Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy Holidays


Dear fellow bloggers, wishing you all a happy and safe holiday season. See you next year :)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 Recap

Inspired by Emma over at 'Fraidy Cat Eventing, here's a brief recap of my 2014....which was quite action-packed, to say the least.

Jan/Feb: Rode through the winter with lessons at SHS. They didn't have an indoor ring or covered area- I was freezing all the time. Thanks, polar vortex. I met Rori around the end of January, rode her 2-3 times before deciding to officially lease her starting in February.


March/April: I did my first schooling show with schoolmaster Dylan, the TB at SHS in March. While we didn't win anything, it was a great learning experience for me since I only had about 4 months of riding under my belt at that point. Rori and I continued to do lots of trail riding as the weather got warmer and we even did some bareback.



May/June: Got to go to my first hunter pace with Rori- it was TONS of fun and I realized a few things about myself: I love trail riding, I love going fast, and I enjoy being competitive. Hmm, did someone say endurance? In June, I decided to end my lease with Rori for a number of reasons. I'll get into the details one day but it's something that still causes a lot of heartache.



July/August: I started lessons at EEC in July and realized very quickly that only getting to ride 1-2 times a week really sucked. I start shopping for horses to do endurance and look into several prospects. One night in August, this pretty girl caught my eye. I don't think I'll ever be able to put into words how I "knew" she'd be the one but the next morning, I made her mine.


Sept/Oct: Quest arrives home Sept 16 after three weeks in quarantine. After a month of groundwork review and lunging, we go for our first ride together in the arena on October 8; two weeks later we hit the trails.



Nov/Dec: I start to try new and different things so we ride bareback, we ride bitless, we start working with ground poles. Looking forward to what the new year may bring!



Thursday, December 4, 2014

Food for thought: Groundview

I finally got to see someone else other than me ride Quest yesterday.

Last night's rough plan was to do a couple of the early exercises from the 101 Jumping book after lunging and groundwork. J and Nutmeg were already in the arena so being limited on space, we did the best we could. The early patterns in the book have a heavy focus on flat work with a ground pole or two thrown in. I appreciate the focus on good flat work, and while the patterns are incredibly simple they demand that a lot of the foundations be in place. While we nailed going over the pole at a steady pace at walk and trot, we need to work on getting our circles even more round. To help with that, I'm going to place a cone in the center so I have something to visually orient ourselves at first while we practice.

After patterns, I did a couple laps of cantering with Quest. J had been watching us for awhile and gushed over how comfortable she looked. I grinned and said, "You can hop on her if you'd like." "CAN I REALLY?" I got off and handed the reins over. I stood in the center with Nutmeg while I watched J work with my horse. J has taught lessons for years and she helped owned a horse ranch trail ride business at one point in her life. I knew Quest would be in good hands. I watched J put Quest through her paces- transitions, walk, trot, canter, circles, etc. It was interesting to see how my mare responded with someone different on board.

J noted that Quest was very smooth though she seemed to have a ton of unhappy ears. She suggested I talk to her more and give lots of praise (which I do, but I guess I'm not as talkative with her in front of others haha maybe subconsciously trying to slow the decent into horse-crazy girl insanity). She also gave me a couple pointers to think about:
  • Setting Quest up better for canter departures- This is something I really need to get more consistent about. When I set Quest up correctly, she feels great, balanced, and forward with that slight bend to the inside. When I don't, Quest shows her displeasure quite visibly with resistance though being the awesome mare that she is, she complies but everything feels all over the place. A big part of this is my new-ness to riding but I shouldn't forget that I am a RIDER and NOT a passenger. 
  • More rein contact- I prefer to ride with loose reins and light hands and while there is nothing entirely wrong with that, I understand the need to fine-tune that balance where there is some contact to support and communicate. Like canter departures, I've had my good and bad moments. If I do it right, it's most telling at the canter and I feel her balance nicely in my hands. The best visual analogy I've been able to find (I'm a very visual person when it comes to learning) was a shopping cart rolling on a slight downhill. The amount of weight should feel similar to that. 
I got back on one more after J hopped off to give her suggestions a try and while work is needed, I could start to feel a difference. The issue is not ignorance, it is consistency. I'm happy that I've been learning as fast as I have been but last night was a good reminder that I can't get complacent. I'm going to take these suggestions to heart and work on them during the winter on my own. Once the weather gets nicer, we're going to sign up for those lessons! Having a trainer on the ground will help us tremendously; it's the least I can do by becoming a better educated  and fair rider.


On a different note: Just a couple hours left before entries for my free art raffle close! Right now you have a 25% chance of winning haha

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Free jumping

I didn't have a ton of time last night after trimming for a proper ride so we tried something new.




I was half expecting a bit more fumbling and figuring out on Quest's part but she looked like a natural for her first time. Her movement was fluid, efficient; she was not afraid and moved boldly with ears perked. We approached it at both a trot and canter. She kept a good pace before and after. It was really good for me to learn how to keep myself a little behind her drive line to move her forward while at the same time keeping just enough pressure on to keep her out to the jump. After about 17 minutes of trotting, cantering, and direction changes, she was huffing and puffing away so we winded down and finished the night with some handwalking (while reviewing some groundwork) to cool down and catch her breath., which she did 6 minutes later.

All in all, I'm thrilled with how she did and more importantly she looked like she enjoyed it. There was no ear pinning, tail swishing, or anything adverse that would suggest otherwise. I think doing some jumping with her is a very real possibility.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Nov Review/Dec Goals

November In Review:
  • More trail rides: Completed! We did 4 trail rides and Quest did great. We found a couple of things to work on which will be addressed in next month's goals.  
  • Transitions: Completed. Trot-canter-trot, as expected, was no big deal and accomplished quite early in the month. 
  • Work on flying lead changes: Nope. Bad weather led to lack of space in the arena to actually do anything safely. We'll shelf this one for later on in the spring.
  • No-stirrup November (at least one entire ride stirrup-less): Completed! Not one but 4 rides, 3 of them being bareback in fact.
  • Start trimming: Completed. I'm trimming every other week to start, so that was twice this month. Since I'm still learning, I take off less than a professional trimmer so the shorter frequency works out well so far. I'm starting to get more comfortable handling the rasp and working with a hoof stand. I'll take some pictures and do a hoof post sometime.
December Goals:
Anticipating colder weather and limited arena space to work with, a lot of this month's goals are smaller in "scale" but still important.
  • Handwalking trails- Weather pending. We've done two solo handwalks on the trail so far and I'm seeing a ton of improvement already. I got some great feedback on how to address Quest's pushy behavior and I tried out one method which seems to be working really well for her so far. I'll detail it in a later post sometime. 
  • Trotting in hand- Quest actually had no idea how to do this when we started out and seemed totally confused at first. Since this just might be pretty important skill for a future endurance horse, so why not learn. Plus it's handy when I get cold and need to jog to warm up. I only started working on this last week and mareface has caught on fast and we can trot straight lines and circles though I want it consistent. And if the footing allows, we're going to do it on the trail too.
  • Neck reining: Another future endurance horse-skill thing that would be handy to have I have found myself really wanting to ride one-handed too. 
  • Ground pole work: I secretly (not so secretly now) want to cross train Quest to do some jumping. Not knowing her history with it, we're going to start with basic patterns from the 101 Jumping Exercises book.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

DIY Bareback Pad

Once I figured out that Quest was fine with bareback pads, I started researching everywhere for the perfect one. I tested out T's pad last month with the intentions of purchasing it if it worked well after a test ride. While the pad functioned as intended, jerry-rigging the straps once was incredibly annoying to deal with (I don't want to imagine doing it again) and the pad itself was much too long for short-backed mare Quest. I could foresee a bad rub a coming.

Options on hand exhausted, I decided to go shopping. Good news was I found a ton of options, the bad news was I found too many options. I needed more time to shop but wanted something temporary to use...being the craft-sy person that I am, I decided to make my own. Convinced that I wasn't the first person to think of this idea, I scoured the interwebz for a tutorial and surprisingly I found NOTHING at all. Only thing I read was someone using stirrup leathers to strap a regular AP pad to a horse- it didn't seem comfortable nor safe. Not to be daunted, I came up with my own design!


The materials for this are minimal. All you need is an AP English saddle pad (I picked the thickest one from my pad stash- it's thicker than the normal cotton pads and has a waffle cloth so it breathes better), nylon webbing (I used about 2 yards), needle, and thread (I suggest upholstery/nylon thread- it's the TOUGHEST stuff you can buy). I used chalk for making marks on the pad and webbing to know where to cut and make billet holes- it rubs out easily and doesn't stain materials. The lighter was used to burn the edges of cut webbing so it doesn't fray. I won't bore everyone to death with every minute detail but the construction is pretty simplistic once you have everything planned out and stay neat with your hand stitching. Yes, this was done by hand. I think the entire thing might too thick/cumbersome to fit through a sewing machine! I had some leftover nylon from a previous project that I was able to attach as a grab strap.


Most of the bareback pads sold nowadays use a cinch with latigo straps. I wanted to make billet straps that worked with the girth that I use on my saddle so I used two separate pieces of webbing. The holes in the nylon were punched with a stove-heated nail. I preemptively made some fleece covers to slip over the billet straps and buckles in case of rubbing but they turned out to be unnecessary and the pad was fine just as is.

Test ride...and success!
I've got quite a bit of experience working with nylon webbing and sewing but this project is definitely within range of crafty beginners. Hopefully this inspires others to try and make their own bareback pads!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ups and Downs

The past week has been bitterly cold and the freezing temperatures have created cement-like conditions in the outdoor section of the indoor/outdoor arena. Being limited to half of our usual riding space and plus sharing the arena with 1-2 other riders, we were much too limited on space to work comfortably and safely on things that require more room to maneuver, e.g.; flying lead changes. Not to be daunted, I decided to tackle another goal I had in mind. About a month ago, I had hopped on Quest bareback and just sat there for a few moments before getting off. While she did not do a single thing wrong the entire time, her confusion was obvious. Not knowing her history with bareback, I decided the only fair thing to do was to transition to her it slowly using a bareback pad first. My friend T was awesome enough to bring her pad to the barn for me last week for us to try out.


I introduced the bareback pad to Quest, letting her sniff and explore. Once her curiosity was satisfied, I tossed it on her back and took it off several times with zero reaction from her- I wasn’t surprised but hey, you never know. When it came time to girth up though, I realized that I had NO idea how to do up the straps. I’ve used bareback pads before and they have always been pretty straightforward nylon buckles. T’s pad had one extremely long nylon girth strap with D-rings; there was no cinch, nothing. After repeatedly trying to decipher how the straps worked and even enlisting the help of a western-savvy rider who was a regular bareback pad user to no avail, I resorted to use A’s pad instead that used a normal cinch and latigo set-up.

All cinched up, we walked into the indoor where I tugged, yanked, pulled at the pad. No response. I moved over to the mounting block and leaned over with my weight, wiggling around. Nothing. I hopped on. There was an ear flick and nothing. Cued her to walk forward, and off we went cruising along like old bareback pros. Once we both got comfortable, we had some fun with a set of ground poles in the arena that we walked and even trotted over. I was super happy to note Quest’s ears were pricked forward and up, she’s taking to working poles well so far. We ended the ride with a calm Quest and a happy me- will definitely add bareback sessions to our winter rides. Now to go shopping for a pad!

On Saturday after our usual lunge warmup, Quest and I headed out for a handwalk on the trail while A had a riding lesson. It was the first time that I had taken her out on just a lead since her meltdown about a month ago and also our first time doing it solo. We couldn’t go too far due to time constraints but were able to get quite a distance away from the barn to see tremendous improvement with zero calling out and minimal fuss. Quest got worried when she heard some roofing workers banging and nailing away on a house in the adjacent neighborhood. We stood there for a bit until she figured out nothing was about to eat her. After we got back to the barn, we tacked up and met A and J for the trail ride. We decided to do a trail around a lake that I had never been on before but was familiar to our trail escorts.

Wind everywhere
 Quest and I started off in the back at first then moved into the middle behind J when we started to trot a couple stretches since Smokey tends to be a little meh at first. Quest was ratable and responsive and walked nicely when asked. The path to get to the lake crosses a parking lot and Quest walked briskly and seemed quite eager to lead so J let us take the lead and we did a bit of trotting along the lake. We paused for a moment to wait for A who was doing some walk work with Smokey. While waiting, I could feel Quest telling me she was ready to GO. A caught up, she gave the okay for us to all canter and we headed out. I'm not sure exactly what happened next but one moment A was in the saddle, the next she was on the ground. She wasn't hurt fortunately but we all dismounted to wait.

When I got off, Quest did NOT want to stand still at all. She wanted to move but of course we weren't going to do that. She started to get into my space to try and move forward. When I reprimanded her and made her back up out of my space, she got more worked up. When we finally mounted, Quest's energy was still up and keeping her at a walk was a challenge. I did not want to keep hauling on her mouth so I did half-halts and sat deep. She tried to jog off several times so I put her into tight circles and only let her straighten out when she settled into a ratable walk. Back at the barn, I took tack off of my lathered mare (she did have nice sweat patterns though) and got out the rope halter and lunge line to review groundwork until Quest remembered that staying out of my space REALLY MEANT staying out of my space and I had a much calmer and happier mareface at the end.

While things ended on a positive note, Quest's pushy attitude when waiting on the trail was definitely not permissible. Granted her bundle of nerves could have been due to fact that it was her first time on that particular trail, being right by the highway with all the traffic, seeing the lake for the first time, etc...I don't think it's ever a good reason to allow for bad manners. On the bright side, I don't think I have to worry about Quest being lazy on the trail, we do need to work on getting her energy down and relaxing more. The tight circles worked really well while I was in saddle but when I'm out of the saddle, I was thinking about unclipping the reins and lunging her if there is enough room on the trail (I have a halter-bridle so there is a ring to clip to so it won't be on her mouth/bit). Plausible? Any suggestions for things I can do with her on the trail?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Feeling the burn

Halfway through No-Stirrup November! I've been ever diligent and doing my part to torture myself as expected. I did a ton of no-stirrup at the walk and trot last Friday night. My friend T asked me if I had ever done it at a canter which I said no, but of course I was game to try. Quest cantered, I stayed on, my thighs and core burned. Success.

All the no-stirrup work recently has re-inspired me to work on getting her more comfortable with bareback riding. Couple weeks ago I hopped on after a lunge session just to see- while Quest wasn’t rude, she was wary so I stayed on until she showed the slightest bit of relaxation, hopped off and gave lots of praise. T is letting me try out her bareback pad this week, so super excited to see if it works out for us. 

We had gorgeous weather again on Saturday, beginning to feel quite spoiled. When I got to the barn as per usual, I lunged her first before tacking up. The plan was to ride in the indoor for a little bit and then head out for trails.  I mounted up, asked her to move out and Quest started wiggling all over the place- nothing dangerous but I never felt her SO worked up before and questioning every request. After double/triple checking that her feistiness wasn’t anything tack or rider related, we settled to do a bit of walk and trot. Only when I felt her giving me her full attention that we headed out. On the trail she was great and even did some leading too.  


 After the trails, I wanted to see if Quest’s wiggling stemmed from doing arena work or needing a change of scenery. I decided to test the latter so we went into the full outdoor arena to see if it helped. Quest settled right down to work for the whole 30 minutes, listening and compliant. I also got a nice lower leg and core workout doing a ton of 2-point at the trot. That plus all the no-stirrup I did the night before did my balance a ton of good but left me feeling pretty wiped out.

So yeah, pretty sure Quest HATES working in the arena if we are inside two days in a row, but a change of scenery/being outdoors seems to improves her attitude. This is extremely telling and I’m taking this information to heart so I don’t find myself with a very arena-sour horse by the end of the winter. My current ride schedule has been 3-4 days a week with a day in between rides- it has been working out great and she’s always been eager to work every time.

Mares.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Leader

With all the rainy weather lately, I felt so spoiled with the goregous fall weather this past weekend. Of course we had to hit the trails. Which we did. Twice.


The mareface was so good both times. We went out with a different rider/horse each time but did the same trail so it was very interesting for me to see the difference it had on Quest. On our first time out, my friend J led the way and Quest had the easy job of following another horse. Mareface did great overall- not even a flinch when some startled deer went bounding through the forest, though she got a little excited at one point while we riding in an open field and J began cantering her horse. I asked for a trot and Quest moved to canter instead and I had to be quite firm with my hands to bring her energy down. She was perfect for the rest of the ride.


The second time out was with A and Smokey. Smokey has had less experience leading on the trail so Quest had to step up to the plate a few times and tackle some obstacles. She was hesitant at first and protested, even popping a small rear but I kept my cool and just kept working with her- backing up, circles, getting her head low/relaxed, giving her rest and releasing pressure the instant she answered my request correctly. There was one sticky area that after repeated efforts to ride past, it became a better choice to dismount and lead. Quest followed me with no issues and I was able locate a convenient rock to remount.

There was a large construction crane parked right by the entrance to a trail head which caused some angst with Smokey and Quest. There was protest and I half-considered getting off again when suddenly Quest decided the crane wasn't a creature ready to eat her and moved right along past at a trot without a second glance. Since forward was the right answer, I let her move along down the trail for a bit, all the while heaping tremendous amounts of praise. Her ears were forward and I could tell she was feeling good. I brought her down to a walk and patted her neck so proud! I intended to end the ride on that note but Smokey had decided that being left behind wasn't too fun and followed us in. Quest calm and quietly proceeded to lead the rest of the ride until it was time to head home.


When we got back, I decided to ride past the gate and trot away from the barn to gauge Quest's energy and reaction. This will be necessary since part of the tentative conditioning route I have mapped out for us for the spring will involve going past the barn at least once. Poor mareface was definitely confused at first but once I insisted that I was dead serious, she moved willingly. I let her move out a bit before stopping and heading back, tons of praise and neck pats.

Despite the hiccups along the way, I'm thrilled with how the ride went. We did about 4 miles total and it was very informative to see how Quest behaves with different riders/horses out on the trail. Quest feeds off of that confidence and when asked to step up to lead she can do it, though hesitantly. Not knowing what prior trail experience she has had, I'll chalk it up to lack of confidence which is something that will improve with more rides and time.

So far so good!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Oct Review/Nov Goals

October In Review:
I didn't really set any particular goals for October because well, Quest was still quite a mystery to me so the month was less structured and more "go with the flow".

  • First ride US: Completed on 10/8! 
  • First trail ride: Completed like a boss on 10/18, so very proud of her!
  • 2pointober Challenge: Completed with improvement of 2mins to 5:20 mins. The benefits of this exercise are so worth the pain haha I'm planning on doing this every ride as warm up.  

November Goals:
These are probably pretty tame/vague goals but I still don't know Quest's potential and experience with certain things so I think its only fair to stick what has worked last month which was going with her pace.

  • More trail rides, maybe 3-4 (weather pending): We started one yesterday but the route was blocked by construction early on. While short, Quest led a part of the ride with ears forward, feeling confident and calm- I was SO proud. We trotted a section of the trail and she immediately came down to a walk when asked. I'm excited to see how she fares with more trail exposure. 
  • Transitions: Particularly trot-canter-trot. She likes to go straight to a walk when I request a downward transition. We nail all other transitions though so I think this goal is quite within reach. 
  • Work on flying lead changes: We experimented with this the end of last week. I'm pretty sure Quest knows it from WP show training so I'm thinking its mostly on me since I've never gotten to ride one properly. Quest can balance herself quite well counter-cantering though! 
  • No-stirrup November: It's been quite awhile since so the plan is to start with 5-10 minutes and work my way up to at least one full ride...oy vey, my thighs...
  • Start trimming!

The tiniest forelock braid ever

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Of Hooves and Teeth

Quest got her teeth floated yesterday. The barn has a dentist come out twice a year but my friend C opted to get someone of her own choice to do her gelding since it lined up better with their show season schedule and as a certified vet tech, she is able to assist and watch the procedure instead of paying extra for an assistant.  Quest wasn’t having any problem eating or any issues with the bit but since I knew absolutely nothing about her health history I felt it was more prudent (and the responsible thing to do) to get someone to at least take a look.  The main barn dentist had left the week before Quest arrived and he wouldn’t be back until the spring. C told me about the visit a couple weeks ago and asked if I wanted to sign on. Plus we could split the call fee so, win-win.  


I wasn’t able to be there in person because full-time job, but C was awesome enough to fill me in on the details. The dentist was confirmed that Quest is definitely 9-10 years old (she had registered papers so no huge surprise there, but still). She’s got soft teeth so no huge work was needed when floating. She has had her teeth done before but not in about 2-3 years so it was a VERY good thing I got them done yesterday. (And she apparently doesn’t need a ton of tranq to relax which is nice, no small elephants here.)

This little tidbit of information is useful in helping me piece together her history. Last documented evidence was a couple of video clips of Quest in a western pleasure show with big name professional trainer (Owner #1?) in 2009. Assuming that he did routine health work, this means that Quest probably made her way to Owner #2 in New Jersey in 2010-2011. If she spent 2-3 years in Owner #2’s care and didn’t lose her training (from what I found through stalking research, he doesn’t seem to know very much about horses)…. then Quest could be one of those horses you can toss out into pasture for months/years and get right back on again. It’s all speculation of course. I’ve contacted both owners the weekend I bought her and haven’t heard a word since then.

Ugh, anyways. Naturally I gave her the night off from riding yesterday so we just lunged and did groundwork. While cleaning out feet, I noted Quest’s frogs are shedding and need to be cleaned up a bit. I don’t have a hoof knife yet though so I did some looking around online when I got home and the selection is enormous... I mean, seriously.

Maybe I should just get a set with EVERYTHING...
So barefoot folks- any suggestions for hoof knives based on experience? I just need something to start with!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Happenstance

Going to the barn after work during the weekdays is a bit of an endeavor in it of itself. I battle rush hour traffic which can be 20 minutes on a good day and almost 35 on a bad day.

Friday night was a good day. I made great time with minimal traffic and arrived at the barn all ready to ride and get my 2pointober time. It had been raining and thunder storming earlier all week and FINALLY cleared up so I was itching to get some saddle time...but you all know what happens to the best laid plans.

When I got to the barn I noticed a farrier's truck was in the yard, we have a few that come by the barn so I didn't think too much about it. I walked into the barn to grab my grooming bag and lead rope and saw the guy just starting work on a horse. I introduced myself and it turns out that it was R, the person that I asked to trim Quest's feet earlier in the month! I was out of town on business when he came to work on her so I missed meeting him then.


I had called R based on my friend T's recommendation and he turned out to be just as nice as T said he was. I told him that I was getting into distance riding and interested in learning how to barefoot trim eventually or at the very least, become more educated about taking care of feet. R immediately offered to let me watch him work on Celita, an old 20yo mare who had shoes on her fronts and barefoot on her hinds. R explained everything while working and was very informative. He stopped often to let me touch and feel what he was doing. To help train my eye, he would "quiz" me by sighting heels for balance. If the heels were not even, I had to tell him which side was off. I'm glad to say I was right every time! I think it does help that I work on costumes that require me sculpt and shape in 3D but still, it was pretty encouraging to know that I was seeing what he was seeing. After working on Celita and putting her away, we talked for a bit more and R gave me a bunch of references for places for me to get supplies and offered to give me some nippers, hoof knife, and a pair of used leggings the next time he was around if I still didn't get any by then. I asked him a bunch of questions and it was encouraging to hear that I was on the right track in my understanding of things.


When I checked my watch, I only had about 40 minutes left before the barn "closed" for the night. I was so engrossed in watching and learning that I lost track of time! I profusely thanked R for his time and help and excused myself to get Quest out of her stall. It was too much of a rush for riding so I opted to just lunge and do groundwork. While I had Quest in the cross ties for grooming, R offered to check how her feet were doing 4 weeks after his trim. He confirmed my thinking that she was doing fine and would be okay with waiting a couple weeks more before another major trim. So far only her right hind needs a bit of touching up on the heels which I'll do this week. Other than that, she's looking and doing great feet-wise!

Before R left, he gave Quest a nice head rub and commented on how calm and happy she looked. My friends told me she was an angel for the trim but I guess she still was pretty wired back then. R probably noticed a huge difference with her demeanor, and it was enough to say something.

"She is a lucky girl- she knows she's found a home " R said.  I could only grin in reply.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Superstar Quest

A and I helped out our friend J with barn chores in the morning and we decided to venture out for Quest's first foray with me on the trails.


She was simply AMAZING. We encountered a ton of obstacles on our ride. 

Highway tunnels.
Manhole covers.
Bikers.
According to J, apparently the manhole cover creates a ton of angst with most horses that go by it- Quest gave it a look and walked on like it was nothing. The biker was a little more worrisome for her but she handled it fine. We did about 2.5 miles in 45 minutes. Quest still had plenty of forward. She does great following in the back and staying the middle. I didn't get a chance to see how well she leads yet but it'll be something for later. I'm already quite pleased with how she did today. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Groundwork Boot Camp

Quest is a fast learner- it's good because she's easy to teach but bad because it's just as easy to undo everything that was taught. In order for us to stay safe though, I need her absolute trust in me to make decisions for us. As I've spent more time with Quest, I know she is sensitive but that opens her up for bonding deeply if I prove myself to be a consistent and fair leader. That means dealing with what caused her meltdown involves work on her manners but also me being even more attentive to how I was communicating with my body.

After doing some thinking and reading, I made a few changes to the way I did groundwork last night and I'm happy to say I like what I see so far. I first changed out the tack I was using- switching her nylon halter for a rope halter with knots. It turned out to be essential for our success yesterday.

We started with the very basics; standing still, nose forward at all times, attention on me. A was working with Smokey in the arena so I very purposefully positioned ourselves with Quest's back facing them. I then told her to stand and let the lead rope hang slack between us. Any time her nose pointed anywhere but forward I wiggled the rope. Quest caught on quickly and there was licking and chewing. Good girl. After letting her process, I gave release and we walked to another spot in the arena and did it all over again. Each time I increased the distance a bit more. We then worked on getting her to be more attentive to my personal space when led. She tends to crowd me when we stop so I worked on being more vigorous with my back up. This is something we'll need more work on.

Finally we did some lunging; started off simple with just sending out and moving at a walk. I kept her on a smaller circle at first to work on maintaining pressure and keeping Quest focused on me instead of hanging out at the end of the line. As for myself I focused on minimal feet moving and maintaining my footprints in a 2 foot area. If Quest drifted too close, I held my ground and twirled the end of the lead rope at her shoulder to send her back out. When she stayed consistent at the walk in a larger circle, we moved into the trot and then finally canter. Repeated all in both directions. At first she was a little sticky but once she got steady, I changed things up with tons of transitions. Quest totally locked onto me, that inner ear was completely focused on my every move. So I clucked, I kissed, I said walk. She trotted, she cantered, she walked...on the dime. I was so pleased- it was the first time I felt that in tune with her too. We ended the night with a little riding just at a walk and trot because it was raining/misting so half the arena was sopping wet and I didn't want to chance cantering in questionable footing.

I'm planning to resume lessons since it's been almost a month since my last one. I don't ride badly but I think it's only fair that I keep improving myself to be a better rider for Quest's sake.

Fooling around. Quest is not as amused.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Weekend (Mis)adventure

Quest has been doing impressively well undersaddle so I was curious how she would fare on the trail handwalking. After finishing up our usual lunge session Saturday afternoon, we headed out for a exploratory outing with A and her lease horse Smokey. The route we took is the go-to trail used by everyone at the barn. It goes a few miles in either direction and follows an abandoned rail track that cuts across several streets with local traffic so it makes for an interesting desensitization challenge.

We decided to do a 1.5 mile jaunt and Quest did great on the walk down. She was much more interested in the shrubbery along the trail then the fellow trail users, cars, construction saws, two squirrels and one rabbit that we encountered on the path. Along the way, we did some whoa, backing up, and yielding to keep the mareface brain focused on me. A and I alternated having Quest and Smokey lead and no problem there. Or so I thought.

After a grazing break, we headed back along the same way. About halfway home, one section of road had an alternate route that cut through thick dense brush so A led the way first with Smokey. They disappeared from view when promptly...mareface meltdown. Quest started getting high headed, pacey, and antsy- it was the most worked up I've ever seen her become. I moved her feet, intending to send her a few circles around me to get her brain back. Somehow in the midst of her meltdown, she managed to get the lead rope looped around her hind leg with me holding the other end. She was getting more agitated and pulling hard, threatening to kick. Two choices immediately came to mind- I could continue to hold on or I could let her go. Loose horse or broken legs and risk injury to myself as well?

I decided the former. I yelled a warning to A and let go. The rope whipped out of my hand and Quest took off down the trail around a corner and out of sight to escape the rope around her leg. I jogged after her, heart in my throat as my mind raced to figure out what I could do next. I turned the corner and saw Quest standing on the path waiting for me, lead line dragging harmlessly behind her on the ground. No cuts, bumps, scrapes. Thank goodness. "Hey Quest!" I kept my voice bright and happy and stood in place while gesturing my "come in" signal that we used for lunging. She eagerly walked up to me in ready compliance. I couldn't help but pet her and weakly grin in relief as I picked up the lead and we headed home without further incident. I made sure to lunge a few circles and did some groundwork refresher before I put her in for the day.

So yeah, guess I finally figured out Quest's quirk. I've done a bit of reading and research- her actions are case study herdbound. It makes sense because she been bounced from at least 3 different owners (that I know of) before me and the lack of consistency has caused her to seek other horses for comfort due to lack of leadership she's seen in people. Our history together doesn't go very far obviously as I've only been working her for 2-3 weeks so it's of utmost importance that I continue to stand my ground confidently.

This doesn't change how awesome I think Quest is overall but it's something we will REALLY need to work on if we ever want the option of doing trails solo. We're going to take a couple steps back and work on building her confidence in me as a leader with increased emphasis on groundwork and respecting space. I think the fact that Quest stood still and waited for me while loose on the trail was rather telling- I'm glad that she went only as far as felt she needed to escape the rope but once that pressure was gone, she readily came right back to me when invited. It was definitely a huge trust thing on her part. The escapade does put a damper on things but so far it's nothing that can't be solved with patience and time.

We've got a whole winter ahead of us to work hard.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

First REAL ride

All the hard work and patience finally culminated into a bright and shining moment last night.

While Quest was listed being able to W/T/C undersaddle, I wasn't about to take anyone's word for it without checking that the basics were in place before hopping on her without a care in the world. It's not a matter of trust but more making sure there were no gaping holes in her training that would put either of us (and those around us) in serious danger. Trust me, it took a HUGE amount of self-control to keep my feet on the ground several weeks ago when I lunged her for the first time. I dreamed everyday since then about riding that floaty trot and canter.

On Monday after our usual lunging session, I tacked her up in full reglia for the first time- bridle, saddle, and breastplate. In the weeks before, I had been slowly introducing each piece of tack to her and adjusting for fit and observing if anything caused a reaction, initially and on the lunge. No problems so I did the usual "tests" with lateral flexions, giving to pressure. NBD. I bounced the stirrups against her sides and put weight on them, nothing. Repeated everything and each time Quest was great. I was able to end that night sitting in the saddle with my friend A holding the lead. Poor mareface wasn't entirely happy with the bit but was a lady despite it all- I made sure to switch it out with another snaffle I had for next time.

Yesterday, I didn't hope for too much but definitely wanted to see how Quest would do with being ponied and lunged on the line with me on board. Baby steps, right? Groomed, lunged, and tacked- I mounted up and with A holding the lead, we went for a pony ride. It was entirely uneventful (Quest looked politely bored? if I can describe it as that), which was exactly what I wanted. I asked A to lunge us so I could get a feel for her trot, around and around we went posting away. I asked A if she wanted to hop on, so we switched and the supermare gave her a pony ride too. I was already very pleased with her but I couldn't help but wonder how would we do off the lead.

Only one way to find out.

I mounted back up and we set off again. We walked, did turns, direction changes. We trotted, did more turns, direction changes. We halted. We walked. Perfect perfect perfect. I cued for a trot once again to finish the night on, intending to leave cantering for another day when I must have moved my outside heel a bit further back than I wanted to because Quest immediately moved up into the most AMAZINGLY SMOOTH canter and on the correct lead. We took a lap around the indoor, before we switched directions. This time (intentionally) I cued and again smooth canter, correct lead for another lap. 

I'm thrilled with how things went last night. Quest never felt rushy or out of control and I was able to ride her with a loose rein using mostly my legs to steer. The changed bit fits her great so far and she went in it happily. The Thorowgood doesn't seem to cause any problems for either of us yet so we might be all set tack-wise for now.  And yes to answer the burning question, I DO have video but you all have to hang tight until I get the files from A, sorry haha

We're still going to take things slow, next part is including some handwalking on the rail trail in our weekend sessions until we can't go out any longer. This winter we'll work on introducing trail obstacles and desensitizing. Depending on how that goes, we might be set to do some LSD conditioning by the time spring arrives. I'm probably getting ahead of myself, but it's hard to NOT be excited.

I still can't believe how lucky I got with this mare.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Lucky

Quest continues to impress. My rough plan for last night was to do more groundwork and toss a saddle blanket on her couple times to see how she fared. Well, we ended up doing more than that. 

Mareface was quite happy, bright eyed and alert to see me when I got to the barn. The BO's wife met us while we made our way to the main barn to give me her registration, Coggins, and bill of sale. I know my ownership started a month ago but for some strange reason, the act of finally getting her papers, holding them in my hand, made it feel like she was really officially mine.

I wanted to give her a thorough grooming and check out her body condition before anything else so she got stuck in the cross-ties. She was SO much better this time. A little wiggling at first but after a couple of reminders to stand, she indeed stood like a lady.


I took the opportunity while grooming to run my hands all over her. She could have had a mild case of rain rot in the past that healed up because when I started to curry and brush, lots of flakey dust came up and I was able to feel some build up in areas behind her elbow and neck. It could just be lack of routine grooming though- I want to assume the latter. Her hooves are solid but are in much need of a trim, quite evident from contracted heels. The chip in her LH isn't bothering her mobility-wise but I want to get that addressed sooner rather than later so she's due to get them done professionally early next week. I still want to learn how to trim but for the first couple sessions I'm calling in an expert and will do the in-between maintenance myself.

She was so well behaved that I decided to see how she'd fare with saddle pad and saddle. While I had the DeSoto and SS on hand, I stumbled on an used Thorowgood Maxam online offered at a price that I couldn't pass up. I figured I didn't have anything to lose by at least giving it a try as a starter saddle. It also came with Compositi strirrups, cages, webbers, and a nice shaped dressage pad so if worse came to worse and the saddle didn't fit, I at least got some tack that I needed.

I got out the saddle and after letting her check it out first, I placed it on her back- checked the fit, checked her for discomfort. I put it on and took it off several times, making sure she was totally okay with it. Quest turned her head to look at me, maybe wondering why I couldn't make up my mind if I wanted it on or off! Other than that, she was totally chill. I threw on a saddle pad and placed the saddle on top. She could have cared less. How would she handle me girthing her up? I watched to see if she would swing her head to bite or pin her ears. All she did was flick an ear in my direction. Okay, I LOVE this mare.

I wanted Quest to get a chance to see indoor/outdoor arena while it was dark out so we did some groundwork while my friend A was riding. I decide to keep the saddle girthed up on her for observation. Quest was a bit distracted, granted new arena conditions and Smokey was still new to her, she listened to me decently enough. After A left, I decided to do some lunging and...holy wow, smooth trot is smooooooth! It took so much self-control to not hop on her right then and there.

The entire night my friends kept commenting how lucky I got with Quest and how lucky she was that I was the one who picked her up. All things considered, I'm thrilled with her so far. Yes there is still a part of me waiting to find out why she was dumped at that auction. Sometimes perfectly great horses do end up there at no fault of their own. And so far Quest has exceeded everyone's expectations- She was quite a little fireball when she arrived but she settled down so well in just a week. My friend T was shocked how great she was for me last night. I really did get quite lucky.  

We were trying to take selfies...totally did not expect her to do this hahah

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Meeting Quest

I finally got to meet my horse yesterday, exactly a month since I bought her.

Quest got moved to the barn last week while I was on vacation with my family. My friends kept an eye on things while I was away and turned her out in the round pen for some exercise but didn't do much with her other than that. So I set out yesterday after work to finally meet my girl, still not exactly sure of what I would find but hoping for the best.

When I arrived at the barn, I finally allowed myself to feel the rush of excitement I had been trying to keep down all day long. Lead line in hand, I walked up to Quest's stall and was immediately greeted by dainty muzzle and expressive doe-like eyes. She breathed me in and I said hello in turn, talking quietly and softly as the biggest smile spread over my face. I worked the latch open on her stall door and stepped inside. Quest politely backed up to make room for me and I scratched her neck as I fastened the lead line and walked outside to see her in better light. Everything about Quest screams Arab. Her size is best described as petite but she is SO solidly built.

Asides from turnout and her stall, she didn't get much of a chance to see the rest of facility so we went on a small tour. We first checked out the indoor/outdoor arena which gave me a chance to see how she reacts to new environments with me by her side. I was glad to see that she is curious but not fearful. I showed her the corners, the sticky parts by the fences outside- she took all in stride and moved on without a second hesitation. Since we had more room to work, we did some simple groundwork- yield at the hunches, backing up, whoa, etc. The latter needs some work but the basics are definitely there. My friends who were watching the entire time commented that she tracks beautifully. Next we went out to the round pen so I could see her move at liberty. She was much more interested in hanging out with the neighbors' horses than running around but when she did move, it was with athletic grace. It started to get dark so the last thing of the day was cross-ties. Quest had never been in the main barn before and she behaved reasonably well. I did have quite the time re-instilling in her how to stand still in the cross ties (someone was very interested in showing the geldings in the stalls on either side that she was a pretty lady...) but we finally got it.



I was able to groom her and even pick up feet, and omg she's got such SOLID barefoot hooves. She has a chip in her LH which can be addressed in a couple of trims. It'll be something for me to learn and observe.

Still need to evaluate how she is undersaddle of course but wow, I can't be more pleased with how lucky I got with her. While I wait for my saddle to arrive (yes I found a saddle!), it's going to be ground work and lots of handwalking. So much to learn, I can't wait.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ownership

I didn't want to share the news until everything was finalized but yes, I am offically a horse owner!

As some of you may know, I've been looking at endurance prospects for quite awhile. I found a few I liked, but nothing in the end worked out. I was browsing my usual websites and links last week when this girl caught my eye.


Hip #62 was a 15hh 2004 registered National Show Horse mare. The volunteers who handled her at auction could not stop raving about how awesome she was- solid W/T/C, floaty trot, and even tried a jump. She said to have been a lesson horse at one point in her life. One volunteer watched her being ridden for 20 minutes and was tempted to buy her for herself. Her temperament was friendly and her breeding impeccable with proven endurance horses that had lots of heart. 

I spent a few more minutes wistfully looking at her pictures before I went to bed that evening, telling myself she sounded perfect but it wasn't prudent to buy a horse, especially my first horse, sight unseen. I had a very restless night and barely got any sleep...I just could NOT get her out of my mind. I checked the mare's ad again the next morning while at work. She still had not been sold but her page was flooded with comments from people who were interested in her. I felt like I had no chance but I needed to try so I called, the phone rang. No one picked up and the call went to voice mail. I felt my stomach drop. Trying to steady my voice, I left a message with my name and call back number asking if #62 was still available. I hung up and of course, I could not concentrate on anything work-related. My head was reeling partly at the fact that I had just worked up the nerve to purchase a horse and partly in slight panic that she could have been bought right from under my nose.

Couple minutes later my voice mail alert chimed. I hadn't received any phone calls though. Bewildered, I checked the caller id and saw it was the feedlot returning my call. I quickly called back and a lady on the other end answered. She was told me that yes #62 was still available and in fact she had just gotten off of the phone with someone else who asked about her but kept hemming and hawing and decided to think about it more. I bluntly told her that I was really nervous about buying a horse that I've never seen before but I felt like I needed to call. The lady was very understanding and took the time to answer my questions. She started working at the feedlot because that's where her own daughter found her horse. The purchase would be a leap of faith but the girls that worked with the mare really took a shine to her and she was everyone's favorite. I took a deep breath, and said "Let's do it." Five minutes later, Hip #62 was mine.

The rest of the day was a blur and flurry of activity as I called all my horse friend contacts and got set up with boarding and arranged for transportation and quarantine. The next day, the lady called me back for additional details and then she was like "Oh I forgot to tell you her name, I figured you'd might like to know."

The feedlot has rule about not letting releasing identifying information like registered names or tattoos about horses during the auction. As her new owner, I was entitled to know her registered name since she came with her papers but I had forgot to ask when I bought her. The handful of people that I had shared the news with had been helping me come up with barn names for her. I'm usually VERY good at coming up with fitting names but for some odd reason nothing came to mind when I thought of this mare. Nothing seemed to fit.


"Her name is Quest....Liberty Quest." It sounded perfect to me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Riding Gig & Watercolors

Things have been quiet the past couple of months. Since no more Rori, I’ve been putting my time (and money) towards lessons which seemed to have paid off tremendously. Couple weeks ago I had a schedule conflict so did the lesson with another instructor who was 100% new to me. Within 10 minutes, she complimented me on my seat, high praise all around, and said that I was going to become very good rider- Cue biggest smile on my face for the rest of the night. The lessons have been great but I needed more saddle time. Plus I still missed Rori a lot and I needed a distraction. My friend has been trying to set me up with horses at the barn she rides at but very long story short, it’s been one set back after the other. It has been so frustrating to the point that I’ve decided to hell with leasing and I’m going to get my own horse instead. So I started looking at endurance prospects. I looked everywhere and had all of my local FB endurance friends keeping an eye out for me. Finally I found her. A 15yo gray mare that I was smitten with, pretty much 100% ready to buy and literally pending a test ride.  She was set to do her first 50 this past weekend with one of my friends piloting so I decided to wait until the mare got back before I went to go visit. Well just my luck, I find out (albeit indirectly) this weekend that the horse was taken off the market as the owner decided to keep her for herself. I was (and still am) disappointed but I guess it wasn’t meant to happen.

But maybe fate knew that the mare wasn’t going to be and consoled with some better news. One of my endurance friends contacted me on FB last week asking if I was interested in a riding gig. She gave me a number and name and next thing I knew I was on my way to meet H at his property. He had been injured last year and was still on the mend. In the meantime, he was interested in having someone ride his two pinto gelding trail horses for free. He didn’t want any money, just wanted them loved on and exercised. I met his horses, the boarders, and we chatted for nearly 2 hours. Turns out we knew a lot of…mutual acquaintances which we both had similar opinions about (that’s a story for later).  H seems like a true horse lover, loves trail riding/hunter paces, and has a down-to-earth attitude. So tomorrow I start my first horse riding “job”, the first few rides are going to be supervised which is fine with me. I’ve only been doing this about a year (November marks my first full year of riding) so all the eyes the better to learn from. Fingers crossed this works out. 

As for other news, I was recently inspired by one of my all-time favorite artists, James Gurney, to try my hand at plein air sketching so I splurged on a travel-sized watercolor set, water soluble color pencils, and small 140lb paper sketchbook. Of course after ordering the latter, I found a great tutorial online for a DIY watercolor sketchbook…oops. I’m still going to make one (or several) because I’ve got REAMS of watercolor paper in big blocks that aren’t very travel friendly. Keep your eyes peeled for more art because autumn will be here before you know it, along with all the colors! I’ve got a family vacation coming up next month to Acadia National Park in Maine, which I’m really looking forward to. We’ve been there once a few years ago and it’s been ingrained in my mom’s mind as one of her favorite places so we’re going again- no problem with me. I love vacations that involve hiking and trails, plus any an opportunity to do some painting in a new environment.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Reunions and Night Rides

I stopped by to visit Aurora this past weekend. It's been a month since we last saw each other and to be honest, I wasn't sure how she'd react. When I arrived, she was standing on the opposite end of the pasture grazing with Gigi (who is also an OTT Standardbred mare!) across the fence. I called to her from the gate. For a moment I thought she decided to ignore me, then suddenly she lifted her head and BEE LINED across the field to where I was. The next few moments were scenes out of a stereotypical horse movie.

<3
I miss her so much...Not sure if its coincidence or not, but her owner just listed up her for adoption/sale this past weekend too. I thought about taking her in as my own but I decided against it for a number of reasons (the main one being her current owner- boy, do I have a story to share later). I hope she lands somewhere safe, happy, and loved.

On a happier note, some of my local friends wanted to go trail riding so we headed up to Echo Lake for a ride and BBQ afterwards.

All together now
I want some Western riding lessons...
A Paso Fino named Corona, the Indian wedding horse
Being silly at the BBQ