Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from John and Me!!

A foot of snow last night brought us a white Christmas for sure! It is beautiful in the moonlight as I let the dogs out.

I hope everyone has good friends, some family to love or to remember fondly if they have passed on, some yummy food, and maybe even the chance to kiss a horse on the neck and say thank you for all that horses bring into our lives -- all that beauty, kindness, childishness, weird sense of humor, and infinite grace.

Here's to the year 2010! May it be filled with precious beauty for you and your horses!!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Buff, Bendy, Bootylicious: Gettin' Down To It

Are you interested in equine kinesiology?

Today we really started the winter regimen of training in the indoor to make us both reach the 3-B's by spring.

I was aided in my quest for equine bendy-ness by a set of techniques my friend Laura referred me to on YouTube. This equine body-work specialist gives some great exercises for flexing your horse and basically doing some 'horsey yoga' that will align your horse's major spinal system and stretch the supporting muscles prior to riding. I was hooked right away when I saw that big horse bunch up the abs:

I did all of these exercises with John today prior to riding. Here is my report:

1. Leg lifts and bends: I am afraid of getting my hand stepped on. But he cooperated and his left shoulder is much stiffer than his right. We worked gently at flexing that left foreleg and in several stints, he got looser and more comfortable.

2. Butt massage to get back up: Did not work. John enjoyed the butt massage but he did not raise up and scrunch like the horse in the video. Instead he started eating his lead rope. I have to work on my technique here.

3. Belly scritch and hold w/5 pounds of pressure to get it raised up higher and higher: this progressed over time. At first John did not raise up at all. He is quite a slab-backed horse and that's what this regimen is all about eliminating. As time went on I got some raising and some holding. Again I need to work on this.

4. Tail pull: John LOVED THIS. He braced against the pressure and raised his head up to the heavens in joy. This was a grand success.

5. Carrot stretches: Well logistically these are hard. You need to have a horse who will stand in place and bend extremely back to his hocks. John just prefers to move his hindquarters and pursue the carrot with his food-seeking missile i.e. head. We did make some progress after I buried him in the corner of the arena for this exercise.

After all this I saddled up and rode for 45 minutes of gait, lope, back, circle, rest. I was happy with this session as we got some good quick stops and starts back to full gait, some nice bending, and some nice blowing on John's part.

Returning to my car, I discovered that both my dogs had thrown up on the back seat, for reasons I cannot comprehend. Life always does send us a little message, doesn't it??!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"If You Go Out in the Woods Today...."

It was kind of a Teddy Bear's Picnic day in the woods today.

Beautiful sunny Saturday late morning, temperature a balmy 14 degrees F. and no wind whatsoever. I was so torn about what to do with my horse time. It's time to get going on my winter arena program of Buff-Bendy-Bootylicious for Johnny, which requires real work. But the woods looked so inviting!

I decided to work for awhile and then go out in the woods for some fun.

So we rode in the outdoor on a nice layer of soft not too deep snow, and did bending and flexibility work for about an hour with good breaks so he wouldn't get too hot in his winter fluffy bear-suit.

THEN we headed out into the woods, alone.

If you go out in the woods today
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go out in the woods today
You'd better go in disguise.

For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic.

John had his halter bells on. These were a gift from a barn-mate 10 years ago. She gave them to all the other boarders with this message:

"Nobody in this barn exchanges gifts any more. It's so sad. So I made these bells for everyone so I can hear them jingle and just remember, a time when there was some real Christmas spirit here..."

GAAAH passive aggressive halter bells! Should I use them, or bury them with a stake through their heart?

I managed to misplace them for several years but today I dragged them out. I always like John (poor guy) to get used to different things hanging off him and making noise, plus I wanted to scare away the Teddy Bears and deer and exploding grouse.

Look at all the deer tracks on this trail! John was so interested. For the ride out to the exact halfway point (which his inner GPS calculates to a centimeter), we had a glorious ride. It was the perfect day.

For the way home after his little alarm went off "We are heading back now!!", it was hell on hoofs.

Every teddy bear, that's been good
Is sure of a treat today
There's lots of wonderful things to eat
And wonderful games to play

For John those games included:

1. Let's All Run for Home!

2. Let's Throw Our heads Around!

3. Let's Run Backwards!

4. Let's Pout and Stagger Sideways!

He was sure I needed to get back to the barn at warp speed. He assumed I was just too stupid to have realized the brilliance of that idea. So we walked backwards uphill, walked sideways, stood at a halt until we were both bored, circled and circled and circled...

See them gaily dance about.
They love to play and shout.
And never have any cares.
At six o'clock their mommies and daddies
Will take them home to bed
Because they're tired little teddy bears.

He did finally get a little bit tired but man oh man a fit young horse has a lot to offer in the way of "play and shout".

I believe John and I both came out of the woods thinking we had successfully defended the moral high ground. He was sweaty, I was jazzed. He took a big huge roll in the arena with many happy grunts. And graciously accepted his mints at the gate. Because:

Every teddy bear, that's been good
Is sure of a treat today

Here is a photo, taken during one of our disciplinary pauses to put brain back inside head, that clearly shows his drunkard's walk on the outward leg of our ride, and the geometrically straight trajectory of our homeward sprint:

It's lovely out in the woods today,
But safer to stay at home.

Ha ha. No really we had fun. I swear he winked at me after the last mint.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Cards: Love 'Em or Leave 'Em?

I found my 10-year old horse Santa hat while looking for John's stall stocking yesterday. So I tried to get a good photo of him wearing it, while not being at all sure I had the hat on right-side forward. He didn't seem to care. He was in what I might call a grinchy mood: he had a full week off again, which I really don't like. But our weather was ghastly so the barn trips were just not advisable, Monday through Friday.

We rode out into the woods and had a lovely time. The temperature had climbed into the teens, and the sun was full out. We startled grouse and herded deer, and John took quite an interest in the deer tracks along the trail:

Lisa was able to come with me and Brandy was in fine fettle too, quite frisky:

I had thought of making John in his cap into a Christmas card but I think I have left it too late. Or maybe I have a head start on next year??

My feeling about Christmas cards or holiday cards is rather so-so. They are a lot of trouble and expense, but they are nice to get; it's neat to see a photo of friends and family we don't otherwise see. But for the past few years I have found it increasingly hard to get up the 'spirit' for card sending.

What about you? Love 'em, or leave 'em go?

At least John's stocking is hung on his stall with care, in the hope that King Peppermint soon will be there.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Suddenly Winter! My Winter Work Plan

Our first (very light!) snowfall has finally come, and John & I rode out this morning. I have consolidated a training plan for the winter arena riding, but the sun was just too warm and the snow too glittery to ride inside today.

But John had had a week off due to the aggravating imposition of work into my horse life. So he was feeling "fresh" as we say.

We went out into the woods. We came back from the woods. But what happened in the woods, stays in the woods. (John got a bit 'happy'.)


We are going to work hard at getting soft.

John can be quite the stiff ore-boat and I can be a stiff unyielding rider as well. So both of us are going to be working out to achieve the 3 goals of becoming


by spring 2010.

This will involve lots of bend work and lateral work, sets of gaiting circles, etc. for John and continued gym visits, running sets, elliptical, strength training, and yoga for me. Oh yes and both of us are going to lose some weight.

Anybody who knows some good arena style suppling equitation exercises, or can direct me to a book or DVD, please let me know. I've been working on figure-8's starting larger and getting gradually (one-half hoof width) smaller each time. But John inside an arena gets bored and sluggish fast so I am looking to surprise him and engage his interest.

Here's a little video I made of our trip to the woods, day one of becoming BOOTYLICIOUS!

What are your winter plans??

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Equine Acupuncture Round 2

John in a trance enjoying his second round of acupuncture is seen in this photo.

John was so quiet during this treatment. His eyes came to half-mast.

Benefits from round 1 of the treatment? I believe I did see them. I rode a lot of trails during this unseasonably warm November and I believe his rushing downhill was less in evidence. He would put himself down behind and take small steps about 50% of the time. I was interested to notice this.

My main worry about John is that I might ride him incorrectly into an early lameness, as he is gaited and prone to hock issues anyway.

I love this horse so much. He is so trustworthy. I often dream about how if a terrible catastrophe came to this world, I would go get John first and then with his help grapple with the breakdown of civilization.

Is it strange that there is no human being I would trust more than this fat palomino??

Sunday, November 29, 2009

NHR: St. Louis for Thanksgiving

John's next acupuncture treatment is coming up on Tuesday of this week. But for now: Thanksgiving in St. Louis involved 1653 miles round trip of driving for this driving-impaired person, but I got to see my son's new loft condo and a lot of other nice things so am sharing. The photo above is the building where my older son just bought a loft condo and we stayed there -- on the floor, since he has no furniture yet. Oh my back.

That's him with my dog Gabey dominating him without mercy.

This is the view out his windows:

Urban life is something I just tasted once long ago. Now it interests me again. This was a really fun place to come and go. Lots of activity: restaurants, coffee shops, little art galleries, clean sidewalks, lots of sun flooding the streets in the early morning.

We saw the Thanksgiving Day parade in downtown St. Louis:

And we saw this most beautiful sculpture I've ever seen: "Vigilance and Peace", from the old Post Office building. "Vigilance" (on the left) reminds me of my mother!!

And my doggies accompanied me everywhere I went, even to the downtown dog park where
Rufus got rolled by a St. Bernard and loved every minute of it.

Rufus has mad urban skilz. He immediately figured out how to poop and pee on concrete. Gabey never did. Rufe also figured out how to jump up on a low concrete wall and run along it. He didn't blink when asked to walk into an elevator, whereas Gabriel was flummoxed and panicked, and had to be carried. Gratings? Rufe had no worries but Gabey would drop to the ground and quiver. It was strange but I think Rufus is a reincarnated hip-hop artist and Gabey is just a sweet little angel from some protected grassy planet somewhere in a galaxy far far away...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Equine Acupuncture: Johnny Gets Some

Not usually a fan of 'alternative therapies', I have broken down and had John done with a treatment of equine acupuncture. For 3 reasons:

1. He has stopped rolling all the way over when he rolls. Instead he rolls on one side only and stops himself with a grunt, then gets up. He used to be like a bumbly bug and roll all the way & back again.

2. He has the rush-downhill habit that I have not been able to address with training. I wonder about back pain.

3. He developed a 'sweet spot' on his back; when I would curry there, he would practically swoon and would lean so hard against the curry that it became pretty vigorous back massage.

I know all this doesn't add up to a critical situation but I am interested in prevention if possible. I love this horse!!!!! and if he needs something adjusted, I'm hoping I can spot it in time.

Plus: A vet in our area went over to acupuncture exclusively last year, and I trusted her and was willing to invest in her new career to see what might happen.

She began with an analysis using a wooden stick about 4 inches long and about a half inch wide; she pressed this into critical points to test reaction.

John showed no reaction to any of this initial testing except for one spot behind the poll on the right side. There he reacted clearly: he bobbed his head and waved it around. Every time.

The vet said this diagnostic spot is connected with the left hind and especially the hock. Really?? Right ear, left hock. OK. I am skeptical and willing, 50/50 at this point.

The needles are long (about 4 inches) but they are so slim that John showed no awareness of their presence, their insertion, nothing.

He just stood there and his eyes closed part way.

Then (timing is everything) the horses started to get their evening feed. So the 15 minutes of quiet meditative standing turned in to 15 minutes of greedy salivating dancing with needles sticking out; John was certain someone else was eating his supper.

However we persisted and he got quiet again, then time was up and needles were removed.

As the vet removed the last needle, what do yo suppose happened???

John elevated his left hind leg and hugged it higher into his body than I've ever seen it go; flex, hold, release.

I have another appointment for December 1. The theory behind acupuncture sounds to me half crazy and half sensible, so maybe John will get a 50% benefit at least.

Meanwhile we are getting in some awesome late rides, each one stolen from the chill grasp of Old Man Winter:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fire-arms Deer Season Commenceth!

And nothing makes me more nervous about riding in the woods. I think John looks just about exactly like a gigantic white-tail deer in coloration.

Today was the 'opener' of fire-arms deer hunting in our state, and every Tom Dick and Harriette including little young ones are out trying to bag a kill. So, probably not the best day to ride but: it was also just killer gorgeous and in the 50's with bright sunshine.

So Lisa and I decided to brave it. John has blaze orange to wear as shown. This is from the ProtectaVest Company, whose motto is, If it can be shot at, we'll cover it in blaze orange.

The other horses stared at John a little as we were leaving the barn.

John has never minded wearing odd things; he's cool like that. I think he is convinced that, if he is wearing it, that alone makes it the next hot equine fashion.

Lisa rode her younger mare:

And we encountered no hunters but a variety of wildlife: we startled several grouse, a young doe ran bouncing across the trail just ahead of us, and then stood watching us pass.

We cantered/loped/galloped up this beautiful rise:

...which we have done several times before and John's ears tell you he is looking forward to picking up the pace.

Lisa and I decided this was just about the perfect ride: sun, no bugs, didn't get shot, horses happy and sweet and loose stepping.

Plato claimed that this world of experience is but a shadow, and a higher more pure realm of ideas or Forms is to be found, and must be sought by the soul. Plato was wrong. The Form of the Beautiful is right here.

And John believes it is also edible:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Another Completely Wack Horse Dream!

This one has me puzzling.

In my dream, which occurred just before I woke up to the alarm, John my horse had been stolen.

He had been taken from the pasture by a horse pornographer! who wanted to make a porn movie with John in it. I was easily able to find the sleazy hotel where this was supposed to take place. It looked like a real dive and it had worn greasy carpeting on the stairs.

John had been taken upstairs to a room on the second floor. Yes, he had walked up a flight of narrow carpeted stairs.

Just like this one! Even to the turn in the stairs. Already in the dream I was worrying about how to get him down these stairs. Up is always easier than down.

Raging up the stairs I go and I find a bathrobed guy who looks a bit like Hugh Hefner:

And I ask him, "Have you seen a horse come by here?" (I am being cagey you see.)

And he says, "Why yes, I have a horse; I am making a porn movie about him."

"Oh no you are not!!", I reply. I am inspired to be bullying and brave by the fact that this guy seems like a complete nervous wimp.

"I am taking my horse Out Of Here!", I say. "Johnny! Let's go!"

And here comes the miracle. John, who is conveniently wearing a rope halter and long lead, walks over to me across the fleabag hotel floor, and down the stairs we go. I am looking ahead and not down in good NH fashion, so I can't report how he negotiated each stair step.

But I rescued my horse from a porn movie. That is about the strangest dream I ever hope to have. Sigmund Freud, please analyze. Because I give up.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Autumn Trail Ride: Goodbye Summer

This was probably our last away trail ride of the year! Lisa and I went out to a nearby state park and had a terrific golden afternoon. John was in his glory and feeling Fine which translates into a superfast smooth walk and the other horse always has to trot a lot - which Lisa didn't seem to mind on her smooth-trotting sweet mare.

At one point on this ride I just had the thought: pinch yourself; is this real?? Sweet horses, a good friend, and the glory of autumn spread out in golden tableau before us...

We met some other happy ladies coming from the opposite direction:

And numerous walkers, bicyclists, and skate-skiers on the part of the trail that follows the Munger Trail (a paved asphalt multi-use trail that runs for many miles through our region). Here we are following the Munger for a bit:

But mostly we were just on our own in the woods, the horses' hoofs crunching leaves and the slanting light touching us with the cool warmth of autumn sun, so unmistakably different from summer sun.

John had some 'moments' of excess joy; he gets surgey and I can feel his back change and come up, and his neck arches, his feet begin to dance, and there is that little rush of worry "What if he takes off?" He will barge uphill in these moments and get so strong I have to sit down hard and think Slow, Slow. So far he has never done anything really troublesome, and I think it is just happiness. Poor guy, can't express his joy without me starting to count to 10 and breathe. He is so trustworthy overall.

When we got back to the barn and unloaded, Lisa helped me power-wash the trailer and get ready to put it to bed for the winter...All the while John was snuffling and whickering from the fence, so sure that we needed his help or his interference.

Just one of those days where I come home and almost weep for joy that a horse is part of my life. And this horse in particular.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dreams of Horses

My alarm went off this morning in the middle of a strange and very enjoyable dream.

I was competing at a 3-Day Event (which I have never done) on my ex-horse Montana. I was particularly looking forward to the cross-country jumping (something that has always intimidated me badly).

It was a rainy muddy day and I had a hose which I was using to clean mud off our tack and Montana's legs. Apparently we had already been out jumping about and gotten dirty having fun.

Some people were standing watching me clean stuff and they admired how good I was at it but they said, "Didn't they give you a groom to clean that?" And I said, "Well my groom wandered off angry; I could feel the icy Arctic air when she walked off."

This was a total lie because in my dream-head I knew I was surprised to hear there was supposed to be a groom at all.

So why am I lying to strangers in my dream? To feel cool I guess, because they were impressed with me.

Montana looked awesome and muscular, and was moreover behaving like a placid old campaigner. I reveled in my joy at this day and at the jumping ahead. (When in reality I would have been nauseous with fear and probably already scratched and gone home.)

Ha ha that's a good one, Subconscious Mind!! But when the alarm tore into this dream I could hardly tell where I was, what day it was, and who that was sleeping next to me - that's how into it I was.

Do you dream about horses, and do your dreams fit your waking life?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rx for the Butt-Headed Horse

Anyone who has been stepped on, bitten, otherwise mugged, shoved, slammed against a wall, dragged across the yard, much less thrown, carted, tree-slammed, bushwhacked, dumped unceremoniously in the shrubbery, or just plain bucked off by a horse, has had occasion to wonder:

Is it just me, or is my horse being a Butt-head?"

It's such a serious question. If it's just me,over-reacting to pain and humiliation, pain and shame are part of normal horse life and real cowgirls would barely take notice. Ho-hum, another dirt-dive.

If my horse is being a Butt-head, well hey-ho for the trailer-oh because Dobbin, your hiney is for sale!!!

But wait: the true horseperson is capable not only of bruising and breaking (including the bank), but also of internalizing all the moral weight that goes with this thought:

"Perhaps this is all my fault!"

And indeed, all the wise horse people down through the ages from Xenophon on have shouted out this truth: You are getting from your horse exactly what you put in.

So when it is time for a bit of behavior modification, 'gentle leadership', or equine Butt-Head remodeling, we must all share strategies and here are some my friend Kathy shared with me yesterday.

1. The Horse stands still when tied and for grooming.

a. This is the start of the more formal part of your interaction and he is already at work, therefore under the rules you enforce.

b. If he moves, you immediately move him back to where he was. As many times as it takes. If he swings his haunches and steps over, back he must step.

c. When he stands appropriately you stop staring at him and that's his release. Give him a moment of quiet. Be prepared for this to take a lot of time and to reappear daily or hourly until you have settled this rule into a stone tablet that reads "Thy Horsey Commandments".

2. The Horse lowers his head upon request.

a. This is achieved by gently pulling at the lead rope under his chin. Immediately release a bit when you get a downward try. Release = reward.

b. You may suspect that your horse is actually scouting the ground for molecules of food, as John appeared to be doing; reward nevertheless.

c. He should eventually give this response in one smooth slow motion; "head down", down it goes, food-radar engage!

3. The Horse moves away from pressure.

He does this standing, walking, etc. and you are moving him rather than him deciding to mosey about.

a. It's particularly great when he moves his hindquarters and steps under himself: great exercise, work, and submission all rolled into one.

b. You achieve this by using the tail end of the lead rope as a little spinner, or waver, or Morse-code sender; whatever you and your horse like and find comfortable.

c. He may move away too fast deciding "Time to Book Out of Here!"

If so, you stop him, perhaps back him up a few steps by standing in front of him and making semaphore signals with your hands while producing sound effects of an appropriate nature. Whatever is your backing routine. If you don't have one, this is worth developing in itself.

4. The Horse is not the Decider; you are the Decider. It can be about something as trivial as what to stare out during ground work. "You must have his mind", Kathy said many times yesterday.

If you find him wandering off into mental La-La Land, just ask him to do something; it doesn't matter what.

I know people who work on this every day. Kathy does it with her horse once a week. I plan to do it before every ride and make it part of our routine; at first more, then less perhaps as John becomes the polite and sweet horse he was born to be and loses his chew-your-pocket ways. I hope.

And I do believe that ground work translates into under-saddle work because it is all work, all part of the rule-structure we build for a relationship with an animal who weighs upwards of 1,000 pounds.