Learning to Drive

I’m getting a bit antsy with all this enforced idleness. So today I thought I’d teach Diego to ground drive. He lunges reasonably well, so it’s not a particularly big step to move to long reins. He was very happy to see me coming with the halter. Practically piaffing in glee as a matter of fact. Helpfully jammed his nose into the halter before I had it unbuckled. I think perhaps he’s been getting bored too.

After lungeing him for a few minutes, I had Veronica come in and hold him for me while I set up the reins and got him used to them draping around him. Then I had her lead him forward for one lap around the round pen while I walked behind gently moving the lines around his hindquarters a bit. He was totally unconcerned and very happy. So we carried on by ourselves. He was a little unsure at first, and at one point he tried to turn and face me in confusion. But he was easily convinced to move on ahead. After that he marched around like a pro. He was very attentive and kept his attention very focused on me and what I was asking. It was a great first session.

Ummm.... What do you want me to do?
Ummm…. What do you want me to do?
Which way do I go?
Which way do I go?
Really? Are you sure?
Really? Are you sure?
Like this?
Like this?
Oh okay, this is easy!
Oh okay, this is easy!
My gosh, I am a clever a horse!
My gosh, I am a clever a horse! (not to mention handsome!)

Update on King

A couple of days ago, after feeling kind of sorry for myself, I decided to take King out for a little ride. He always makes me smile. He was thrilled to have the halter on and very happy to finally get some attention. I brushed him, and he preened as usual. Wiggled his lips at me while I brushed him, and fluttered his eyelashes when I told him that he was still the handsomest refrigerator of a horse in the world.

I had to take the girth down… er… three holes from where it sits on Dressy. He was not in the least concerned about his portliness though. Stood like a rock while I tacked him up, watching with his ears perked and a very cheerful expression. He parked nicely for me while I got on, and turned around to request his mounting block cookie.

We ambled around the fields, which are quite deep in grass (up to my shoulders in a couple of spots… while I was mounted!). King adored that, and ate the grass tops as we walked. He didn’t even have to put his head down and still managed to have huge wads hanging out of either side of his mouth.

At one point, we startled a coyote in the tall grass. I don’t know if it was napping or just not paying attention. But it leapt up unexpectedly about 20 feet away. King was a bit startled, and didn’t know what to do, so I turned him towards it and said “Let’s GET IT!!” King took one step towards it and the coyote jumped backwards. “Hmmm” said King, and took another step. The coyote turned and trotted a few steps. King took a couple of trotting steps and the coyote bolted out of sight. King was amazed and delighted at that outcome. He puffed himself up and marched back the way we’d come. “We showed him!!”

King loves to explore, and we checked out his favorite spots. He much prefers narrow little single track trails to open spaces. So we had to look in each little opening in the trees. Inspect my uncle’s woodworking project. Taste some tree leaves. Survey the golf course next door, and generally examine the universe.

He did trot a few short stretches, but always pulled himself up sort of oddly. He tends to park out as if he has to pee, and sometimes actually does pee (twice in half an hour). He’s been doing this with increasing frequency during rides for the last few years. Four different vets have looked at him, with no luck. His blood work is always normal. And he’s not lame. But if I ride him often, or far, he ends up with muscle cramps. He’s also developed a problem with tripping behind.

The one thing the vets always look at is the tumours growing around his throat (saliva glands), and the sprinkling of others over his body (one under the tail, one on his hip, one beside his tail, etc). The tumour on the right side of his throatlatch is now quite large (like half an orange). The vets always look at it all silently. Then look at me sort of sideways. Yep. I know he has melanomas. And yes, I also know there could be tumours growing in places we can’t see. Most grey horses with melanomas die of old age before they can die of the cancer, because it’s so slow growing in horses. But I tend to think that’s not going to be the case with King.

However, since there’s not much I can do about it, I just try to enjoy him while he’s here. He’s very happy, and a very entertaining horse to live with. Highly vocal, very people-oriented, and smart (usually in a bad way!). He’s only 12, and I hope I get a good few more years with him yet. Even if I can’t ride him much, he still gives me joy.

Only Very Small Dogs

I took Dressy over to the Vivian again yesterday. Three hours this time. Almost entirely walking. This time, although the benches were still frightening, we did more ‘snort and slide by’ than ‘spin and bolt’, thank goodness.

Waiting to be tacked up. She's not shedded out completely yet, but she's quite sleek already.

I did think, for one crazy moment, that disaster was looming. Not Dressy’s fault though.  A woman was walking four rather hysterical tiny dogs. She was having some trouble with all the leashes. And two of the frenzied little rats escaped and ran down the trail towards us. Dressy is not at all afraid of dogs. But these two were on a double leash, which was dragging between them. And of course… the dogs were on either side so the leashes were stretched right across the trail with the knot bouncing in the middle. I had visions of them passing on either side of us and wrapping the whole mess around Dressy’s legs. The woman was running full tilt after the dogs, yelling wildly at me all the while that they were just “very small dogs!!!!” and at the last moment she managed to take a great leap and stomp on the handle of the leashes. Both dogs came to a screeching halt under where Dressy’s nose had been… though of course she’d already starting backing rapidly down the trail. Dressy cautiously proceeded forward when the dogs all stopped. The lady just kept repeating that they were only little dogs and wouldn’t hurt a horse. I tried to explain to her that my alarm was about the LEASHES, not the dogs. I’m not sure she ever even understood what disaster had nearly occurred. So I just told her all was well and to have a nice walk. No point in alienating other trail users. Even crazy ones.

Most of the dogs and owners are quite well behaved when we see them in the Forest. Which always surprises me a bit. My own dog, Jimi, is a Border Collie. And I know positively that he would be terrible if I had him off leash on trails with other dogs and horses. Of course I’d never think of taking the obsessive little lunatic to such an environment, so maybe that’s the explanation. It’s the good dogs who get to go to fun places like that. Jimi is not actually a bad dog… but he was an older rescue case. So he has his emotional limitations. And Swamp Dog (my great aunt’s old Cocker Spaniel that I inherited), though not in any way hysterical (unless food is involved), is largely oblivious to non-food items like horses feet, moving vehicles, or people calling her to “come”. So I would never take her anywhere without a leash either.

Log piles are not as bad as benches... but still must be watched carefully.
Is that a bench? It looks very suspicious!

Trotting Hills

Dressy got a really good grooming today. First the currycomb and the brush, then the vacuum, then another brushing. Yesterday when I was riding her, she eventually warmed up just enough to release all her accumulated horse/manure smells that had been ground into her coat all winter. Once it started wafting up, the smell was so strong it was nearly visible in waves in front of my face. Burning out my sinuses. Gah!   No way I was getting back on her today without her being a whole lot cleaner.  She enjoyed all the currying and vacuuming enormously. Quivering upper lip and all. I even put some conditioner in her mane and tail and brushed it all through. Her tail is looking exceptionally long and lovely this year. With all the blanketing she’s had this winter, it’s protected it from rubbing.

It was warm again today, and the frost is mostly out of the ground. With clay soil that means it’s a boggy mess everywhere. The fields are very soft, and the trails still have ice sheets covering them.  I didn’t want to go and ride on the roads alone, since the traffic around here is pretty bad during the week, and the roads have no shoulder. Bad enough even with company. Alone, Dressy would be less reliable. So I just rode back and forth on the driveway today. 4 miles of (mostly) walking down and trotting back up the hills.

I live on top of a moraine. It’s quite high, and on a good clear day, I can see for miles in all directions. My driveway is long and runs straight up from the road at a fairly steady grade to pass my house, whereupon it goes back down a steep hill towards the back of the farm. I think it’s about a quarter mile each way.

Then at the end we had another session of walking lessons. She gets herself worked up sometimes and thinks she has to rush. I don’t mind if she walks fast when I ask for a walk. Really fast even. But not jogging. Today we reversed and went away from home every time she broke out of a walk. She broke out into quite a sweat over the whole issue. But in the end she walked politely all the way up the hill and into the yard without fussing.

I was kind of a wimp though. It was raining, and I was bored. So we only rode for a little under an hour.  And yes, she smelled a LOT better 🙂

Treacherously Icy Footing

All week the footing here has been bad. Patches of glare ice everywhere. Which means, of course, no riding. It snowed yesterday though, and I thought it looked quite a bit better. So I brought Dressy in to tack her up. Because she has been getting some hair rubbed off on her loins (my beloved aussie saddle really just does not fit her), I switched her into the treeless saddle today (Barefoot London).

The weather was lovely. Bright sun and no wind, and starting to warm up just a little. We went around the front field first. Aaaannnnd…. yikes. There was ice under the snow. And neither Dressy nor I had the slightest idea where that ice was. We skidded and skittered down the long side of the field, and had one really bad out of control skid across the short end down by the road. We managed to safely navigate over to the driveway and we came up that instead of the side of the field. It was still a bit slippery, but nowhere near as bad as that cornfield. Wow.

So we went to the back of the farm instead and tried the back hay field. It was a lot better, but still not comfortable for Dressy or me.

At that point I gave up on any ambitions for mileage and took her home to the round pen, where we did some simple schooling at a walk. We practiced some nice round circles, backing, turns on the forehand, sidepassing… All the stuff that I neglect to do most of the time. Dressy is smart, and enjoys that sort of thing. So it ended up being very productive.

It’s supposed to jump up to +7C on Monday, and rain. If it then goes back below freezing, the ice is only going to get worse. Even my round pen will be unusable then 🙁

Got a new camera and took a few pictures today. I ended up hating it by the end of the day and took it back for exchange by evening. but here are a few pictures I took with it at work…

Barn cats live cold and very stressful lives in the winter

Parker, awaiting his turn to go out and play


Parker... still waiting

Winter Conditioning

I’ve been riding pretty steadily this winter. I’ve tried to ride at least every other day (usually Dressy, but sometimes King too),  Most days I finish up the morning chores between noon and 1pm.  Some days a bit earlier if all goes well. Then I have to be back to work around 3 or 3:30 to do afternoon chores. Once I eat some lunch, I can usually get in about an hour of riding.

Until last week I was keeping up well. I managed 16 days of riding in a month. Never too far. Most rides ended up around 4 to 5 miles I think. But at least we are getting out enough to keep Dressy from losing too much fitness anyway.

But life and work got in the way a little this past week. Jen normally does morning feeding, and last week she picked up some sort of virus and was really sick. So I had to get up earlier to feed at home before going in to work. Which also meant I was getting to work a bit later. So a bit less time and energy at midday. The weather has not been cooperating either. The temperatures dropped quite radically for a few days and the soggy footing turned to sheets of ice, since there’s almost no snow at all.  The footing is still quite treacherous.

It’s supposed to rain for the next couple of days, so I figured I had better get out and ride Dressy today. Managed to get in 5.35 miles. Dressy was quite rushy and excited.  It probably doesn’t help that the footing is terrible in the paddock beside the barn. Frozen lumpy mud. She must have had quite a lot of pent up energy. All things considered though, she was pretty good. She got up a bit of a head of steam at one point near the beginning of the ride. But after that, we worked on relaxed walking and trotting and she settled down. We are still just doing laps around the fields. Mostly around the front corn field, but today I managed to work her past all the sheets of ice and get to the back field for one lap towards the end of our ride.

I am hoping that once the racehorses at work go back to the track in February, and I don’t have quite as much work… and when it’s light a bit later in the day as well… that I can start putting in some longer rides. So she should come into the first rides quite fit. I hope!



New Myler Combo Bit

Dressy’s new Myler Combination bit arrived in the mail today.

She likes the Myler comfort snaffle, and is very happy with it. I’ve done a lot of miles with her in that. But she has absolutely no respect for it. I think it’s too similar to her old racing bits and she goes “up in the bridle” with it (pulls hard) when she gets excited. Which is something you like to see in a racehorse, but not so much in a riding horse.  A couple of weeks ago, I got tired of having to use so much muscle when she has a snitty fit, so I put King’s kimberwick bit on her. And wow, she just despises it. She’s fussy and cranky, tosses her head around and pins her ears. It does provide me with a bit more response when I need it, but it’s definitely not the right bit for her.

I rode her in a borrowed Myler Combo bit for much of one season, and that worked really nicely for both of us. I get a good response from her when I need it. But she also likes it and relaxes well with it. I think it’s different enough from a racing bit (due to the nose and poll pressure) that she doesn’t automatically pull against it.

Given how much she hated the kimberwick, and how much I’ve grown to dislike riding her in the comfort snaffle, it seemed best to just break down and pay for the bit that works.

Energy Overload

Dressy is rather full of herself these days. She’s still fit from the season, and the colder temperatures suit her very well. I’ve been riding her quite often, though never very far. I just haven’t really had time to do any longer rides lately. I was hoping that really regular riding would settle her down. Unfortunately, it instead seems to have resulted in a mare who feels just too TOO fabulous. It doesn’t help that I’m always riding alone right now. She can sometimes be a little herd-bound, which, combined with opinionated boss mare-ishness, and too much energy…. well….

Sometimes down at the racetrack you see horses who are very fit and ready to race that are just about out of their own minds with bubbling energy. Hotwalking them around the shedrow can get very exciting, because they will be walking along and suddenly do a crazed, skittery dance. Sort of like a piaffe on crack.

Dressy was attempting some of those moves today while we were out. It’s a very unsettling feeling to be on a horse who has more energy than they can contain within their skin.  Like little lightning bolts are zapping her brain cells. We were only out for about 45 minutes. But it was a memorable 45 minutes. I’ve decided that it’s time to cut her feed back a bit. She’s on a high fat/high fibre feed. But I think maybe a few less calories might be in order.

I am really going to have to figure out an area with safe footing to do some schooling with her. She needs a little more structure in her work.  Circles, gait transitions, all the usual stuff that I should be doing more of with her. The footing has been dreadful in the round pen and the ring with all the slippery mud for the last month. But it’s snowing right now. So I am hoping that the ground might freeze and stay frozen. With no ice.  And the perfect layer of snow (just enough but not too deep). Wouldn’t it be nice to order up perfect weather?

Crisp and Sunny Day For a Ride

Took Dressy out with Diego yesterday. We were out for almost two hours. The ground was semi-frozen with a dusting of snow over it. And it was below freezing. But the sun was shining and there wasn’t much wind. So it was actually a pretty nice day for a ride.

Dressy was still pretty darned snort-brained, and the first hour or so was a rather speedy. She was very high-headed, and as a result, kept breaking to a pace. Even her walk was some sort of gaited thing. Maybe a running walk? I don’t really know. Flat footed, but kind of rolling along. She was clocking a little over 5mph at the walk for one stretch.

Had my helmet cam on for this ride, so I made a little music video for Dressy, since King already has one. The music is Sweet’s “Hell Raiser”. Sadly I must admit to remembering it from my misspent youth. Which dates me dreadfully.


What’s This? Oh Look… A Brain!

So today’s ride on King was considerably less exciting than yesterday’s.  He’s starting to revert back to his usual lazy self. We had a long easy ride today. Mostly walking, just exploring and trying a few trails we haven’t seen before. He likes to see new stuff, and a nice long walk like today seems to settle him into a whole different frame of mind. Well… that, and the Kimberwick bit I switched him to 🙂

Dressy still has some filling in that hind ankle, though it is reduced, and it doesn’t seem like there’s really any heat. I’ve got her on a low dose of bute. Hopefully another day or two and she’ll be okay.

It was nice to have lots of time to amble around. I actually got a day off work today. Harri, who normally works down at the track, offered to come in for me today. It was just wonderful. That’s the first day off that I’ve had (other than days off to go to competitions – which is not so relaxing) since a year ago in November. I normally work seven days a week, though only for half days.  But lately, I’ve also been helping with evening feeds, which makes it a bit closer to full time hours, seven days a week.  So I’ve been dragging my sorry butt a little bit lately. Tennis elbow in both elbows, a twinge in my occasionally bad lower back, and heel spurs giving me grief. Old age, yuck!

Anyway, I definitely felt more like riding today, after getting to sleep in until the dogs just couldn’t stand to wait one more moment (at 6:30… which is better than the usual 5-5:30 that they normally get me up!). And then getting to loll about drinking tea instead of feeding and cleaning up after 23 racehorses.