Sunday, May 30, 2010

Quid pro quo

My husband and I are planning to start a family.

Quid pro quo
Years ago, I proposed an "agreement" with my husband that for every baby human I produce, I get another horse. Horse trading as child rearing. See won't the kid love me?

The planning stage is going slowly. Meanwhile, I'd been chomping at the bit to get the equine side of the contract fulfilled; window shopping for horses.

My husband took me out on a date on Friday. His birthday was coming up. But I love business negotiations. I'm the queen of used car shopping and yard sale haggling. So I couldn't wait anymore. After a few beers, I thought it was an opportune moment to bring our agreement back up.

"Armani doesn't count?" he asked.

"No - He is a preexisting equine. If you'd read the terms, you would recall that preexisting equines are specifically excluded from our contract."

I already have a horse in mind. Armani's half sister.  You may have read about her birth here.

She's since been given the barn name "Della". She is the last foal out of their dam by the same breeder. She shows all the evidence of being as spunky as her big brother. It was a golden opportunity I couldn't let slip by...

"Wouldn't it be fun? As much fun as Armani, but a mare. I always preferred mares."

My husband sipped his beer thoughtfully. "Hmm..."

"Well and you like cute girls, of course."


"Remember I bought a horse for your birthday a few years ago too. So we've already established a precedent..."


In the meantime, I've been visiting Della every day on my lunch break...

To be continued...

Trouble updating

I had trouble updating my blog. But I have a few stories saved up and am finally going to be publishing them now. Stay tuned....!

Friday, April 30, 2010

My thumb is not a carrot

So I recall when I was little in 4H, they taught us very carefully how to feed treats. We wouldn't want our ponies mistaking little fingers for carrots.

Yes - I know many do not advocate hand-feeding a horse. They have good reasons I'm sure. But I do it anyway. I'm stubborn.

So I was handing Armani a carrot while talking to someone behind me. I turned around and wasn't paying attention. I had my thumb over the carrot. Woops - stupid mistake.


I yell, "OW Armani! That is my thumb!"

Armani looked perplexed. He held on tightly to the pink carrot. The pink carrot splurted blood everywhere. Armani backed away. "Mommy wants to take my carrot!"

"OW! BAD!" I poked my left thumb into the corner of his mouth. He released the pink carrot. Then Armani gave me a "Huh? what?" look.

"Armani, can't you tell the difference? Carrots don't squirt blood!" Most of the flesh was torn off of the knuckle. Of course I didn't visit the doctor. I just smooshed the flesh back in place. Then I taped my thumb up to immobilize it for a couple of weeks.

It has healed pretty nicely actually.

It isn't the first time Armani has mistaken something for a carrot or the first time I've done something dumb.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What do we do with fences?

We jump fences. SILLY!

It is getting warmer. So our most recent lesson was jumping. Armani was fantastic. Our instructor said it was the best she'd seen him over fences yet. We started over poles. Then in-and-out crossrails. Then they went up to mid-sized verticals by the end.

Armani was very game and enthusiastic. He was even, tight and powerful over the verticals. Though I felt like I need to work more on my core strength. Especially after our little accident.

Sadly no photos. I need to remember to charge my camera next time.

But the real star was the green horse, Mr. Big. Mr. Big is a former stallion prospect (now gelded) who was started late. For a nearly 18hh horse he has the confidence of a mouse. But he is sweet and handsome.

He joined us for our lesson. Armani lead the way. Mr. Big was game to follow him over everything. Except the verticals, which were just for Armani.

I think it was a good confidence building lesson, all around.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fool me twice...

Happy April Fools Day!

To celebrate, I share with you the trick Armani played on me last week.

I arrived at the barn after a long day at work. It was cold and drizzling. Armani was eating hay in the run-in by the parking lot. Huey was a 5 minute walk, down the road, at the far end of the farm.

Seeing as Huey was further away, and it was raining, I figured I'd ride him first and get that out of the way. I started down the road.

"Whinny!", said Armani.

"Sorry, buddy. Huey's first. I'll ride you after."

I retrieved Huey. We walked back down the road to the barn. As we rounded the turn into the drive I saw Armani. Running towards us. On the WRONG side of the fence.... which was missing a board.

"Whinny! Whinny!"

"Armani!", I scolded. I grabbed him and led both boys into the barn. All the stalls were occupied. I tied them both in the isle. I dislike leaving horses tied alone. "Behave please. I have to fix the fence."

The cold rain soaked through my clothes. I waded through mud. I fell on my butt - twice. I got the fence cobbled back together. I took Armani back out. "Be good!"

I rode Huey in the indoor arena. After 15 minutes, I heard the barn owner's dog barking in the house. I wonder what's up? Perhaps someone is home? I rode Huey to the door and looked outside. Guess who came trotting to me....


...followed by his pasture mate.

Just then the barn owner got home. We shuffled some horses around. Then I put Armani right to work. And after our ride - my bad boy spent the night inside, in "horsey jail". Despite his "sentence", he was very smug.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Beers and Bribery

After our exciting weekend, I anticipated our Monday lesson would be eventful. I showed up to find a hurricane already brewing. There was a driving wind and rain outside. My lesson HAD to be indoors.

A new wall of mirrors was being installed in the indoor arena. But the installation was running over time. A brewski-fueled barn-raising party was in full swing. My instructor, beer in hand already, decided this was a PERFECT time to work over cavalletti.

Our route through the maze is shown in red:

I was resigned and ready for anything. Imagine my surprise when.....

Armani was good.

Really good actually. He was nervous but responsive. He worked excellently over the cavalletti.

"Look at Armani!" I exclaimed, "Good boy!", as we trotted over them.

"Yup! He looks really good today!" My instructor was dipping back into the beer stash. "Why do you think he's so good today - with all this going on", she waved around, "after being such a s#*! this weekend?"

I pondered a moment... "Because I gave him two sugar cubes before I got on?"

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Humble pie

I had sworn my friends to secrecy over our little accident on Saturday.
Armani was full of vitriol again on Sunday. 

My husband was at his parents over the weekend. He was due back Sunday for dinner. Hmm... I couldn't tell him could I?
Now I don't ever feel guilty... Not me. Ever.

I hurried home from the barn. I cleaned up the house. I showered and put on a cute outfit. I made a nice dinner and lit candles. I even made an apple pie.

My husband walked in.

"So, what did you do wrong?"

I admit I confessed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

When pigs fly

We're having some rough weather up here. The wind has been whipping, driving rain with it. And Armani has continued to challenge me. I joke about his "stomping and snorting" like a rhinoceros.

On Saturday, we went on a trail ride with friends. Armani snorted and bounced with defiance.

As we got half way around our loop, the other horses began acting nervous. They appeared scared of a patch of woods. This patch has been known to unnerve horses - why I'll never know. Feeling bold, I pushed Armani forward, as did another rider on her mount.

Suddenly that horse spooked and bolted into us. I felt her stirrup hook around my ankle. Armani threw his head up and jumped. But I was yanked out of my saddle by the other, taller horse, as he sped away. Fortunately my foot got free.
But I was in thin air.

I had just a split second to think "I'm coming off between two horses, must not land under either one." I rolled. I managed to avoid getting tromped on too much.

I looked up. Armani had stopped a short distance away and was staring at me as if to say, "WTF are you doing down there?" The other horses had stopped and one rider dismounted and grabbed Armani.

I was all ready to say, "I'm ok! Everyone good?" but I found my right lung felt like a flat tire. I heaved. No air would come in. I waved. One of my friends came over and slapped my back. I managed to gasp in some air. Finally I was able to insist I was "Ok" and that "nothing feels broken".

I remounted and we rode home. Armani wasn't the least bit sorry, naturally. He continued to "stomp and snort" for the whole mile and a half home.

I had a lesson scheduled the next day. My ribs and my ankle were sore. I had whiplash in my neck. Funny - I don't have any idea how I pulled my neck.

My instructor asked if I had come off of Armani before. "No." I said. "He's fallen down on top of me before. But my legs were still around him. So that doesn't count!"

"Well there is a first time for everything. Hope you are happy!"

"Yeah!" I said.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Now we are getting somewhere

As you may know, gentle reader, Armani is a "hot or cold" kind of guy. Right now we are going through a challenging patch.

He was combative again during our lesson last night. After some remedial work, he finally settled out a bit. At that point, our instructor had us start going through some movements.

"Ah ha! This is First Level Test 1." I thought. Should I mention that? Well no one likes the "know it all" pupil. I'd been memorizing tests in my spare time, you know, in case I actually want to ride them some day.

We went through most of the test. "I tap dance with an angry rhinoceros." I thought.

"That was most of First Level Test 1. There is no reason why he can't do this." our instructor said after we finished. "These little battles mean you are getting somewhere."


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Training: Using bend to reduce a spook

Armani isn't a "spooky" horse precisely. He's more of a challenging and clever horse. He'll go from one act of defiance to another: too slow, too fast, too lazy, too hot. When he feels "hot" he'll "spook" with a big leap and bolt - or maybe a rear and back-up. I can usually feel something coming about a half second early.

My instructor gave us this technique. Like a lot of our tricks, this one employs lateral work and bend. If I can pull this off early, I can eliminate or reduce the severity. If I miss the subtle signs, and he goes off like a cannon, I can use this technique to "bring him back".

Exercise: Bending through a spook (or shy, or bolt, or what-have-you)

1) Bring the horse's head and neck to the inside. Assume we are are traveling counter-clockwise and spooking at something on our right (outside). Bring your left (inside) hand back by bending your elbow. Keep both hands low by the horse's neck. Resist lifting them up towards your chest. Use a stronger aid than "normal". Bring the horse's head toward the inside more than is "normal". 

2) At the same time: activate the inside hind-leg. Apply your left (inside) seat-bone (or upper-leg or calf if you don't have a strong seat aid yet.) Push the left (inside) hind-leg so that it steps underneath the horse. This inside driving aid is very important. It keeps the horse moving toward the "scary" object. Apply more aid than is normal. Your leg aid should match the degree of rein aid: more rein = more leg.

3) When you feel your horse relax, immediately relax your aids. This rewards your horse for listening to you, rather than acting on impulse.

4) Repeat as necessary. You can repeat these aids again, even a few strides later, when necessary. Just remember to relax and reward when your horse is good.

The key here is that your aids are stronger than usual. I only employ the strong aids for enough time to get him obedient and then I relax and reward.

You might also want to check out Jane Savoie's write-up that sounds like the same idea.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Training: Backwards square exercise

Backwards Square

This new exercise is for strengthening the hind quarters and back.

Begin in a trot (or walk).
Walk then halt and do a quarter turn on the forhand.
Back up 5 steps.
Do another quarter turn on the forhand.
Back up 5 steps.
Continue until you are back on the rail.

There are no rules. You can mix up the directions of the turns and make other shapes besides squares, changes of rein, whatever you like.

My instructor suggested we'd get more benefit if we back uphill. This can also be done as a ground work exercise.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My anonymous benefactor

Perhaps you've dreamed of a lost Uncle Louie. He was last heard from via a package from a deserted Pacific Island. The box reads "Dear Niece, Weather is lovely. Shame about the crocodiles. Please take care of Phil for me. Arrrgg...." You open the package. Out leaps Phil the Monkey, banana in one hand and a sack in the other. "Aww, Hi Phil!" you say. With a giggle of glee, Phil leaps over your head and straight to the top of the china cabinet. You stretch your arms toward him. Phil laughs and jumps onto your head. He drops the banana peel. In your rush you accidentally slide on it. You topple over - into the china! You close your eyes and brace for impact. You, Phil, the banana, the china, and the sack explode in all directions. After a huge crash, you feel safe enough to open them. Phil is smiling and checking your hair for lice. You look around. All about you is the wreckage of Great Grandma Grace's wedding china and stars in your eyes. Those aren't stars. Phil's sack was full of golden pirate doubloons!

"Thanks, Uncle Louie!"

I don't have an Uncle Louie. But I did have an anonymous benefactor. I grew up in a wealthy area of Connecticut. As a child, it felt like every one had horses except me. Or so I told my parents daily. My father was a local pastor and my mother a homemaker. As such, they didn't have the income to support a daughter's horse habit. My horse adventures were limited to voracious reading and occasional pony rides.

I recall suffered in sullen indignity through one friend's birthday party. After opening a plethora of colorful boxes, and stuffing in cupcakes, her parents invited us into the backyard for "One more little gift." A pony stood by the swing set with a bow on his head.
"Oh, another pony?" the birthday girl yawned. Grr! At the tender age of 5 or so, I found my self contemplating becoming a felon.

My best friend and next door neighbor shared my longing for all things equestrian. We gave our bicycles horsey names like "Lightening" and "Swift Wind" and collected Breyer horse models. Finally one summer, my best friend started taking riding lessons at a local hunter barn. I was indescribably jealous. We had shared everything as best friends. And now she was living our big horsey dreams alone.

Around the same time, I was also suffering from chronic ear infections. I went to the hospital for a short surgery. My parents bought me a pet gerbil for being a good girl. A gerbil was fun, but no horse. I also got lots of get well mail from the relatives. But one curious envelope appeared without a return address. My parents opened it first and I think had a long discussion about its contents before telling me. It contained a hand written "gift certificate" which entitled me to a few lessons at the hunter barn. My parents agreed I could go. Hurray! But I think they secretly hoped I would "get it out of my system" and decide horses weren't for me.

Well, so much for that idea.

My stubborn streak won out. I kept riding. And soon I was "helping out", as much as a kid can, in exchange for riding time. But best of all, I was sharing the dream with my best friend. We both still ride today.

Now as an adult, I suspect I know who my anonymous benefactor was. But since they never told me, I've never asked. But I'll always be grateful.

Funny horse stories

Grey Horse Matters posted a series of humorous horse stories. Yes, it is true, we all have those stories!

Being able to laugh when we fall is necessary. But also being a closet optimist (shh!), I tend to remember the good times, not the bad. In particular, the story of how I became an equestrian stands out. So I will share that next.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How long can you go without riding?

I've been sick since Saturday. I did manage to sit on Armani on Sunday. It was only for 15 minutes. He was fresh and I was coughing and sneezing. Since then I've been too sick. It is now Wednesday.

It has been raining and icy all week, which rather reflects how I feel. I try to ride every day and not miss more than a day at a time. But this is the first time I've been sick in a while. Still I harbor massive amounts of guilt for missing time.

How long can you go without riding?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Training: 2 exercises for lengthening on a cob horse

Armani is a cobby, baroque built horse. He finds lengthening challenging. But lateral work comes naturally. So our instructor has given us these two exercises. They introduce lengthening through lateral work.

Exercise 1: Shoulder-in to Lengthening
1) Ridden at the Trot
2) K-E. Sitting Trot. Shoulder in down half of the arena.
3) E-M. Rising trot. Straighten horse. Then ask him to lengthen his stride.

Exercise 2: 8 meter circle to Lengthening
1) Ridden at Trot
2) H. Rising or sitting. 8 meter circle in the corner. Establish a lot of bend. Work on getting the inside hind swinging under his body.
3) H-F. Rising trot. Straighten horse. Then ask him to lengthen his stride.

You are back around to where you started. You can go back to Exercise 1 if you wish.

A new year, steady progress

A new year has dawned. Armani and I make slow, but steady progress. His training continued with our instructor while I took time off during my late Baby Cat's passing.

Armani is a very cobby, baroque horse. He can move his feet quickly and dance on a dime. So collected and lateral work come naturally. His canter is his best gait, followed by walk, though his trot is nice. But lengthening trot and bending are more of a challenge.

As he builds strength, he is becoming a peacock. More than one person has told me they spotted him passaging and leaping around the pasture - through the snow - ruffling his mane in the air - while he hoots at mares, naturally. Apparently he thinks he's Fabio. Silly little man.