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.

So barefoot folks- any suggestions for hoof knives based on experience? I just need something to start with!

Sunday, October 26, 2014


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, and even a couple bicycles. 

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.

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.