Friday, April 24, 2009

First Trail Ride at John's New Barn

Taking advantage of a warm day that was unexpectedly free of rain, I took John out on the trail system behind his new boarding barn. This was quite the adventure - I had no idea what to expect. The barn owners had said these trails are 'nice' and that was all I knew.

They were not exaggerating. These trails are as wide as a vehicle, some great hills for hillwork, firm sandy surface, and they even have signage:

Signs are great for people like me who suffer from GetLost-o-Phobia.

John was great about all the unusual things we saw: deer stands, heaps of logs, some big fat noisy birds (young turkeys? Old grouse?). He was bothered only by several ponds with a loud Halleluiah Chorus of frogs being broadcast from them. Maybe he has never heard so numerous froggies in one place, in his young life. They were pretty deafening.

We were out for about two hours at a walk and did not take all the trails, just one big outer loop of the system really = lots more to explore and this is terrific.

As soon as we turned toward home, John picked up the pace quite considerably as in "I'm outta here!" and we had to do many circles, stops, and even walk backwards on the trail for long stretches to divert this. Maybe it was too much a baptism of fire for having been at the new place only one week.

However it was a good workout for him and there is no experience in the world like the first time on a new trail with a horse. You don't know what's going to happen, you hope for the best; it's a new world out there.

He was sweet as honey when we got back and had a good roll in the sand, then marched off to join his new buddy who nickered for him from his flat-out sunbathing position in the pasture. I love this place. I kept thinking about NuzzlingMuzzles' comment that this horse facility is like a classy private boarding school. Sitting on my saddle in the tack room was a copy of the boarding contract and a receipt for my board payment. In all the time I've been boarding, I've never seen either before. It's a whole new world.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

John's New Barn

Yesterday I moved John to a new boarding facility. Without going off on an endless whineybinge about the reasons, let me just say: 360 acres as opposed to 80, 14 horses as opposed to 50, home-grown sweet green hay as opposed to dusty giant square bales of woody stalks, and ambient estrogen quotient reduced by about 8000%. John will have one pasture mate, pictured here:

A gentlemanly older Arab; they made friends in 2 minutes and now seem like they've been pastured together since the dawn of time.

At this barn they do grow their own hay and they test it as well, so they know what they're feeding. The back of the property is about 250 acres of trail systems;
; across the road is a state park of 8818 acres. Not all of this is horse-legal but John and I can certainly have fun exploring there this summer.

Now where does that leave Montana? This is the part I'm not entirely sure about yet. As I was about to load up yesterday, the barn owner came out & said her daughter is interested in keeping Montana. She has been riding him and enjoys him, and he could be a lesson horse for her advanced dressage students. Daughter out of town this weekend.

So after thinking and talking some more, I left him there. I have tried to sell him for a year now, and no luck although one very near miss did occur. I have to admit that my interest in dressage has faded to an uneasy afterglow in recent years. Since John to be exact. The shows, the tall boots, the white breeches, the arena letters, all this I could say goodbye to without regret. Montana is not a fun trail horse these days - he is reactive, barn sour, and can be hot - and while I feel guilty for not working him out of this, I would be relieved not to have to. If he found a dressage job with someone who loves it, that would be a great outcome for me.

So he is Left Behind as the Rapture folks say. I fully expect to get a phone call saying come pick him up. I have come to think of him as the equine cocklebur of my life.

Random product endorsement: I had a flat tire on my horse trailer yesterday and got my first taste of the service provided by USRider, the horse trailer insurance people. I love this company! 10 minutes to get a call back from a dispatcher, another 10 to get a huge truck pulling up next to me with a monster jack and a cute dude to operate it! And no charge whatsoever. I renewed my membership as soon as I walked into the house. I know real cowgirls change their own flats but I was in a state of jangled nerves and it was nice to be 'taken care of' so well.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Our Spring Gaiting Hillwork

I've really enjoyed GreyHorseMatters blog entries on conditioning horses after winter. I work on this mainly with John as Montana's work stays pretty constant through the winter.

John's gaiting is smooth these days, and his tendency to pace has largely disappeared (for the time being, knock wood). But he needs strength training and to lose a few pounds so we are doing roadwork.

In this video you see my favorite gentle hill, on the road near the barn, and a favorite pastime for Johnny and me in the spring: gaiting hillwork.

He is not easily bored outdoors so he doesn't mind repetitions; we go up and down this hill maybe 3-5 times in a ride.

His gait when at its smoothest should be 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4, all beats perfectly equal in time. If you listen carefully to this set, you will hear him start out right, get a little pacey, correct, slope into a little paciness, then correct again.

I like the ways his ears are forward and he is checking everything out: that's my trail scout Johnnie!! We startled a few ducks and a plastic bag on this trip. John found them stimulating but not unnerving.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Is Horsebackriding Good Exercise??

Have you run into people who don't think a horse hobby really can yield a good workout?

I had a doctor tell me this, quite confidently, at a physical once; "Oh well you ride horses; of course that's not a true workout because...the horse is doing all the work!" Picture happy smiling doctor telling me what's what, from the standpoint of infinite knowledge. Yukkety yuk, Young Doctor Malone.

I beg to differ.

Yesterday I began my little non-exercise hobby chasing a horse for 1/2 hour, fuming and swinging my lead rope and attempting to kill him. Murderous rage plus running full tilt = good workout, Young Doctor Malone.

I had driven up the road to the barn past my horses' pasture and seen: small horse hanging like a big hairy tick from my horse John's general jugular area. John backing up with pinned ears and panicky stumbling, young horse hanging on. John backed into electric fence, John shaking his head. Young horse hanging on.

The young horse is a giveaway acquired for the schooling program at my boarding barn. He is described as a Hackney Pony because;

1. He has weird gaits
2. He is small
3. He has unusual conformation.

I'm pretty sure there's more to being a Hackney Pony than this. What I am certain about is that he is a PIA of royal proportions.

A very large (4" square) section of neck skin is missing from Montana, and John would no doubt be likewise the 'visible horse' if he didn't have such tough hide.

So I took off after this "Hackney Pony" and chased him all around the yard. My goal was to show him some dominance and keep him away from something he wanted (the hay bales) while also perhaps landing a pleasing thwack on his rump with the rope to vent off my rage.

I noticed:

1. Horses can run so much faster and farther than humans; it's not fair.

2. John got into it right away and was running at my side, ears pinned, reaching for a nip whenever we got close to the young HackDude. It was a very eerie feeling running alongside him in a common purpose like that. How did he know I wasn't mad at every horse but just HackDude?

I was wrung out by the end, and what decided the end? HackDude began to look pathetic rather than defiant. John admired me greatly all that day and we rode out along the newly thawed dirt road, John snorting and blowing and gaiting perfectly. I believe I gained some points in his mind. I hope so.

It did scare me how furious I was. I hope I don't see that sight again, ever.

This is my idol we're talking about.

And speaking of exercise:

My employer offers us $60 if we take a "wellness assessment", and another $60 if we sign up for a health improvement program. Well, that's money in these times so I did both.

I signed up for the 10,000 Steps Program, which asks you to walk 10,00o steps a day for 2 months and use a pedometer to clock the steps - they sent you the pedometer.

I discovered I walk a lot anyway but I also discovered:

If you wear your pedometer while riding, you accumulate unholy amounts of steps!! i am talking about 14,000 steps in one half hour ride!! I found this out by accident - meant to take the thing off before riding but forgot. I think it just gets jiggled so much it goes mad during riding....

I don't in any way intend to submit riding "steps" for my actual walking program but I thought it was so funny to mount up at "1209 steps" and dismount at "18904 steps" without having my feet touch the earth once.

Now remind me why I can't kill that young horse.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

"Is it really time to get up?"

"But breakfast isn't over yet."

"I still have most of this nest I made..."

"Oh well OK. And maybe I'll get to visit with Orange Kitteh."

I hit the barn early today and John was not thrilled to see me although he obligingly did get up and mosey over after a bit of staring at me in mock disbelief. Even Montana was napping in the morning sun:

That was before he realized that a mare in his pasture is in heat, which produced a display of Gelding Self-Deception that was textbook.

Speaking randomly of Geldings versus Stallions, here's a hilarious video by a Swedish singer? named Gunther; I dare you to watch all the way to the end because there is something at the very end that makes it all worthwhile, and it is NOT a sudden return to good taste: