Friday, October 17, 2014

Push It Real Good

The ladies are getting some maintenance done this weekend - toes, teeth, bodywork - and I'll have a writeup on that this weekend, because it's definitely going to be interesting (teeth for SURE). In the meantime, enjoy this little quickie video - it has clips from mid-August (when she was first broke to drive), mid-September, and mid-October (yesterday), showing how she has developed some impulsion and pushing power!

Not half bad for a little red demon!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sweater Weather

Rather suddenly, fall has descended upon North Central Texas. By 'fall' I mean that the days are in the 80's (and sometimes 70's!), and the nights are in the 50's. We've had *gasp!* two big rainstorms in the past week, which has left everything a bit muddy and chilly. I even put O in a sheet on one of those nights, when it dipped into the upper 40's... behold:

You know you LOVE THAT SHEET. I can see your jealous, incredulous dry heaves from here.
No sheet for the old bat Pmare because she is a feral animal and when she sees me coming with clothes, she flees. I force it upon her when it gets really cold, but for nights in the low 50's, she's not gonna die. She survived living in Alberta for most of her life after all, in a field with no blanket at all. 

Everyone actually stayed in stalls for two of those nights (due to never-ending downpours). I wasn't terribly keen on the idea, but decided to go for it since it would help keep P's feet dry overnight. Everybody survived, and they were all plenty happy to get back outside the next day, O especially:

She only needed the sheet for two of those nights, and when I pulled it off yesterday (temps had risen to a steamy 55), she was sweating. If the temp gets back down into the 40's, then a sheet will do for her. Last year she would shiver like crazy when the temps got that low... I dunno.

We lunged lightly earlier in the week, and I had a nicely forward horse on the end of my line, mellow but not stupidly hot. I haven't been using the Faux-ssoa lately - she is the Counterbend Master, and it doesn't seem to matter what I do to try and manipulate that... she just keeps on counterbending. The trouble is that she also is the High-Headed Giraffe Master, and loves to pull herself along on the forehand with her neck all kinds of upside down. I was thinking I might pull out my old chambon and give that another try... or at least, see if I can piece it back together. Gogo destroyed it some years ago (she was very good at that!), but the pieces might still be salvageable.

We went for a road drive yesterday, doing dressage work as best we could while still avoiding all the mud. Lots and lots of transitions left me with a relativity supple and quiet critter at the end of it all, all things considered:

Transitions will need to become crisper, more responsive, as we keep on progressing. I can feel her downshift when she hears the walk command and gets her first half-halt, but she trots on until she gets the second walk command before she actually walks. She also raises her head every time she gets a command for an upward transition, unless I get her balanced and quiet enough pre-transition. It really is amazing how like dressage this all is - the straightness, the impulsion, it's all the same. She has all the same problems that she had under saddle, don't get me wrong about that, but it's interesting the way we communicate differently while driving. We both know full well that my position in a cart behind her is MUCH more precarious that sitting on her back, and that picking a fight with her over something is a REALLY BAD idea while she is in harness. There is no illusion of control when you're in a cart versus on their back - at least if you're on their back, you can hang on for dear life if they start going all kinds of crazy. In a cart, she and I are both fully aware that she is choosing to keep herself in control - if she really decided to go all hell bent for leather somewhere else, what is that fat plastic snaffle in her mouth (or even a huge leverage bit, if I had one) really going to do? In a way, I think this gives her a good ego boost. She's keeping her own self under control and listening because she has decided to do so, not because I told her to do so. It makes her that much more pliable and compliant.

I know I'm waxing anthropomorphic, but I'm pretty sure she is pleased with herself after every drive. She acts it, without a doubt.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

In Memory of Gogo; Three Years Later

Gogo Fatale
06/02/01 - 10/11/11

Three years ago today, I said goodbye to Gogo. Many of you remember the journey. She was my best friend, partner in crime, co-conspirator, and reason for getting out of bed, every day. She governed my every thought and move, and we were a package deal - one came with the other, and that was non-negotiable anywhere. We adventured together over the years through 15 different states and who knows how many miles, more memories than I could ever write down (though I tried my best). Her memory lives on in the pictures, the ribbons, the artwork that her doting admirers made for her that is still on the wall, and always will be.
At the time, I summed it up with this: "Life without her is like learning to walk all over again using different legs. Or possibly two legs instead of four... I'm not sure. Either way, it's awkward and uncomfortable and very, very sad. Time will work magic on all of this, as it always does, but it will take a long time." As always, time is the same great healer that it always has been, and this year I don't feel so bad. Life hasn't been the same without her, but it has become a new thing, a good thing. Wherever Gogo is today, I know she is lording over everything, beating the hell out of every other horse there and eating everything in sight, and you can't help but smile at that thought. She was, is, and always will be, The Marest of Them All.

On the year anniversary of her death, I summed it up as thus:

"I am struggling to find the words to begin this post. I've been sitting in front of the computer for a listless hour, unable to find a good place to start, so I suppose I'll just launch into it bluntly: today is the one year anniversary of Gogo's death. There, I have a start... perhaps now the words will come more freely. I feel very much like I've been stoppered up for the past year. When she died, the poetry just went clean out of me. 

I'm not entirely sure of where the past year has gone. It seems like October 11th of last year was such a long time ago, but I can't hardly remember what has happened in the past year to make it so distant. Twelve months into this grieving process, I don't feel better and I don't feel like myself still, but it has taken this long for me to realize that I am not the same without her, and life is not, and will never be, the same either. It isn't that life is now somehow less or is badly off, because it isn't. It's just completely different, without anything else actually having changed. I am still with Future Hubs, I still have all the same critters, still have the same job, still living here in Texas. Those things are all as wonderful as they have been. It is just me that is different... I am not the same as I was. Losing Gogo was a bit like someone forcefully cutting me in half and tossing one half of me back out into the world to keep going. It is very confusing trying to relearn how to live your life when half of everything you value and love is suddenly gone one day. You can prepare for it, if you know it is coming. You can ready yourself, steel yourself, prepare to lose it, surround yourself with loved ones, or push them all away just the same. It doesn't matter what you do, because you won't know how it really feels until it happens. Then, and only then, will you realize just how thoroughly unprepared you were to live on through unthinkable tragedy.

I know it sounds extreme. Honestly, just putting it out in writing sounds like I survived a war instead of just lost a horse. But those of you with horses in your life - probably most or all of you, I am assuming - know how much they affect you, and those of you who have lost them will understand. To those who haven't yet, I don't wish it upon you, but that day will come. On that day, you too will stand with me and feel that horror and pain and sorrow, and will still know in your heart that life is better having had and lost them rather than never having known them at all. But you'll never be the same again.

Not a day goes by when I don't think of her. Hardly a week passes when some memory, picture, or video doesn't make me sob like a baby or ache with sorrow. How could they not, when so much of my life revolved around her? She defined me as a young adult, molded and changed and shaped me into the person I am today, and her loss affected me just as hard as her life did. I am different now, and I will never be the same again."
This year, the tonic of time has worked its magic, as it always does. Gone are the days when I would fret and cry and mourn every moment without her. For a long time, any horse I swung a leg over was compared to her, and of course none of them came anywhere close to the wonder that she was. But O changed all of that for me. O is probably about as different from Gogo as is possible, and has gone out of her way to make sure everyone knows that she is not interested in filling those shoes. She has her own agenda, her own personality, and her own talents, and throughout the journey, it has helped me learn, and brought me peace. 
Gogo is not replaceable. Not by a long shot. There will never be another like her, and I think that is the way it should be. In a lot of ways, she was a horse from a different era, one that defined a certain section of my life. She was my Northern Horse. Nearly everything in my life changed when I moved to Texas, and she gracefully exited life not even a year after we had moved. Her memory makes me reminisce on crisp fall days, blizzard weather, green grass, little mountains and big forests. I was an immature wanderer, full of wildness and restless prowling; she was full of grace, deliberate and supple in her every move, keeping me humble every day. Life is very different now - I'm not so restless anymore, settled down relatively permanently in one area, with a lot of responsibilities to maintain, but it is right where I have always wanted to be.  She molded and matured me into adulthood, perfect teacher that she was. I'm not saying I'm terribly great, but I'm not half bad, and, more importantly, I'm happy. And I have her to thank for getting me here.
Rest in peace, my Mostest Mare. You're in my heart, now and always. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Running, Running, Running

Phew... I've been busy lately. Busy AND it's been hot outside. What is this, a relapse into summer? It was 100 degrees today and we haven't had a drop of rain west of Fort Worth since July. 

As such, I've only driven O three times and lunged once in the past eleven days. I have to be careful with how I manage my schedule... I promised myself long ago, when I was slaving away for other people with no time ever for myself, that I would never again let work completely engulf me, so that I had no time for leisure whatsoever. Lately I find that there really just aren't enough hours in the day for everything that I need to (and would like to) be doing, and I keep ending up barely seeing my horses through the squinting pre-dawn or post-sunset light, if at all. I make sure I have a forced few days off here and there, simply because I just HAVE to, but I need to make sure that I am absolutely optimizing my time, and condensing everything everywhere that I can. The schedule spans ahead by a few weeks, and I find myself operating a few weeks ahead of the actual date, simply because my brain is in constant motion, setting up things and appointments and whatnot. That's all good, of course, because money, but it does leave me struggling a bit to actually get all of the things done that need to be done every day. I will make some alterations to make sure I have enough time in the day to do everything that I need to do... because really, what's life without leisure?

The three drives we got in were all very good - the first was on Saturday, the second today. On Saturday, we drove up and down the road for a bit, and even though we hadn't driven in a week O was spot on. She was quiet, not rushy towards home, sensible, and responsive. The last time I drove her up the road was before the show, and she was SO in heat that she couldn't even handle herself. This time, she was a LOT quieter - although I am curious to know how much the whip plays into this. She can't see the whip when I'm carrying it, of course, and I rarely if use it, but she's not stupid and she knows I'm carrying it anyway. I think in time she'll begin to get used to it and relax a little, but it will take time.
Yesterday and today, we did some work on the obstacles at a walk, and did a lot of walk-trot transition work. I went ahead and put the martingale back on her (and the flash too), which immediately nixed the Arab-esque head-tossing, as it always does. She is always happy to take a contact, but the quality work comes after you warm her up and unlock her... she becomes very buttery in her contact, very light and spreadable, and that straightens her out. It's very hard to keep a naturally crooked horse straight while riding, and WAY harder to keep a crooked horse straight while driving. I think it has to do with how short her back is - she has power, a huge engine, and the ability to really sit and collect herself, but that comes at a price, as she really only can get it well on straight lines. Her back is SO short that it has cost her a lot of her lateral flexibility, and she'd rather dirtbike around a turn than actually bend. But, once she becomes warmed up and soft, she becomes lovely. I think it will make me a better rider, if I get back to riding anytime soon... there is no room for temper or mistakes when you're driving, you just have to gently roll with the things that come.

That said, I'm not sure I'll be riding much in the near future. I don't talk about it much, but I've been really having a lot of pain issues in my bad leg, and riding really aggravates them. Long time readers will remember my many complaints about my bad hip... Metro kicked me right in the left hip socket about 10 years ago, completely on accident, but it left me with some long term struggles that no doctor can really figure out. As long as I am not on my feet ALL day long, or riding in saddles with twists that are too wide for my hips - a huge problem in the past - I do very well. Pain-free, in fact, for the most part! Unfortunately, limping around for almost a decade, I have developed a serious compensatory problem with my left calf. Nobody can really figure that out either... is it muscle, or tendon? Probably both, at this point, as far as we can tell, seeing as my left calf is now about twice the size of my right from being constantly cramped, and my Achilles tendon is stretched so taut that I can't lower my heel while riding. It just physically doesn't do it any more, no matter what I do. My calf muscles are rock hard, my tendons are tight, and trying to force my heel down while I am riding results in screaming pain that leaves me crippled for hours. The shorter the stirrup, the worse it is. After a few hours in the saddle, things do stretch out and work better, but it is awful, and nothing we've done has made it better. Driving has given me a lot of relief from this pain, since I can still work my horse and enjoy it, and not be in screaming pain every day. I hope we can get this figured out at some point.... but we don't have many ideas left.

Anyway. My horse is still beautiful in harness, is she not?

Also, P is looking decidedly pregnant as of late. She has a little baby bump starting to show, which is not surprising given how saggy she is otherwise (a younger or fitter mare would 'hide' a pregnancy a little better under her abs... P has no abs and no topline!). She is 152 days as of today - my chart says her fetus is about the size of a rabbit, 6-ish pounds and 12-ish inches long. It is already gaining more than a pound every 10 days at this point. Within the next 30 days, it will quadruple its weight, and may be even as much as 25lbs by then. I was told to come back "in the fall sometime" to have her palped, to make sure she hasn't slipped.... I may wait until next month to do that, seeing as both ladies are getting their teeth done on the 17th and I'd like to minimize stress. P already *had* her teeth done this year, right before we bred her, but the vet did such a horrible job that she hasn't chewed right since. I thought it might improve over time, but gobs of food still fall from her mouth while she chews. O is due as well, but I haven't wanted to take her to the vet since I've not been happy with the dental work (Happy with everything else... just not the dental work, and it wasn't done by my regular vet either.) This specialist is a Natural Balance dentist that I've heard nothing but good things about, so here's hoping! (And hopefully we won't need sedation either... we'll see how it all goes.) She's also getting her next Rhino shot in the next few days.
Other than that, the dry weather has SO helped her - she is moving great. I even hopped on for a quick bareback hack today, and she felt awesome. She's all business, that's for sure.... riding O isn't a lot of fun sometimes, but riding P is ALWAYS fun. I hope she passes her work ethic onto her baby!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

End of September Analysis; October Goals!

As usual, I can not for the life of me figure out WHERE this past month went! I also can NOT believe how much further we went beyond our goals AGAIN. I guess I need to step our goals up! (The first few months of the year, I reached almost none of my monthly goals, so this is a huge change!)


 O-Ren September Goals:

1) Look at upcoming show schedules - see what I can go to and volunteer/learn! (Just me... not O!)
Success! And BEYOND success, really.... not only did I get to go and volunteer all day at an ADS show, but I also took O to the playday show and obviously we kicked some butt!

2) Continue to do suppling exercises (esp to the left) to help with our dressage work
Success! Mostly it was just learning how to better handle her while in harness - that really made all the difference, versus actual suppling exercises. One thing that really DOES seem to help, and it helps under saddle too, is to warm her up doing obstacle work, bending around the barrels. It's a burst of something high intensity (a really tight turn), and then following it she always relaxes and stretches down. It's kind of why barrel-ssage worked so well for her - something about a burst of energy, and then a subsequent release, really helps her to relax and stretch out.
3) Fitness! She got a bit fat during her training (even with rations cut in half!) - so now that she is further along we need to get back to some fitness work!
Success! She is now looking like a fit athlete again, instead of a fat lard. We did lots of fitness work on the roads, hacking several miles every week (sometimes up to 10!)... while I don't think pounding on the roads regularly is a good thing, doing it to some extent is not only good for her fitness, but good for her brain, since she has to learn to deal with terrifying things like rattling trucks and trailers. (There is a limit to this... I don't exactly want to get killed on the roads!)

4) Set up our schedule - pick days for dressage work/obstacle work/fitness work/etc
Success! And I'll do this one again for next month. Now that we are working obstacles and getting into some finer points of dressage work (SOME finer points, we're not exactly ready to go to the WEG yet or anything!), this is getting increasingly interesting. 

5) Continue to do self-education - and keep looking for a local trainer!
Success! On the self-education part, anyway. I was able to participate in a really interesting online course, and also got to meet out local trainer in person finally, but I still don't have my own actual trainer. Sigh!

Pangea September Goals:

1) Possible casting/changing joint supplements to help her out - she has a hard time when it rains and gets muddy
Success - but only because we did not have one drop of rain the entire month of September. There has been no mud, so everything (including her feet) has stayed rock hard and dry. I'm sure that will change as we get further into fall, but she has been doing very well as of late.

2) Go on some more walks hacks if sound - just play it by ear!
We didn't get to go on any walk hacks... hopefully in October but I'm not going to push it.


O-Ren October Goals:
1) Set and maintain a schedule - certain days for fitness, dressage, obstacles
2) Finessing dressage work - half-halts, work on really moving forward and compressing
3) Self-education, as always!
4) Look for some more fun shows in the future - what is next!
5) Planning ahead: harness and cart upgrades I might want to consider in the future as we get more seriously into this sport!

Pangea October Goals:
1) Possible casting as we get wetter - see how sound she is!
2) Walk hacks if sound! But only if everything works out!
3) Second Rhino shot!


O had four well-deserved days off after the driving show, and today she got back to work with a nice lunge. She was kind of a little monster, and spent half the time bucking and leaping around, but she is clearly feeling good about life. She's looking a fair bit fitter (or well, a lot less fat anyway) than she did last month too!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

North Texas Whip Games Day 9/27/14

Well I'd say that went pretty well, don't you think?

Couldn't be happier with my little red beast right now. She was a CHAMP yesterday, even with some blips in behavior!

The day started out very early, as I needed to bathe her and make sure we arrived at the facility in time to let her look at all the minis and other horses that were already hitched. You never know what they're going to do the first time they see a) a tiny demon midget horse, and b) a rattling wooden monster chasing other horses around. She stood like a champ for her bath, as per her usual, but right as we were going to load up, our neighbors started shooting at decoys. It was 7:30 in the morning! She normally doesn't care about this much, but the noise and the idea of having to load on the trailer and go somewhere set her ablaze. She pranced, jigged, snorted, and bounced around when loaded. Really mare? It's not like we haven't done this a million times before..!

Once we arrived, she unloaded and stood tied like her usual self, surveying the surroundings and casually munching hay:

When the minis began to arrive and unload, I took the opportunity to walk her over and let her take a look. The first one she saw was a little tiny stallion who started screaming bloody murder when he saw her. Poor mare had no idea what to do with herself at that... she skittered sideways and then stared at him with giant bug eyes. A few more passes by him and she relaxed. Phew...

..... BUT THEN, the minis hitched up and started DRIVING around! Not only were they tiny demons, but they were tiny demons with rattling monsters strapped to them! Quelle horreur!
At this point, I was harnessing her up as well, and was a bit concerned that stream of hitched horses passing by might be a bit much for her brain. She stood like a rock while I was putting her too (and I'm eternally thankful that I taught her a long time ago to stand like a rock for everything in the world), and just silently absorbed the scene. When I got in the cart, however, she had a complete brain fart and threw a hissy fit - she forgot how go forward or turn, and stood there for a minute prancing in place, and throwing and shaking her head. She managed to get herself together, but she was a right fool for the next 30 minutes or so - she could not stand still, and couldn't whoa without pitching a fit. I just set her to walking and trotting around for that entire period, letting her look at all the other horses and ponies, and just tried to let some steam off.

Our first class was GREAT! It was the cones and barrels class where you have to go through four sets of cones and around one barrel, first one way and then the other, and I felt confident that it would be the easiest class. She had managed to settle a little by the time we got into the arena, and she zoomed through the pattern like a champ. We even slung dirt with the cart on the second trip around the barrel. We hauled butt on home to take first in that class!

Our second class was the keyhole, and it wasn't as good. She behaved herself, but they had set the barrel turn VERY tight, and we barely made it around both barrels. We actually smashed headlong right into the first barrel and knocked the cone on top over, which was total driver error on my part, but O didn't bat an eye and we continued on with the pattern. She was not very amused with the tight turn, and slung her head around as we went around the second barrel. (O is a bonafide head slinger - she almost broke my nose the first few times I rode her, every ride. I rode her almost exclusively in a running martingale for a long time, then when she was better I removed it. She would go for awhile when she would be perfect, then inevitably at some point she would realize there was no martingale and the head tossing would begin again. She checks out physically fine - it just seems to be an old habit that she reverts to at random, when she is either frustrated or feeling particularly exuberant. She did it in every discipline I ever rode her in, and does it whenever she is frustrated about things in the barn, like if I am turning her sister out before her and she is still tied. I started driving her in a martingale right off the bat, and just recently removed it. She had been doing perfectly without it, but I think that the cranking turns were too tight in that pattern and it made her mad!). We made it back to the finish without incident, but now that she knew she had the freedom to express herself with headslinging, I knew it was going to be a problem for the rest of the day. We finished third in that class, even with the time penalty!

She managed to hold still until the next class, probably because she now was able to divert her energy from moving her feet to slinging her head around (she'd stand there and at random just throw in the head toss, like a goofy Arab). It was another cranker turning course called Coney Island, where it was basically like a poles class with two barrels in the middle that you had to turn. She was great for it, but tossed her head all the way through, and we finished second.

At this point, we had a break for lunch, and I unhitched and let O hang out at the trailer eating hay. She was mellowing out at this point, and being able to stand around dozing and eating for an hour did her brain some good. The cones course looked complicated but definitely doable (the cones were set REALLY wide!), and when lunch was over and we were re-hitched, I had a much mellower and more pleasant horse. Inbetween the final two classes, I was even able to park her up under the shade of a tree and relax in the cart for about 15 minutes, chatting to the drivers next to me while O napped with a foot cocked in the shade, even with other drivers passing us by. What a good girl!

Cones course:

Not bad! You'll see a few errant head tosses in this one, most noticeable when she wants to break to the canter and she gets told no. She also did a little happy bounce at the very end!

Finally we had the poles course, in which I had a very strong zoomy horse coming back through the pattern on the way down:

Me: "No damnit we have to trot."

In both the poles class and the cones class, we were first. That meant we were the Horse Division Champions!!

At the end of the show, a few of us decided to go drive out onto the XC course and school the water. O, as always, was a champ about the water, and while she looked down at it to make sure it really was water and not a pool full of battery acid, she then walked straight in. We walked and trotted around through the water complex for a few minutes, and I let her trot off and around the field a bit. At this point, it occurred to me that she was being VERY strong and zoomy, and I finally realized why. O is very much like a racehorse in that the more you pull on her face, the harder she pulls back and the faster she runs off. She loves a soft, light contact, and she'll take a soft, light contact right back if that if what you give her. All day long, I had been pulling around on her through all of these patterns, and definitely NOT being as light with her as I usually am, and she was clearly letting me know that she did NOT appreciate the firm contact. In the videos, you'll see her neck is a bit short and she is constricted, not at all like the last video I posted of her where she was quite light and loose in her neck. Duly noted, mare... note to self, get out of the mare's mouth and let her do her job. She turns light as a feather and has a mouth like butter if you have hands like butter. If you have hands that are hard and unforgiving, it's like trying to turn a brick wall. The mare doesn't suffer fools!

Haha I love this picture. Photobombed by a VSE and his driver!

A bunch of us hanging out in the shade. We're on the far right side behind the chestnut pony - you can see me propped up relaxing in the cart while she dozes. That's my girl!

 All in all, a very successful show. I learned a lot, had a ton of fun, and was very, very proud of my red beast! There is another Games Day in November... you can bet we'll be there!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Oh god we show TOMORROW!

Holy crap.... suddenly the show is HERE!! We prepped all week, but all of a sudden it's HERE! Hopefully she does not see all of the other horses pulling rattling noise machines and completely lose her marbles. It might happen! (But she'll learn to get over it... just part of the process!)

Wish us luck!!!