Sunday, June 29, 2008

What happened to my horse!? If this is Night and Day, I think I'm a Night person!

Well, at the auction I had bought a (cheap, yes) western saddle. I'd been on the hunt for a FQHB, WIDE gullet, well-swayed saddle that was also round-skirted, brown without flowers or acorns on it (WTF western people?) or too much basketweave (plasticweave if you ask me, ick!) on it.

I found something acceptable and won it, along with a nice thick pad. I meant to try it out soon after, so swung by Fleet Farm after work to get a cinch. Then realized "LOL, no billet straps" and had to wait until another trip to FF after work to get some. Finally, ready to play with saddle. Boots=check, bel=check, spurs=nah, hat= helmet? In the meantime we used our English saddle, and I had stuck this one on him to see if it was worth trying (width and rock etc). It was.

Dante gets pissy if we don't have ample snacking/grooming/love time before any work. I'd rather let him graze while grooming, so we do. I also dewormed him, which he does well. The barn he was at had dry lots most of the time, so even though he lives in food, he gets more here too. Summer coat=shiny horse, so there's little to accomplish besides feet picking, quick brush, and handling the mane and tail.

I let him continue to graze while I adjust everything, attaching new parts, adjust stirrups , and cinch up. Well F me- he didn't budge while cinching! Maybe he is a Western boy!
So what do I do? I take a photo!

We then longe a quick WTC-ho-back in each direction, I helmet-up, and we go to our mounting bucket, and up we go.

We walk, we trot, we even do a couple strides of canter. He's an ANGEL. Very responsive to seat still (I was paying extra attention), and I had an epiphany moment where I was like, "hey, he really DOES turn much better if I look where I want him to go with both eyes!"And our reinless stop was perfect. Neck reining- check. Our couple strides of loping are crappy, because I'm still developing a seat in it (I waited until I could trot w/stirrups and feel balanced). He is smooth, it's not his fault. He isn't used to it though, and is a little head-tossy. Had I a decent arena, we'd practice longer lopes and he'd get used to it, and is then much better about it. Being in an arena-like grassy area without fencing and with Nature, we don't. Maybe in winter ;)

Go video! I tried to trim it because I realize watching us is not exciting. :\ Yes, I'm still learning. Any observations (heels down) are appreciated, and hecklers (your riding sux!) are not.

I unsaddle, and note that the sweat marks are purdy.

(no that's not a dry spot in the second one just combed a different way)

It was getting late (hence the flash) so I hosed him off, squeegeed, gave a treat, and put him away. He's always had good gate manners (I made that happen right off the bat), and this time instead of galloping back to his friends, he stuck by me and slowly sauntered over to them as I walked away.

That was Thursday.

I figured Sunday would be nicer weather, so I was all excited for another Western day. Sun shining, low 70s, gentle breezes, great! I'm stoked. I show up, and this time he was standing under a tree swatting flies. I get him, and walk him back to my car. Normal, normal. Very mellow

Hint #1 that he did not want to play today.

I let him graze and groom him, and all of a sudden while I'm currying his fanny, he BOLTS! Sinks his butt down, and takes off 20 ft. The horse that never spooks. I was like "okay, that was odd," No bee stings, nothing. Maybe he JUST noticed the chicken? Odd. Really odd. I tell him he's fine and we continue grooming. Finish up, and I saddle him like before (well, I didn't have to build the saddle on him, but nothing slapdash either). He did move a little on cinching, but he hates girths so I figured maybe there isn't a miracle cinch/girth that he'll love. Some days I hate bras, so go fig.

Hint #2

I go to do our quick WTC longe routine. It's more of a NH longeing, but I like it as he hates dressage whips (I think face-yanker used to beat him with one), he can feel more of the rope because it's heavy, and I like the flexibility in gestures with the stick. I click-click for a trot and fine, and then a short kiss and ask for canter and all of a sudden HE IS IN THE AIR. He looked like this:

Only his back legs were pointed down more, and his back was arched. Like he was standing on an invisible pedestal.

I was understandably nervous. Where did MY horse go? Who was this? Thought, okay, weird, let's try this again (and simultaneously decided no riding today... unless he became perfect).

We try again, more bucking farting crazy. I take off the saddle thinking maybe he's not okay with it anymore, same thing. Take off my hat (I had a horse that wouldn't let me catch her if I wore a hat), same. He gets worse and worse about got grazing on our work surface. I move us to the gravel drive. Behaves, but certainly not calm. Back to grass, farting rearing bucking stupid.

At this point I'm not counting hints.

I figure that's our new goal for the day, a WTC. Nothing fancy, not even for very long, (half a circle? An attempt). I "reboot" him by instead playing with our new fly mask- I was going to leave it on him today but not if he's not thinking clearly. I give him a treat and tell him he's fine, I'm not mad, lots of hugs. Let's try again. He's usually easy to reboot.

Because of the face-yanker in his past life, Dante is very worried about doing the wrong thing. He will try and try and try, and LOVES praise. If not, he will get more and more worked up until he spazzes in a great big "I CAN'T DO IT!" moment. Occasionally I'll have to get him through one of those moments to rile him up enough to do what I want. (He thought he couldn't trot on a longe when I first got him). After failing, I must have him do something he CAN do to perk him back up. To work with him, one MUST commend him the exact second his intent is there, then he calms down and performs. You say "goood" as his weight shifts back to back up, not when a foot moves, or when his head raises before entering a trot/canter, when hes head moves before turning etc.

I have a friend who had a dog where you wouldn't tell her to go out and piddle, but to go do "good girl"s. He reminds me of that. Sometimes it's better if you praise him so he can relax and get it right.

Hint#- oh I'm not counting, I get the hint that it's not a fun riding day!

The encouraging "gooood"s are not working. The hugs are not working. He keeps giving up and either eating, or coming at me (big no-no, desperate to get out of the work "pet me instead and tell me I'm still good" and also too animated for my liking) He is not lame. He is not ill. He is not hungry- he lives in a pasture full of food, which he wasn't even EATING when I took him out.

In the end, I gave up. He was ALMOST done, we had one direction down and just a quickie in the other one, and then he did a BIG REAR, managed to rope burn my fingers, on yacht rope. I did release the rope because I was paranoid he'd flip over and wanted him to have his head for balance. I was like, "Game Over." I calmed him down some, and walked him back to his gate. Thank God we established good gate manners from the get-go. He was prancey, stampy, irritable. I get him in the pasture, released him, and after begging for a cookie that was not forthcoming (I needed to be ready for him to bolt), he took off towards his friends at a full gallop, and I believe there was a flying start in there.

WTF happened to my horse??? I figured there was no way I was going to "win" either by force or coercion, so I quit. The day did not need to end in some sort of medical bill for me to pursue that option. I had several hours of patience and then decided there were funner things to do with my day, and nothing to gain by fighting. I'm not thinking it's going to be a "now-you've-taught-him-to-avoid-work-by-being-naughty problem, because it was so random and off for him. Considering how he does not favor longing and how much longing he got do to from being naughty, I'd say it didn't work out in his favor. Did I do anything wrong?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Still behind- putting down a horse

I am a graduate student at a vet school (not and not becoming a vet, just like the science). I've had numerous pets growing up. Euthanasia happens. I paid 250 dollars to euthanize a cockatiel after her 40 dollar a month treatments were no longer providing the quality of life she enjoyed. I do not cheap out on vet bills. I'll save money by doing my own horse vaccinations that I can do, but will not hesitate to call the vet and set up an appointment when warranted. Humans can suffer, but understand. Animals cannot.

Last week, a horse at my former barn had to be put down. The barn owner kept finding little things to do every time I said I needed to get going, so I stayed. It was just me, the barn owner and her husband, the vet, and the horse's owner. I did not know the horse's owner very well. So I stayed quiet.

I liked the horse. I have a soft spot for the old 'uns. She was a 37 year-old dark palomino, owned for 4-5 years by the current owner. She was horny for my gelding. She ate mush three times a day. I had groomed her a good handful of times.

I was told I didn't have to watch if I didn't want to. I did watch. I wanted to know. I am too sciencey I guess.

It was rougher than I expected. She did not want to lie down. It took several injections to get the volume in, and she had a weak heartbeat when they started. In the end she gave one good kick behind her and actually went up and over. It took longer and was more violent than I expected. (No, nothing went wrong. ) I am glad that I have seen it; I'll know generally what to expect in the future.

Her owner is likely just ranchy-er than I am. When we thought the 28 was going (gas colic- is fine), before his owner arrived I had him well groomed, shined up, ready to go in style. Besides relieved he was okay, she was appreciative of that.

Nobody said much. There was a quiet "good girl" and that was about it.

If Dante has to be put down (as opposed to croaking out of my sight or living for evarz) , and I'm waiting for the vet to show up, he'll be looking ready to enter the Olympics, and I'll probably praise him the entire time like he just jumped the moon. Might as well finish up that bottle of show sheen, anyways.

Other than that "it's hard", nobody ever talks about putting down a horse, really. I only knew from vet students that they fall.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I'm behind- Horse Auction

So, I'm really far behind, and while I'll admit again, likely nobody reads this- I do enjoy self-reflection and general note-taking (and apparently hyphens today). I will, in order to redeem myself, rapid-fire my recent equine events in several shorter entries.

On June 10th, I went to my very first horse auction. I think the nature of the arena itself is well-written in this 1998 article, End of the Trail, I'll do a short summation of MY experience.

I knew before that the Simon horse auction is one of "those" auctions. I went with my good friend Sarah, who had attended a small-time auction before. My auction knowledge was winning an Animaniacs piece during a cruise on my honeymoon. I knew that the Simons's are kill buyers, purchasing cheap, out-of-use or useless/unmarketable horses, and transporting them to slaughter for profit. My opinions on slaughter can come later (I'm learning quite a diatribe), but in short: while I'm not against the idea of horsemeat as a possible food source for interested parties, it's just done all wrong. Transport, methods, responsibility of owners, breeders, all of it.

Anyways, I'm the sciencey-type, so I wanted to see one for myself. And, to bid on a saddle if I finally found one wide enough for my old-skool QH. I had a bunch of cash, and thankfully left the trailer at home.
These are the folks over at the arena. The girls got us our numbers, giggling when we didn't know where to go. We looked over the tack, then wandered into the stall area.

Nothing terribly noteable here. Apparently nobody else was in a rush to get there an hour early like we were. No reason to get the horses settled in, right? Soon there were plenty and we went a-looking.

Some hid their heads low in the corner, some were thrilled to see us. One had a pretty cut up foot. Most were dirty, but some were clipped up. Many knocked over their water, almost none had any food. No bedding, just mats.

We went and bid on tack, then the ride-throughs started. In the door on the left, and then ridden back and forth. First came the minis. Everyone awwed at the baby one. Cute. Buyer #20 bought a strangely large amount of them. They were cheap, 100 bucks max.

Then the broke horses. Lips thinned whenever the announcer said "no papers." The messed up legged one came through (ridden by asshat, see below) and sold to #11, that would be the kill buyer on the right of the group photo above. Pretty much all the ones under 500 went to either 11, 1, 3, or 5. You know they have an "in" when they stand to the left of the podium on the shavings.
For whatever reason there were a few they would pay up to 1000 for. Must have been planning on teaching a few new moves, shining up, and reselling.

A 25 year old TB-looking mare, ridden English, ex-lesson horse and ex-broodmare went to #11. A broke mare, but unridden because with a 3 week old colt also went to 11. A few people said "no sale." A couple settled for just less than they wanted. The man with the injured horse said into the mic "I'm not bringing any of mine home, they all have to go." He brought a few other through. He looked so depressing on the horse. There was also an Amish dude who probably spent a decent amount of time training his horses but they were all grade and I think all of them went to the KBs, about 6 of them. Most over 15 were done for.

Some sold well, that is, above 1000. Those were doing rollbacks and cantering from side to side. I'd imagine a psyched up horse would be kind of easy to get to do harder maneuvers when there's nowhere else to go and they were all worked up before entering. One girl loved to hop behind the saddle, stand on it, slide off the butt, then lift legs, unsaddle and ride bareback in a slam-bam-this horse is quiet kinda way. Hers usually sold. These were mainly old and poor people buying horses that they could handle easily. F talent.

A little girl rode a horse behaving perfectly back and forth and even though it was a perfect angel sold to a KB.

I ran into my old BO's collector-neighbor. She bought three and was selling three. "For a camp." I asked her if the prices didn't go high enough if she'd let them go to slaughter. She informed me there is no horse slaughter. I informed her otherwise, and pointed out the KBs. I didn't see her ride through, but she liked my advice of at least smiling like it's a fun horse to ride. So many people looked so pissed off at their horses.

I did fall for a little grey mare, but had to leave to get to job #2 on time and didn't get to see her go through. No saddle on when her neighbors had them, she was short and not terribly athletic looking. I called in the morning. They wouldn't say how much she sold for, or who, but did say she sold.

After we left there were more of the ride and walk-thrus, and then the "loose horse sales". I think that's better summed up in the article I linked, because I wasn't there. I did see one of the KBs hopping on the backs of horses in small pens of loose ones to see if any were broke and likely to fetch money.

I imagined my horse being sent to such a place. I could see him flipping out in his stall, screaming. I could just see him resorting to rearing or bucking in the narrow little show area, white eyed and crazed. Maybe he'd be doped up. No papers. I know who would buy him. He's 13, paperless, well-muscled, and swaybacked. Needless to say, even recouping my dollar on him 4000-fold would not tempt me.

Monday, June 16, 2008

48hr Film Festival

My husband, for whatever reason, is nearly always involved in some sort of movie project. This year they again entered the 48hr film festival. They are given a genre, line of dialogue, prop, and character and then have 48 hrs to make a 4-7 min short film encompassing all those. Well they got historical fiction, a fish, "He looks familiar", and a substitute teacher. Dante got to be a prop and had to go back away from his friends (the skeeriest thing evar) into the woods, hang out with people dressed to kill (chain mail, spears, etc) and stand quietly during a fight scene happening in front of his face.

He did this all while taking a nap. Everyone was amazed at what a good horse he is! (even me ) Before we went back in the woods and were in sight of his friends I rode him bareback around all the preparatory hubbub.

My horse gets very upset emotionally at things, but doesn't spook.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Copper Dollar Ante (Dante)

Fifteen months ago, I was given a horse. A 1995 QH, no papers, 15 hands. Named "Copper" because well, he's copper colored.

He was originally a "therapy horse (?)" for a young mentally challenged girl. They bought him for 2000. I hear tales that she'd canter him all around and he was just a gem. Then I heard that he bucked her off and she never came back to the boarding place to ride him. Her older, 300lb brother would- on a too tight saddle, letting him get away with everything. (He is now sway-backed). They eventually surrendered their horses when defaulted on board. They might have his papers- but won't answer my phone calls. No clue what his registered name would be.

The BO leased him out, she couldn't afford not to. A woman who "knew it all" rode him. The face-yanker managed to pull him over so that he flipped on her. Also heard that she may have beaten him. Still nobody would use the right saddle, and his shoulder swelled up so that a vet had to be called.

The trainer there loved him. Would always find an excuse to work with him instead of the other horses. He always tries, and flourishes under positive reinforcement. He was then unused besides maybe a trail ride or a quick kid's lesson for the next year. He did flip on another woman. The BO was going to give him to someone else who decided not to take him.

Then I get him. I have to board him there for a year, then buy him for a dollar. He steps on me, bowls me over, won't so much as longe above a walk without having a hissy rearing fit. I got a new bridle for him and gave up the first time I tried to get it on him after an hour of trying. Couldn't be tied without rearing. I had been riding for almost a year- lesson horses, an 18 year old pregnant arab, and a 22 year old child's arab. I thought to myself, "OMG I am retarded. Can we say, 'overmounted?" We stuck to groundwork. Mainly Parelli-style, but not terribly strict: some English in there, some general makes-sense work too.

I eventually (after a few MONTHS) get the balls to get on. We ride at a walk. At a trot- it's a breakneck trot with snorting and crazy. Steering is rough- no bend. Our first trail ride on the property (4 months in) we make it about a half hour until he flips out, rodeo broncs me off, and gallops back to the barn. Go helmet. I DID get back on and walk and trot around inside, but was sore in the neck, head, and back for the next week. I think, "OMFG I am retarded."

I have since gained his trust. W-T-C-Woah-Back on a longe is not a challenge. We do not have issues with bridling. He is still cinchy/girthy/OMG saddles eat me, but if I had a 300lb guy on a narrow saddle I'd probably feel the same. Holds his feet perfectly (tries to put it on the hoof stand for the trimmer himself). We are practicing our canter (my bad, not his), and we occasionally do a weenie jump (but he does like to make them bigger). Could tie for hours if I was an asshole. Does a Western jog-trot if I ask- smooth as butter. Horrible headset, but again-ingrained. He'll knock it down if I ask but pops right back up. I have been complimented on his flexibility now. We ride in a halter or bridle, although he prefers the halter. His coat gleams. He follows me around (not like a puppy- I've never had a puppy do anything but run after everything it saw). I can ride him bareback no worries. And after seeing the rearing fit of someone trying to load him, he'll go right in (but only if I go in first).

In short: He's a different horse! I'm very proud of him for trying so hard and a little proud of me, too for not giving up and figuring him out!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Well here we go!

While there's so many aspects for me to start writing about since I'm already behind, I should probably start with something more introductory. I will try to not drag it out.

I began being a horse-dork at childhood. My mother tells me now I was thiiiiiis close to getting one, but I gave up just in time. It would have been pricey, being in CT. I had horse figures, books, posters, stuffed animals, movies, shirts... and no horse. Topped every wish list for years. My mother's best friend had 4 boys (for my brother) and 2 horses (for me). They were in a dry lot and would gladly hang out with me while I ripped up grass from the lawn and handed it to them through the fence. Everyone there said "oh some day we'll have to let you ride one" and that day never occurred. I didn't push it- I was an angel and never crossed the fence (or touched it- it was electric), afraid I'd ruin my chance.

I read Black Beauty about 100 times, got all the horse stuff catalogues (which arrive at my parents' house to this day), and secretly plotted to save up enough money to buy from them. I figured if I bought all the stuff to show I was responsible, then they'd get me the horse. My dollar-a-week never cut it, though and I also didn't know how to order or get my mom to order without revealing my plans.

So I knew the mechanics of riding, horse anatomy, parts of tack, general rules of how to act around horses etc. All the book info. One thing I really knew was that they didn't like their heads yanked and their feet hurt- thank you Black Beauty.

None of my friends were into horses. A group of girls we rivaled had one of them into horses like me (and didn't have any, either) and I remember having a showdown of who knew more about horses with her. I won with the "frog" as she didn't know what it was. Go 4th grade! Eventually other interests came along that I COULD pursue, and I gave up. When a fancy facility appeared on my road at age 14, I was not ballsy enough to bust in, but would rubberneck to see them when I walked my fat dog, hoping he'd need to stop along there to piddle.

In college on Long Island, I saw I could take lessons as a class, but couldn't foot the extra fee (500) plus driving and attire or convince parents it was part of higher education. Turned green with envy when I saw the other Bio majors who were in it wearing their breeches at school.

As a graduate student in the Upper Midwest, opportunities abounded. My boss had two horses, breeding Swedish Warmbloods, and my coworker worked on equine reproduction. My in-laws have a former hobby-farm (but need their barn for the business) and their neighbor's horses trim the pasture for them in summer. She said if I took lessons, I could ride them. That old hankering crept up.

So after only a brief batting of the eyes and a pretty please my boss let me register for "Introductory Horse Riding" in addition to all the science. Two hours every Monday for a whole semester for 90 dollars. Done deal! Nevermind the 45 minute drive to get there! I don't think I was less than a half hour early ever.

Well, snap, now I was hooked and here is where my horse noob-ery begins. I took a summer session at the barn for another 5 weeks, then leased a horse at a barn closer to me, then had a free lease on another horse, and was then given my own.

So, being 25 years old and having ridden now for 2 years, I'm at a sort of an impasse. I'm too green for the people my age, and most adult horse noobs are like 40+. And being in the sciences, I've been very well-trained to recognize BS when I see it. Being rather cynical, I enjoy doing so!

As you will find out, I've been discovering that the "horse industry" is full of random, illogical, and just plain silly ideas.