Tuesday, March 31, 2015

End of March Analysis; April Goals!

March was a very weird month. So many ups and downs, so many interesting things, great things, and terrible things, all wrapped into one month. It was a good month overall, don't get me wrong! There were a LOT of things that went into it though. A LOT. 

And April is going to be EVEN BUSIER. And then May? May will be EVEN MORE SO! 


 O-Ren March Goals:

1) Stay as best as possible to a training schedule despite the weather - the weather will be a huge upcoming challenge!
I did a pretty good job with this one, considering all the things that happened. The beginning of the month was all ice, but then melted and dried quickly. We worked hard, and a lot, through most of the month - and then we had the harness break. She has been doing groundwork, lunging, and long lining every day since, so she is by no means sitting around doing nothing - but I'd really rather be in the box seat!

2) Finish ordering all supplies needed for showing! And make sure they are all organized!
Success! I think - I am pretty sure - than I have everything together. "Everything" did include some panicked new-harness-ordering, and brass-hardware-sending-back, and reordering-chrome-bits, all of which were completely unscheduled... but it all got done. My chrome rein rail and my new harness are HERE! And so is everything else that I need - at least, I hope!

3) Get winch installed, and padding/ratchet straps, and practice loading cart in trailer - and then go places!
Success! This one was huge for me. It was just one of those amazing moments where I can't believe I really got it all to work out the way I wanted it to. I was so proud of myself when I stood back and looked at my cart secured into my truck bed for the first time. And I was even MORE proud when I drove with it an hour and back to and from my lesson and it didn't fly out of my truck. Hooray!

4) Practice cones at a tight clearance, and run through dressage tests, specifically Training 2 POM
Success - sort of! I got to practice all of these things in my lesson - but that was only ONE day! I practice what I can at home, but it's not quite the same. The tight clearance cones are really challenging and I need more practice for sure!

5) Make sure fully prepped for the April HDT - send in entry form, make sure all supplies are on hand, re-read rulebook, secure a navigator, and everything else I am forgetting!
Oh boy... I think I have all of these things under control! I have a navigator, all my supplies, my entry it in, I have my dressage test memorized... and.... uhhh.... crap... what else am I forgetting?? I need to make another list!!

6) Work on the same training things - quiet transitions, supple bending in both directions, etc.
Success - even when we had some really bad days!

7) Change out all hardware on carriage to brass
Oh hell. What a fiasco this has turned out to be. Ordered all the brass parts - yay! So many of them - 6 footman's loops, a drawer knob, 2 shaft tips, and a rein rail. I had all of the footman's loops installed, as well as the drawer knob... and then the rein rail got smashed, and the harness broke. And the new harness has all stainless hardware. So I had to take all of it back off and reinstall the chrome, send back all of the brass, reorder the missing chrome parts, and just got them in the mail today. All I have left to do is install the new rein rail thankfully. Oye.

Pangea March Goals:

1) Make sure all foaling supplies are on hand
Success! Everything is ready to go!

2) Give full set of shots mid-month
Success! AND we had no bad reactions. She got some Previcox along with her shots and she was feeling gooooooood!

3) Start monitoring outward physical signs and udder development!
Success! You've been following along all month... and now we're down to the wire! 


O-Ren April Goals:
1) Make it successfully through out first HDT without killing anybody! Make it a positive learning experience! 
2) Attend the first NTW Games Day of the year and hopefully whoop some booty!
3) Practice cones more - and dressage tests, the Training level ones!
4) Continue to work on same training issues - relaxation, good transitions, quality of gaits, etc.
5) Did I mention not dying at our first HDT? 

Pangea April Goals:
1) With luck - have a healthy, happy baby and an easy birth!


Boy there is a LOT of stuff coming up! P has solidly entered the "I am so miserable right now" stage - I am hoping she drops this baby soon! My rein rail and my harness are HERE! Tomorrow we get back to driving!

And one last note: today is O's Gotcha Day! I've had her for two whole years now. We've had our ups and downs, but I wouldn't change any of it. We have accomplished so many things!

Here is O the day I brought her home, after a much-needed bath:

And of course, here is O the first time I saw her, when I went to go try her:

Yeahhh. I definitely bought that. She was so sweet on the ground, and a pretty mover, and totally sound... but when I went to ride her, I couldn't get her to go faster than a walk. I'd put my leg on, and she'd stop dead and bite my feet when I tried to get her going again. I couldn't even get her to trot.

Of course, then I got her home and I couldn't get her to *stop*.... I had to run her into a fence and jump off our first ride, because she couldn't steer or go slower than some gait inbetween jigging trot and maniacal flailing canter. It was special.

Two years later, we've managed to do all of these things:

And now we've embarking into the world of combined driving. Who would have guessed! Definitely not me, two years ago!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Day 326 - Changes!

P is at day 326 today, and we've had some changes! In the past two days, after a week of being stalled out, P's udders have nearly doubled in size, and today they were very firm and full. They are almost completely full - a little more fluid, and the nipples will fill and we'll finally have some actual milk. I have nothing to test yet, but we're close to that. 

The baby has also moved back a bit in the past day - it is moving into position! 

Day 325
Day 326 - baby has moved back!

Day 325

Day 326 - filling up!

It could be within the week if she keeps developing at this speed! Or, she could hold out for a few more weeks. We'll just have to see!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Impatiently Waiting

Now that we have crossed the 320 threshold (day 324 today, and no changes except a slightly bigger udder today), I'm twiddling my thumbs and hanging around, getting my focus back on other more alarming matters that are speeding toward me. Like for instance: the fact that Sunrise Ridge is only 14 days away and I HAVE NO HARNESS. Gahh!!

I've been pestering the lady and so far she hasn't heard from her harness maker. They have special distinct orders to get it to me before the 9th - but my god, even if it gets here on the 9th that will mean I won't really get to drive at all before we have to leave for the show. I REALLY REALLY hope it gets here before that!

I am SO happy though that my chrome rein rail is in the mail - it will be a pretty simple install once it arrives! I need to get a bit of paint and touch-up the cart in a few spots, and wash it really well, and then it will be ready to roll. I hopefully am having another lesson on the 3rd... but this is pending harness of course.

I've lightly lunged O a couple days in a row now - I don't normally do this much lunging, but I want her to do *something* daily while we lead up to the show. Lightly usually means no more than 15 minutes, and more like 10 for these last two. She was totally perfect yesterday and total, poking along like she was mostly asleep, listening to her commands and being very, very quiet. Quieter than usual, even! I have a very full day tomorrow so she'll either be lightly long-lined, or have off. Mostly next week I plan on long-lining and reinforcing all of her commands - kind of dressage-on-the-ground, sort of. 

Trying to capture artsy pictures of Pmare at day 323...

... but I had some company....

... who could not help but be RIGHT there waiting for some lovins'.  I was kneeling taking pictures of P, and just aimed the camera straight up!

It's one thing I do love about this mare, how affectionate she is. For all that people have been mean to her, and done terrible things to her, that never dampened her genuine longing for human interaction. If I am anywhere in her paddock for any period of time, she is right there next to be following me around, waiting to be scratched. If I ignore her and do something else - like take pictures of P, for example - she'll just stand there and doze, and stay with me. And she always comes when I show up with a halter - always, even if I've pulled her out a million times already that day for various things. It is really, really endearing.

With no ability to drive, and with the show looming up on me, I am directing my energies towards getting everything else together in the interim, so there is no panicked last-second scramble. I am probably already going to be panicked last second if my harness shows up really late, so I am trying to minimize that! I scoured over my list of supplies - I think I have everything I need. I'm only missing, you know... the most critical thing on there. O.o 

I also went ahead and reapplied Easyshoes on O's fronts today. I may do her hinds as well, but probably not right now. The Easycare support team contacted me via my blog and passed on a few of their mad genius tips I hadn't thought of before - so hopefully we can get them to STAY this time!

Basically I feel like I am sitting around twiddling my thumbs waiting for all of these enormous things to happen, when the enormous things are flying towards me at high speed:

1) Show season starting 
2) Pmare being due
3) House hunting
4) Working working working working
5) Going to CA this summer
6) Going to MI this summer

I am waiting for this harness... and waiting for this baby... and then everything is going to break loose!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Day 322... Nothing So Far

Day 322 and we've had no change for the past week or so in udder size and shape. P's back end and vulva are so floppy sloppy that everything just sort of jiggles and wiggles - it's funny to poke her in the tailhead and watch her whole butt ripple. Her demeanor seems to have changed though in the past few days - she is moving slowly and not eating very much hay. Still eating her grain well, but not eating hay with as much gusto. She is doing more standing around than eating, which is VERY unusual for her - surely she is finally starting to be uncomfortable. And she outright RAN from me when I took her flymask off last night - not totally unusual, because she hates her flymask, but I also think she is getting tired of being poked and prodded every day. Can't blame her there!

So much bloom so wow
All that green and no appetite. O is behind her refusing to leave her to go eat, because she can't brain without a friend 

The days have suddenly gotten infinitely longer. Every one of them drags by, because of how impatient I am! It will come when it comes and there's nothing to be done about that, so I just have to sit here and twiddle my thumbs and wait! I did braid her tail this morning, just to feel like I'm doing something to expedite the process. When the time comes I'll actually wrap her tail to keep it out of the way. Cleaning birthing fluids out of a tail is a gross smelly process, if you've never done it before. 

On the red beast front, O got back to work yesterday with a lunge. She was on her very best behavior and gave me some lovely work. Since I have no harness right now, I am stuck with lunges or long lining (or riding, if I got *really* crazy), until it does. Which is fine, but.... still. I really need to get back in the box seat to make sure all of her brain cells are working as a functional unit before the show. They should be, seeing as every day is a new day for this mare and so long as *you* aren't holding onto the last bad workout, *she* won't hold onto it either... but still, I need of need to know this before we get to the showgrounds!

Give me grass

I will have a post up shortly about that AWESOME new custom fly bonnet O is sporting, and where you can get one too! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pressing On, and Day 320

Thank you all so much for your comments, your encouragement, and your advice about my last post. It is, has been, and probably always will be a tough place to sit sometimes for me. I think O has what it takes to be a successful CDE horse - so long as her brain is functioning. It's especially tough because I never feel like I am in serious danger, and it's not scary when she is having a fit. It's just.... frustrating and annoying. (Although, this might be because I have a kind of extended idea of what constitutes dangerous behavior...) When push comes to shove, while she'll fight me hard to prove a point, if it ever gets to the point where she feels that her own safety is being compromised in an external way, everything stops. When my holdbacks snapped and the cart rolled up into her butt - she stopped dead. It could have been a disaster - she could have panicked or spooked or lost her mind, and a lot of horses do when this happens - but she did the opposite of all of those things, and completely stopped of her own accord. Same with her buck - she could have heard the noise she made and scared herself half to death, but she didn't, she just stopped. Deep within her berserker heart, there is solid sensibility. If she were truly dangerous, or really impossible, it would be very easy to go "screw this I am out of here." I have a lot of things I need to be responsible about - other people, animals, clients, and the like that all rely on me to be there every day - so I'm not keen to get myself into anything truly dangerous. If her behavior ever got to that point, it would be an easy choice. Or if she were physically limited, or horribly untalented, or mean, or any of those other deal breakers - those are easy choices to make. But it's not that simple. She is sound as a dollar (knock on wood), sufficiently talented, extremely sensible in her own right, and adorably sweet to deal with on the ground. She's just... extremely, highly, severely opinionated about certain things, and it makes trying to accomplish my human goals very hard. 

I pouted and grumped and moaned and groaned about for the past few days, as I felt was warranted. I fed and groomed the beasts, I loved on them for a bit, and then I left them alone while I left the property and let my human emotions consume me for a little while. I worked, and I napped, and I complained for awhile. I watched the marathon and cones from Live Oak on the USEF Network. I felt slightly better seeing just how many of the spicy FEI driving horses were so buzzed that they had a hard time holding still. I felt even better watching some of them be outright stupid too, rearing and kicking - a fair enough number of them. I received a whole lot of messages and comments about my last post offering up advice and encouragement, a lot of people going on about how their horses are just as goofy and weird as mine, or how their trainer has an upper level horse who is just as hot and difficult, and I felt better still, but still waivered around on the cusp of feeling bad. Then I opened the mail, and found a packet from the American Driving Society, which I had just joined a week ago. It was my membership card, along with some other papers, and a sticker and a pin. The little blue and gold pin slid out of the envelope to rest on the counter, and I looked at it. And I thought about how much hard work I've put in over the last eight months turning my nutty little red creature into a driving horse, doing all of the work myself when I started out knowing almost nothing about the sport. How many hours, how much learning, how much money and time and effort I have poured into this, and just how far O - who still really would be considered quite green by driving horse standards - has come.

And I scooped up that little pin, marched off to the closet, and stuck it on my show coat. No, damnit, NO, I said to myself. I am not giving up now. We have come this far. We are not quitting because one stupid bad drive got to me. NO.

I talked it solidly over with O this morning over her breakfast. She looked at me like, "whatever you say lady," and kept on eating. I know it's in my head, but sometimes I feel like when I talk candidly to O, she understands the general feeling behind the words. 

Unfortunately, as my life in general is a giant comedy of errors, all of this has gone down RIGHT before Sunrise Ridge. It couldn't have happened in January, or even just a month ago... no, it had to happen less than three weeks before the first show of the season. The one we've been counting down to. The one I've really been looking forward to. Our first HDT. And suddenly I find myself unable to drive, because my harness is broken into a bunch of pieces. On closer inspection of the harness, those are not the only parts I need to replace either, if I am going to really and truly be out safely driving. The entire thing is ancient. Lovely, wonderful for what it is, but ancient and about to kick the bucket. I am LOVING driving, having a total blast doing it, and absolutely see myself continuing this sport even if O doesn't end up having a lifelong career in it. Therefore, I decided that it was time to go ahead and invest in a new harness. 

I'll do another post with details when I have it in my hands - which I hope is extremely soon. The retailer promised to have it to me as quickly as possible, and they are local so I am hoping for a quick turnaround. The customer service is awesome with this company, and if anything doesn't work or fit just right I can bring it straight back and exchange it for something that does. The harness is not outrageously expensive but I am still going to be able to make payments - which is SUPER helpful when you have taxes to pay and you weren't exactly budgeting for a brand new harness just yet!! I was originally planning on upgrading at the end of the season, to try and get a season out of my old harness but obviously it just didn't pan out that way. The harness is also all synthetic - which was a huge step for this leather lover to take. I have seen these harnesses in person, and you can't tell they are synthetic, even up close. They are very, very nice, and you can stick them in your dishwasher right before a show and voila! Beautiful. With a sweaty, sweaty horse like O, all you have to do after a drive is hose it down. I am ALL about shiny, soft, supple, beautiful, traditional leather, and shiny, shiny, shiny, shiny brass, but let's face it... harness takes an eternity to clean properly. 45 minutes for a light cleaning, several hours for a thorough cleaning with a brass polish. Ain't nobody got time for that.

The other thing about this harness is that it has stainless hardware. Stainless is a really good investment for me, as my hope is to do majority CDEs/HDTs instead of pleasure shows, and it will go better with a marathon vehicle should I ever end up with one AND require a million times less maintenance. But you know what that means... yep, all the brass I just ordered for my cart needs to go back. Luckily the lady I ordered it from is happy to exchange for chrome instead, although she is probably quite tired of me by this point! Can't say enough about the customer service from both places, and will highly recommend them to whoever asks - Iowa Valley Carriage and Chimacum Tack. I'm getting all the brass back in the mail tomorrow, and will hopefully have the chrome back in my hands shortly!

This total mad scramble is, of course, happening right before a show... AND Pmare is fast closing in on her due date. ALL at the same time!

Speaking of which, P has officially reached the coveted day 320 mark. This means she is officially past the premature mark - anything born before day 320 is considered premature. She's still *barely* on the cusp of it of course, but I feel like I can breathe a sigh of relief, and now just sit back and relax and wait! All of my foaling supplies are gathered, I picked up some straw today, and now I am ready to just kick back and wait. She'll have it outside if the weather is nice, and inside if not. She has stalled out progress wise over the past few days - everything has stayed the same, udder size included, although I do think she has slowed down slightly and is moving with more care.

Day 320

Whenever you're ready, we're ready, Pmare!

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Berserker

Well, I suppose I was due to have a super bad drive at *some* point. 

After our great lesson on Tuesday, O had Wed-Friday off, due partly to the terrible weather and partly due to my schedule. I pulled her out Saturday afternoon to drive, hoping the rain would hold off. It did not - a few minutes into harnessing, it started raining solidly. We were already all set to go through, and I didn't want to put her back in the barn after all of the effort to lug all of my stuff out - what's the harm, she's gotta learn to cope with the rain, right?

In all honesty, she was very good about the rain, really and truly. She doesn't like rain much, but she put on a game face and got to it. We walked and trotted up and down the road, and everything was quite fine. She was being a very good girl, albeit a bit forward. Unfortunately, at some point my glasses inevitably became super wet, and the warm air rising up from my wet clothes fogged them clean over. I was completely blind, and needed to stop to wipe them. At the end of the road, I turned her around, and I halted her, taking off my glasses to wipe them.

And that's where everything totally fell to pieces. This is a spot where we usually start trotting, and O thought that it was time to do that, so she stood for a minute and then lunged forward into her breastcollar. I stopped her, and she did it again. And again. This is not abnormal behavior for her by any means - she'll stand rock solid immobile forever if you want her to.... unless she thinks it is time for going. Then she lunges into her breastcollar and bulldozes her way forward. I had no glasses on and was trying desperately to wipe them while still stopping her over, and over. She became frustrated with being stopped, and started to back up. I asked her to whoa, and she kept backing. I asked her to walk on, and she kept backing. We were steadily approaching the intersection (not a busy one thankfully), but going the wrong direction. We were also getting quite close to the ditch. I picked up my whip, and tapped her on the side, asking her to walk on.

And she LOST HER MIND. Absolutely lost her mind. She almost sat down, started throwing herself in every direction, and tried to go careering the other way. I tapped her again, because she still was going backwards, and she wound herself tighter and tighter. I could not get her to just GO forward. She tapdanced, she thrashed, and every time I tapped her with the whip, she went backwards into the pressure instead of away from it. This is also not new behavior... this is always her response when something isn't to her liking. She thrashed, and thrashed, and still I couldn't get her to go forward. She thrashed so very hard that she snapped the leather on the tug strap that holds the tug to the bellyband - the part that keeps the shafts close to the horse. (Thankfully not the girth or the tugs themselves.) I couldn't see that it had happened at the time, but you can imagine the violence of her thrashing in order to break that piece of thick leather. All I could do was keep saying "walk on... walk on... walk on." Finally she went forward, at a canter - basically throwing herself from going backwards right into the canter. I'm not keen on cantering in two wheel vehicles but hell, at least I was going forward. I let her canter most of the way down the road, then brought her back to a trot (and she listened), then turned her to make another pass up the road (not knowing I had a break in my harness). She was hot, and strong, and crashed forward again from the walk right into a zooming canter with a VERY strong hold on the reins. I had had quite enough of that, and asked her to slow down. She hit the brakes HARD, and threw herself into reverse. I almost flew off the box seat. Another serious of wild, violent flails, and she managed to break both holdback straps. BOTH. These straps are the brakes on a harness - they are what stop the cart from rolling into the horse's butt when it stops. I realized with some alarm that they were broken, and somehow managed to talk her down from her violent rage. Somehow, some way, I managed to get her turned around, and quiet enough to walk all the way home. There was literally nothing else that could be done.

My harness is very, very old - the people I bought it from had it for 20 years, and they bought it used off somebody else, so it is probably even older than I am. Stuff doesn't last forever, especially not stuff made of dead animals, and there's a possibility that it had some dry rot around the holes in the places that it broke, that were small enough to go unnoticed. But still, there's no denying that O flailed hard enough to break it, and break it in three different places. The harness is currently completely unusable until I can get replacement parts. The first show is less than three weeks away.

I love this mare dearly. I believe in her, I want her to do well. I want her to succeed because nobody else believes in her. I have tried for two years to find a sport that is suitable to her peculiar mental needs, and I really thought this one out of all of them was the best for her brain. But just as always happens with her - everything goes well in the preliminary learning stage of a new sport, when everything is super simple and easy and straightforward. But when things get more difficult, or more complicated, or aren't going exactly the way she expects them to go - she checks OUT. She just says NO, every time.

I've always described her as Jekyll and Hyde, ever since I first met her - when she is good she is SO very good, and when she is bad, oh god look out. When the marble rolls the wrong way, it's all over. She's a berserker - when something isn't going the way she expects, her eyes get misted over with the bloodwrath, and she flies into a rage, irrational and violently agitated, unable to control her own actions. "YOU WANT ME TO GO FORWARD? I'LL SHOW YOU FORWARD," she says. And every little bit that you fight against it, she comes right back at you tenfold.

I've written about this before. Written about it a lot, actually... because it's my everyday reality. None of this behavior is new, none of it is surprising. It's just... dissapointing. Frustrating, and disappointing. I really finally thought that maybe I had a sport that she would truly be able to handle without having a nuclear meltdown every time the going gets a little tough. But it's still there... her inability to deal with things beyond being sweet talked into them. Her fury and rage. Her violent overreactions over little things that offend her. Her total failure to cope with things and respond sensibly. I just wanted her to stand still for a minute so I could wipe my glasses off... that's what started the entire thing. That's all I wanted her to do, and she couldn't handle it.

It sounds like I am getting myself worked up over one single bad drive, I know. I know it sounds silly. But it's not just one drive, it's every drive. It's every workout this mare has ever done in the past two years. Every single lunge, long line, drive, or ride, it's a race to see if you can get her done before the powder keg blows. If you can, you win! But most times she blows up mid-work, and it's always in response to being asked to do just a *little* more, or a *little* different. Go forward please... slow down please... stand please. It's never a "yes" with her, it's a "no" with a giant battle ensuing. Always. Every time. Every single one. The task then becomes soothsaying, trying to put her head on straight again and ending on a good note. It's a fun challenge, and it's enjoyable on some days, but on others when I just wish she'd be good and easy just for once... she never is.

I'm not giving up on her. I'm not ready to throw the towel in. But on days like this I find myself what I'm really doing here. I haven't ridden since I can't remember when. I haven't been to a recognized show, eventing or dressage, in five years. And it's because I love this horse and I am more invested in her success than in my chosen sports. I find myself wondering, what am I really doing here?
Anyone who loved this horse less would have passed her down the line ages ago. Anyone wanting to be involved with their beloved sports would have found a more suitable beast. O has a forever home with me, she'll never go anywhere... but perhaps it is time to consider catching a ride or drive on something that is saner. Maybe not though... I don't know.

Sigh. Sorry about the woe-is-me post. You've been reading them for two years... I was due for another one I suppose.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Lesson (And Several Other Things)

When I last left off with O's continual story, I had been able to long line and then drive her hot speedy self down the road following our two weeks off. Following this, she had a day off, and then I long lined her again on Saturday. One minor unforseen problem cropped up though that I honestly just hadn't ever given a second thought to before: the wind. What does the wind have to do with long lining your horse, you might ask?

Well, I'll tell you. In Texas, we have four seasons: Hot, Fire, Wind, and Tarantulas. These seasons can come together in groups of two, or three, or even all four, or they can come as singles. They can come just in a day, or in an afternoon, or even in just an hour. Forget Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall - they do not apply to Texas. 

On Saturday, it was Wind season. It was steadily blowing at 40+mph, aided by the big stretch of prairie land behind us. Normally I don't even notice things like that anymore, but that day there was an unforseen consequence to it - the driving lines are super lightweight. Therefore, when caught by the wind, they started whipping around in the air - didn't matter if the contact was tight or loose, because if it was loose it flapped, and if it was tight it vibrated hard. The consequence to this was that poor O thought she was being whipped in the butt repeatedly by the lines. There was nowhere on the entire property that was immune from the wind - it howled no matter where we went. Poor O kept jumping forward, thinking I was spanking her on purpose even though she was doing nothing wrong. Eventually I just had to give up, end on a good note, and put her up. Lesson learned - I will not be long lining her in a strong wind ever again!

She had Sunday off due to time constraints, and then Monday I long lined her again, this time with no howling wind. She was excellent, quiet and responsive. Long lining is a really great tool that I don't use nearly enough, but really should. You do all of the things that you do with a cart, you're on the ground. You can easily work on smoothing out things that are challenging in the cart - for instance, backing her and then going forward again. She is understanding how to back up now, and is doing it very well, but she tends to get stuck in creeping reverse mode, where even when you say "whoa" or "walk on", she still takes a few creeping backward steps. Being the excellent girl that she is, if she does this on the ground I can step up to her butt and put a hand on her to stop her and reinforce my "whoa". (Obviously I can't recommend that with other beasts as it's not a very safe thing to do!) I can also come up to her and pet her and scratch her when she has done a good thing, something that can't really be done from the box seat. 

Also, you should all be SUPER jealous of O's AMAZING new halter. Traditional leather-only type folks are probably going to have a heartattack when they see this, but O now has a custom mule tape halter, navy and baby blue colored. I have wanted one of these FOREVER. It is so, so soft, and so pretty. I love it!

Tuesday was a milestone, and was super awesome with some super bad moments interspersed in the middle. A driving friend that I made locally invited me to come drive at her place and have a lesson with W, a trainer that I previously thought I'd never be able to work with due to distance. L is another newer whip so she and I have become friends, bouncing ideas back and forth to each other for the past few months. When she offered a chance for me to come out to her place I jumped on it! 

In the morning, I fed the mares and left them to munch hay while I loaded up my cart. This was really going to be the true test - I had taken the cart for a drive while it was in the bed, just to make sure it didn't fly out, but I hadn't gone anywhere far. I ratcheted it down with a million straps, crossed my fingers, gave O her Ulcergard and Pro CMC, loaded up, and headed out. 
Thankfully, I needn't have worried - it didn't budge an inch the entire drive. It was super secure! Easy in, easy out, and I have a warrenty on the winch should anything happen to it within the next year. So much success!!

We arrived at L's place around 9:30, and I let O out to eat hay while I unloaded the cart - or well, I parked her in front of her haybag and said a silent thanks to the gods of Ulcergard, because she was only interested in staring at All The Things and fidgeting instead of eating. I ended up having to stick her on the lunge to trot out some of the willies before we harnessed - she was quiet but fixedly convinced that the draft mule next door was an evil scary beast. I don't think she had ever seen a mule before, much less one that was galloping and snorting. Back at the trailer, she munched hay while we harnessed up and headed out to the field. 

Going over show rules before the lesson

I have to say, I was impressed with how chilled out she was. She marched into the field like she owed the place, and got right down to work. She got right to it, was supple and forward, and had a really good warmup. We then halted and stood around for awhile while Bob the pony did his dressage test.

When I picked her back up, we went and walked for awhile, and then went to go do our test. At that point, she was extremely quiet, lazy, and not very well connected. I usually take that for what it is (AKA yay you're quiet and not super hot/wild, I'll take it) and bebopped with little fanfare through our dressage test. W said at the end that she just didn't have enough forward motion, enough sparkle. I went to try and run through it again, with more forward motion - but I had none. She thought we had finished long ago, and was not interested in going through it yet again. Usually a quiet cluck sends her shooting forward at warp speed, so I use clucking judiciously when I really need it - but I had no response. I'd cluck, and she'd shudder all over like she had heard me, but didn't choose to respond by going any more forward. I clucked, and clucked, and she shuddered and poked along. I tapped her with the whip, she shuddered and poked along. I clucked louder. This was the point where she decided that she had had enough, and gave me the giant horse middle finger: she bucked. And she bucked HIGH. She bucked so very high that when she came back down, one of her hind feet smashed the rein rail on the dashboard of the cart, and bent it.

Oh HELL NO. That is a cardinal sin when you are between the shafts. She has never once done that before - never even given a single indication that it was something she'd ever even consider. Had I ever thought it would EVER be something she'd EVER do, I would have put a kick strap on her. (And from now on, she'll wear one for every drive. It's a strap that runs from one shaft over the top of the rump to the other shaft - if they try to buck, they can't physically do it, because they'd have to lift the entire weight of the cart.) As a side note: if O was a regular bucker I would never have bothered to break her to drive. If she was a kicker I wouldn't have done it either. If she did either with any regularly, I wouldn't drive her either. This is the first time in two years that she has bucked while being driven (or ridden!) - she bucks like a maniac every single day in her paddock while playing, but never ever gave any suggestion to do it while working. As it stands, she is a horse and horses do horse things - just because she hadn't ever done it before doesn't mean that's a guarantee that this would never have happened.  With a kick strap in place I can keep any future incidents from causing major trouble. 
To her credit, the noise of the impact did not frighten or upset her (I've seen videos of some spectacular wrecks where the horse kicked the cart and then scared itself half to death). She didn't kick out in any way either, just set herself up for the buck, bucked once, and then came back down. I was so surprised by it that I hauled her to a stop, backed her, and then sent her strongly onward into a tight circle. She was mad by this point, and tried to canter, shaking her head and plowing strongly into the contact. After fighting with her for a minute about her wanting to grab the bit and zoom off, I pulled her out of the dressage ring and set her butt to work for several minutes, darting back and forth from a tight left circle to a tight right circle, back and forth and back and forth in small figure 8's. She quit grabbing the bit and pulling, and settled into a rhythm, back and forth and back and forth like she was hypnotized. Once I felt that she was finally listening and responding, we went back into the dressage ring and did the test over. She was sharply attentive this time, listening to any requests for more forward movement without jumping too hard at them, and really paying attention in her transitions. I thought she might be fidgety and hot when halted, as she tends to get, but she was stock still and attentive, actually waiting for me to ask her to move off. She was a bit above the contact and not very connected during this run through the test, but the fact that she was listening attentively made that less important. 

I think there is a really fine line to walk with this horse, and it is constantly shifting. It's easy to either get sucked into a fight, or let her bebop along in order to avoid a fight altogether. I've been talking a lot lately about sweet talking her into being a lady, but I think I am probably just taking it too far. It's easy to fall into the trap of asking her to do something two or three times and being satisfied with her doing it on the third try after ignoring the first two, because she did it without killing anyone, but she really should be doing it right on the first try. I need to be a more proactive driver - I need to communicate with her better, and more. There needs to be a better running dialogue instead of just a few commands here and there.

After my second run through the test, we took another break and chatted for a bit about strategies for cones. We took a few pics too - note O the sweaty, sweaty beast after getting her butt handed to her for a few minutes:

We then ran through the cones course a few times. This was the first time I had gone through a cones course with them actually set to a competition distance, and it's crazy how tight they seemed! I need to practice at home for sure, or else I will be sorry! By this point, O was absolutely on her A game, briskly and smoothly gliding through every set of cones, taking a buttery soft contact and listening to every half halt. W nodded and said, "looks like a winning cones course to me!"

We finished our session with a walk down the driveway to cool out, complete with L's other mare galloping around like a total maniac. O was quite tired at this point, and would have been happy to walk down the driveway, but I could see her brain starting to leak out of her ears when the other mare went zooming around, so we went right back to the trailer when we were done and finished. 

Me: "Please whoa damnit"

Galloping palomino for added fun

Definitely lots to take away and think about. Lots and lots to think about! And lots and lots of work ahead of us! It was a great lesson and I am looking forward to the next one.

O was pooped on Wednesday, to nobody's great surprise. I caught her napping in her shed:

And even dreaming!:

Today I was going to drive her down the road for a bit, but unfortunately when I arrived in the afternoon, I found that she must have been laying in something that her skin reacted badly to. Her belly and one side was covered in HUGE hives!

My poor paper-skinned beast. She has tomorrow off anyway due to time constraints; hopefully by this weekend her bumps will be gone. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Day 314

I have updates I need to write about for O, including an awesome lesson and a terribly naughty thing, but if I put both P's updates and O's updates all together it would be WAAAAY too long. Therefore I decided to split them up, and focus on P for tonight, since her updates a little more, erm... time sensitive.

She is at day 314 (or well, day 315 in a few hours!). We are rapidly closing in on day 320, which is when the foal is considered full-term and past the premature mark. She won't go before then, which is great, because at the beginning of the month I was holding my breath a little!

These photos were taken a few days ago. You can see how decidedly pointy her belly was that day!

Today she is rounder, but the baby has moved back some:

Interesting too to see where her pattern of dapples stops - right where the outline of the foal is!

Her vulva is relaxing, and her tailhead is getting significantly mushier every day.

Gratuitous hooha shot

Her udder has been growingly slowly every day, always a little bigger. There is no fluid that can be expressed yet, but that's not a biggie - her milk will come in as we get closer. 

Day 314

The most significant change in the past few days is the fact that she suddenly got WHOA studdish. One of the other mares has been in flaming heat, and P went NUTS over her, huffing and nickering and arching her neck. She licked and nibbled the mare all over (they were sharing a fenceline), sniffed under her tail, did the flehmen response, and even went so far as to grab her crest and make a few hops like she was going to mount her from the other side of the fence! All this sluttiness also brought O into heat - P doesn't seem interested in her beyond a few huffs and nickers, but remember this, because it will come into play in the next post.

Every day, we get a little bit closer! I'd say she goes within the next 3 weeks. Maybe even two weeks! 

Yesterday also marked the one year anniversary since I went to go retrieve her from her leasing-gone-wrong situation. Never again.... 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Day 309

Pmare has reached 309 days! She got her final set of shots today, which will boost the antibodies in her milk and help keep the baby safe. Giving a chunk of shots all at one time always makes me nervous, but my vet hooked me up with a set that causes few reactions. P seems to be quite fine and even came trotting up to the gate for her dinner. which is impressive given her general laid back nature and her enormous size.

Day 309
Her chichis are growing and changing, getting a little bigger every day. You can see in this picture that they have spread apart now. Still have a long way to go, but every day brings us closer.

Her belly is starting to drop and get pointy. I imagine it will be SUPER dropped as we get closer, considering just how far down it already is!

In other news: not a lot else has happened in the past two days. Neither one of the seminars that I had planned on going to this month are panning out - one is just too far away, and the other was cancelled. We are finally drying out from all the rain, I managed to slice my finger wide open on a gate snap, and I also turned 30 years old yesterday. 30 *sounds* ancient, but I don't feel old. I still don't even think of myself as a proper adult, to be honest. Most of the time I just feel like a kid who has a few responsibilities here and there. I think the lesson here is that you're only really as old as you feel. I'm way, way beyond the age of being interested in wild partying, but have in no way outgrown my zest for adventures and playtime. I always assumed at 30 that everyone was supposed to have their crap together and have a house and be married with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence, but that's not really my thing. I have a thriving small business, a super fun dude, some amazing friends and family, a boatload of animals - and I know where I'm headed in life, who I am, and who I want to be. I think that's a pretty good start.

You're only as old as you feel
I think my 30's are going to be pretty fantastic.


It has taken a whole lot of meticulous planning, experiments, and possibly a few ratchet straps thrown angrily across the driveway, but I managed to figure out the transport system for my cart. I'll have to see about removing my truck box for day trips - the wheels just *don't quite fit* in the entire bed, although if I ratcheted it down well enough I'm sure it would stay. I'd feel a lot better if I could scooch it forward and close the tailgate. I assembled my ramps, installed my winch, measured everything, and crossed my fingers hoping everything would work. And it did! The winch is powered off the truck battery - the motor is in no way powerful but my cart is not heavy. It was quite easy to do - slightly time consuming but not really *that* much.

I can't tell you how thrilling this is. This means we are now MOBILE!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Back to Work

O's leg has mostly returned to normal, finally. She and the others spent Monday in the barn due to a torrential all-day downpour, and because of this I decided to wrap her fronts to keep the leg from filling back up again. A few hours later, S texted me to report that O was destroying her bandages. Really mare... sigh. Although I guess I'm not surprised, she doesn't ever really wear wraps and she doesn't ever go in a stall unless the weather is terrible. I've seen her grab her blanket with her teeth and pull on it hard whenever she decides she wants it off, so it's not surprising that she'd do the same for wraps. She is a special strawberry, that's for sure. In pulling her wraps, she ripped the wounds open again, *of course*. Despite that, the leg looked halfway normal Tuesday morning, and I decided to trailer her to the small covered arena down the road and lunge her. Everything is a swamp back at the home barn and there's nothing to be done about it. After two whole weeks off, I was not keen to put her between the shafts without having lunged her first. I like living, thanks very much.

She was hot and looky and trembling all over with nervous excitement when I unloaded her, and I parked her in front of her haybag. I never work my horses on an empty stomach - they always are allowed to tank up on hay before we work, as an ulcer preventative. She drives me nuts when we go places and she gets like that though, because she won't eat her hay and instead has to stare at EVERYTHING with huge enormous eyes and big blows. Not much to be done about it either except just try to help her relax, and put the haybag in front of her. She's been to this barn before, plenty of times, but she has been off for two weeks. I didn't really expect any different though, to be honest. I made sure I let her stuff her face with hay for an hour before we left (she also refuses to eat while on the trailer), and dosed her Pro CMC before I went to work her since she was not even considering her bag of hay. Normally when we go places and she has been in steady work, she is looky and curious and then will settle in and eat for awhile before we go to work. I haven't been trailering her many places as of late, and she's been off work, so I was prepared for some goofy, erratic behavior.
I know everybody thinks I am nuts for being so neurotic about ulcer protection but it pays off to be that way, especially with this horse. Even with ALL I do for her in terms of protection - and it's a LOT of stuff - I still worry about it. And if I wasn't so neurotic about it, she'd be burned from mouth to butthole with gastric problems, I can guarantee it. I don't know how people with similarly neurotic beasts can ever get away with less preventative care. I suppose a lot of them *don't* get away with it - every which way I turn, there's another classic ulcer case in just about every barn I go to. Ulcers are debilitating and painful... if only people paid as much attention to the soundness of their horses' guts as they do the soundness of their legs. I guess you only know what you know, until you learn.

Anyway. I digress.

I am a good beast
The covered arena is only really about lunging size, so there's not a ton of space in there. But it's all good dry footing, so it works great for situations like this when the bigger arenas are flooded out. I started off lunging her in the Fauxssoa to get the willies out, and then stuck my driving lines on her. She did not so much have the zooming willies as she did the veering snorties - everything was scary looking, and she couldn't stop staring at everything going on outside of the arena. This passed within relative short order, and while she was still spooky she at least was paying attention. Once the driving lines were on, she was wonderful, and we did lots of transitions, bending, and changes of direction. The long lining is infinitely helpful with the work we do when hitched - it's all the same stuff, I'm just on the ground. Our dressage tests at Training level are very simple: halts, a reinback, 40 meter circles at the trot, and some working walk and free walk. We worked on all of these things, specifically quiet transitions, and she was great. The leg went down all the way to regular size while she was working, and has stayed down. Hooray!

Today I was VERY happy that I had opted to lunge her yesterday. It was foggy and warm this morning, and BOTH mares had the zooms for a little while. P is 307 days pregnant and still got her bucks on this morning! (Not for very long... a few passes back and forth was quite enough for her!)

Run Monster Dog run!
We got her the ball to entertain herself.... aaaaand she hasn't touched it once
Gravity is not kind

After they settled and munched hay for awhile, I pulled O out and hooked her. She was not surprisingly quite hot and jittery still... SO glad I lunged her AND that she got her bucks out in the morning. The neighbors were shooting, and in the foggy still morning every noise was super loud. She normally doesn't care about the noise, but this morning she got the jerking shudders every time a gun went off. A truck went by with a muddy, rattling water tank attached to a trailer, and she almost had a heartattack. The neighbor with the donkeys was moving haybales around with his tractor, and I thought she was going to fall over and die when she saw that sight. Mares...

Despite that, she was actually a pretty good girl. When she gets super hot, she bubbles over with energy and has a very hard time stopping and standing still. When she is quiet, she'll stand immobile for hours if you want her to, but when she is not, she'll halt promptly but then burst forward again of her own accord. She'll do it over, and over, and over again, and if she gets frustrated enough she'll turn her head around and bite the shafts or harness (with her ears pricked forward, never in a grumpy way... weird mare). But, if you're just patient, and insist that no, we really *do* have to stand... then she'll stand. Over the course of the drive, she melted into a much more amicable beast, and was doing some great walk-trot-walk transitions, stretching, halting, backing up, walking off, and halting again (which is the sequence we have to do in our Training 2 test). She walked home on a long floppy rein, quite a lot more relaxed than when we went out.

Feels good to be back in the box seat, that's for sure!