Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Happy hoof, happy horse

I have officially been a horse owner for 6+ months and as some of you know, I've been trimming Quest's feet since I got her. Owning a horse is much more than just grooming, tacking and riding. If my work schedule and living situation allowed it, I would do rough board and self-care but alas it is presently not possible.

I knew when I got my own horse I would prefer it to be barefoot if possible and fortunately miss mareface arrived from auction unshod. I wanted to be involved in my horse's hoofcare longterm by learning how to trim but for the first go I needed/wanted professional help. Her feet were solid but much too long and there was a crack from what looked like an old abscess in the LH, and a stone bruise in the RF.
Quest's first trim was in October last year when R set me up with a base to work from. Since then I've been doing all the work myself every 2 weeks or so. I have been pretty diligent with the schedule and keeping notes on what I did. About a month ago, my friend T scheduled R to come out to do her mare and asked me if I wanted him to do Quest as well. Her timing could not have been more perfect since I had planned to set up an appointment every 4-6 months to have R touch up and also to check my work.

R was finally able to came out to trim yesterday afternoon. I was unable to meet him since he came during work hours but my friend T was able to be there. I was a bit nervous because I've been the only person working on Quest's feet for almost half a year- anything wrong (or right) would be my doing entirely. T texted me updates and said I had done a good job though- Healthy, happy hooves all around. 

I took down notes on what R touched up on for future reference and realized the things he did were all things I had noticed too and was working to address. This was a huge boost of encouragement. My main problem is I still (and probably always somewhat will) lack the brute muscle power to do take off a lot in a single trim so shorter frequencies between sessions work in my favor though it takes it longer for me to fix something. The upside to being physically limited in strength is that I won't ever take off too much in one session I guess!
It is super nice that Quest has rather solid feet to begin with and she handles rock and gravel well (SO much better than poor tender-footed Rori), though I am planning on booting her whenever we get to doing more distance with tougher terrain. Knowing how to trim for proper boot fitting will definitely come in handy. All in all, yesterday's trim was a positive progress check and I'm pleased that I have been doing a somewhat decent job with my mare's feet in the short time I've been at this.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Snow

Quest and I reached a mini milestone together this past weekend- we did our first out and back solo trail ride to the main barn!

Before heading out, we did about 30-45 minutes of arena riding mostly working on cantering in our bad direction and making adjustments to the new girth (it was our second ride using it). Finally satisfied with tack adjustments and getting extremely bored of the dustbowl with each passing moment, I decided that we needed to get outdoors. I brought along my dressage whip and used a handy lawn chair to hop on, still ever pleased that Quest could care less what I utilize for a impromptu mounting block, and off we went.

We walked along the inside property fence line visiting the other horses the turnout paddocks and making  loops along the fresh snow. The weather was still blustery but it was 34 degrees, just warm enough to cause snow laden trees to shed their load at a nearly continuous basis. Quest spooked once at some snow that slid off from a tree about a yard away in front of her nose- I can't fault her too much for that since it startled me too-  but once that happened, the snow afterward was not a problem. After about 10 minutes, riding around the property was getting boring too since there was no where to really go. So we headed out. 

It was our first time riding trails since winter started and our second trail riding solo venture together, I picked the main barn trail to set us up for success. Our first solo trail ride was us making our way back after escorting A and Smokey to the big barn. Today I was asking Quest to go out and back 100% by herself, something she had never done before yet.

There were a few conversations on the way out. Quest first gave pause to the highway bridge and when I asked her to go forward, she decided to back up. I kept my hands off of her face and used my legs to say forward, any backward motion was her own volition and created extra work for herself. When she attempted to twist her head and butt around to try and turn back, I tapped her hindquarters with my dressage whip and she straightened. When she realized that forward REALLY meant forward, my legs stopped asking and life was much easier. The next two sections were her usual sticky points but the conversations there were much shorter than the first. She attempted to kick out once in frustration during the third section but I got on her case immediately because that is a big fat "no, NEVER ever do that". She was extremely compliant after that. 

The rest of the ride went without a single hitch from there on. We kept everything at a nice swinging walk and stayed on the designated trail because of the snow. Best of all there was no pulling, no rushing, no crazy, and no jigging. Not having to micromanage her very step and speed made riding in a suburban forest after a snow fall quite relaxing. 

The main barn was our turn around point so I pointed Quest back and she marched along home. I couldn't help but daydream about how awesome it would be to finally get that rig- that day where we could go anywhere and everywhere with no limits. When we got back to the barn, per usual I rode past the gate in both directions before heading in, absolutely giddy with pleasure. While Quest and I are very rough around the edges and still have a lot to work on, we've come such a long way in that time together.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 Horse World Expo PA

Two weekends ago my friend A and I drove down to Harrisburg PA for the 2015 Horse World Expo. We had a blast last year and were looking forward to another weekend filled with clinics, demonstrations and shopping. 

Just our dumb luck, there was severe weather advisory predicting 4-8" of snow from Wednesday night through Thursday morning. We had planned to leave on Wednesday night after work.  Suffice to say A and I kept an eye on the forecast all day at the office and since we already took off time from work, we decided to proceed as planned and drive to Harrisburg that night to try and beat the snow. We made good time, stopped halfway for dinner, and arrived at the hotel right at 11pm when the first flurries began to fall in earnest. Our friend J had already checked in and we stayed up to chat for a bit longer though bed time came around quick. 

For once the weather forecast was actually correct. We woke up on Thursday morning to a total whiteout. A and J  were unhappy with the hotel/room though and wanted to find a different place to stay. Since the expo didn’t start until later in the morning, we combined mobile technology efforts and managed to snag a room at a different hotel across the river. It was a bit more expensive and further away from the expo but who can say no to free breakfast and pool/hot tub. With the new hotel room booked, we checked out and headed out for breakfast. 

The snow was still falling heavily and the roads still snow laden when we finished eating. On our way to the new hotel, we saw a van that had unfortunately fishtailed into a ditch on the side of the road. It was a good reminder that speed was not of the essence that day. Travel time doubled but we made it safe and sound to our final lodgings for that weekend and dropped our things off before heading to the expo. The weather definitely did a number on first day attendance but it was easy to find good seats for the clinics and shopping was a breeze without the usual crowds so I was really able to get around and eyeball prices on things before buying later that weekend. 

Since this was my second year attending, I was a bit more savvy with my time and selective about which clinician demonstrations I made a point to attend. There were lots of good trainers there (some of them pretty young actually!) but I was most interested in watching Sonny Garguilo and Kenny Harlow.  

What was very interesting to note was while both are respected horsemen in their own right with a loyal and large following of trainers they have educated and hundreds of horses they have successfully worked with, they had very different styles and methodologies of getting things done. Case in point, what is the right thing to do at the end of a round pen session- join up or have the horse keep its distance? In so many words, the two trainers differed in their opinions with good reason for each. I see the benefits in both and I do a bit of both in fact. While lunging at liberty, I use the draw in to get Quest to reverse direction (still working on that!) but at the whoa, I ask her to stay out and stand until I fetch her or invite her to come to me (my cue is leaning forward and patting my leg). She can then follow me but at distance and only when I allow/invite her.

I think the bottom line is there is no wrong or right way and the selected approach should vary with each horse and his/her learning style. I know that Quest has a tendency to cut in and get rude about personal space when she gets worked up/stops thinking so I don't want to her to get the impression that it is okay to get that close to me without being specifically asked. Keeping her out at the end of the lunge circle is safer for both of us and I have the ability to move her feet without moving mine (a.k.a. standing my ground).

This is just one tiny example but it really exemplifies why I think attending events like this was so worth the time and money. So many great horse minds in one place and being able to see in person all the many different approaches to doing things. It's the educated owner's job to filter through all the options and knowing which one works best for them and their horse.

In addition to the many clinics, there were many other sights and sounds to see. A and I stopped by the novice trail challenge competition and we got great ideas for obstacles to work on during the spring. 

I was very excited to see there was a seminar on distance riding this year hosted by Patty Lambert and definitely made a point to attend.

While it was all things I already knew/had read about, I enjoyed observing the great rapport and shared experiences that the presenter and her co-presenters (who were also distance riders) had together. During the Q&A, I asked how to get to a ride if I didn’t own/have access to a trailer. The answer I got was what I half expected- work with social media and contact locals. I had a FB distance riding friend advise that I should really strive to be as independent as possible- implying I will likely need my own rig sooner rather than later. With how much I love trail riding and exploring new places, I think this will be something in my future. I honestly can’t walk down a hiking trail without taking mental note if the footing is suitable for a horse and at what gait. Trail riding addict, maybe?

While wandering though the stallion stalls at the expo, of course I had to stop by and say hello to the representative Arabian. It was early in the day so I was able to actually get a long conversation with his owner/handler about breed idiosyncrasies. Her barn is located in VA where she had 5 more Arabians. I noticed the stallion also had Ruminaja Ali in his pedigree (Quest's great grandfather!) which began a conversation about straight Egyptian lines.
I did do a little bit of shopping throughout the weekend and picked up a couple things that I really needed (e.g.; fly bonnet, dressage whip) but the prices for other things didn't really entice me. A and I decided to head home in the morning on Sunday. I had an early flight out to Texas the following day so I was happy to be on the road earlier. We decided to swing by Horsemen’s Outlet on the way back home as A was interested in consigning her old Western saddle and I always like looking around just in case. It turned out to be my lucky day and I scored a pair of new SSG riding gloves for 50% off and a used black Thorowgood neoprene girth. I really needed both things too; I use my current pair of SSG gloves nearly every single ride and they are getting super worn so it’s nice to have a backup. The girth was a pleasant find since I was looking for the right size in black and bonus points for neoprene, elastic, AND the same brand as my saddle. 

All in all, the expo was quite fun and the sheer amount of great information avilable right in person was overwhleming- I learned so much that my head was fit to burst on most days. While we did enjoy ourselves, A and I talked about heading out to Equine Affair in Ohio this time next year just to change things up. A says it's bigger and better. I've never been to Ohio before so why not, I love an adventure.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Trail Walk and Wanderlust

Took the red-eye back home on Friday and arrived at a somewhat decent hour in the morning so I headed out to the barn after dropping off my bags and a quick change of clothes. When I arrived, I was super pleased to see that a few horses had been turned out in the individual paddocks and one of them was yours truly mareface.  It was the first time in months. The temperature was in the high 40s and the sun was out. The trails were calling and I wanted to ride but was still feeling a bit bleary from 2-3 weeks of non-stop flying and traveling so opted to go for a walk instead.  I was glad I decided to unblanket before I left last week because Quest was already beginning to shed everywhere from a quick grooming. Sure sign that spring is upon us? Maybe. 

For this trail walk, I decided to test out the nylon western headstall that I got last week at the expo. I have been on the hunt for a biothane snap-on headstall since I decided that I want to use rope halter while trail riding. I still do like the Running Bear halter-bridle but it never hurts to play around with options. There were no snap-on headstall to be found at the expo though and the western headstall was too ridiculously cheap to pass up. 

The dustbowl was looking a bit muddy because of the melting snow so we headed straight for the trails. The walk went without much incident for the most part. Quest followed my lead nicely, and grabbed shoulder-level bites to eat here and there. Good endurance pony in the making. There was still snow and random patches of ice on the ground so the going was slow and labor-intensive.  Sign #2 that spring has come? Water and mud puddles and my very soaked boots. The nice weather got some of the neighbors out and we passed by a guy walking a pitbull with a big booming bark a few yards away. We exchanged greetings and the man apologized, chastising his dog. Quest didn’t react at all, good mare.

We stopped for little breaks and worked on backing up and standing still; the latter is a monumental task for Quest BUT she’s getting better at it. There was a temper tantrum involving a mini rear and frustrated kicks so we had two conversations where I asked her to stand and if she was more interested in moving, I sent her around me in small circles at a trot then walk until standing still sounded like a very good idea. I was very glad for the rope halter and my dressage whip (also an expo purchase) came very handy.  

Quest was still on high alert but finally standing still so I did little things like fixing her headstall and adjusting the rope lead if it got tangled, quiet talking, and patting her neck- taking my time with everything to further encourage the idea that standing still on the trail was no big deal and it was a pleasant experience. I tried to enjoy it as well as I stood and half-closed my eyes to savor the sunlight. Still some rushing to get home so we did lots of backing up and more standing, and made sure we walked past the barn gate and further out before heading back. I also lunged her at a trot in the yard before cooling her off, untacking, and putting her in. 

We only did about a mile distance-wise but I think a ton was accomplished. It’s little steps forward towards a larger goal. I am definitely itching to get started with actual distance riding/training, but it’s more important to take it at her pace and work with what horse I have for that day. While the trails are absolutely abysmal here, the number of urban obstacles we run into during a typical walk is perfect for Quest and exactly what she needs exposure to. She’s proven that she can handle a forest trail/more rural setting just fine during our solo trail ride and does fine with bikes, dog walkers, etc.

Thinking about goals for the spring and summer, I’m planning to start up my 5K schedule again and I recently read a neat article about people running with their horses doing something called "equi-cizing". I'd love to take Quest along during my run days. There is a park with riding trails about 2 miles away from the barn that I've been itching to explore. The route winds through suburban neighborhood roads before it reaches the trail head so  that means we will have to work on our road skills and “earn” our access to that trail. It’ll be a nice goal to accomplish while we both get fit at the same time!

I know I found Quest with the intention of making her into a distance horse but looking at logistics and being practical, it'll be awhile before I can afford a rig and really get us out to rides. I think any "real" endurance will take a back burner at least for this year as we just enjoy each others company with these workouts and work on making her into a solid trail partner. And honestly, I'm already happy to spend time with a horse I'm able to call my own. During the the expo, J made an interesting comment about how Quest was so lucky to have found someone like me. She's not perfect and I still have a world of things to learn but she is forgiving and I am patient (most of the time). Just maybe, maybe we could be just right for each other.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lunging the crazy

Temperatures were in the high 20s this weekend which was a very welcome change from the 8-10 degrees we have been getting lately so I really wanted to get out and ride after I arrived home from the airport on Saturday.  I got a quick bite to eat, changed, and whisked off to the barn.  

When I fetched Quest from her stall, there was someone lunging in the dustbowl arena so I decided to tack her up while we waited our turn to lunge and use the space.  Quest stood nice and still for grooming but when I started girthing up the saddle, she would not stop scooting around in the cross ties. I think all the driving around/traveling I had to do while in Texas was taking its toll on me and I found myself getting fed up quickly. I decided to lunge without the saddle and we trooped into the dustbowl when the other person left. I sent Quest out at a walk with the 15’ training lead still clipped on and asked her to change directions, she started super trotting instead and hauling on my hands. I was already annoyed and in no mood to deal with her attitude so I unclipped the lead and sent her out to work. Sassy mare was rip raring to go. Quest did laps along the edge of the arena at a gallop. While she stayed out of my space the entire time, I was concerned about her slipping and falling. Which happened…sigh. She got right back up, kept moving and got her thinking brain back after that though. Maybe, just maybe, tearing around in circles like a crazy isn't a good idea.

I waited for my opening, saw she was beginning to look at me for direction and we got back to our normal programming with quiet, nice, controlled free lunging with lots of w/t/c transitions. At the end Quest came right to me when invited in. We ended on a good note, tacked up and I hopped on for a great ride afterwards. 

Mares. Crazy half-Arabian mares.

I know some people have different opinions about lunging before riding for various reasons. I don't agree when riders resort to it to exhaust a horse into compliance but I personally use it as a gauge to see where Quest's brain is for that day. We don't do it for more than 10-15 minutes and as Quest and I have gotten to know each other better, it has been pretty much 100% free lunging at liberty- plus there's something really neat about having your horse listen and connect through vocal commands. I think the time spent lunging has been invaluable for us and I always do some sort of groundwork review while at it too. I can count on one hand the number of times I have hopped on her without lunging or doing groundwork first. It's just too important to neglect, in my opinion.

Quest is usually perfect with lunging even with limited turnout so it could have been the warmer weather that amped up the extreme sass. But that’s no excuse for hauling on me so we’re going to revisit lunge basics the next few sessions starting tonight with lunging on the line and switching out the nylon for the rope halter. I was actually a little sore from this weekend's riding- I probably lost some fitness since it's been too cold to saddle up the past couple of weeks. Noses to the grindstone for both of us.