Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Horse, Explained

Yet another reason why the Hairpin is the first site I visit every morning.

The Horse, Explained

"If you try to take your horse to a new brunch place, you need to convince them that a) you've been there before, b) there are no cave trolls at the brunch place, c) there will be other horses at the brunch place, and d) you will be a royal pain in their ass until they quit dicking around and agree to go to the brunch place."

Monday, April 23, 2012

Twisted

Looking at the photos Monica took of me from behind on the trail (they're on the Horsebytes Facebook page if you're interested), I can really see how bad the curl is. I notice it in my office chair at work, but I honestly thought I was policing myself on Saturday. Not so. Here is what I'm up against:
  • Left shoulder higher and farther back than right shoulder.
  • Right hip higher than left hip.
  • Left leg farther back than right leg.
  • More weight on left buttock.
  • Torso twisted left.
I can feel all of those things just sitting here right now, but it also feels like the most comfortable way to sit. But I correct myself often in my sitting posture because I am aware there's a problem. I just slowly slide back into it.

But these photos make me think I need to do a lot more work.

First and foremost, along with our canter work, I really need to start reining with my other hand... at least until I start to even out my shoulders. I also need to switch diagonals more. But what else should I be doing? These are deeply ingrained patterns of movement in every aspect of my life.

I should probably get a lefthanded mouse to change the muscle development.

At the hospital where I work, they have a whole team of people who do vestibular and balance therapy. That seems like an extreme reaction, but I wonder if I can steal some of their exercises.

It is likely that what I really need are lessons and a mirror in the arena.

My inner ears are lying to me about which way is up. How do I win that argument?!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mustang Shuffle

“An interesting note on mustang movement: All the ones I have encountered have a gait I call the mustang shuffle. It is a very slow jog that seems to require almost no energy and that they can keep up all day long. I strongly suspect it is their natural gait for getting from place to place in the wild, and since it has almost no bounce even though it is a true diagonal trot, it is also very comfortable for the rider.” —Donna Snyder Smith, The Complete Guide to Endurance Riding and Competition
Let us all take a moment to marvel at the efficiency of the mustang shuffle. Without it, I would never have finished the Grizzly Mountain ride this weekend.
As so often happens with stories about rides, it is hard to express in this one what it really feels like to go to a ride, try to keep up, hit a wall of exhaustion, push through it and then finish with something left to spare.
I got up a little after 8 a.m. on Friday to take an intensive shower. I say “intensive” because, as before every ride, I knew this would be the cleanest I would be until I got back home again. So I shampooed and shaved and scrubbed until I had a baseline of total cleanliness.
And then I got all sweaty loading my camping gear into the truck. No one ever said I was a good planner.
When I got up to Silverton to pick up Blue, it was drizzling but warm. I finished loading up as quick as I could so that he wouldn’t be wet for the trip over. I had never driven Santiam pass before. I didn’t know how fast or high it would climb or how cold it would be at the top. Mostly I wanted to be sure Blue was dry and comfortable. Because, if nothing else, I knew that when we finally got over to the other side we’d be in a whole different climate. (Really it is almost like entering another country.)
Santiam pass turned out to be absurdly beautiful. Far better than Snoqualmie. Even better than White. I don’t know the names of the mountains down here yet, but they were spread out in front of me like… what? Like pimples and pockmarks on the face of the earth. I wish I could think of something more beautiful to compare them to, because they are surely magnificent. It is hard to think of them as cinder cones and volcanoes because they are so lovely. They don’t seem threatening. And yet there they are, smoldering away.

Speaking of smoldering, it was 70 degrees when we got down to the other side.  The area around Sisters, just on the other side of the pass at the foot of Black Butte is some of the most perfect country I’ve ever seen, and I hope I get the chance to drive through it again often. I love the gently sloping ground and the high ponderosas with sunshine filtering through.
On the way to camp, we passed the ranch where I got Otto. They had told me that they were used to seeing endurance riders but I didn’t realize at the time that they essentially sit between the Prineville and Grizzly ridecamps. It’s a small world.
Since the land is wide open, it wasn’t hard to spot the convergence of trailers. We pulled in and found a great spot right next to a water trough and a porta potty—the two most important camp landmarks as far as I’m concerned. We were also right on the trail that everyone took out of camp in the morning. This wasn’t great planning on my part, but we survived it. Next year we’ll know better.

The corral gets its first real test.

Blue considers the scenery.

The eponymous Grizzly Mountain in the background.

A little extra insurance for the new corral—tent stakes on the corners.

We were number 11 this time...

...but we'll be Pirates every time.
I am terrible with names, but I will remember the faces and horses of my neighbors. I have to say that this might well have been the friendliest camp I’ve ever visited. Or maybe it is just that I’ve finally been doing this long enough that people recognize me. Anyway, I had hugs and conversation and offers of help at the vet checks. It was really great! Like Linda said at the ride meeting that evening: when you really need help, your endurance family is there for you.
At the ride meeting I also found out that we would be doing 32 miles… not just the 22 that was listed on the sheet. We would do a 22-mile lollipop out on the flats, come back for a vet check and a 45-minute hold, and then do 10 miles of scrub pine hills before the finish. I kind of thought this sounded cruel, to start with the flat, easy part and finish with the hills. As it turned out, it was a brilliant tactic to keep us awake in the saddle.
Sunrise over Grizzly Mountain
I was up at 6 a.m. to feed Blue and watch the 75-milers go out. There were only a few—five, maybe?—so they didn’t really stir Blue up too much. It was the 50-milers, about an hour later, that turned him into a whirling, bucking, rearing dervish in his little pen. There were at least 40 horses that went by in various states of control or noncontrol. Fortunately, Blue didn’t actually challenge the panels during this little episode. He got mad in a very contained way.
I had been talking to Carlene a little the night before, asking for advice to get my horse to start quietly. She suggested “hiding” on the other side of camp and waiting for the others to leave. Of course, I heard many other LDers conspiring to leave camp last. We all joked that the Turtle award would be hotly contested at this ride.
Anyway, I took Carlene’s advice. At 7:55, I walked Blue over to the other side of camp to graze. I watched Cassandra go blasting off with Ernie’s horse, Spot, in the lead. It’s still fun to see the Walla Walla crowd out and about. She was followed by the requisite gray arabs and whatnot. Once they were all gone, I walked over to Anna—ride secretary, in-timer, out-timer, organizational whiz—and gave her my number. Still on foot, I walked Blue back over to the trailer, put his bridle on him, mounted up, and rode out of camp at a flat-footed walk on a loose rein. How about that?
It didn’t last, of course. Once Blue saw a horse in front of him (fellow Pirates Monica and Danny), he asked to go faster. I allowed a trot, and got an aggressive catch-up trot. But as soon as he reached Danny, he calmed right down… until he saw more horses in front of him. So we caught up with Sunny and Dancer, and toodled along with them at a walk until he caught sight of two more horses.
Roughly 5 miles into the first loop.

This is where I should have slowed him down and let them get away. Instead, I tried to stay with them, and paid for it later with two massive fits of bucking.
I knew from our arena work at home that Blue had trouble with cantering. We aren’t balanced together, and he can’t maintain it for very long.  This didn’t really worry me because I didn’t plan on going that fast on a long, hot ride with a hairy horse. Unfortunately, in his desire to keep up with these two horses, he had to break into a canter. (Their strategy was to alternate fast riding with walking, so they were averaging the same speed as me, just not steady.) Trying to keep up during the fast part, Blue was rough and counter-cantering and crossfiring. And then, after a few strides of that, trying desperately to keep up but also uncomfortable, he’d start bucking in frustration. We went through that twice before I figured out that the problem wasn’t going to go away. So, after the second time I came off, once I caught my horse, I let the two riders leave me. I let them get all the way out of sight before remounting and asking for an easy trot. There, isolated in a bubble between groups, he went along beautifully.
Later I tried him at the canter experimentally without anyone to catch, and found that he’d only give me one or two awkward strides before breaking back down into a trot. Clearly, we need to work on his canter at home before I ask him for it again out in the real world.
Anyway, back to the ride. The second half of the 22-mile loop included a grueling stretch under the power lines, where the ground was extremely rocky, the view was flat desert glittering with heat, and I was seriously considering skipping the second loop and calling it a day. It was only a couple of miles, but they had me considering quitting this whole endurance thing. What was I doing out here in the desert? It was hot. I was tired. My horse bucked me off and screwed up my thumbnail. Camp was a million miles away. I'd never make it. I was just going to die out here on this trail.
Clearly it was time to eat something. (Remember that, kids. When you start to feel suicidal on the trail it is probably just low blood sugar.) A protein bar brought me back into the real world, where I no longer felt the hot breath of mortality on my neck. 
All through that awful, hopeless stretch I was still with the two riders I mentioned above in my little rant on cantering. Really we’d been leapfrogging for quite a while.
Blue and I were a little ahead of them when we got to the only water crossing of the ride. A couple of feet deep, the creek gurgled gently through a gap in the hills and was a very welcome break after the awfulness of the powerline road. After that, it wasn’t far back to the “stick” of the lollipop, and from there to camp. I stopped at the trailer on the way back into camp and pulled Blue’s tack before heading to the in-timer and the vets.
We vetted through just fine. All A’s except gut sounds and skin tenting, which were a B. That was far better than I expected. Honestly, after that exhausting first loop, I was sure that Blue would be sore and shut down in his guts. Instead he was bright-eyed and willing. And I'm pretty sure the skin tenting is just the way he is. He has lots of natural skin wrinkles on his neck anyway, and I think the loose skin tends to tent on its own. Really my only concern at that point was that he hadn’t peed yet. We’d been out for four hours, and he had taken a drink at every water stop. But still no pee. I was concerned that he was going to have a metabolic episode, but the vet assured me that she could hear plenty of movement, and as long as he was drinking and pooping I had nothing to worry about.
Regardless of her opinion, I was still seriously considering taking a rider option (pulling from the ride). A normal LD ride has a time limit of 6 hours. Taking out time for the hold and pulsing down at the end, we’d only have an hour to do the entire 10-mile loop. I just didn’t see that happening.
And then Monica set me straight as she came back into camp. Because this was a 32-mile ride, I actually had 7 hours and 15 minutes to finish. In that case, I thought, we could probably get it done! Two hours should be enough.
By then I was desperate for a pee myself, so I dumped Blue back in the pen for a quick beet pulp mash and ran for the porta potty. Forty-five minutes FLEW by. I drank my vitamin water and another protein shake. Sat in the shade for a moment or two. But I decided not to hurry back to make my out time, because the two riders I had been leapfrogging (and with whom I had been dumped twice at the canter) were heading out just before me. I wanted to give them lots of time to get well ahead of me before we went out.
This strategy went OK. The hard part was convincing Blue to leave camp a second time. He would walk well enough, but as soon as I asked for a trot, MUTINY! Luckily, a 50-mile rider passed me at that point doing a reasonable jog, so we let her tow us out of camp.
I was thrilled when she started pulling away from us and Blue didn’t try to follow. He just settled into the Mustang Shuffle. Finally (finally!) I experienced this WONDERFUL, AMAZING, RELAXING gait. We swung along at roughly 6-7mph. Blue was actually happier with that than with walking.
Minimum ear-skepticism on the second loop. Happy horse = happy rider.
We were passed by another 50-miler, blazing along at a hard canter. Again, Blue made zero effort to follow. We resumed the Shuffle, crossed the highway (the first of three highway crossings on this loop!) and briefly stopped when I saw a pair of riders I know pretty well stopped off the side of the trail. Later I heard that one of them had heat stroke, but when I stopped she was just resting in the shade with some Gatorade. They told me it was OK to move on, so I did.
After that little pause, we settled into the Shuffle again. We went downhill and up, around tight corners, through berms and sand and across another highway relaxed and swinging. We saw jackrabbits and meadowlarks, and we took our sweet time at the water stops. We went several miles without seeing another horse. I can’t express what a great way this is to travel. My tired muscles appreciated the smooth ride. My jangled nerves appreciated the relaxed attitude. But, as happens when you travel steadily, we caught up to those same two riders we'd been leapfrogging all day. I saw them up ahead and decided to let Blue spend extra time at a water stop to let them get away. It was no use. They were clearly into the “death march” phase of the ride. I caught up to them easily, passed them, and basically towed them back into camp.
Blue's mustang heritage was on full display on Saturday. He knew exactly where camp was at all times, and he would have been happy to take me back there cross-country.
Blue took several minutes to pulse down at the finish. I wasn’t surprised since this was literally the farthest he had ever been ridden since I’d known him… and probably as far as he’d been ridden EVER. He vetted through with flying colors. A, A-, B+ all the way down the card. He looked great. They called us 13th place when we crossed the line, but I found out at awards that we ended up being 11th because of pulls.
Not too shabby for an extra-long, spur-of-the-moment ride under the hot sun.
I meant what I said before I left. No rain, no pink lemonade. Success!
Still on his feet after 32 miles. Personally, I spent the rest of the day in various sprawled-out-on-the-air-mattress poses.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Boyscouts are overrated

Meh, being prepared is for boring people. I decided on Tuesday that I’d go to the Grizzly Mountain ride this weekend. I had been toying with the idea—bandying it about on facebook—for weeks, but I never REALLY thought I’d go. 

We aren’t prepared, you see. We haven’t done any serious conditioning since January, and technically I haven't been doing my job long enough to have time off to travel. Also, I can be kind of a wuss about the weather this early in the season. I don't have a nice heated camper to sleep in, so 40-degree nights with wind and rain make for total misery.

I am tired of the cold and rain. I’m looking out and the parking lot flooding right now.

But they’re predicting sunny and 70-plus degrees on Saturday in central Oregon. That is a siren song I just can't resist.

And if we have a crappy ride and come in dead last for lack of preparation, I do not care. As long as we don’t have rain or pink lemonade, I’m declaring the weekend a success.

Sunburn, here I come!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Variety

What they lack in distance, they make up in variety.

(The trails, that is.) I've been riding the same two-ish mile loop around the Christmas trees because that's the part of the property that's familiar. But today Carla (Jake) and Melva (Echo) took me and Blue over the other trails, where things get interesting. So we did switchbacks and water crossings, and we pretty much survived it with only occasional bouts of mutiny. Blue and I will do it at a trot next time we have a dry day. He needs the work!

I am pleased that I did all my riding this weekend in the Kuda saddle. I finally got a fleece cover for it, and I'm pleased how secure I feel in it. The only problem I can see is that because it is treeless, it has a little more lateral play than I'm used to. Melva was riding behind me and telling me to sit up straight as I was curled hard to the left. The saddle had moved with me, so it felt like my left stirrup was about 3 inches shorter than the right, but it also felt like I was centered. By the time Melva said I was sitting straight, I felt like I was about to slide off sideways. Clearly, my sense of balance and muscle memory is crap. (To put it nicely.)

It's always something, isn't it? 





Monday, April 9, 2012

Exploring boundaries! Mutiny! Water obstacles!

As I mentioned in my last post, Blue and I have been having an ongoing conversation about who is really in charge under most circumstances. I was feeling encouraged and (to use a more touchy-feely word) empowered by his lightness and ease in the arena. So when Saturday dawned warm and sunny, I knew it was time to expand our comfort zone into the great outdoors again.

Up to this point it has been easy to make excuses for staying inside and doing gymnastic work. Rain! Mud! Potential tendon damage! But those excuses pretty much evaporate (pun very much intended) when it is a sparkling 60 degrees and everyone in their right mind is out enjoying it.

Also, what better weekend for the training equivalent of a “come-to-Jesus” moment than Easter?

The beginning was not auspicious. I took him to the arena for a quick warm-up before we really started working. I find he absorbs new information best after about 5 minutes of trotting, so I mounted up and asked for a walk to get us both situated. Full disclosure: I typically ride in the evening after work, when Blue has had several hours of turnout to burn off energy. On Saturday, he came straight from his stall after breakfast and had a little extra spring in his step anyway.

Now, just as my youthful farrier predicted, Blue’s walk is much faster and smoother now that he’s been relieved of all that extra toe. He was always a fast walker, but now he clocks a 4 mph walk easily. That’s pretty fast for stumpy little mustang legs! He feels pretty relaxed, but he is boogeying (boogie-ing?) around the arena with an air of determination.

Then Bob starts leading the other horses out to the turnouts. Typically at the time I ride he’s bringing them in for the evening, which presents its own challenges. Either way, it is tricky to hold Blue’s attention inside when he sees horses skittering past the arena door. It is just glimpses out of the corner of his eye as they go by, which in some ways is worse. His attention is starting to stray, so I push him into a trot to refocus him. The OHSET kids must have been doing work on the lunge line last night, because there are six circles in the arena footing, evenly spaced and perfectly round. So, after five fast loops of the arena perimeter, both directions, we head into the circles.

Blue’s circle abilities are improving—which is not to say that they are good. Circles really are the point at which his inborn stubborn streak and my poor riding are most likely to collide. I tend to be stiff and locked-down on the outside leg. When I concentrate to even myself out and relax at the hip, I inevitably drop the ball somewhere else. If I don’t set him up perfectly and enforce the rules, he will drop his shoulder and drift out of alignment.

So we spend perhaps 15 minutes figure-eighting through the circles with varying success. One thing is going well, though. I’m using Eric Hought’s advice and performing an SRS (single-rein stop) when Blue offers anything other than compliant effort. If at any time his doesn’t immediately respond to initial corrective guidance, such as changing leg pressure or a lift of the inside rein, SRS. SRS until the feet stop moving, then resume our circle as if nothing had happened. I tell myself, we are not fighting, only communicating.

Then Libby and her enormous warmblood arrive, and I decide that it is time to head outside and let her have the space to herself. We aren’t leaving just to get away from her. (Even though I do sometimes feel envious of accomplished dressage riders like Libby, who just makes it look so dang easy.) I tell Libby we are going to attempt to head up into the trees… and by the way please let Bob know if my horse comes back without me. All the ladies in the barn laugh at this, but I think they know that there is a nugget of truth here. Getting dumped, or bucked, or scraped off in the woods is absolutely a possibility today.

I remount out in the parking lot, and I can feel Blue’s immediate confusion. The parking lot is the very edge of his comfort zone. The arena is still visible, but we aren’t in it. The parking lot is also (in some ways) his private domain—a kingdom of independent naughtiness. Did I mention that he was out there again, loose with Sunny, on Friday afternoon? All the OHSET kids were tacking up at their trailers in the lot, and Blue is just moseying among them. None of the kids tried to catch the fugitives, either. I pulled up with my trailer (fresh back from the shop—yay!), and here’s my horse waiting for me. The OHSET kids got two shows in one: first they go to watch me try to back my trailer into a narrow space between two others, then they got to watch me try to catch my smartypants horse. Cue the Benny Hill music.

So anyway, we’re out in the parking lot. I mount and am just sitting for the moment, concentrating on how my horse feels.

The feeling is hard to describe to someone who doesn’t ride. It’s kind of like getting into your car when it is parked at the top of a steep hill. The car definitely has an agenda, and you have to decide how to balance steering and brakes to get safely to the bottom. You don’t want to ride your horse’s brakes, but steering gets trickier at high speed. Ideally, you switch to a lower gear. :) On a horse, this has to do with managing his level of excitement. The goal is that he will never offer more energy than you request… but also that he will always offer enough.

Blue is coiling up a bit in the parking lot, so I point him at the trail and give him feather-light instructions. Please go forward toward the trail and away from the barn. He moves with hesitation, and, dare I say it, skepticism. And, because he’s smart, he is going in the direction I ask but sort of leaning toward the barn. This is tricky because he isn’t *technically* disobeying. But I am in charge, dammit. So I give him just a little leg to keep him going forward… and I get all-out mutiny for my trouble. He turns against my leg and toward the barn, excitement level rising. So I SRS, holding until his feet stop moving. Then calmly turn him back the way I want to go and ask for forward. I get maybe four steps before he tries the same trick again. Fine. SRS the other direction, feet stop, we turn back to the trail and go a few more steps. He does this four times in the first 50 yards, then literally gives a heavy sigh—shades of myself at his age?— and grudgingly walks off in the correct direction without further argument.

Some might say that I anthropomorphize Blue too much when I describe this. They’d say horses’ brains aren’t complex enough structurally for skepticism, adolescent angst, or grudging acceptance. Clearly these people have never ridden mustangs.

Skeptical ears

We did less than 2 miles, I would guess. All at a cautious walk. I dismounted at one point and one point only: Turning back toward home on a steep, wet, muddy, downhill slope, he immediately wanted to go faster than the ground conditions would allow. In fact, it was so slick and steep that I was concerned about executing the SRS at all. As it turns out, I’m glad that I got down, because in leading him down that hill, I slipped and fell. Better me, alone, than Blue with me on him. I have never ridden a horse that fell. Stumbled, yes, but never a full-out fall of the type that breaks femurs or pins semiconscious riders under half a ton of struggling animal trying to right itself.

I remounted when the footing improved. Blue had a spring in his step going toward home, so we kept working the crescendo. Luckily, I only had to ask louder (louder as in the feel from my hands and body, not my voice) to get the same results as I got in the arena. There is a fork in the trail where one way goes down a steep-ish hill toward the barn and the other takes a flat gravel path away from the barn. I tried to turn Blue onto the latter path, and he was not amused. SRS, turn, step. SRS, turn, step. And then he was walking down the gravel path like a drunken sailor, bobbing and weaving and fooling around. SRS, turn, step.

This was a longer, scarier battle than the one down in the parking lot. The stakes are much higher out on the trails where the possibility and risks of falling are much increased. But I held my ground and insisted. And once he was walking down the path relaxed, with a level topline, I stopped him, turned around, and let him walk off toward home. As his head lifted, we crescendoed or SRSed as needed. We came to the fork again, and again, I turned him away from the path to the barn. SRS, turn, step, step step step. And once he relaxed again, I turned him toward home.

There is a bridge at the bottom of the hill before you get to the barn. I rode down over the bridge, then turned him around to go back up the hill away from home. I rode him toward the barn, then away. Mutiny! SRS! Mutiny! SRS! Grudging acceptance!

And basically that was our ride. I kept up the SRS routine until I knew that he would have gone all the way back out into the woods if I had asked. It wasn’t a physically taxing day for Blue, but here are my hard-earned words of wisdom on the subject: Not all conditioning is physical.

Here are some more photos from Saturday:

The escape artist in his new turnout, where the fences are more imposing. But, also, one side is bounded by a creek. Surely no horse would disrespect such an imposing natural barrier...
video
Oh, yeah. Right. Notice who jumps in with all four feet and is the instigator when it's time to depart.

Yet another containment system. Destined to fail?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I get by with a little help from my friends and total strangers

This has been an eventful week in the “burning through paychecks” aspect of being an endurance rider.

I took my horse trailer up to Newberg to Hitchin' Post to get some long-needed repairs. These repairs were supposed to be done at TheTrailer Place in Walla Walla back in February, but their service department leaves much to be desired. (Like, for instance, I desired them to put all of my requested fixes on the work order after I told them what I wanted done. And they apparently desired to guess about what I wanted instead of taking notes or calling me to ask.)

I will say this about the Hitchin' Post. Those are nice people. They answered every phone call and email I sent them, which turned out to be a lot. I had questions; they had answers. When I decided I wanted a new hitch to help my trailer sit level, they found one. When I asked about corral panels, they were more than happy to connect me with someone local who fabricates them. (Although they wouldn’t sell me the set of Silver Medals that were strapped to one of their consignment goosenecks—or rather, the owner wasn’t keen on selling the panels without the trailer. Aarene has a set, and I covet them increasingly. But not so much that I would buy a $17,000 trailer just to get them.)

I haven’t seen the official repair bill yet, but I’m guessing it’ll be in the $1500 ballpark… which is awfully close to what the trailer cost when I bought it a couple years ago. Please don’t tell Brian! Anyway, the fixes were for my comfort and safety. You can’t put a price on that. Right? Right?!

On Monday I met my new vet, a nice guy who used to do some endurance and was interested in how I thought a mustang compared to the competition. Since Blue has not actually competed yet, I have very few data points! But I did tell him a bit about Otto and the reasons I decided to switch horses 3 times in 5 years. (I told that story, right? In short: Otto was too hot, Topper was too cold, and all signs point to Blue being just right.)

And before you get alarmed, I should point out that I met the vet under normal-to-happy circumstances. I wanted Blue to get his spring vaccinations well before we start traveling. (Yay, traveling!) I was thinking of possibly going to the Grizzly Mountain ride on April 21. I think, looking out my window right now at the hail bouncing in the puddles, that Grizzly will be very much contingent on the weather report. I heard a rumor there was a winter storm warning for that part of the state this week. Either way, I wanted Blue to get his shots and have time to recover in case he has a reaction.

On Wednesday, I met my new farrier. I know I am getting old because I immediately wondered if they are letting elementary school kids shoe horses these days. Seriously, he might pass for 17. There are no signs that he can grow a beard or vote.  But since I don’t need him to do either of those things, I will settle for him knowing how to trim and shoe a horse. And trim and shoe he did!

Blue was overdue for hoof work. How overdue? I’m almost too ashamed to type it. His last farrier visit was Jan. 10. Moving threw everything out of whack, and I was a naughty horse owner not to find a way to take care of the problem sooner. I kid you not, the The Kid, whose name is Cody, probably took a good 2 inches of wall off Blue’s front feet. As it is, he says it will take 2 or 3 more sessions to undo the long toes and underslung heels to the point that he’s happy with them. Right now, he is merely satisfied that the problem isn’t likely to get worse before his next visit.

I am excited that he put Blue into fancy Natural Balance shoes, something that was a little too newfangled for my farrier in Walla. I’m doubly excited that The Kid was using words like medial, distal, deep flexor tendons, suspensory ligaments, and tubules. From the mouths of babes, dear reader.

He didn’t suggest transitioning to barefoot, which I appreciate. (Not that I’m totally unwilling, just that this would be the Worst Possible Time to try.) Nor did he seem too worried about the thrush. He says it pretty much comes with the territory here. I should do my best to control it but not sweat it too much.

So once I paid The Kid, I figured I might as well ride.

Blue and I have been working on control. I have read and re-read Eric Hought’s training articles on this topic. I even put one in the PNER Newsletter this month. I tried to use his techniques with Otto, but we had too many factors against us. With Blue, in western Oregon, the one thing I have is loads of arena time. So guess what? We practiced the crescendo. We’ve been practicing it since I moved to the new barn, and I think we have made huge, massive, thrilling progress.

In fact, Blue’s progress has outpaced my own, so that now I have to police myself constantly. He is so light and sensitive that every slight shift of my weight or movement of my pinkie MEANS SOMETHING. I know that is how riding is supposed to be, but Blue is literally the first horse I’ve owned for whom it was true. And so while my reflexes and I are used to kind of schlubbing our way into a lazy stop, Blue is now stopping hard. At which point I go flying forward and have to remind myself to STOP LOOKING DOWN and actually expect the horse to stop when I say stop.

He’s also rating his trot like a champ, even when there are other horses around. This too is a challenge for me because I am so used to having to haul on a horse to reduce speed. Right now, in the arena at least, all I have to do is lift my hand. I don’t even take the slack out of the rein. It’s kind of amazing.

I am hoping that the sun this weekend will allow us to take some of these skills into the real world, where I can get a better assessment of his fitness level. That, even more than the weather, will make the decision about Grizzly.


Postscript: In the hour or so since I wrote this post, I found a used corral to buy in Salem. It is a JB or HYH style setup, for a fraction of what it costs new. I have decided that it would be foolish NOT to buy it at this price, so now I will be well and truly broke until next Friday. Don't tell Brian!