Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Ballad of the Uncatchable Horse

They trot right up to me, I tell you, they do.
Every horse at the barn...
That is, not counting Blue.

 Here comes Cash...

 ...and Beau...

 ..and Blackhawk, too...

But those guys are suckers, Mom. You're not catching Blue!

So I caught Intrigue (a stallion!) 

And his daughter, too.
Well that's super, Mom...
 ...but...'re not...



 Fine. I've got a new plan. I call it Plan 2.

 Good luck with that, Mom. Now I'm hiding from you.

Ha! I found, you, old buddy!
Now what will you do?
Plan 2 is quite simple—I halter, you chew.

I don't want to run barrels!
I think that you do.
Ugh, OK, fine, Mom.
...If Sunny does too.

 Would you rather do trails, since the sky is so blue?

 That sounds quite nice, Mom. I'm enjoying the view.

Since you climbed up the hard part, I think I'll walk part too. 
Oh sure mom, the downhill, a break. Whoop-dee-doo.

Blue, that was awesome!
Now what should we do?

 It's been fun, Mom, I guess. But I'll bid you adieu.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Getting jiggy with it

This past weekend was one of education. For Blue, it was lots of review. For Sarah and her horse, Lily, everything was new.

And we all know how much horses just LOVE new things.

Saturday we went to Pacific City to show the horses to the ocean. The ocean just roared with laughter as Spooky LaRue and Jiggy McGee refused to get their little tootsies wet. They got pretty close a few times, but mostly they worked very hard walking (or jigging) through deep, loose sand. The nice thing about Bob Straub State Park is that there are some nice trails through the trees on the sound side, so the beach isn’t the only place to be. We started in the woods and did a few miles to settle the horses before coming out on the sound side where the horses could walk in the wet sand near water that wasn’t roaring or even moving, really. Then we worked our way over the big dune. After Sarah and I had imaged all the worst-case scenarios of the horses seeing the water and turning tail (Sarah and I are both great “planners” in that way), it was really a nonevent. As long as we kept a couple yards between us and the advancing tide, both horses were pretty tractable.

Sarah and Lily

Blue with some big ol' rock in the distance

Sarah and Lily getting a bit closer to the scary water

Blue would rather go this way, thanks

"Please get at least one of me so I can prove this happened!"
Through the looking-glass

A twist on the usual ears photo

Nevertheless, Lily jigged without pause all day long. She jigged in the sand, she jigged in the woods, she jigged in grassy meadows, in the parking lot, on the road—everywhere. And she trembled when she was not jigging. She was shaking hard all day with contained tension and excitement (I think).

Honestly, I believe that if Blue had been there with a horse who was more of an “old hand” at the beach, he probably would have done much better with all the new things. He was still very good, but I felt like there were many times where Lily’s nonstop anxiety would start to permeate his cool-as-a-cucumber persona. He and I would be trying to work our way through something—say, walking through the stink-cloud of a rotting seal—and just as he was thinking it out and easing forward, Jiggy McGee would go bounding past us and work him back up again. This same dynamic would definitely be a factor on Sunday, too.

Sunday we did the Waldo Hills Heritage Ride, a 10-mile trail ride southwest of Silverton. It was only about 15 minutes away from where we board, so it would have been crazy not to go, right? For me, the training goal was to show Blue that we could go to a big field full of trailers, start with a group of horses, and not go into orbit. We would WALK. All day. No trotting allowed at all. He had to put on his big-boy pants and be a good mentor for Lily, who had never seen so many horses in her life, and had probably never picked her way down a steep, rock-strewn trail before. 

Lily's posture didn't change for the first five miles. She was in deer-in-headlights mode until lunch.

Adding to the degree of difficulty was the presence of a few people and horses he knows from ridecamp. In fact, as luck would have it, Brenda and Bonnie started right in front of us, and Blue wanted to catch them from the moment we hit the trail. He went straight into a 5 mph Business Walk and was A Horse On A Mission all day. Fast as he was, I kept him out of the trot. (Small victory! Hurray!)

All this walking ended up being punishment for me more than him. By the end, my right hip and ankle were both on fire and all the toes on my right foot were numb. The stirrup turners didn’t solve my problems in that sector at all. They did, however, make it easier for me to keep my stirrups on my feet and not bend up the cages like usual.  I guess the verdict is that the turners have merit but they weren’t the revelation I was hoping for. Five hours of nothing but sitting the walk made me sorer than many an endurance event. By the end, I could barely dismount!

Blue had a pretty stressful day, too. Like I said, he has a very fast, powerful walk when he wants to use it. And he REALLY wanted to use it on Sunday. Unfortunately, Lily’s jig was quite a bit slower. So I kept having to stop poor Blue to wait for Lily to catch up. Typical greenie that she was, she would freeze and forget how to move forward anytime she wasn’t right next to another horse.  So I’d stop Blue, and he’d throw a little tantrum as I turned him back to go get his young charge, and we’d fight it out, and she’d stick close for a few minutes before falling behind. Then we’d do it again.

Sarah and I had both hoped that several hours of work in sand the day before would take some of the starch out of Lily’s sails, but she was still a very excited horse. I was glad not to be the one riding her. Sarah has kind hands and a good seat, so she just stayed with Lily as she pranced for a couple hours. She piaffed into the lunch break, and I gratefully dismounted from Ol’ Reliable to get the feeling back into my toes.

The lunch stop was very cool. Down in a holler, they’d set up straw bales to sit on and even had musicians there to keep us entertained. It was mostly string instruments, and I’d describe the music as old timey bluegrass. Just a great atmosphere. Plus, when I told the ladies serving the food how much Blue loves watermelon, they gave me a big pile of end pieces for him. Lucky boy! 

All of the people turned around just as I snapped the photo, but the gray horse there is Bonnie.

Lunch camp was already clearing out by the time we arrived.

Looking toward the hill going out of the lunch stop

The trail out of the lunch stop was a long, steep uphill. I saw many, many people charge up it at a dead run. Tempting, but no. Blue was getting upset watching other horses leaving while I lounged around. I think he might have been confused/upset that there was not his usual vet check followed by a huge mash of special ride-day sweet feed. So anyway, when I mounted up to leave, he was being a real butt. I could tell he just wanted to get going. At that moment, he was not being a great role model for Lily. I one-reined him around until a big group on fat paint horses started up the hill. We fell in right behind them. Blue thought about being naughty all the way up the hill, but Lily was suddenly the docile one. She flat walked up the hill with very little spring in her step. After the hill, we went into a few miles of narrow single-track interspersed with water crossings. With fat paints in front and behind, we were the spicy filling in a calm-horse sandwich. Blue was grumpy about going so slow, but Lily was finally relaxed. She crossed slick, rocky streams like she was born doing it.

Out in the open, we left the safety of the sandwich and started to really boogie. With all of her jitters out, Lily discovered her 5 mph Business Walk. Nothing if not game, Blue went right along. Lily actually got out in front and went along fearlessly. She hadn’t spooked at anything all day, and now that she was finally relaxed, too, she looked like a real trail horse!

Back at “camp,” both horses ate some sloppy mash, and Lily loaded like a pro (previous loading attempts had taken upwards of 15 minutes). What a difference a wet saddle blanket makes!

To be honest, I think it is Sarah who probably grew the most from this experience. She is an arena rider (dressage mostly) who hasn’t done much on the trail. As we went along Sunday’s ride, I listened to her entire outlook change. She leans toward the earth-mother, crunchy granola side of horse ownership anyway. I have no problem with that. If she wants to feed exotic supplements and do Parelli and massage and leave the horse barefoot and be skeptical about immunization and try to psychoanalyze an animal with a walnut-sized brain, that is her business. But by the end of the ride she was talking about how she hardly ever rode more than about 20 minutes before feeling guilty for “pushing” Lily. She was worried the mare might be getting sore or tired beyond that point. She was worried that after our Saturday ride at the beach, Lily might not be able to complete a ten-mile trail ride. 

To some degree, she was giving Lily a vote in everything they did. If the horse showed signs of discomfort or tiredness, she’d back off. And you know what that does to a horse.  Lily had become a gifted actress! This weekend showed Sarah that she has vastly underestimated her horse. (AND HERSELF!) Both of them have a lot more staying power than they ever imagined. Now she is talking about how she wants to make an eventer out of Lily while they are both still young enough to enjoy it. I vote YES!

Speaking of staying. I'm not going to OR100 this weekend after all. I had been trying to talk myself into doing a 50 there, but looking at the weather report and my checking account, and thinking about how much pain I was in after a mere 10 miles this past weekend... well, I need to make some more adjustments before I do another ride. So we'll get conditioning for Foothills in October. Let's just hope the rain holds off that long!