Road Riding

I hate riding on the roads.  Over the years, Toronto has been encroaching, and most of the drivers are now urban sorts who have no idea just how dangerous it is to whip past, inches from my stirrup. Not just dangerous for me, and for my horse, but also for them. Hitting a 1000 lb horse is quite deleterious to the front of a car and generally hard on the driver too.  Our road has now become a secondary route for those who want to avoid traffic on the major highway around the corner. So there is a lot of traffic even though it’s single lane with little to no shoulder, and a lot of hills.

In addition to just plain old common sense, I am also influenced by having had a neighbour’s horse die in the ditch beside my driveway after they were hit by a truck. She was thrown clear and was fine, albeit battered and bruised, but the horse never got up.  It was quite a few years ago now. But it always sort of lurks at the back of my mind.

Our fields and trails on the farm, and on the farms across the road are impassable right now. With heavy clay soil, the horses sink deep into the areas that have melted and are very wet. And if it’s not melted, it’s all still ice from the big ice storm we had in December.  So I have been riding up and down our farm lane since the ice melted off it.

But after riding up and down that lane at least 800 times in the last few weeks, I just wanted to poke my eyes out with a sharp stick. So today, with some beautiful warm weather (finally!) we tacked up Ares and Diego (okay… first I CLEANED Diego, ugh!) and headed out to try our luck on the roads. We headed north and through the rather harrowing tight curve around the ravine. Ana and I both got off and led the horses. Diego was really very good about it all. He’s not afraid of cars, or school buses, or even big trucks.  Ares was a bit more worried about things at the start.  Once around the curve, we headed across a sideroad to the overpass over the 404. That’s a very busy highway. Ares was a bit concerned about it, but again Ana got off and led him. Diego has been over it a few times before, so he was not so concerned.

 

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I thought it would be pretty quiet after that, but it turns out that Friday is garbage day over there.  Apparently it’s also “take your bike out in the sunshine day” too.  And “walk your dog day”.  We were passed by a very large tractor, several school buses, a peloton of bicycles as well as quite a few individual bikes, multiple motorcycles, about 300 cars, and a zillion rattly trucks. A couple of horses in a paddock galloped over to see us, bucking. Ducks flew up out of the ditch. A dog threatened us.  A lady was power walking in an orange track suit. Diego was horrified by her. I’m not sure if it was her fashion sense or the very odd speedwalking gait that bothered him. The ditches were littered with trash. Old real estate signs, broken recycle bins, old clothes, etc. Both horses handled it all pretty well, considering it was their first outing on the road in months.

Consequently, we just walked almost the entire ride. But we were out for 3 1/2 hours and did about 18 km.  I have reset my Garmin watch to kilometers instead of miles. It’s kind of crazy that here in Canada we measure distance riding sports in miles. We do kilometers for everything else. So I figured it was time to bite the bullet and switch.

The warmth and sunshine was lovely. It sure did feel good to finally get out and go somewhere. Even if it was a bit terrifying here and there…

Genius Pony

So… it’s kind of amazing really. But Venice has gone through something of a sea change in the last couple of weeks. She is now learning very quickly.

There is still a ton of work to do of course. She is very head shy, so I have to be very slow and deliberate when I’m clipping a lead shank to her halter. And I cannot touch her face yet. It’s okay if she makes the choice to touch me (and she does that often). But it must be her choice. The pressure is too great if I reach towards her. But I can touch her cheek now, and can take hold of the halter by the throatlatch. So there is progress on that front too.

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She is leading much more reliably now, and has not startled away or tried to bolt for a week or two. I can draw her towards me and back her away (either with a touch to the chest, or just by walking into her space).

In the last couple of days, she has learned several voice cues… “walk”, “trot”, and “whoa”. Trot and whoa seem to be solid already. The walk cue is a bit harder, but it’s obvious she understands it, she just has a bit more energy than is optimal for a walk and sometimes breaks up to a trot, especially when she’s a bit tense.

Her circles to the left are excellent. Round, relaxed and forward. She keeps her focus tightly on me, no matter what else is going on. Her inside ear is locked on all the time. She is soft, light, and nicely bent.

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Her circles to the right are more difficult for her. But they have improved tremendously, and are now mostly round. She’s not totally relaxed, and so is not going freely forward yet (though markedly better each day). But she is moving on as long as I encourage her periodically. And even though she’s unsure going to the right, she’s still very focused on me, and responds to to the voice cues.

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She is really a little darling!

Boring is a Very Good Thing

Yesterday the weather was a little less bone-chilling, so I went out for a short ride. The goal at this point is to have lots and lots of short, successful, and completely uneventful rides. And this one turned out to be exactly according to plan.

I’ve been working a bit on getting Diego to stand nicely when asked. So when I brought him out, I asked him to stand while I got on. Then stand while I put my feet in the stirrups and flapped them around a bit. And then stand for a minute more. I am using positive reinforcement (clicker training) to reward him for not moving. The video shows how very calmly he waited for his cue to move.

Anastasija was riding Ares, and she again carried the dressage whip. This time though, she accidentally touched him with it during a moment of disharmony. She handled it perfectly, not panicking when he spooked forward. She dropped the whip and eased him up without clutching and he settled down quickly. So that was very nicely done on her part.

Diego watched the spook with no concern at all. Nor did he react when Taz the cat bolted across in front of us. I was pretty impressed. The only bad thing he did was when we started looping out into the front field. He wanted to go off and explore the entire field and I had to really insist that we keep turning back towards home. But I wanted to make sure that we in no way pushed the envelope. I am trying to guarantee easy, relaxed rides. So he practices being good and develops confidence in himself and in me. It’s what Ares needs too. Ana has been trying to ride him out alone while my elbow has been healing, and he’s really not confident enough for that. So these easy, boring rides are good for both horses.

Today we had freezing rain, so no riding. Probably not for the next few days either. But at least it gave me time to edit so you are now faced with a short boring video instead of a long boring video 🙂

Back in the Saddle

Well, I waited as long as I could. But I’ve been getting pretty cranky about not being able to ride. So yesterday I had Anastasia get on my problem child to make sure he was calm and happy about being ridden. He walked quietly without any sign of stress. So today, we did the same thing again. Tacked him up, brought him out and had Anastasija get on him for a few minutes. He stood like a rock, very relaxed for mounting. Once she was on though, he was really kind of bad. Ignored Ana and followed me like a puppy. I finally said “okay, forget it… I will just get on him myself”. So I did.

"Hey! Why are you backing up???"
“Hey! Why are you backing up???”
"Got cookies?"
“Got cookies?”

It was a total non-event really. We ambled around in the round pen for a while. Then walked around outside the round pen. Diego was quite perfect. I think all the ground driving and miscellaneous other ground work has really relaxed him. His head stayed nice and low, and he didn’t startle at anything, or tense up, or rush even for a second. I didn’t ask much of him mind you… lots of big circles, a few small circles, halts, a few steps of back up, and one step of sidepass. All of which he managed with a great deal of good cheer and no resistance at all.

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My elbow held up fine of course. Since he was so relaxed, there was no stress on the joint. And I was ridiculously happy to be back on a horse 🙂 It’s been just under five months since I’ve ridden. Way way WAY too long. I wore my helmet, and my crash vest (not that either of those can protect an elbow, but…). I was glad to find that I was not at all tense. So my confidence seems pretty much undented. So far at least.

Nice and relaxed
Nice and relaxed

Veronica took the pics, and when I reviewed them I saw that my bad old habit of collapsing my left side has returned with a vengeance. So that’s going to take a bit of focus to overcome. Luckily, there is another Becky Hart Centered Riding Clinic coming up in April, and we are signed up for that already. I’m going to need that. And it will be good for Diego as well. He needs lots of that sort of training.

Yep... collapsing that left side again.
Yep… collapsing that left side again.

Ana rode Ares too, and this time I gave her a dressage whip to carry. With instructions NOT to use it. Just carry it. He’s a super sensitive guy, and always on high alert for humans who want to kill him. But he’s been getting a lot more confident lately and that has morphed into testing the limits to his human’s patience. He sometimes gets a little sticky about going forward when she asks. Or, his cutest trick, going home. At a walk or slow jog, but relentlessly GOING HOME when he thinks the trail ride should be over. Anyway, the dressage whip put a whole new face on Ares. He was instantly far more responsive. “Okey dokey” he said to Ana… “I’m going forward, no problem!” She asked me when she should use the whip, and I sort of laughed. “Likely never”. I think if she actually used it, he’d melt down completely. All he needs is to know it’s in her hand. Instant respect for the human. And I think Ana was pretty relieved to discover she didn’t have to use it.

Ana and Ares
Ana and Ares

Veronica did some more driving with Ella. Since Ella never raced, just jogged at slow speeds on the training track, she’s as placid and steady as can be in harness. Well… except for the fact that there were some clumps of half dead but possibly still delicious grass under her feet, and with all snow melted at the moment, the temptation was a bit too much for her a few times. Veronica practiced keeping light and steady contact on both lines. Which sounds easy, but is not at all simple to maintain. She improved considerably today though, and they started to look more like they were in harmony towards the end of the session.

Ella, patiently waiting for Veronica to sort out the lines.
Ella, patiently waiting for Veronica to sort out the lines.

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So a very good day for everyone 🙂

Venice For One Thing, My Elbow for Another

After a wicked bout of flu, which killed all my ambition for a while, I have gotten back to working with Venice. She went backwards of course. She goes feral very quickly if I don’t spend time with her every single day.

The first session back was quite alarming. She panicked about the rope and went careening around the stall. Right back to wild mustang status. But after a few days of inching our way back to where we were before I lost my oomph, today was good. I worked with her twice today. Once this morning, and again this evening.

This morning, instead of scratching her, I started gently patting her neck with my open hand and gradually increased the pressure. Very terrifying for her at first. It was like seeing electric shocks go through her at every touch. But eventually her neurons stopped firing wildly and she took a big sigh and relaxed… as much as Venice ever really relaxes anyway. I was able to touch her from just behind her ear to about mid-back. Which was where we had stopped a couple of weeks ago.

Tonight I managed to put my hand on her jowl. That’s a big one for her. She is very alarmed about anything coming near her face. So that was a no-go zone. We worked it out that I would stand beside her and slide my hand up her neck to her jowl. She would immediately stretch her head away from me. And I would wait. When she turned her head back towards me I would lighten the pressure of my hand and eventually, when she got her nose pointing forward again, I’d remove my hand. She is always so relieved when I take my hand off that she reaches towards me with her nose for a moment to say thanks.

Then, because it drives me mad every time I look at her, I gently started pulling the snarls out of her mane. I thought she’d lose her mind over that for sure. But after a tiny moment of alarm, she stood for it. She has massive long snarls that are sort of looped together in a complicated almost braid. Or macrame, maybe. She’s already lost a small chunk of mane where one of the snarls caught on something and got yanked out. So I stood there for a good half hour, gently unlooping the snarls. I thought it would be hours of work to get it done. But I got the majority of the bad snarls out, and just have some ringlets left to work through. I think maybe those knots were pulling uncomfortably on her neck, because she actually seemed a bit relieved to have them fixed up a bit. She shook it all out afterwards and gave a big sigh. Tomorrow I think I’ll try to put some Cowboy Magic in it and maybe even try a comb.

So again we’ve made a bit of progress. We are still stuck at the rope around the neck stage though. Since I can’t yet touch her head, I haven’t got a halter on her. That will be a bit of a trick to manage I suspect.

I drove Diego in long reins all around the back field yesterday. He was very good. Quite pleased to be out. And my elbow really held up to it well. Driving him on the driveway is easier because the footing is solid and even. Going around the outside of a grassy field with a bit of mud (though mostly it was frozen) was a bit more of a challenge. I was surprised though that even with a couple of jolts (mostly me being graceless and tripping over clumps of frozen grass) it didn’t hurt. He’s pretty soft-mouthed mind you. So it’s not like he was pulling on me.

Had a doctor’s appointment today. He says I can go back to work in mid-February. 🙂

And I started making noises to my therapist about riding again sometime in the near future. And she did not get alarmed. I took that as a good sign. I still need a bit more strength in the arm before I try it. But the joint is more stable now, and I can feel the improvement in muscle tone. Chrystal is plotting to get me on the ancient Quarter Horse that she has living at her place next time I’m over there. She figures he wouldn’t spook if you set him on fire.

Doc and Phoenix

Here is a photo of Doc Watt with Phoenix (Garock) taken in 1999. Phoenix was Di Regendanz’s lovely old Arab gelding. He and Di competed in many OCTRA competitive trail rides and were extremely successful.  Phoenix passed away a few years ago at the age of 31. Doc Watt’s funeral was today. He was 81. He was Phoenix’s vet for most of the horse’s life (27 years).

Going Forward

King was quite forward today. As in snort-brained, bratty, want to gallop wildly forward. Sigh. He’s an all or nothing kind of horse. I guess the good news is that unlike the old days, I actually DO have brakes now. He will stop when I demand it. But what I don’t seem to have is nice steady speed control when he’s like this. I ask for trot and get maybe six steps and then he starts wanting to canter. I can keep him down to a trot, but it requires focus and constant reminders. If I let him canter, he has little rushes of energy that I have to check instantly or we go into maximum overdrive. You would think that with all the miles of trail this horse has, he’d be over that sort of giddy behaviour.

I’ve begun to wonder though if some of the Jekyll and Hyde switches between the galloping fool, and the lazy plug have been related to the muscle issues. He has probably had a borderline deficiency for much of his life, since he’s never really gotten enough selenium until now. If the laziness was caused by sore muscles (either actual cramps or muscle soreness from having had cramps), then maybe he’s just mostly a galloping fool. Scary thought actually… maybe I just won’t think about that any more…

I’m going to try to ride him every day between now and the Seoul’s Corners ride. Hopefully we can do a slow 25 there and finish without muscle cramps. Apparently my friend’s husband is going to ride their young horse, Seneca at that ride, and needs a slow mentor. So I’ve been elected to shepherd them through. It will be Rob’s first 25 miler. He’s done Ride n Tie, but never more than 12 miles, of which half would have been running on foot. So 25 miles will be a big deal for him. It will also be Seneca’s first 25. He’s a placid sort of horse though, so I don’t think he’ll be difficult. Just really tired 🙂

King needs to have his selenium tested again. But sadly my vet died last week. So I am going to have to find a new vet to take over monitoring this. And the other vets that I know of around here are really quite expensive. I am presenting at the training ride on Aug 20. So I will have to see if Dr. Kivi will be there. She can probably pull blood while he’s there, since I’m taking him to mentor beginners on the trail loop after the talks are over.

 

Long Slow Ride

I took King out today for a long slow ride. I was feeling pretty down actually. There’s been another death in my family. This one was an accident… lightning strike. So the news was quite a shock. It felt sort of weird to go out riding. But at least it was a good way to be alone with my thoughts for a while.

We went down to the Jefferson Forest and poked around those trails for a while. And on the way back I did a little exploring to find some trail that kept us off the roadside for about a quarter mile. I really hate riding along the road. It’s so close to Toronto, and the drivers are all so clueless about horses. Sometimes big truck mirrors go whipping past about a foot from my shoulder. All it would take is for a bird to flap up in front of him, or a bit of garbage to spook him, and I could have a very close encounter with either the mirror or the whole damn truck. So the less I’m on roads the better I like it.

We did a little over 12 miles. He didn’t have any cramps, though we did go slow. But I’m cautiously hopeful that he’s improving.

 

Dirty Diego

I really love my horse. He’s a grey. And he likes to be clean. Unlike SOME grey horses I could name. King had a bath today, and he did go and roll. But he seems to pick clean dirt. Because two hours later he was spotless again.

Diego on the other hand. Well Diego is special. He is the dirtiest. The grimiest. The most disgusting horse here. By far. And it makes me laugh every time. Because he belongs to Misha. This is the woman who comes home from a party at midnight and sees dust on a side table when she turns the light on. And gets out the duster and the Pledge and POLISHES the damn table before going to bed. It makes her insane to have a dirty horse.

This makes me laugh, because I am NOTHING like that. Believe me. And I have the clean horse 🙂

Check out the pictures… Click on the pics to see them a bit larger if you want.

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Dirty Diego, posted with vodpod

Finally! Trails…

It feels like I’ve been waiting months for my trails to be rideable again. Finally, they are mostly dry enough to move out and trot/canter on reasonably long sections. Today was a beautiful day for a ride. I rode King down the road three miles to the Jefferson Forest.

Years ago, the Jefferson was surrounded by horse farms, and the trails were used by horses regularly. I grew up on the prairies, but when I was a teenager (far back in the mists of time), I used to take lessons at one of them (Sundance Farms) during visits to my horse-loving grandmother in the summer. She was very concerned that I would turn into some kind of cowgirl hooligan if she didn’t civilize me with proper english riding lessons. She tried to instill reverence for dressage into me. Something tells me that she would be quite horrified that I ride endurance on a hooligan Arab. Galloping around the trails in the shadow of those long-dead attempts to subdue my rowdy tendencies.

Those farms are mostly gone. Developed into subdivisions. But the trails are still there, being used by hikers and cyclists mostly. The forest is really beautiful. Very hilly and rather sandy, though the trails are generally damp enough under the forest canopy that the sand is solidly packed footing. There are some open big meadows with deep sand that seem to have been taken over by dirt bikers, so I mostly avoid those. King is not really afraid of dirt bikes, but they do startle him. And then, if given the opportunity to greet the biker politely, he tries to bite the bike. Not so good for the paint job. Or for goodwill between trail-users.

We did a little over 14 miles in around 3 hours today. King was actually tired when we were done. Not exhausted, since he was still spooking and snorting coming up the driveway at the end. But tired enough that he took a long nap after he had a snack. I used the heart rate monitor on him for the first time in a long time. His recoveries were good all day, but I could see that they had slowed just a bit by the time we were done. So at least we finally managed to make him work a bit.