Monday, March 31, 2008

"Dressage...Sport of Masochists"

My break from dressage is officially over. My thoroughbred has been in training all winter and is baaaack, just like some evil imp in a horror movie. He is hot healthy and full of himself. I used to think the expression "racing fit" sounded good. Not so much, any more. Stronger and fitter for him = more reactive. I no longer know all the buttons he has installed. We get sudden sideways by accident, we get a ton of acceleration from very little aids. We also get spectacular reactions when a hunk of snow slips off the arena roof and foofs loudly. In addition, a fiendish family of pigeons has taken up residence in the arena rafters. Mom (or Dad?) swoops down periodically and causes a young thoroughbred to lose a year of life through sheer terrified mobility. I can ride out some of his spooks now much better than in the past, when I used to fall like a ripe melon; but I am still wary of the sudden sideways leap. I measured one of these once and impossibly enough, it was 18 feet from hoofplant to landing. I probably made it for 3 of those feet...

But dressage is great in that it is never-ending; you always have something to work on and you never actually improve more than an iota or 2, giving you a soothing sense of infinity. Somebody out there looks beautiful riding dressage (probably an android), and that image is enough to keep people going.

I attended a workshop on musical freestyles (just to continue my theme of "in-your-dreams-fool") Saturday morning. Since then I've been fantasizing about putting our rides to music and creating something unique. The clinician was Dr. Jane Linville and she was great, really inspiring. She emphasized that your horse has to like the music or he won't dance. This got me wondering what kind of music my hot off-track redhead would enjoy: I'm thinking a cross between Viking Metal and Sesame Street. What about your horse? If your ponies could hit the jukebox, what would they choose?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Doctor is In! My Horses, My Therapists

I went to the barn today in a truly dark mood. I am behind in my research, I have writing to do that hangs over me like an anvil, it is not spring in spite of my previous optimistic lies, and my riding has gone to heck over the winter. Furthermore, I had a horrid ride yesterday. Johnnie was balky, his gait was bumpy, and nothing worked. He is my failsafe horse, uncomplicated, 'easy'; but nothing was easy that day.

So here I came today with all this weight of care & negativity. And fortunately, the doctor was in. As you can see in the photo, the horses started out by staring at me with the usual equine carefully studied disbelief. "What?!" I believe teenagers also perfect this look. Montana is standing on the right, Johnnie on the left. After The Look, they did the shuffle to the gate. I pulled them out and groomed them, and since it is Not-Spring they were shedding wads of hair, which blew all around in a hairy dervish and stuck to my clothes as usual.

To help Johnny get his gait back I put down some cavaletti (just ground poles really) and this did seem to help - he picked up his feet and found his rhythm. Maybe he is just out of shape? I am always living in fear of some difficult-to-diagnose lameness or injury, and he plays very hard in the pasture. So my plan is to try this work regularly for the next 2 weeks and assess. Tomorrow I am back to dressage with Montana.

But the great thing is: all this time of getting covered with horse hair, dragging ground poles around, freezing in the wind, playing with the walk, etc. I did not think about my cares at all. Let Hillary and Obama duke it out, never mind that I missed International Pillow Fight Day, I am in the company of horses. I always joke that horses are not expensive when you compare them to psychotherapy. It isn't really a joke though; I can't imagine what a gibbering wreck I'd be without these equine therapists to stare me down and talk sense to me without saying a word.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

OK maybe it isn't spring quite yet

Last night brought in 2-6 inches of fresh wet snow, in typical March fashion. This is the kind of snow that kills people who are conscientious about shoveling their walks. It is as heavy as anti-matter. If you are willing to leave it alone, it will be gone in a few days, slushed and melted and run away downhill to the big lake.

So I took Johnnie out for another snowy spring trail ride, and again he seemed quite cheerful about that. This time we met no one but some cute small birds. I'm pretty sure we would have met several hungry bears if it hadn't been for Johnnie's new bear bells (see photo). I did hear some beaver action in the creek where they build a huge dam every year. So things are starting to happen.

Snowmobilers had been along the trail before us, and they do a nice job of crunching up any slippery spots on the snow surface. It was so warm (35 degrees F.) that great bombs of wet snow fell out of the trees on all sides as we went. I love a horse who can get snowbombed and not bat an eyelid.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Trail ride! spring has officially arrived

And Johnnie & I went out on a short trail ride today. He so much prefers the trail to the arena. Our winters confine us to arena riding for the most part, due to ice rather than snow. The road that links to our nearest trail system was open today and free of ice, so I decided to take advantage. We were met by a few walkers and one extremely happy dog, who was seeing his first horse and could not get over how this made his day. John went into his marching flat walk and we spent one good hour at this pace, which is supposed to be great conditioning for a horse recovering from winter. Johnnie is a perfect trail companion for a solitary ride. He is fearless and happy out on his own. At one point I dropped a glove taking pictures, and had to dismount and remount - always a challenge with a tallish horse and slippery snow. In addition, I hadn't cinched him up tightly enough so the saddle came rotating around as I scrambled and struggled. He stood like a statue, though his thoughts were probably less than polite. It was a nice relief to be away from the house chores.

Husband & I had spent most of yesterday putting together a chandelier I bought on EBay which had featured "easy assembly". Of the many four-letter words that might occur to you in connection with this fiendish project, "easy" comes in dead last. The instructions were assembled from about 4 different chandeliers, and no 2 pages from the same. So part A and part B yield to number 5 and number 6, which yield to grommet and finial and barking madness. But the explosion of parts did include a pair of white gloves! We found this reassuring. I think the gloves were there so that if you strangled your co-workers during assembly, no fingerprints would remain.

The final result is very pretty though!
We may know too much about it to ever relax while sitting beneath. A head full of prisms would be a poetic way to die, but painful.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Springtime: Fire up the Environmental Catastrophe!

So today we charged up the truck battery and once again the sweet smell of diesel fumes filled the air. My horse-hauling truck, an F250, slept all winter. But now it is nearing time for trail rides, horse shows, and horse camping so we charged up its completely stone dead batteries and I drove it to the barn. Sweet!

I have very mixed feelings about driving around in this behemoth. See picture showing true scale and size of Mr. Bigtruck. Yes it is a monster, but it hunkers down and hauls, and that is the job it was hired for.

What surprises me most is my personality change behind the wheel of Mr. Bigtruck. I am usually a fairly quiet and patient driver, unassuming you might say. But elevate me to that lofty seat height, crank up the big diesel, and something happens. It is really fun to be so personally large on the road. People do yield the right of way. No one wants to crumple his Prius against my deer catcher or my tow hitch. I am bigger than almost everyone. I feel condescending towards them. The very same vehicles that are me on most days (see picture of my little Focus) seem like little tiny bugs, which I refrain from crushing out of kindness alone.

My husband is amused by the idea of putting horses inside a trailer and driving them about; in the old days (he says), the horses carried the humans. He is not so amused by the price tag of this horse transport. But when we are horse camping under the stars, with Johnnie munching hay nearby in the dark, and a beautiful day of trails ahead, it all seems eminently reasonable. Summer is coming! Today the wind lacked conviction, and the sun seemed more full of itself. Soon we'll have mud season, and then...glory days.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Thoroughbred racing: Where's Your Heart?

"From the TB Friends blog today:

"Here is a documented fact: Storm Cat has a stud fee of three hundred thousand dollars [note; his stud fee is actually $500,000 and his stud book for this year is full]. Since 2001 we have rescued 14 of his sons and daughters for an average price of 35 cents a pound"."

This quote is cited on one of my favorite blogs, Fugly Horse of the Day; it is followed by a question: what to do about the the problem of oversupply of race-bred thoroughbred horses? StormCat is a particularly egregious case because his temperament is somewhat difficult and he is prepotent for passing on the attitude along with the speed. His sexual favors earn his owners around $50,000,000 a year; but his offspring once retired do not always fare so well.

What are your thoughts on thoroughbred racing? No question they were bred for this; their ancestry goes back to British racing nuts who created them from Arabian imports in the 18th century with two thoughts in mind: 1. racing, and 2. winning. Every horse person has a different image of equine perfection; for me it is always a thoroughbred. Those long legs, that lean profile, that refined head and above all, that walking-on-air suspension, like their feet barely touch the earth. I know they aren't the best all-around horse, whatever that might be; but to me they are almost divine and I would like to die while looking at a thoroughbred (preferably not as I fly through the air off his back!).

My own personal piece of the thoroughbred racing industry (in the pictures, galloping and doing a bit of dressage) is now 14 years old. I got Montana -- "Who's Dancer", out of Flying Lily by Angel Who -- when he was 7 and had been off the track for awhile but not doing much. He raced up and down the west coast and won a career total of $217,000. He has the mind of a 3-year old, the age at which he won the most money oddly enough, and probably always will: questioning, reacting, enjoying, hamming it up, delighted by a peanut butter sandwich almost to the point of meltdown, affectionate as the day is long. Like most off-track thoroughbreds he was inexpensive. He saw me through a heartbreaking divorce when all I did was cry on his neck, too sad to even ride. Do horses understand sorrow? I suspect they do; their emotional intelligence is different from ours but very nuanced.

So he is my beloved friend, brought to me by the racing industry. And the racing industry has me conflicted. I thrill to the sound of the starting horn; I love watching the horses ponied out to the starting gate, muscles rippling in the light, their restless eyes searching the crowd and nostrils flared. I love the way they fly across the ground. And I understand how dangerous their lives can be. And when they stop winning, or stop trying to win (as usually happens), or get injured (as happens far too often), where do they go?

Many of the big breeding farms donate to support re-homing efforts for the retired racehorse. Many small breeders take that responsibility on themselves, bringing their thoroughbreds home to retrain and sell on for a second career as someone's riding partner. But too many of these beautiful animals still go to waste, ending up on dinner plates or in rendering plants before they've had a chance to be simple horses with quiet lives. At, a blog devoted to criticizing 'backyard breeders' and other horse-wasters, you will see occasional discussions of these and other issues relating to unwanted/homeless horses. Let me know your thoughts.