s just all hope this heals uneventfully shall we?

I’ve ordered KC’s magical Wunderhoof and he will be back on a hoof supplement though nothing will be as good as the spring grass and sunshine we are now finally getting. Fingers crossed everyone that this is but a cosmetic blip on our spring radar. I really don’t know what I’ll do if he is out for the season again this year.

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Allowing Myself To Enjoy It

It took 15 years of planning, dreaming, scheming and researching to buy our farm. I had wanted a farm for much, much longer than that. As far back as 10 years old I was drawing barn ideas and pasture plans while in school. Seeing that dream finally come true was….

Deflating.

What?! Am I insane? Quite possibly.

You see, when you work that hard for that long to achieve one simple goal. When everything always led to this one moment. When all your energy, all your decisions, all your major life choices were made in such a way as to lead you here and then it happens, well there is a part of you that goes Now What Do I Do?

Or maybe that’s just me. I’m driven. I work hard to get what I want. I don’t stop until I do.

The view from the top of the big pasture looking back towards the barn, arena and the house. The back pasture sweeps down hill away from the backside of the barn to the fishing pond.

Last year I took all that energy and put it into working the farm. Mowing the pastures obsessively, keeping the barn gleaming, trimming fence line, edging, moving fence lines. I threw myself into being the best farm manager I could possibly be until I started to resent it. Started to burn out.

The winter was a blessing. It was so darn wet and cold that nothing could be done. Last fall’s tall grasses in rested pastures couldn’t be cut. Fence lines couldn’t be weed whacked. Plans to fertilize the big pasture were forced on hold until we hear from Duke so as to avoid wasting money on a condemned part of the property. Everything came to a halt and I could breathe again.

This year, as the pastures dry out and the spring grass comes in, I have vowed to stop. I am allowing myself to have an imperfect farm in order to enjoy this dream of mine. I mowed the big pasture Sunday and looked around at the sheer immensity that keeping up 30 acres of grass with only 3 horses grazing truly is. Our grass is hearty and grows year round. Something always needs mowed.

The pure joy of looking up and seeing your beautiful horses grazing

But I love it. I love the lay of our land. I love the barn and the old windmill. I love the well house and the fishing pond. I love seeing my horses out my windows. Saturday I spent the day sick on the couch and I looked up as Hubby walked Gem back to the pasture after dinner.

There was my horse walking down my winding driveway to eat grass out of my pasture. Everything I ever wanted.

A week of no rain and a healthy dose of sunshine has made the grass start growing again. The bermuda mixed in the fields is still dormant and won’t come alive again until probably May.

This year I’m going to enjoy it. All of it. Yes I will still mow the pastures to maintain their health. Yes I will still clean the barn and fix fences. But not to the point of hating the one thing I’ve spent my entire life working for. The work can wait. Life and happiness can not.

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A New Blog If Interested

Not to annoy my captive audience but I created a new blog. If interested please check it out

Behind the Plexiglass Window

It has nothing to do with horses or my home life and everything to do with my profession and the state of health care in the US.

Daily I am shocked at how people treat health care providers and how little they understand what all goes into their care.

I read an article that 90% of all heath care providers will suffer physical and/or verbal abuse during their career. That’s laughable. I suffer abuse at the hands of my patients daily and I don’t know any provider who doesn’t.

The goal is education. The more you know the better equipped you’ll be to navigate the system when needed for yourself or a loved one.

Give it a try. My hope is that it helps break down the barrier between patient and provider and puts more power in the hands of the patient. After all. No doctor heals anyone. The best we can do is give you tools to treat yourself.

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Huh.

Tuesday night I rode again and added jumps back in as a reward for all the hard work he has been putting in on the flat. My motivation has started to sky rocket now that I have some new tools to play with, specific items to fix and day light to ride in.

Got back on the tractor to drag the arena Monday night. It’s looking so much better than it did last year this time

I expected a few shenanigans, some banshee style screaming and a bit of distraction due to moving the horses out to the field across the driveway that morning. He doesn’t generally like working when he can’t see them.

But you know what I got instead? This:

Who is this nonchalant horse in the cross ties?

Huh.

We walked to the arena with nary a protest. He lined up to the mounting block without trying to eat me. I mounted and he stayed chill while I adjusted myself.

Huh.

He walked on calmly yet forward and swinging through his back. He thought about calling out but shut up on his own and got to work.

Huh.

We worked on the concept of leg yielding out on the circle while capturing with my outside rein. He didn’t protest, fling his head or break to the trot.

Huh.

when I did ask for the trot it was rhythmic and slow. I kept my own posting slow and kept my hands down. I didn’t catch myself raising them to my chin one time. He changed direction smoothly when asked and kept steady without a fight. No drama. He never once leaned on my hands. No rooting. No curling his chin to his chest.

Huh.

I pointed him at the first jump which I had raised a hole higher than I’ve ever set them. He thought briefly about lurching towards it, but a very slight squeeze with my outside rein held him in check and he popped over easy peasy. On the back side he asked to canter but listened politely when I said no, we are trotting. It felt like a true conversation instead of an argument. It felt magical.

I raised them a hole and he still made them seem small

Huh.

I pointed him to the next jump and he barely even attempted to jump. He mostly stepped over it. We then did the bending line to the other one and he jumped it and I let him canter back to the first which he then jumped.

Huh.

I asked for a few more times over both but it was such a non issue that I moved on and asked for the canter. The canter has always been flat, racy and leaning into the turns like a motorcycle. A little wild. This time he stepped up into the canter without angry ears or a tense jaw and we slowly and politely cantered around in a sedate manner.

Huh.

I let him trot again and then walk. Then we halted and I sat there on him with an idiots grin plastered across my face.

This. This is the horse I bought. This is the horse I kept saying was in there. This horse is fun and gives me wings. Those jumps were nothing to him. I wanted to raise them. Me. Scaredy cat me. Wanted. To. Raise. The. Jumps.

Huh.

It’s only a small bit of foam but I didn’t ride long. Gem never had mouth foam.

I didn’t though. Instead I got off and gave him a lot of praise. Sure he needs more than a 20 minute ride to lose weight and gain fitness but not Tuesday. Tuesday he needed rewarded for being the best good boy. He needed to know that by not fighting, by not flipping me and my aides the bird he could be done sooner.

I’ll ride again tonight and plan to extend it even if he is being awesome. He does need to actually work too. I’ll definitely be needing lessons ASAP if he continues like this because I’ll soon run out of ideas on my own and I’ll need to stay slightly ahead of him to stave off boredom. When H’Appy is bored he will find something to entertain himself. It’s never what I would pick.

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Taking Charge

We have a lot of work ahead of us. A lot. On his end and on my end. But you know what? I’m finally reaching a point where I’m committed to putting in the effort to make this whole thing happen for us. I know we can get there. Slower than I had hoped but we will get there.

Sunday morning I set out to ride with four homework items in mind:

  1. Lower my hands and soften quicker when he responds
  2. Slow my post
  3. Have a distinct plan and refuse to let him dictate the ride
  4. Work on true bend through a circle by leg yielding him out while capturing him with my outside rein.

By the end of the hour I could easily check off every single item and felt like I was walking on cloud 9.

Was it easy? Nope.

Was it perfect? Nope.

Did it feel amazing to start with a hot tense mess and end with a slow, relaxed and supple trot through multiple different exercises? Heck yeah it did!

Half grass and half sand but it rides nicely and looks good once freshly dragged

I was proud of myself for being able to apply what she taught me at home alone. He came out ready for a fight. He was an angry, head tossing and tail swishing Appy. We spent a long time at the walk working on the above checklist.

Keep point # 3 in mind I set up two different exercises with ground poles leaving space in the middle for additional work. This way, I always had something to focus on while not drilling the same thing over and over again.

Exercise 1 was two poles set up to create a circle. I worked on this at the lesson and really liked it because it forced me to continue on the same path and focus on the bend. This is where she taught me to really use a leg yield to push him out but making sure I capture him in my outside rein to prevent him trotting or cantering off. It’s hard work for both of us and we were both pretty tired at the end but by golly did he give me some truly wonderfully balanced and bent circles.

Next time I need to spread them farther apart to allow for a larger circle. This size felt too cramped for where we both are at in balance and ability. Also, not sure why I stood so far away to snap this. 

Exercise 2 was a set of trot poles along the long side. Apparently trot poles no longer bother him. For me this is a great exercise to work on straightness after all the bending and using a proper half halt to keep him balanced and rhythmic over the poles.

Exercise 3 was performing a larger circle between the other exercises. This gave me a chance to work on bend and pace while having to control the circle without the benefit of the placement poles and still having visible boundaries.

The three all worked on similar things but were just different enough. I really really enjoyed it.

Tired fat pony. Can we take a minute to drool over his shiny coat? He was so full and blah when I bought him and now it’s coming in like a copper penny. Love.

For the entire ride I bounced back and forth between all the exercises and both directions giving a lot of walk breaks and pats for being a good boy. I also rewarded his work by allowing him to work at large once we had achieved what I wanted through that circuit. So I’d work on the circle over the poles and once I felt he was giving me the slightest bit of what I was asking, I’d let him go straight and we would meander around the arena at large for a while. Not only did he get to take a break from the hard work, but it also kept him moving and working in some fashion. He has this habit of thinking all breaks equals finished for the day and will come back to work really angry and tense. By giving him “breaks” from he hard work by walking or trotting at large and then returning to a new exercise to work again, he kept his head int he game for the entire hour.

At the very end I added a new exercise: go straight over one of the circle poles and continue being straight until the fence, turn right, go around and hit the other pole, stay straight until the fence, turn left etc…

Once he was doing that without any opinions on his end, I called it a day.

We didn’t get to the canter but right now I don’t care. A relaxed and slow trot with him out of my hands is my first goal. Once we get that down better I’ll carry that into the canter.

It’s good to feel like we actually accomplished something together and that I dictated the entire ride without letting him bait me or bully me into straying from my path.