Thursday, December 24, 2009


Yesterday an early gift arrived !!

A new Polar Heart rate monitor!!!


(now, I have to learn how to use the darn thing!!)

Hmm, I wonder what other good toys might be waiting ?????????????

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Comparisons and Thoughts

Equipped with only the knowledge gained from years of reading , research and planning for the "someday", 2008 was my maiden voyage into the world of the endurance sport. I knew horses well enough. I knew the world of horse sports well enough. I also knew endurance would be a totally different ball game. The rest was all in the details and I would have to have to sort it all out as I went.

Looking back on 2008, we tallied up 220.5 miles , most of that was done in July and August. I kind of wince at those numbers when I look at my charts, two years later . Two years the wiser, I hope, afer experiencing it all first hand. Too much too soon? Maybe.. but maybe not. If I break it down on average, it was 20 miles a week, give or take.. so maybe not??

If I look back at my notes about JB's condition, attitude, he never displayed symptoms of overtraining during that time. His heel bruise probably can't be related to over conditioning , atleast I don't think so... (ofcourse, I am still , by all accounts, a bit of rookie at this sport!)

August and September were rough months for us in 2008, but by October, JB had bounced back and was being ridden again, equipped with EDSS pads and shoes.

In 2009, again, it appears that my miles were only beginning to add up in July. Part of it was footing...we had ice until May. Then, two mares arrived for breeding. Although I tried to maintain conditioning and training during breeding season, I quickly realized it was not going to be successful. So, training took the back seat. Finally in June JB was gelded. That was about 3 weeks of lay off time since he had the closed procedure done. And finally... we arrive in July, where we were finally able to get back on some sort of conditioning schedule.

In 2009, my main goal was to start JB slowly, get him limber in the arena, get a few "bugs" worked out, and then begin to build miles slowly. Given his inury to his hoof, I was definitely being overly careful with him, terrified of having another set back, of any kind. I had hoped going extra slowly would offer him and I the best opportunity to figure out a few things we hadn't been able to in 2008, like what "made him tick", what pace he worked best at, what was too much? and when to push and when to ease up. Somewhere in there I had hoped he would give me a sign to tell me whether this sport was going to be a fit for him..or not..

We hit the trails mid July in earnest and by August, JB was showing alot of indicators that he was ready for longer hours, tougher climbs and faster speeds. His movement and pace markedly improved with the boots and every mile that settled behind us, we found one little success after another. Before long he was outwalking and outlasting a few of the arabs we often rode with. He even found his big trot...very big trot.... on a condition ride. He also showed me just how tough he could be in October when we entered the CTR in Washington and had our share of challenges. By the end of that 25 miles, I knew I had myself a good endurance prospect, without a doubt.
So, 2009 goes out with a total 234.50 TRAIL miles. While we didn't gain alot in miles compared to last year, we gained so much more in other areas, the big one being my relationship with JB. As my husband says, it's not really something one can put words too. He tells me that to watch JB and I interacting, it's clear that we have developed a strong bond, a sense of trust, an understanding between us that goes beyond spoken words. JB will do things for me that he will not do for Tom , or anyone else for that matter. JB will not do things for Tom that he willingly will do for me. Yes, JB is definitely my horse, without a doubt , but then again, it didn't come without having to earn it. Endurance is so much more than the miles , indeed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Revision of miles lay out..

The numbers did not line out like I had hoped so here is a revision that should be easier to read

Feb- arena 8, actual miles 0
March arena 4, actual 19.5
April- arena 38.5 actual 7
May- arena 5, actual 0
June- arena 16, actual12
July- arena 16, actual 12
August- arena 10, actual 42
September- arena 4, actual 102
October- arena 12.5, actual 40
November- arena 12.5, actual 0

"Objects in Mirror are closer than they Appear"

The ground is snow covered and the footing isn’t fit for much unless you have skis on, but I am making my game plan for the 2010 ride season. Before I looked ahead, I had to assess where I had been…a look in the rearview if you will. Did I accomplish my goals? What did the conditioning schedule look like? Where were the gaps in my program? What do I need to change?

So for today, I will outline my goals and tally the numbers… the review of those will come in a follow up post , as time is a bit tight.

My goals for 2009 were pretty straightforward:

1) Continue to build on his responsiveness to aids
2) Lateral work, lateral work , lateral work ; to develop the muscling and structure to carry himself and a rider correctly. (this will always be on going as part of our training)
3) Continue with steady dressage lessons to improve my communication with JB, and develop discipline in him, working towards collection and lightness.
4) Finish one 25 mile ride in competition with JB, successfully with no health or soundness issues.

I began to calculate my miles out and realized I had not been very good about tracking things accurately. I am not sure what happened but I think part of it was that my focus was not really on getting miles, at least not early on. I remember taking JB out on the first couple of spring rides out and I realized , rather quickly , that I had a few “training” issues that JB so kindly presented to me. More than once, I ended up hand walking him home because of his behaviors and once, I sustained a kick in the shin when I was trying to adjust a hind boot. To me it was more important to have a well disciplined horse to ride, and handle/ I did not want to become known as the endurance rider who rides that “cute but out of control horse” To add, I was dealing with a stallion at the time and I knew I had better get things handled pronto…so, it was at the point I decided, I would address those things early on, at home, in the arena, and worry about miles later..

Back to the numbers....

I am not sure that I can really count the hours we worked in the arena as “conditioning” . My initial thought was I shouldn't but then I thought.. why not? While a good endurance horse has to be aerobically fit, with a strong heart and lung capacity, he also needs to have the opportunity to developed the musculoskeletal system, in order to carry himself and a rider over many many miles. Without a good foundation in strength, structure, and muscling, horses risk more injury and/or a shortened career. While it’s not a guarantee, it’s my belief that correct lateral work, and ground work excercies a nd time spent doing dressage, can only improve the horse and rider long term. So, for fun, I decided to give myself some credit for that.

The next obstacle I ran into was just how to give myself credit. It’s difficult to give arena work miles….

Here is what I ended up doing: I know I can cover 2 miles in 30 minutes with JB and while I know that number is conservative, I did not want to inflate anything. We’ll call it ....RSD (really slow distance). I used that as my guideline. Each 30 minute session was about 2 miles of conditioning or 1 hour of arena work was approximately 4 miles.

Since I intermixed the ride time in the arena with actual miles , atleast once in a while, I took an additional step and broke out between actual miles and Arena miles.

**Of Note:
May- I am pretty sure I probably rode more than just twice in this month but I did not record any additional since I didn’t have the data and therefore, I only recorded the two days.

June and July- These two months are kind of tricky so I had to use an average here. On one calendar , I did mark down that I rode an average of 2 x per week in the arena with a few weekend easy trail rides for June, In July, I have journal entries that indicate that I began upping my endurance miles, but didn't actually record these miles... (must have been a time thing) . So I improvised. I calculated 16 arena miles ( 2x week at 30 minutes each= 4 miles /week) and 12 trail miles,(4 miles each, 3 times that month). These numbers are probably on the conservative side but, again , trying to avoid inflation.

Here is what we accomplished, give or take:

Month Arena Miles Actual Miles
February- 8 0
March 4 19.5
April 38.5 7
May 5 0
June 16 12
July 16 12
August 10 42
September 4 102
October 12.5 40
November 12.5 0

TOTAL 126.5 234.50

Combined, it 361 miles...not too shabby....

So, did we accomplish our goals? I can honestly say we put a good dent in them. I accomplished #4 for sure and still tickled about how well JB did on that ride. We continue to take dressage lessons and JB is really coming together in the lateral work and flexion department. He is getting softer and softer in the bridle.

I have some additional thoughts on the numbers /miles that I will share in another post.

In the meantime, 2009 will absolutely go down as a very successful year for JB and I.

Feel free to comment on your thoughts/opinions of counting arena time, or what you think of the conditioning that we accomplished.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Winter Training Journal 4

It would appear that my winter riding window slammed shut this weekend, atleast for a bit, when we got about 8 inches of snow , howling winds and down right bitter temps...

JB is in rare form these days, as he has icicles hanging off of his coat and when he trots by, he jingles, like a thousand little bells going off as he passes by. I couldn't help but giggle at his situation, as initially, it was spooking the dear bairn!

Today, he has settled into it and jingles proudly... it seems as he frolicked back and forth, strutting with Brego in the 3 foot snow drifts. Ofcourse, their horse play resulted in a broken wire and gate latch...

Ah... but for life on a farm in the middle of a Montana winter....

I think I 'll go find my book and rest by the fire...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Winter Training Journal 3- Boots and Snow

Despite the weather, Saturday's condition ride was pretty uneventful. We didn't get to go as far as I wanted , mostly due to footing. We probably only did about 8 miles and mostly at a slow trot or walk. Still, it was nice to be in the saddle and out, despite the frozens nose and toes!
The ride made me realize something.

Mel, over at Boots and Saddles, recently did a 2 part series on the Iron free hoof and how it has improved her horses feet. Her post and my recent ride inspired this post.

I have had similar experiences. In late 2008, JB's first season of training of endurance (and mine!), he sustained a pretty bad bruise to his sole and heel, with an iron shoe, no less. Before that injury , JB never traveled in a way that I would have considered normal. While he wasn't lame,he was terribly slow and just had a funny way of going.

After his injury in August 2008, my vet insisted I have a farrier put him in therapeutic pads and EGSS shoes (Gene Ovnicek). So I did. There wasn't much of a choice. JB was so sore, he had to be kept comfortable enough to be able to move, in order to heal. After 8 weeks, the shoes and pads came off. his bruised heel and sole were about 75% better but he was not 100% sound. His xrays revealed the culprit, thin soles, which was a surprise, given his breeding. At that point , I had a choice. Keep him in pads and shoes for the remainder of the summer to protect him and hope for little long term health of his hoof or keep him barefoot and work on getting his long toe, low heel syndrome better sorted out, while improving the health of his hoof. Pretty simple decision. I had already done some reading up on the barefoot trend and now was as good a time as any to give it a go.
For the next several weeks, I went through the painful process of finding the right fitting boot. This was an education all by itelf. Turn out JB doesn't have typically shaped feet. or , atleast the typical shaped foot that the boots were based on. His are very round feet and not oblong at all. Unfortunately the easy boot glove didn't even come close to fitting. His hoof popped over the edge of the boot and he looked like the horse hoof version of the "muffin top" look. After a few phonecall, remeasuring a few times, and reordering, we finally got the Epics. They almost fit perfect... almost... JB has what I can best describe as short feet, meaning there is not much distance between his coronet band and the bottom of his hoof. The Epic was just a bit too deep for him and it sat dangerously close to hitting his coronet band. I finally ended up ordering the medium insert pads for the Epics, which I needed anyways to protect his sole. It added just enough of a lift for JB's foot. Additionally I cut away the tongue for added safety as his foot settled in the boot. As soon as those boots went on him, he literally jumped for joy, bucking and leaping on the end of the line like a trout. I knew I had made the right decision. It was a defining moment for JB, me and our future in endurance.

Here is a photo of one of his newer boots( we are on our second pair since March of 2008) Sorry or the blurriness but you can see that the tongue is cut so when this boot is buckled down there is just enough tongue to protect the foot from the wire digging in.

The only other trouble I ran into was that I could not use boots on JB's hind feet. He is so short coupled and overreaches so much, that he was busting the buckle on the back boots with the bottom of the front boots. I tried everything to remedy this until I just had to give up. As a result, JB was shod on the hinds all of the 2009 season. Even with the shoes on back, he still interfered and you can see in the photo below how he catches the left side of both front boots, to the left on each one... I consult with a natural balance farrier with JB and had him check everything out . It appears to be simply how JB travels and not something that trimming can necessarily correct. It jsut beats the hell out of the boots....

All in all, JB did well throughout all the miles of conditioning that we covered in the 2009 season with boots on. We crossed rocky river bottoms, sludged through mud, scrambled through shale and finished our summer out with a second place finish in volcanic rock footing... all with the boots. I also saw a tremendous improvement in the way JB traveled in general. he finally stated reaching and moving out. I have no reason not to believe it was strictly due to the boots. Barefoot has served JB well indeed. The only time I have had any trouble with the epics is that in one of my late fall rides about a month ago, the tongue of the boot dug into JB's hoof wall a little, leaving an indentation. Nothing major but I had never had this before. I can't figure out what was different that time, maybe I didn't have the boot tight enough or on his foot correctly.

Now as winter has begin to bear down her icy grip, Satuday's condition ride was a reminder that the Epics aren't for ice and snow. JB was losing traction and slipping on the 1/2 inch of snow we rode through. I absolutely cannot risk another issue by riding him without some type of hoof protection and even if I could, we get too much ice and snow that even barefoot would be hazardous. While I want his frog, digital cushion and lateral ligaments to be stimulated as they are while barefoot, I also have to be safe. If I have any chance of maintaining any level of fitness with JB between mid January and the end of March, I have to put borium shoes on , along with pads. I am not real excited about it but will 3 months of shoes and pads really ruin anything?

I would say probably not. His feet came out of pads in November looking very good and he had been in them since early spring with trims every 6 weeks.

While I really have embraced the barefoot trend and have seen my horse first hand experience the benefits from it, I also have to consider the climate I live in while trying to maintain a level of fitness for JB. More importantly, I have to take into account safety. Borium shoes offer that. Ofcourse, just because I have borium shoes doesn't guarantee I can ride all the time. Sometimes, the footing simply gets too bad, even with borium.

What's everyone elses take on borium's? Likes/dislikes? I'd like to hear about it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's Done

It's that time of year again, renewal time for AERC. It was easy last year. JB was the designated horse for the sport. I signed us up and all I had to do was focus on him.
This year, as you all know, Maggie appeared on the scene and was given a free pass to stay on at Acer Farm. My decision to keep her was based on the simple first hand knowledge that the breeding lines that this mare was from produced exeptionally tough horses. That was all the potential I needed at the time. (oh, and the big doe eyes played a part in the decision as well)Maggie arrived, on the verge of founder with one more glance at green grass and went immediately onto a new feeding program. It involved many months of being dry lotted with very small amounts of grass hay through out the day, a program that made her sour and unhappy about life in general, having been used to running on over 20 irrigated acres of lush pasture. Seeing her so unhappy, I began the process of getting acquainted with her by taking her out for walks or short excercise periods in the round pen. We spent many hours working on basic ground manners, something she was lacking. As time slowly passed, her body condition went from a high 7 to a low 6 in 3 months. She proved to be an athletic , strong mare, despite her weight and build. Explosive power when she is motivated. Getting to know Maggie was an interesting journey. For the last several years, my main focus had been JB. While I own and ride several of the other horses here at Acer Farm, they are mostly well trained or much older and I don't spend alot of concerted "training" time with them. Maggie was the second addition to my training program. I quickly found out that she is nothing that JB is and everything that JB is not. There could not be two more polar opposite personalities than Maggie and JB.
Since June, the weight has continued to come off and she was beginning to get a little bit better conditioned with her sessions in the round pen. I got about 20 rides on her by late summer and she was beginning to show me more of her personality, as she felt better and better. Today, she is about at a weight that is as close to ideal as I can get her without alot of conditioning but she remains a large , round barreled, flat back horse. It's her conformation and there isn't much more to be done about that. She can probably still lose about 50 pounds and with additional condition , she will develop more muscle, but her build will remain similar to what it is now.
I have labored over whether my initial hopes of making her an endurance prospect were realistic . Is endurance really the right path for her, given her build? It's a frequent topic of conversation with my husband, since he was the one who bred, raised and trained these Lippitt Morgans for years. He surely has the experience with what they can and cannot do. We both agree that this mare will certainly endure the mental and physical toughness that the endurance sprot demands, however he does not share my concern in her ability to cool properly and recover quickly enough. Tom has always used a Lippitt Morgan as his riding horse, whether it was his journey on horseback from New Mexico to Montana, long days of helping with working cattle, or the miles he has ridden in the backcountry. He is drawing his sentiment of the ability of these horses directly from his experiences of these horses. But still, it wasn't usually at speed so I am left to wonder.
Concerns aside, I decided that there is truly only one way to find out. That is to begin , as initially planned last June, conditioning Maggie for the sport this spring. I will monitor and track her recoveries closely and see what she has to tell me. A horse that is fit to continue is different than a horse that will simply continue regardless of whether they are fit or not...Time and miles will be our guide.
So , with my decision made, a heart rate monitor on the Christmas wish list, I added "Z Halcyon April" to the renewal application for AERC. It's signed ,sealed and delivered. Maggie will officially join the AERC crowd.
We'll see what Morgan has to show me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

All in the name of a place to ride

As the weather changes and the footing on the roads, trails , and outdoor arena get worse, I always feel a sense of urgency. How will I keep JB in condition? Now, with an added member , I have the added concern of how to keep Maggie going as well. I plan to have her ready for her first 25 miler this season and she needs a ton of work before that. I can work a horse in snow , but we get so much ice, it becomes a real problem for me.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. The arena I would normally have access to was foreclosed on this past month. So, yesterday my friend and I went arena hunting. There happens to be a huge , fancy place about a mile and half up the road from my place. It would be perfect but there is one problem. It's private. The owner is , shall we say, a local well -to-do business person/attorney/property developer who is living out his "cowboy" dream in Montana...

I drive by the place every day coming and going to work and wonder what really goes on at this fancy place. I haven't seen any horse activity for the last year or so. I used to see a horse trailer coming and going quite often, driven by a younger guy in a cowboy hat... (atleast he looked the part) but lately there has been no activity. As far as I know, they have reining horses at the place....but maybe , just maybe , they got out of the horse business? which would explain the lack of activity????
...and maybe, just maybe, they would love to see their facility atleast getting used by someone... that someone being me, a neighbor???
I finally got tired of wondering and got up enough courage to find out once and for all. Ofcourse, the only way to do that was to drive in there, hope to find someone and ask. I considered a phonecall but something like this warranted atleast an introduction of myself.

So, I talked my friend into coming along. I figured if there was some crazed caretaker to run us off, there was atleast strength in numbers. I pulled up to the long, fancy entry way, paused for a moment as we glanced at each other for a final confirmation that we might either be about to make total fools of ourselves or possibly get chased off by a crazed ranch caretaker...a nod of conformation from my friend said we were going for it....we headed down the long heated,... yes heated... paved driveway , bordered by beautful pastures that were fenced with the white vinyl(someone forgot to tell Mr well-to-do that white vinyl does indeed crack at 20 below) fencing on both sides.
I wound my truck down the drive to the main house, although it was hard to tell what was house and what was barn... if you can imagine for a moment, the fanciness of the place. The barn looked like a house... or maybe it was vice versa , either way.. both were beautiful.

We parked, got out of the truck and bravely walked up the the door. So far, no crazed caretaker... the lights were on in the house and I recognized Mr Well-to-do business man standing there with his wife in the kitchen. We stood there for a moment and the thought crossed my mind... Is this what it feels like to be a stalker???? They must have seen my headlights, yet , they seemed oblivious to the fact that someone had just pulled up...

We knocked.. waited.. waited some more..

For heavens sake.... they were both standing right there, were they ignoring our knocks? Couldn't they see us on their well lit front doors steps??? Were they hoping we would just go away if they ignored us long enough? My friend looked at me , sharing the moment of confusion....can they not hear us?? Right about now, I was thinking maybe this was a mistake and just about lost my nerve, wanting to make a dash for it back to my truck..
...but, not being one to be ignored...

...................................knock, knock knock again..

A little louder this time. Ah finally.. Mr well-to -do looks up , in surprise to see me standing there and decides to anwer the door....

We politely introduced ourselves , and he politely listened, although he had the faintest look of what appeared to be irritation on his face at this friend went on for a moment about why we were there and where we lived (neighbors) and my friend then got right to the point and asked the question. "Do you ever lease out your facility to the public? We are distance riders and are looking for a place to ride for the winter?"
Mr well-to-do, looking as though he were considering it for a moment, but then , as politely as possible said "I am sorry but I will have to decline" .

He could have stopped right there... we had the point. It was the answer I was expecting but hoping against....

...but no... He had to add salt to the wound...
He went on to say, " We have a lot of requests like this and we just can't have every yay-hoo that calls themselves a rider come use our arena but.... good luck"
and he closed the door and walked back into the house....
I had to manually lift my jaw off the ground........Yay-hoo? The nerve!! Who is the one that calls himself a cowboy in a newspaper article but doesn't own a single cow??
I had to stop myself from rapping on that door again and challenge him to come riding with me sometime....see how many miles it takes for his cowboy &$$ to begin to chafe....and then we'll see who the ya-hoo is.....
but I refrained... I am sure my husband wouldn't appreciate having to explain to the cops that I just wanted a place to ride for the winter...and I tend to have a short fuse with rudeness.

I have rubbed shoulders with a few folks in my life with plenty of the green stuff. Most of them are nice people, good people. I admire people who have worked hard and been successful and try to learn what I can from their success.. but this??? This was just a little uncalled for. There is no reason to say things like that but I guess that's arrogance for you. Money doesn't give people a right to treat others rudely.
So long story short, I guess I got my answer but I also lost any respect I used to have for him (as a local business man) and you can bet you won't find me patroning his business anymore, I guarantee that.
It looks like I will be hauling to the state land about 8 miles away again this winter, dealing with frozen toes and fingers in order to keep my horses going, along with all the other yay-hoo's.....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Winter Training Journal 2

I have nothing for this journal entry, absolutely nothing.

I was supposed to go on a conditioning ride today with my friend and endurance riding companion Debbie , but it began to snow. I thought it would only last a little bit but it just kept coming down. I threw on my snow boots and walked out to the road to see just how bad it was when I nearly fell on my arse. hmmmphh.. A well packed layer of ice...

Normally I would not have let a little weather stop me, but sometimes, safety and logic do have to weigh in. Driving a truck and 16 ft trailer on good roads can be tricky enough, driving a truck and 16 ft trailer on snow packed and icy roads, I am not even going to try , less it be an emergency. Of course, the tires that are on the truck aren't exactly what I would call good at this stage... (note to self, get tires)
With nothing else to be done, I cursed mother nature and slip slided my way back to the house to call Debbie and cancel.

Tis the season I guess. Instead of riding, I did manage to find something useful to do with my time. That pile of laundry that needed to be folded has now been tackled and I even pulled out the boxes of Christmas decorations in preparation for the coming days. In between household chores, I peered out occasionally and watched the horses frolic in the snow. They seemed to be enjoying it. Glad someone was..

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fond Memories

I got an email the other day.

My last and favorite TB that I had from my breeding program years ago had been sold. I have never been good at selling horses for this reason alone. You never really get to say what happens to them after they are gone. Lucky for me, I had befriended the couple that I had sold him to and was fortunate enough to have been keeping in touch, getting updates and even got to see Wes every summer at the local events for the last 4 years. They gave him a great home and he was doing well in his show career. Their decision to sell came after a series of injuries , which left Wes unable to compete at the higher levels that the owners were at . At first, their decision seemed selfish to me but I understand . Limited time, limited resources and as much as we all may want to , we can't always just keep horses to just sit around. Wes could still be used for novice low level jumping, trail riding and easy work but that would be the extent of it. From what I am told his new owners sound like they will also give him a good home. I hope he does well for them.

I was reorganizing and saving off pictures to discs when I ran across this series of photos taken of me riding him a few years back. These pictures were taken right before a horse show I was preparing him for. (please ignore my bad crotch hands!)

It was fun to take a moment to remember Wes . We learned alot from each other and he will always have a special place in my heart.

Journey to Self Carriage

Ok- so I have probably established that much of my focus in training, when I am not conditioning for endurance, is teaching my horse to travel long and low first, in preparation for getting them into a correct collected frame with the eventual goal to have the horse travel with "self carriage". Sometimes I wish I could just crawl into the skin of Nuno Olivera and learn what he does to make it all happen so effortlessly but .. that's not exactly going to happen...

Self Carriage, collection, whatever you want to call it.. alot of us are after it..and unfortunately it's not uncommon to see trainers using all sorts of gadgetry such as draw reins, chambon to achieve it. I don't necessarily think these things are as awful or terrible training tools , its more the case that they are often used incorrectly. Nevertheless, I haven't found them to be overly useful for JB and I often wondered why. When I began to hunt for answers, I found some

I don't know this Laura character at Lazer Ray stables, but I certainly have to agree with her thoughts on the subject.

So, as many times as I have looked at my side reins and circingle and thought..."hmmm.... maybe... " , I think I will keep continue down the path of less is more....

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Winter training Journal 1

It's not officially winter yet, but I am so grateful that we have not had snow ( of course I may have just jinxed myself) because I have been fortunate enough to remain riding in my arena. I hope to continue to be able to do that into December.

It thought I would try journal my training sessions here , with the hopes that it will keep me accountable. Ofcourse, they may be spotty as the we get further into winter but we'll give it a go nonetheless.
Last evening I arrived home a bit early and saddles in a fury, knowing that I had just an hour to spare before dark. Once in the saddle, I spent a good 15 minutes at a walk, working on ...what else.. getting a JB soft and responsive through bending, lateral work, and maintaining long and low. Most of this was to warm JB up sufficiently, as the temperature was dipping. Hard to relax with cold muscles.
When we were were ready I asked JB into a trot. We worked on traveling in a long and low frame to start but after a few trips, I began to ask for him to soften through his poll and jaw. At the same time I encourage him for a bit more impulsion with a slight squueze and release pattern with my lower leg. For brief moments, the shape of JB's neck changes, his back lifts ever so slightly and his trot feels "springier". This is the beginning of him coming together into a frame. He doesn't hold it long, but it's definitely improved from even 3 months ago. We work on this as I move him into a figure eight using half of the arena. He is bending nicely into his corners (Ha!) without the resistance I had on Sunday.

I move him back down the straighline of the arena, and ask for a transition down into a working walk, working my finges gently on the reins to encourage him to "chew" the bit down so we do not drop into a walk with him bracing his back and popping his head up. JB partially hesitates and gets a bit bracey for a mement, but with a little squeeze of my leg and a little feel on the rein, he comes right back and is soft in my hands.

By now, the sun is down and the temperature has dropped. I spent a few more minutes working on walk, halt, trot transitions.

To be continued......

Sunday, November 15, 2009

When its Good Enough

In most aspects of my life, settling for good enough is not an option ; but with horse training, it can make the difference between getting through to a horse or sending them down the wrong path of resentment. Every time I lead a horse out to the arena for a training session , I remind myself to look for the moment when it's "good enough".

What is good enough?

It's like a cameleon that changes colors, camoflaging itself into the landscape or like an late afternoon shadow that races past you before you realize it. "Good enough" in horse training is always in motion, it changes day to day, sometimes moment to moment.
For the last couple of sessions in the arena with JB, I have had to really pay attention to that phrase , or take a chance of going too far with him. I am working JB through a few "sticky " spots in regards to softness and gettting more with less. I found myself slipping into wanting more when it's good, but not good enough....
JB can be a deceptive little horse because from the outside he often looks calm and quiet, but to the unattentive trainer, a storm can be brewing just below the surface. He will not wear his heart on his sleeve, no, he is much too proud for that. His typical M.O. is to give me only the slightest signals when something is amiss with him. Rarely , if ever, will he be so obvious as throw a tantrum or buck..
Traveling to the left, JB tenses into the corners of the arena, falling onto his inside shoulder, rib cage stiff. I ask for a bend with a little sqeeze on the inside rein and a suppporting inside leg at the girth. My outside leg remains soft and is a bit behind the girth to encourage him to maintain his impulsion. JB tenses more, rushes through the corner, falling heavy on his forehand. Arrgggg...failed attempt.. we have three more corners yet, so we'll try again. Down the long side of the arena, I ask for him to lengthen his stride. We'll try again at the next corner, not making a fuss about it. Here comes the corner again, again he quietly ignores the cues I am giving. His left ear flicks back to me in a fleeting moment, as if to say, "Yes, I hear you, but it's awful hard to focus at the moment". His reluctance to soften and the flick of his ear is his signal to me that something isn't jiving for him; Nothing more, nothing less.

While this excercise is nothing new for JB , today is a different day and today , he is struggling a bit. Each time I ask for him to ride into the corner as opposed to stiffen and cut the corner, his head comes up a bit, his pace quickens . he becomes unbalanced because his hind end is not engaged and he is heavy on the forehand. A rather common , fixable problem.
Since I know he understands the cues for for what I am asking, I need to change something in how I am presenting it to him and this usually means breaking it down into smaller pieces, setting it up so I know he can have some success.
I ask him into a walk and work on a spiraling in and out of circle traveling to the left. I give a little feel on the inside rein, and little squeeze at the girth with my inside leg, timed with his inside leg, just prior to when it pushes off the ground. This will encourage him to step bigger underneath himself. He responds with a softened ribcage and he is now traveling on the circle. He chews the bit down, softening his back. I let the reins slide through my fingers as he reaches down further and further, encouraging him to reach and stretch down. I work him through each corner of the arena doing this excercise and after each corner we travel down the corresponding long side of the arena with soft contact and a nice working walk. He is making his grunting , soft blowing sounds he often makes when he is letting go and relaxed and he feels light and responsive. The stiffness I had previously felt through his body is no longer there. He feels more like maleable clay in my hands and legs. Much better.....We spend a few more moments on a couple of lateral excercises like shoulder in, shoulder-out, etc. JB is responding softly and quietly to everything I am asking.

At this point, I have to consider, do I stop here? Is this good enough?

My answer?

Yes, it was indeed good enough. In fact it was more than good enough. My decision to stop at that point was based on his experience. I had chosen a place to stop where he was feeling good about the session, which builds his confidence, which will lay the groundwork for the next time. There is no need to drill an excercise in order to get what I am asking of him. He already knows the cues and for this particular day, doing this at a trot was more than he could manag. Instead of going back and risking failure, we got it good at the walk and left it at that. He was responsive, soft and mentally in a good place. Why get greedy?

I think this is a tough thing for trainers to accept. We often have these things called "agenda's and get caught up in them. The thoughts of " I must have this horse jumping 3 and 1/2 feet in a month to be ready for that show" or " I must have this horse doing flying lead changes next week for the dressage show".. etc, etc..

I have found that when I adjust to meet my horse at the half way point and work with him from where he is, instead of where I might want him to be at any given moment, it comes back to me twofold and we get further faster . My horse then looks forward to our sessions and is willing to try harder for me.

Waiting a little longer in order to accomplish that effortless Leg Yield, and more importantly having a happy horse, is well worth it in my opinion.

Images of Acer Farm

"Freedom lies in being bold"

-Robert frost

Monday, October 26, 2009

A New Adventure

Sunday was opening day for big game season here in Montana. As it turns out, JB and I got the opportunity to participate, another opportunity that allowed us continue to build miles, experience and conditioning while getting to ride in some of the most beautiful country in the west, in my humble opinion. As a second bonus, since the freezer is looking grim these days, an opportunity to refill the freezer for the winter. Kill two birds ( no pun intended here) with one stone, if you will.
****If your not into hunting, I will give you the heads up, this post will feature a story about an elk that was harvested. Nothing gruesome but feel free to pass on reading if you must.

Normally, Tom travels many hundreds of miles out of the immediate area to go elk hunting and is gone for several days with wall tent, stove, two head of horses, panniers, pack saddles, the whole shebang… I rarely go since someone has to stay behind and manage the farm ! This year was different. This year, there was no week long hunting trip planned and Tom is staying close to home. Nonetheless, there is still hunting to be done. He made some plans with my dad and brother go huntingfor opening day and I got to say yes to the invite. (any excuse to ride and be in the outdoors with my horse!)

The alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. Sunday morning and I popped out of bed excited for the new adventure. (ok, maybe not popped but rolled would probably better describe it) We fed horses and packed a few last items for the day while sipping coffee and grabbing quick breakfast. We loaded the horses into the trailer and JB was on his way to his first elk hunting assignment. The weather was supposed to be beautiful but the morning was cold, 18 degrees! It was an hour or more drive to get to our destination, along some rather rough dirt roads. The goal was to be in the woods and have my dad and brother in their post before first light. Since Tom and I had the horses, our main job was “bird doggin” for the on foot hunters. Basically we would be putting on “drives” which involves traveling along in a wide birth with the goal to kick up some elk and drive it in the direction of my dad and brother. If we were fortunate enough to get an elk, then we would also have the added advantage of packing it out with the horse.

We were a little behind schedule but not terribly. My dad and brother set off while we finished saddling up. We would catch up shortly. JB was quiet as could be. I was fighting cold fingers as I tried to get the saddle cinched, gear secured, orange ribbon tied to JB’s mane and tail, and trying to hurry! Finally, everything was in place, now I just had to figure out how I was going to get on. I had so many layers on, it was difficult to have the flexibility to climb on. Tom held JB and my saddle while I crawled into place, all the while glad for a short horses!

We headed out and followed the arrows my Dad had so creatively made out of sticks showing us which way to go. We had to go a little slower than we had hoped because the ground was frozen underneath with a top layer of frosty grass. The horse were having a tough time keeping their footing. We slip-slided our way and finally found our hunters. We quickly headed out in a Northwesterly direction to begin our first drive. Luckily there were several nice wide logging roads to follow as we climbed up the mountain. The sun has started to come up and I was finally able to get feeling in my fingers once again, despite a good pair of gloves.
The frozen air nipped at my nose and bit at my cheeks. Frost particles in the air fell down upon us as we rode along and as the sun came up , they shined like little diamonds, falling gently, silently to their resting place on the ground. We rode along , lullabied by the muffled thumping of the horses hooves. There wasn’t another sound to be heard. The horses whiskers were frosted over and looked as thought they had dipped their muzzles in a bowl of milk.
As we rode along, the first rifle shot ripped through the air, bouncing off the surrounding mountains and jolting us a bit. The shot was not that far off from where we were. We carried on and made our way up to a clearing where we came across two other hunters, a man and his daughter. They asked if we saw the elk that was just taken down below. We must have ridden right past it. Apparently , an older man got a 7 x 8, which in hunting terms… a big elk. That means 7 points on one side and 8 on the other. Apparently the rifle shot we has just heard only a half hour before was this same elk. We rode around for a little while longer and eventually made our way back to see if we could get a glimpse of the man that was now the envy of every other hunter on the mountain.
When we back tracked, we realized that yes, in fact , we had ridden right by the first time without seeing him. We would have ridden right by again but this time, the wind was blowing just right and snapped our attention off to our right. Anyone who has ever been around elk knows that there is a distinct smell. This time, the strong odor of elk caught my attention and JB's as well. It dawned on me why JB and Cassidy went on high alert when we had passed through here earlier. They had picked up the smell that we were not previously able to. Our noses led us over a little knob in the landscape and sure enough there was the older man with his elk of a lifetime, just out of sight. He had already finished gutting the elk out and was getting ready to go get help. We talked to him for a bit and apparently, when he took his shot, there was a herd of about 20 elk that had come through here. This particular elk was a bit behind the rest of the herd. The lucky hunter told us that he estimated there were approximately 5-6 bulls as big or bigger than the one he took. He said they were moving so quickly, it was hard to really tell He was very humble about the whole thing. He said he was just in the right spot at the right time and was nearly run over by the herd. His hands still shook from the rush of adrenaline.
I rode over to the lying elk with JB as I wanted to see how he would respond to it. He looked at it, stepped closer to sniff it and lost interest quickly, not in the least bit concerned about the smell. Many times, horses will get very funny about the smell of blood or the sight of a dead deer or elk. JB acted as though he had seen a dead elk a thousand times before. The man asked if we could pack the elk out but Tom had not brought any of his packing gear along with. We offered to help him if he could find someone with pack saddles . The man said he had some friends camped below that had all the needed gear so he would just walk back out and get them. So, we parted ways and we headed back in the direction to where we would meet up with my dad and brother, wondering if we might happen upon that herd again. Doubtful, since the elk were probably well spooked by now, but hopeful nonetheless..
We made our way back to the meeting spot and told our “elk” story to my dad while we waited for my brother. Apparently news travels fast, even without cell phones and technology because every group of hunters that came by us asked if we heard about the big elk that was taken just above where we were sitting. It seemed everyone knew of the big elk in record time and everyone was trying to find this elusive “herd”. Good luck … Elk aren’t called the Ghosts of the Rockies for nothing….and with all the pressure from all the hunters, I was sure they were likely miles from here by now, being several hours later…
We made one more little drive and then called it a day. It was already after 3:00 p.m. We still had to ride back to the trailer, load up, help my brother fix the flat on his truck he got on the way in , and then the hour and half drive back home..

We had beautiful weather and got to ride in some beautiful country. JB proved to be a quiet calm hunting horse, even with gunshots and the sight and smell of a freshly harvested elk. As for the freezer, we’ll try our luck another day….

Monday, October 12, 2009

Making Time

"Remember life’s a pretty precious and wonderful thing. You can’t sit down and let it lap around you…. You have to plunge into it; You have to dive through it! And, you can’t save it, you can’t store it up; You can’t horde it in a vault; You’ve got to taste it; You’ve got to use it. The more you use – the more you have… that’s the miracle of it!" - Kyle Samuel Crichton

I think this quote speaks to how I try to live my life and it’s usually about this time of year, that I realize how sometimes, it catches up to me.

Fall only made it’s debut for a week in Northwest Montana this year. We got cheated a bit it seems. We literally went from mid eighties to 50’s for a week and then it’s been frigid ever since. Low’s in the single digits and highs only in the 20’s or 30’s. I don’t know if we’ll get a return to more fall like weather. Last Wednesday, I drove to work and had to use 4 wheel drive in my truck. The roads were covered in ice and there was new blanket of snow covering the ground and foliage. It was odd seeing greenery covered in white.

This past weekend, Tom and I suddenly found ourselves scrambling to get things around the farm winterized. There were still paddocks to scrape, planters and patio furniture to tuck away, fencing to finish and water tank heaters to install to name just a few things. Certain things couldn’t wait until the weekend and last Thursday night found us out in the corrals with headlamps at 8:00 p.m. getting the water tank heaters installed before the frigid Canadian cold front came blowing in. At least that was one thing off the agenda for the weekend!

This weekend marked the first in many weeks that not a single hour of it involved a plan to ride a horse. (even though I did steal a quick ride on Maggie) As we worked on various winterizing things around the place, I realized how we are essentially preparing to slow the pace down for a few months. After a busy summer, I found myself looking forward to this change of pace.

With spring and summer, things tend to humm along at a somewhat frenetic pace around Acer Farm. There is gardening and lawn work to do, BBQ’s and weddings to attend, houseguests to entertain, horses to ride, condition and train and last and still my own exercise routine to squeeze in. Obviously it can’t all get done so something has to give. As much as I hate to admit it, housekeeping chores are usually the first to be abandoned and the second thing to go are meals that require much time. Housecleaning involves a quick vacuum once a week to pick up the obvious dirt and meals are usually grilled meat and a vegetable or cold salad. Nothing fancy but enough to keep us going.

As fall and winter of 2009 loom ahead, I will embrace the change of pace as much as I possibly can, and take some much needed time to rest and reorganize. I am sad that hours in the saddle will begin to be less and less but on the other hand, I am looking forward to more time for the things that I have not been able to do since last April.

I will surrender myself to ride when the footing is safe and the cold is not too severe. I will catch up on the books and movies I have wanted to read or see. I will vacuum and dust more often. (smile) I will take time to just sit by the fire with a purring cat in my lap. will spend time organizing my home office. I will schedule a massage. I will make time for a drink at happy hour with a friend. I will stay late at work more often. I will go skiing and ice skating and snow shoeing. I will spend more time with family. All of these things I will do to renew my soul and mind to prepare for spring to arrive once again, when the sun begins to warm my face, birds will sing, horses begin to shed their wintery layers of fur and daylight hours begin to win the race once again.

And then; let it all begin again, racing home from work, to saddle a horse, to get down the trail once more, to burn the candle at both ends. I can hardly wait……

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Riverslide Glide -First 25 miler

We'll start by posting proof in the photo below because I have to remind myself we finally accomplished our goal. This photo was taken towards the end of the ride. I had about 5 miles to finish. It's the only photo that was taken of me actually on the trail!We arrived Thursday evening in Spokane in just enough time to set up camp, get three horses settled and all of our gear organized(not an easy task when your sharing space with two others!) before dark. Friday morning came with rain and wind but we busied ourselves with hours of reorganizing gear, resting, taking photos and we even took a short ride to stretch our horses legs a bit.
Friday evening was riders meeting. It was held way later than I had hoped. I listened in and took notes. Usually meetings are pretty straight forward; you get your map, the ride manager points out things of special note, you ask questions and you walk away feeling like you have a good grasp of what your day will look like…. Well, that isn't exactly how this one went...I have to back up a bit before I tell you the next part:

Before I made the decision to commit to going to the ride, I inquired as to the terrain and level of difficulty of the ride . I had been conditioning JB but we had not had enough time to condition on a lot of hills so I wanted to make sure it wasn’t beyond our condition level. I was assured that it was not very hilly at all but the footing was challenging because of the rockiness. No problem with that, I had easyboots on the front and shoes with pads on the back…JB would be well protected…So my decision to go was made.

Flash forward:
Meanwhile back at the ride meeting, the ride manager and her gaggle of volunteers went through the map section by section explaining the terrain and suddenly I realized her idea and my idea of " not difficult” were worlds apart. There were bluffs to climb, switchbacks to conquer and ledges to teeter along on. Challenging and surprising as all of that might be (considering I was told differently), it wasn't my main concern. Apparently we would have to cross what was referred to as an ORV section of the trail, or Outdoor Recreational Vehicle area. That translates to dirt bikes and 4 wheelers riding in sand dunes. In JB’s eyes, dirt bikes are the devil himself. Ok, major red flag for us. JB is deathly, I mean deathly afraid of dirt bikes. When I asked for details, I was assured by the volunteers that there were never very many dirtbikes out there and those that were, were always very courteous… The lastpiece of information aout the trail was that we could also expect to run into our fair share of hikers, runners and mountain bikers…

Ok…. this wasn’t sounding at all like a Novice ride anymore….gulp….

Don't get me wrong, hikers, mountain bikers and mommies with baby carriages can all be a bit of a hazard but for the most part JB was ok with these things. It was the dirt bikes that had me concerned and the fact that the trail no longer sounded like a novice trail, given the amount of climbing we would be doing and the rocky footing.

Needless to say, by the time the ride meeting was over, my nerves were a bit tattered and my anxiety levels were definitely up.

".....anyone got a shot glass??? oh hell, just give me the bottle! "

Ride morning arrived sunny and bright. The rain and wind that was predicted had not shown up. This was a good sign. Sleep deprived, I stumbled out of bed, got JB his morning beet pulp and hay and got myself dressed while Sherrie and Debbie got ready to leave for 7:00 a.m. I didn’t have to go out until 9:30 so I had more than enough time. My minimum ride time was 7hr and 30 minutes and maximum time of 9 hours. (there is so much math to do in CTR's.....)

At 7:00a.m. , Debbie and Sherrie were safely out for their 35 mile day. They were running the same loop that I was, but with an additional 10 mile loop. Before I was even scheduled to go out, they were already back in for their first of two P&R's. They gave me some advice that I think was supposed to be helpful; the time was appropriate given the terrain and to be careful of the footing, it was awful.

GREAT.. I had successfully convinced myself into believing the ride manager was just exaggerating the night before….

9:30 a.m. arrived and JB was calm but ready to go. I walked him in a large circle and around the campsite to warm him up and keep his mind from wandering.

We set out. The trail started out really nice with good footing as it meandered through a wooded area. We ran into a couple of the trail judges as we climbed a hill or two. I had to remind myself this was CTR , not an endurance race. Must watch out for sneaky judges...

In the first 3 miles, we topped out onto a rim where the trail began to get quite rocky, an old abandoned railroad track. I was able to get off to one side where the footing was better. We followed that for a while and JB was walking out nicely and feeling strong. I wasn’t in a hurry because my game plan was to walk as much as possible in the first 12 miles because after that point, things would begin to get tricky in elevation and footing.

We climbed back down off the rim, hopped down a few ledges (literally) and onto an open flat area where I could let him trot out a bit. JB was anxious to stretch his legs and wanted to go faster than I thought he should. After an initial discussion about which speed we were going to go, he finally found a decent pace. Before I knew it, we were taking a turn to the left and faced with our first steep up hill climb, along with some tricky shale footing. JB had to stop and step carefully over them. He did a great job thinking his way through it. I was a little concerned about the boots staying on, but they did. We topped out again and the trail opened up again, back into some nice open wooded trails with nice footing. We walked and some other riders caught us. We rode together and I was glad to have some company , as well as the added support of other horses because before I knew it, we were approaching the ORV area. I could hear the irritating winding up of the motors in the distance and so could JB. We made our way through it without too much incident other than JB trying to rush a bit. I thought we were home free and breathed a sigh of relief. JB was nervous but manageable. We crossed through a gate and the trail went back into the woods, leaving the sound of the giant bumblebees in the distance. I took a minute to glance at my map and nearly died when I realized we hadn’t even gone through the worst of it. We had to loop around and come into it from the other side. We had only been backside of it and now we would be going right into the middle of it. OH CRAP.....

As we approached, and the footing turned to deep sand, I could feel JB’s body becoming tenser and tenser as the dirt bike riders revved their engines through their course, the “ ehring, ehring ehring” of the dirt bike motors was now getting closer and closer. The trail ran along a fence line and the sand dunes were right there. If there weren’t 20 dirt bikes buzzing around in the distance, there wasn’t one. My nice calm relaxed horse was now a ball of trembling tension, head in the air, ears pricked, and eyes as big as baseballs. How was I going to get him and myself through this in one piece?

I talked softly to him and tried to remain as calm and relaxed as I possibly could but my heart was ready to fly out of my throat. I was scared for both of us. I felt like I was astride a ball of energy about to come uncorked. And I was….

As we approached, the trail took us through a fence , dumping us right into the middle of their course. Just about then, two dirt bikes came around the corner , over a jump and flying through the air as they passed us.

Well, that did us in. It was too much for poor JB’s brain to handle. He wheeled and bucked and before I knew it we were at top speed in a couple jumps heading back the way we just came. I got him turned and we stopped. As we stood there and watched them disappear into the distance, JB's entire body was trembling in total fear…

With a shaky voice and my own pounding pulse I tried to reassure him and calm myself …”Easy boy, I’ll get us through here safely....I promise” but he was mentally shaken.

I had a passing thought of turning back the way we came and bagging the whole thing but we had some too far. I had to get him through this one way or the other. I decided to dismount. In a CTR you are not supposed to get off your horse and have any forward motion. You could be disqualified if you do. At that time, my last concern was being DQ’d. I didn’t care at this point. Besides, they did say safety is the #1 priority and keeping my horse safe was my main priority at the moment.

I walked him for a bit as we looked for the flags to get us out of our own version of hell. He circled around me, hyper vigilant to the whereabouts of the motorcycles. The flags suddenly were no where to be found., the flags simply disappeared. So, we turned to following hoof prints. They went way out, up and over the hill, right where all the motor bikes were circling like flies. Ofcourse the trail went that way…. Why would I think otherwise…

When I saw how far we would have to go across the sand dunes, I thought better of being on the ground and trying to lead JB through this. If he got out of my grasp, there was no telling where he would end up. So, I climbed back onto my trembling steed which was less than easy since he would not stand still. I felt pretty confident I could stay in the center of him better than I could manage him from the ground in the mental state that he was in.

We made our way across and JB was difficult to manage to say the least. I rode in between the other two riders, in the hopes that it would help support JB a bit but it didn’t really seem to help too much. We wasted a lot of time trying to find our trail but we made it across and up over the hill. Bikers were everywhere. One would think they would just hold off and let us pass by… but no.. they seemed to be enjoying the fact that they were causing us difficulty. Where was the courtesy I had heard about in the riders meeting? JB charged and leaped his way up the hill, ready to make another break for it at any moment.

Trying to keep my head about me enough to get my horse and myself safely through this and at the same time fighting back a streak of red anger at the ride manager for taking the trail through something like this.. HOW STUPID!! It was dangerous, no other way to describe it. At the very least, there should have been spotters out in that section making sure the bikers didn’t harass the horseback riders, which they did… winding their engines as we passed.

By the time we exited the ORV area, JB was drenched in sweat , I was drenched in sweat and both of us were still trembling and mentally shaken…. I was now concerned about his hydration and energy reserves since he had just dumped most of it in those 15 minutes of hell to get through it. I took a few deep breathes and attempted to collect myself, glad that we had survived.

We approached the next road crossing and the ride manager met us there. I am not sure why she showed up there but she took one look at me and JB, and she knew we had had trouble. She said a lot of riders were having trouble and she was very apologetic. She didn’t know there would be so many dirt bikers out there, turns out , the bikers were having a “rally” that day….

……at the moment, I didn’t really care to hear about why or what or the apologies. I just wanted to get through the next few miles, get to my P & R stop, get my horse some water and food and make sure he was at criteria to continue. I wasn’t sure he would be at this point.
JB was ramped up and now the real climbing was about to begin. We were climbing up to the overlook bluff. This was one area that we were warned heavily about, the trail condition was poor and several areas of the trail were falling away… she wasn’t lying… it was a narrow trail and in spots , didn’t seem suitable to a mountain goat even. JB picked his way carefully through as he struggled up the switchbacks. We stopped several times so JB could catch his breathe but he wanted to rush up the hill and wasn’t listening very well at this point. Still traumatized by the bikes so I wasn’t too critical of him.

We made it into the P & R and I threw his cooler on because he was fairly sweaty and the wind was blowing. JB pulsed in at 72. They wouldn’t allow us to get water until after he met criteria. This irritated me even more. I gave him his beet pulp with carrots and apples and emptied both my water bottles into the bucket of beet pulp for him to drink. Atleast it would be something. He slurped it down and went after his hay. I was glad to see his appetite was still good. At the 10 minute recheck his pulse had gone up a beat or two. This was not good. I got very concerned so I immediately pulled his cooler and tack off and we held for an additional 30 minutes with a pulse recheck in 20 minutes. I knew his high pulse was up because of the ORV section. It completely threw him into a huge state of fear, dumped a bunch of adrenalin into his system, heated him up and overall threw him out of sorts. To add, we had our hardest climb right after the ORV event which didn’t help matters. I was finally able to take him over to the water tank but he wouldn’t drink…. Great…
The other riders that I came into the P&R with went on alone. They also had their fair share of trouble getting their horses to drink and pulse down initially but were doing better and headed out. I was happy to have the extra time but I was very concerned about JB’s pulse being so high and the fact that he wasn’t drinking. On the other hand, everything else was good, he was eating, pooping, peeing, no lameness… his gut noises were a little quiet coming in but had improved as he started eating a bit. Our 20 minutes was up and they rechecked…a sigh of relief… his pulse had come down to criteria of 60. It was still higher than I wanted but much improved at at criteria. The vet felt he was okay to go on. I did at this moment seriously considered pulling. I didn’t really know if I should push it. I still had 10 minutes to decide so I let JB continue to eat and slurp beet pulp and talked to the ride manager about the terrain for the next 10 miles. She reassured me that it was mostly flat or downhill accept at one spot. The only thing I would run into was more rocky footing. I was concerned with his unwillingness to drink combined with the amount of fluids he had lost with his sweating. The ride manager told me that I would come to a couple spots along the river where I could access andoffer JB water. I was relieved to hear that because I knew he stood a good chance of drinking running water.
JB had cooled off and was looking like he was feeling better. So, I made the decision to go on.

I tacked JB back up and we headed out. The next several miles we just walked and took our time. JB surprised me. He felt strong and was walking out well but I knew it would be crucial to keep him as slow as possible if we were going to make the next 10 miles. We made our way and the trail was mostly flat or easy downhills as the ride manager had said. I was very relieved. We meandered along the river edge and I enjoyed the scenery. We had to pass by a rifle range where a fair amount of shooting was going on but that startled me more than JB. We met several hikers and mountain bikers on this last section of trail and it was kind of funny to see their faces as they came around a corner to see us right there. Most times, I knew a minute or two ahead that something was coming simply by watching JB. He could hear them long before I could. We would be standing there waiting for them to appear and they never saw us until last minute and nearly laid their bikes down trying to get stopped. JB was fine with all of this. I think he kind of liked watching them just about wreck trying to get stopped. I know I did!

We made it to the spot in the river where we could access the water and JB drank and drank and drank. I was so relieved. We hit our last CTR judging spot after coming through an exceptionally rocky area. The judge stopped us and asked for my ID, which I did not carry with me. (oops...)He also asked for a hoof pick, which I always carry. I honestly thought he was kidding about the ID… but I did ask if I got bonus points for carrying a Leatherman and treats for my horse! He didn’t see the humor in it and just gave me a funny look…We continued on; 4 more miles to go. Right about then I am not sure if I was suffering from fatigue, dehydration or what but we were riding along and right about the time I was wondering where my next flag was, I hear one of the volunteers yelling my name telling me I am off course..
OFF COURSE??? How could that be?

The judge was the one that told me to turn this way!!
I got squared away and continued on down the trail. .... murmuring to myself how dumb I was to just assume the judge told me the correct direction. I suppose it didn't help that there were no obvious flags that would have caught me attention anyways.

JB and I are meandering our way down the trail, emjoying a slow easy walk and taking in the scenery when all of sudden I hear a crash , bang and hoof beats coming from behind. Out from the woods appeared the two women who I had previously been riding with.
How in the world did I get past them?? They left a good 10 minutes before me out of the P&R!!
Apparently the judge who guided me the wrong way also did the same thing to them except they went an extra 2 miles the wrong way. They were way behind time now and went on by us. JB wanted to catch up to them but once they got out of sight he settled into a quiet slow walk. I knew our ride camp should be coming into view anytime now. We walked along for what seemed like forever. I guess I was anxious to be done so JB could get some needed food , water, and rest. I could tell he was now getting tired. I spotted the two women up ahead in the distance that got off course and now they were heading back toward us… hmmm. They must be lost again I thought. Then I panicked for a moment.. am I lost??? I checked my map quick and looked around, remembering I had just passed a flag. I was on course..(sigh) They must have just gotten past their trail a few feet and had to backtrack because they ducked down between a few trees and were gone from sight again. I would be sure not to make that mistake.
When I got to that spot, I could hear horses whinnying and it perked JB up. We dropped down that same trail the two women had initially missed and trotted for the last little bit into camp.
Home sweet Home…. At last we had made it.

I jumped off of JB , loosened his girth and waited to pulse in. He pulsed in a bit high again. Debbie cheered us on as we arrived and had a bucket of soupy beet pulp and hay in hand for him. JB nearly took out one of the volunteers trying to get to it. He sucked down the water and slurped up every lick of beet pulp he could get. They rechecked his pulse in another 10 minutes and he was down to criteria of 60 but the vet felt he should be much lower. I was released to head back to the trailer, take care of JB and the final vet out would be in approx one hour. JB drank a bucket of water in between taking him for short walks to make sure he was properly cooled out. He gobbled down more hay and beet pulp and rested quietly at the trailer for the next hour. He seemed to be acting as I would expect, everything was normal. It was beginning to get dark since we had come into camp at 5:40 p.m. It was finally our turn to vet out , in the dark now along with wind and rain.... Fabulous….
He vetted through and was much better about being handled . By now the rookie vet helper had figured out how to approach a horse nicely. JB was very wary of her but gave her a second chance nonetheless. Wouldn’t you know it? No problems with the shoulder pinch…. She was much gentler this time and I was thankful. I am sure JB was as well. This poor horse didn’t need any more trauma today. We got lots of compliments on how well he was still moving, with plenty of animation on the trot out. I was tickled.

His pulse was hanging around 60 and the vet was still concerned as she expected him to be down in the mid to upper 40’s for a resting heart rate. However, once again, he seemed fine otherwise… She passed us through and wanted me to watch him through out the night. I took him back to the trailer and took his pulse about a half hour later myself and he was down to a normal resting rate. In looking back , I think his pulse was higher because of two things. The ORV situation which set things in motion for the rest of our day and the fact that the vet and vet helper didn’t exactly get off on a good foot with JB. He didn’t forget and it may have caused some anxiety for him, therefore keeping his rate up when he was being handled by them.

So, there you have it. The adventures of our first 25 miler completion. It wasn’t easy and we had some pitfalls but the bottom line was that JB has what it takes. The trail conditions were much more advanced than I would have like for his condition level and yet, JB just kept going.
Lessons learned? JB is a tough little horse.
Would I have changed a few things? Sure but overall it was great time with my horse, I learned alot and got to spend a nice weekend with good company.

JB did me proud and I am looking forward to next season. For now, he is resting and glad to be home with his pasture buddies.

Rest easy Peanut… you earned it….

Happy Trails….

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gliding in at the Riverside

Just a short post for now...

......... .......WE DID IT !!!!!!!!!!!

We completed our first 25 miler. It was a rough go with the terrain, but JB really pulled through for me. Amazing little horse. I am so proud of him!

I will post the full story soon!

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Riverslide Glide

I suppose it’s safe now to let you all in on a little secret I have been keeping....

I will be attending the Riverslide Glide CTR with JB the weekend of October 3rd. I am going over with two friends who are riding two days of 30 miles. I will riding in the Saturday 25 mile Novice adult division. While it’s not an endurance race, it’s still a distance ride.

If you had asked me about attending this a month ago, my answer would have been a quick .."no" . Debbie and Sherrie, who are friends that I ride with , have been planning to attend this ride for months. One day while out on a ride with them, they asked me if I wanted to come along. At first my answer was a quick no, thinking JB would never be ready in time but then I got to looking at my riding log, considered how well JB had been doing and considered the time I still had to get him ready. With some of the weekend miles we had been putting on lately, I could see that JB could be ready in time. So for the last 3 weeks, we have been putting on the finishing touches.

Debbie and Sherrie are going for AHA championship points. I will be attending for a totally different reason; to finally cross a bridge that has been just out of our reach since last season. JB is moving freeer, better and faster than he ever has. His feet don't bother him and he is in the best condition he has ever been in.

.....It's time friends; time for all the tears shed, the set backs, the frustrations, and doubts to step aside and let us have our moment. JB has earned it and he is ready. I couldn't have asked for a better friend on this journey that we started almost two years ago. He has taught me more than I could have ever hoped to have taught him and I am forever grateful.

So, there is much to do to get ready – Coggins, health certificate, finding JB’s brand inspection, tack cleaning, packing …. And a couple more rides this week!

Stay tuned for the ride story…!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

JB Conquers Lupine Lake ; A Mega Climb

For the last several rides, I have slowly been asking JB for a little more , a little more distance or a little more speed, or tested him in challenging terrain. Each time, he is meeting that challenge and surprising me with his abilities. For whatever reason, he is really coming into his own and all the doubts I was having even just a few months ago, are slowly fading with each ride.
This past week I didn't get to ride but once (a six mile speed run) due to hours at the office . This weekend I joined a friend for a hill day workout. We would be heading west of town to Ashley Mountain and Lupine Lake trail. This was new territory for me but it offered some great technical training trails along with some serious hill climbs, water crossings , great scenery , and the opportunity to run into Moose or possibly even a wolf or two. (hopefully not!)
The first 1/2 mile of the trail decended us down, down , down into a creek bottom. Going downhill is hard enough on a horse, but add in large rocks, stumps , a sharp corner with a shear drop off,and it makes it all the more a challenge. There were areaa on this part of the trail that made me thankful I had JB responding to leg , hand and seat aids effectively. JB hasn't figured out that going downhill is easier if he gets on his haunches but he took his time which is the first step. There were spots where he had to drop off a ledge of rocks. He would stop to look at the footing before he stepped down. Exactly what he needed to do.

After the initial steep decent, the trail leveled off for a while before it started a gradual climb up to the lake. In various spots, it opened up enough to do a little trotting. We reached Lupine lake, about 3 miles into the ride. JB was already pretty sweaty.
We took about a fifteen minute break here at Lupine and there was one fisherman in the background. I shared my sunbutter and apple lunch with JB, who ended up getting most of it... Oh well, I was happy to share! He also got a few carrots as well, which he knows I pack along with on every ride!! I offered him a drink but he wasn't interested.

We headed out and JB took the lead. For the next 3 miles or so, the real climb began. He wanted to rush a bit on the uphills but since it would be a long climb I had to check him back and make him take his time. At about a 1.5 miles of steady , slow but steep climbing, I jumped off and led JB for a while to give him a break. As good as he has been going, I did want to over do it with him.

We finally arrived at the top, and JB was definitely tired. I am not sure what the elevation was exactly but high comes to mind. We popped out onto an old logging road. I loosened JB's girth , let him graze, and offered him a drink out of my water bottle. He wasn't too interested but was definitely hungry. While taking our rest, some hikers came along with a blind dog. We visited with them about the area and even got some information about some other trails in the area. After about 15 minutes the horses seemed to be recovered and we headed back down. We both led our horses down the steepest parts.

The decent we made in the first 1/2 mile of the trail was now a steep climb out as the last hurrah before our day was over. I wasn't certain JB would have enough gas in the tank to climb out of there but to my surprise, he scampered up that hill like a champ. He had definitely figured out how to push himself off his hind end in climbing.

It seems JB is really coming along and proving himself not only as good endurance prospect but a tough little mountain horse as well! It's been a long road for us and I couldn't be prouder of this little horse. He just keeps getting better each time we go out on a ride. I only wish it was the beginning of the season instead of the end!

****By the way, we never did see any moose or wolf, thankfully.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thought for the day

Life is not how you survive the storm....but how you dance in the rain....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Elusive Rare Species; The Perfect Endurance Saddle Pad

In the sport of Endurance , one thing a person can count on to remain constanti s that the equipment selection will always change. Just when you think you have everything perfect , something will change your mind. On the other hand, since it can get expensive to have all the top equipment, endurance riders are a creative bunch that can muster up amazing ideas to make something work in a pinch.

One of those equipment items that seems to be a widely discussed and ever changing topic is the Elusive rare species, the perfect endurance saddle pad. I never would have imagined that this piece of equipment would create so many headaches in the decision making process for me, constantly having to reassess things. Usually, being decisive comes easy for me, but this sport has me feeling like Brett Favre these days (ha!).

In the last month, JB and I have been traveling longer miles in the saddle. Longer miles than we have ever done before. His back is not giving him any trouble , thankfully, but I find myself changing my pad configuration up quite frequently to make sure I avoid that problem. My saddle is a Duett Companion Trail II and fits him quite well so I don't have to worry about padding to improve saddle fit.

Even with a good fitting saddle, I have found that pad requirements can change depending on weather, distance, or how JB appears to be feeling that day. 15 miles in steep country is a different ride than 15 miles down a flat dirt road. I try to keep terrain in mind when making the pad decision for the day.

Since last summer, I have made due with what I have on hand, my large collection that has accumulated over the years. (I am a bit of a tack hoarder). As I add more miles and look toward next season, I hope to refine my pad choices for the best results.

When I started perusing the many endurance sites out there with pads to sell, I realized I would be taking my time on this decision. There are enough choices to make any person dizzy. While I certainly don’t have enough years of experience on the endurance race scene, I have narrowed it down to the following 11 features I am looking for in a pad when making my decision. I used these 11 features to compare 8 different pad choices.

....drumroll please.........

1. I prefer natural fibers against my horse; e.g wool, wool felt, sheepskin are all top choices
2. Ease of care is a nice perk, but #1 is more important to me.
3. Affordability- I like a discount as much as the next person, but if it means my horse and I are more comfortable and the quality is there, I don’t mind paying a bit more.
4. Good back protection for my horse without feeling like there is a mattress between my horse and me. I prefer closer contact.
5. Breathability
6. Lightweight- even when wet with sweat.
7. I want something with impact protection, because no matter how well or light a person rides, even 30 miles is still 30 miles of vibration on a horses back, so I like the foam insert idea but keeping in mind # 4 and #5 (stay away from gel, it doesn’t breathe and creates heat build up)
8. Durability; holds up well to multiple washings and many hours of use.
9. I want something that doesn’t collect every hay fiber or particle of dust that floats by us.
10. I want to have at least two pads to switch between so refer to #3.

and last but not least...
11. This one is more of a personal preference, pet peeve thing. I don’t like the idea of a pad, or a girth for that matter, that grips the horse, like neoprene or some of the other tacky type backings often seen on pads. (just take neoprene and rub it against your own skin while applying some pressure and you’ll see what I mean…) It’s been my experience that the pulling that occurs with a grippy pad backing can actually tear muscle fibers. I know the idea is that the sweat lubricates the material and allows it to glide, but I would rather just keep to more natural fibers if I can.

So there they are…Too Picky? .. Maybe… but my horse’s comfort as well as my comfort are crucial if we are to ever be successful at this sport.

I have taken those 11 features and used them in reviewing the following pads;

Toklat Woolback Endurance pad with inserts- I will keep this straight forward, I did not like this pad at all. It passed #1, #11 and #4, and #7 with flying colors but it failed miserably on #2 , # 4 , #6, #9. I sent it back as soon as I pulled it out of the box…Need I say more?

Diamond Wool-Wool Felt – Square Western Cut -1” thickness and ½” thickness. I like this pad overall and frequently use this pad for my conditioning rides, but it’s a bit big for an English saddle. I could cut it to size but I also like to use this pad under my western saddle. It does well for #1, #3, #4, #5 , #8 , #11 and okay in #7 . It fails in #2, # 6, and # 9. It absorbs a lot of moisture and then gets extremely heavy when wet. Cleaning this pad is not overly difficult, just very time consuming because I have to hose and scrub it with a dandy brush and takes 2 full days to dry in the sun. Overall, it’s a good back up pad that is highly versatile if needed but not my first choice for a distance pad. I have about 4 of these on hand , all different thicknesses.

5 Star Wool Pads- These are excellent quality pads but have some of the similar issues as the Diamond wool pads . They are much more expensive than Diamond wool however. 5 Star’s are overall a great pad for arena or light trail work but I wouldn’t choose this for a distance pad.

Dover Quilted square AP saddle pad used along with a Toklat Woolback AP pad (without inserts)This combination actually does a nice job protecting JB’s back on longer rides and seems to breathe well. It’s Royal blue so he looks pretty snazzy in color!. I rate it high on # 2, #3 #, 5,# 6 when used in conjunction with the Woolback AP. Without the Woolback, it would not offer enough back protection. The part I don’t like is having to deal with lining up two pads. It is also difficult to use both sets of pad keepers, so the dressage pad ends up slipping back sometimes. I bought both pads in new condition for a used price of $10 .It was a priced right and has worked in the short term but I probably would not use this for any distance longer than a 25 mile ride. ****The Dover blue pad is pictured above on JB with a wither relief half pad that I use for arena work on occasion.

Haf Italia Pad- Although I have not purchased one, I like a lot of what these pads offer. They are pricey but they are easy to clean, they are supposed to be the best breathing pad out there and also offer good back protection. All of this sounds really good, although it hard to know what’s marketing and what’s true until you try it. I am still not convinced of the grippy material on these pads and this has been the one reason I have not purchased one. I would probably have to try one for a few rides to be convinced. I might keep my eye out for a used one.

Equipedic- I am heavily considering this as one of my main pads. Can’t find anything I don’t like about this one yet except the price, over $200 from most retailers. The Conforpedic Impact reduction Material is supposed to be good but I have read some testimonials that once the material squishes down, it stays that way. I would be curious about the impact protection of this material. Overall the testimonials have all been more positive then negative. Several riders at the Pan American Championship races loved these .

Skito- Same as above on the material squishing down. These seem to look a bit... well…. “chincy” for what the price is. Not really sold on the overall appearance.

I saved the best for last:

Fleeceworks- This company has been around for a while in the dressage and English discipline, but they just released a new line specific for endurance and trail in August . The entire endurance series comes with full inserts. They are removable through a Velcro enclosure at the top of the pad. They come in models related to distance, which is a bit of a different take. There are 3 different options to choose from. 25, 50’s and 100’s. The 50's and 100's are a bamboo/soy top with a 100% bamboo backing and batting. They are designed for the distance of the race. The 25 does not have the bamboo and is made from merino wool not sheepskin. It is a no frills pad designed for conditioning and getting into the sport. The 100 and 50 are very high tech and are ergonomically cut, have the bamboo, are top of the line sheepskin or sheepskin wool combo and are sewn together with SCUBA tread. The website is not updated with all the information on these pads but they have great customer service. I have a friend who has been using this over the last couple of weeks and putting a lot of miles on her horse. She feels these are by far the best endurance pads she has used to date, exceeding the Haf pad and Skito’s.

So , my two choices will be the Equipedic and/or Fleeceworks pads.

Feel free to comment on your own preferences and what you have found to work or just what's on your wish list for equipment. I know Mel over at Boots and Saddles has done her own review of saddle pads, which I found very helpful. Hopefully, someone can gain some wisdom from my quest to find the right pad and save themselves a few steps.

Happy Trails!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Getting the thought; and Building a Relationship

Earlier this summer, I introduced Maggie, my newest addition to the herd, a 4 year old Lippitt Morgan mare. Maggie, and her dam, arrived at Acer Farm to be bred to JB. Through a very strange set of circumstances, Maggie did not end up being bred and somehow, the day the owner arrived to pick up both mares to take them home, I found myself signing a sales agreement for Maggie. As I led this sweet natured mare with huge doe eyes, back to the paddocks, I was rift with emotions on what I had just signed up for. Knowing the bloodline, I knew she would be a tough as nails kind of horse and have a lot of "go", characteristics that are important for a good endurance prospect. At the same time, Acer Farm was now at 6 head, the 6th now being a young untrained horse who was going to need much time from me, something that there was already a limited amount of.

Today, several months later and about 120 pounds lighter, Maggie has moved into full time training. Over the last several weeks, when I am not conditioning JB, I am usually in the arena or round pen with Maggie. The two horses are about as different as two horses could ever be.

JB, having plucked him from a ranch where he was essentially running wild as a weanling, arrived at Acer Farm a scared, confused , trembling, wormy, and underweight mess, terribly fearful of humans. Over the years of building our relationship and trust, he has blossomed into a quiet, brave, nonreactive, low key kinda guy that would rather graze and smell the roses than speed away down the trail. (we are working on the speed thing!) We established our bond in a much different way, given his age and complete lack of trust in human beings. Now, he's a pocket pony.

Maggie, a generally sweet natured mare was handled by humans since she hit the ground. Fear of humans is not an issue at all. Instead, Maggie is very emotional, very reactive. Her strong reactions don’t always seem to fit the situation, whether it is in the pasture with the herd or during a training session. She will frequently squeal so loudly you think she is getting into a huge fight with another horse in the pasture but it’s probably just another horse walking up to her and sniffing her. Reactive, sensitive and highly emotional, all the things I am not:

….and all the things I steer away from when it comes to my relationships with humans. “oh dear”…

A difficult set of personality traits they are, but add to that mix.... strong willed. And here is where we found our common ground.

Maggie didn’t really know how or see any purpose, for that matter, in needing direction and leadership from anyone other than her Dam. While she was weaned at 6 months from her dam , there were then reunited as pasture mates and as a result, very bonded. when one moved the other moved in unison., like they were connected at the shoulder and hip. It was an interesting and strong relationship the two had. I knew if Maggie and I were ever going to be a team, the first thing I had to do was to find a way to establish myself as a someone she could look to for safety when she was not with her herd mates. Not being of the mind or sharing in the philosophy that people need to replace the leadership role between horses, it’s instead my belief to let the horse be a horse and the human be a human. Horses can figure out the difference and can bond with a human in a more profound way that we often realize.

After her dam got in the trailer and went home, I spent many hours in those first several weeks grooming her and taking her for walks. Maggie seemed hopelessly lost without her Dam but found some solace in a couple other pasture mates and eventually began to enjoy the time I was spending with her, greeting me at the gate and whinnying to me when I would enter the tack shed to get her halter.

Eventually we moved to free lunging sessions in the round pen.

The first session or two in the round pen were rough. As soon as I took her halter off she would blast off into a fast trot or canter around the perimeter of the round pen, focusing on anything but me. I wasn’t asking for this but I had to see what she would do. I should mention that I don’t use the round pen or lungeing to “work the kinks out” by wearing a horse down. (that’ probably a whole other post!)

My first challenge was to help her understand that the answer was not to run around the perimeter of the round pen as fast as her feet could carry her. I had to get her mind. As sensitive as she was, I knew I had to be careful not to do too much. A small step to the left or right would send her reeling and kicking out as she passed by me, letting me know how unpleased she was. Echoes of the words of my horse training mentor , Harry Whitney, rang in my ears, “ get the thought and the feet will come”.

At this stage it didn’t matter what that change of thought was, or if it came and went in a flutter. We were defining success on a small scale. It was my job to identify the smallest of change in her thought, and reward it. It would require good timing and feel. Having worked with the Barbs, and other less than domesticated horses for the last several years I was pretty confident I could recognize fairly subtle things in a horse. It might be as subtle as a flick of the ear , a quick look in my direction. It could be a slight slowed or faster pace in response to my shift in my weight, or a tail swish, or anything really....
Or, on the other hand, given Maggie’s highly reactive ways, it may not be subtle at all. I was betting on the latter. Either way, I would have to be quick with my reward, to tell her “that’s it, that’s the answer”…to encourage her to keep checking in…regardless of what she threw at me.

As suspected, the first response she gave me wasn’t subtle at all.

As she ran around the round pen, she would rush more on one side than the other. This was a perfect opportunity she had just presented to me. As she came around, several strides before she got to that spot, I stepped to my left, closing in the distance between the panel and me. She would do one of a couple things I figured, she would either stop abruptly and turn around, or she might blast through the tighter space between me and the round pen panel. Maggie, I should have known, highly emotional and strong willed, came right at me, head low and ears pinned. Maggie was not pleased with the change of program and was quick to let me know , just as she would move another horse out of her way, she was trying to get me to move out of her way. I had a flag in my hand and as she came closer, I stepped firmly toward her and gave the flag a little shake, keeping it low to the ground and not directly at her. She turned and was now traveling in the other direction. In her attempt to move me, she fully expected me to move away, out of her path. What had occurred instead was that she had to move out of my way, and move off into a direction she was not expecting to go. A change of thought indeed had just occurred.

I was quite pleased with how it all shook out. Her reaction gave me alot to work with. And... when she found herself back out on the perimeter, she suddenly stopped , looked at me , licking and chewing as if to say "well that didn't go like I had planned".. "what in the world just happened?"

We repeated this a couple more times, except, I moved to different parts of the round pen, changing the program a bit. She instantly became much more interested in what I was going to do next and less focused on everything else. This was what I was looking for.. as long as she was checking in with me, she was mentally engaged. I wasn’t concerned about what direction or what gait she traveled at. I only wanted to capture her attention, if even for brief moments. Whenever she offered to check in with me, whatever that was at that very moment, she was rewarded .
“Good girl, easy girl...” softly coaxing her with my voice and simple pressure/release by body position.

Eventually she might just relax enough to drop into a walk, and then maybe someday stop and allow me to walk up to her, scratch on her for a while and take a walk around the perimeter with her. That would be success.

We built the foundation over many hours and many days of sessions like this until eventually she realized she didn’t need to be out there by herself on the perimeter, full of worry and working so hard. Pretty soon, her thoughts were more on me. She began to come in to where I was standing, looking to me and asking what she should do. She began to hunt for what felt good to her, for the reward of simply coming in and of being quiet together, for a gentle stroke along her neck or a scratch under her belly where only a good friend can reach. We continued down this road, gradually building the blocks of a solid foundation to where we are today.

Today, I can take her into the round pen, undo her halter and she will stay near me until I ask her to go out. I can move her up and down through her gaits, halt, walk, trot , canter with voice commands and the subsequent pressure and release of my body position. I can ask her to come in to see me, change direction and go back out and pick up a trot. All of this in a quiet, controlled manner; not a fast, rushed, frantic way that I see with so many horses who have been “round pen trained”. Her thoughts and my thoughts in line and finally we have something to build from.

Stay tuned for the next post about how all of this translates to time in the saddle!