Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Holy Crap, I Did It!!

Three and a half years ago I naively tacked up my brand new to me horse, marched out to the large pasture by the arena, threw my leg over his back...and ended up a lawn darted heap in the grass. 

To say that the arena pasture has been a source of much dread ever since is an understatement. Which is a shame because that pasture is perfect for conditioning work with hills that run step like from top to bottom and left to right with enough room to move out and get in nice canters or short gallops. But not for me. The mere thought of riding Eeyore out in that pasture gave me heart palpitations. 

Saddle shopping is wearing thin. I decided to try Gem's Thorowgood T8 Jump on Eeyore. He seems to like it well enough. No bucking which is his telltale shouting that he hates a saddle. This has been the only saddle I have ever been able to actually sit his canter in as well, so I am going to stick with it for a bit. 


Last spring Trainer AB was bent on getting me out there to ride my tub of lard horse. Each week, after the hard work was done in the arena, she would have me march him out of the gate and cool out in the pasture. She made a fatal miscalculation in her plan though. Her thought process was to work Eeyore hard in the arena with our flatwork and jump lesson and then he wouldn't be so scary out in the field. Error number one was that Eeyore would ever be too tired to have an opinion about something. She was right in that he was quicker to acquiesce after the hour long lesson but that didn't take away his try. The bigger issue was always me. 

For as long as I can remember, way back to my lesson days with Gem in 2016, I have had this tipping point in my rides. I start nervous but excited to work through whatever exercises were on the docket. Things would be going well. I would be enjoying the work, tackling and conquering the exercise until all of a sudden the adrenaline, and all my confidence with it, would hit empty and I was done. Unfortunately, this always seemed to happen right before the Trainer would say "ok..do it one more time" and I would have to put on a brave face and tackle the exercise again, this time with shaky breath and a death grip. It always happened. Every single lesson no matter the horse I was on or the person I was riding with. My body calls it quits before the ride is complete.

Hamilton also needs a new saddle and I thought I hit it lucky finding a local Wise. This was the only saddle I have ever bought new - I got it while at Rolex for my 30th bday. It never fit Gem though and I eventually sold it. I have regretted selling it ever since. Unfortunately, while it looked great on Hammy it was a seat size smaller than advertised. The lady was super nice and took it back the next day.

Riding Eeyore at home was no different so while the intention was to build my confidence by doing hard things in the arena then head out to simply walk and trot to the telephone pole and back, the reality was that by that point I was mentally and emotionally tapped out. Getting to that pole was torture.

I stopped trying when I took a break from lessons and AB back in May and spent the summer ignoring the field until the Aussie saddle arrived in the mail. That thing is old, beat up and definitely seen better days but oh my word is it comfortable and secure. Eeyore can act a nit all he wants to and I laugh. It bugs him to no end which makes me laugh even more. In that saddle I have him number. About a month ago I took him out into the big field and had a little walk about. He tried to throw his head and push his body weight around to get out of climbing the hills, but I felt invincible in that saddle so I buckled down and made him do it. As usual, he caved quickly and go ton to doing the thing. We did two laps at a walk around the entire perimeter and called it quits. 

Caught Gem and Pete having a massive groom session late one evening. These two have been best buds now for over a decade. 

Flash forward to yesterday. I picked Wyatt up from school, helped with his homework, played golf in the yard with him until he got hot and tired and then looked over at my chestnut boys with a grin. We had plenty of time to ride before dinner. 

Only...the darn arena needed to be dragged first. I love my arena. The footing is perfect year round never getting slippery even in the middle of a deluge. However it does get like cement in the summer if not dragged often to break up the surface, especially if it rains and then bakes in the sun. Which it had recently done. Sigh. I looked over at the tractor but the bush hog was attached so in order to drag the arena I would first have to drop the bush hog off then attach the drag and ugh....it was all going to end up eating up any time I had to ride. 

Einstein is getting old these days. Typically he is a mere shadow out on the property, coming and going and digging and hunting. Now he sticks closer by and chooses to nap in the shade. 

But then I thought....the grass has recently been cut in the big field. It is soft out there. Why not? I tacked Eeyore up in the Aussie saddle and led him out to the pasture. I briefly debated on starting in the arena, but opted not to in case he had a case of the sillies in there that would scare me off. I mounted and immediately cursed because the Hubby was the last to ride that saddle and I might as well have been riding stirrup-less. I climbed back down hanging the reins over the saddle thinking the poley would keep them up. A minute later and Eeyore snapped the cheek pieces of his bridle as he stepped on the hanging rein and pulled back. 

I took a deep breath and looked up at the brilliant blue fall sky. I led Eeyore back to the barn by his mangled bridle and contemplated my next move. He has another set of cheek pieces attached to his full cheek snaffle, but the issue is that he needs cob length ones for his Wonder Bit. I didn't have another set of cob cheeks, but I did have Gem's endurance bridle with clip on bit pieces in Arab size. I squeezed his gigantic head into her petite bridle, laughing at him all along. He looked ridiculous and I now wish I had snapped a picture. First, red is NOT his color. Second, the bridle actually wasn't a terrible fit except for the browband that was pulled tight. He has a very wide forehead. 

The telephone pole in the distance felt like my own personal Everest all last spring

We marched back into the pasture, I mounted once again swearing that I'd get an extra set of leathers and irons for when anyone else wants to ride Eeyore because I am never going to change the length of these ever again, and we were off. He walked around like a perfect gentleman. We marched up the hills north to south and east to west. I got comfortable enough to ask for a trot and then allowed him to canter the top ridgeline. He never put a hoof wrong. I stopped just shy of 20 minutes, right before I felt that telltale sign of my emotional limit being surpassed. I was beaming. 

I DID IT!!!

I conquered a fear that had been plaguing me for literal years. 

And then....

Then I tacked up Hamilton and did it again. At a walk. A few laps to set the pace and keep things easy for us both. He is Hamilton, so he did just fine. 

Hamilton being Hamilton.

I DID IT!!! TWICE!!!









Friday, September 17, 2021

Do You Allow Others to Ride Your Horse?

Nothing better than experience to teach us lessons in life. 

I know this can be a touchy subject and there are a lot of variables. Some people refuse to let anyone outside of a paid professional, no matter how skilled, ride their horse. Others allow a more open door policy. And of course there is the grey zone of conditional others: friends they know well, barn rats under the watchful eye of a trainer, blogger friends who ride etc...

Had I been asked this a week ago my answer would have been "Heck yeah! I love having others share my horses!" I've generally never really put a lot of thought or restrictions on this. Grandkids of my office manager have taken Gem for a ride in the arena, coworkers' children have come out and sat on Gem, my mom has taken Gem on a long trail ride (she does not have any prior riding experience) and I'm quick to toss the reins at anyone who wants to grab them. In fact, I put out a FB post asking for anyone who wants to join me on a hunter pace and ride Eeyore to let me know. People I have never ridden with before and know little about. 

Re using this forever and ever as I love how happy he makes me

All this stems from my riding background as a kid. Had my Aunt not been so willing to have me ride her horses I never would have gotten to ride. We lived in suburbia with no horse barns within a drive my parents were willing to take plus we had no money and lessons were expensive not to mention the gear needed to ride. If it wasn't for the generosity of others willing to let me have a ride, I'd never have ridden. I've always felt it was my responsibility to pass this forward and help others out who desperately want to ride but have no means to do so. 

Then this last weekend happened and now I'm not so sure about this whole loaning out my horse thing. I don't think I'm ready to hang the no vacancy sign out yet and I'm not in the camp that I worry someone will ruin my horse by riding it differently than I do, but I am going to put conditions on the offer moving forward. 

There were a lot of small logs along the trail. Hamilton made me snort as he couldn't figure out his legs to step over. Eeyore was frustrated that he wasn't allowed to jump them as C was not comfortable with that, but he remained a good boy and politely stepped over each one.

The biggest lesson I learned is to use my own tack. Sorry if you don't like it or don't fit in it - find another horse. I allowed this rider to use her own thinking she would be more comfortable in hers but the saddle didn't fit him right and pissed him off. He threw in some tiny bucks when she asked to canter and he only ever does that when the saddle isn't right. Plus it constantly slid and the girth refused to remain tight and well..it is his own well fitted approved by me tack or nothing. 

I also learned that maybe my definition of "fun" and "easy" isn't the same for everyone. I consider myself a pretty wimpy rider. I'm not brave or bold, so I generally figure that if I can ride and enjoy Eeyore then pretty much everyone else can too. I guess that isn't correct as C kept remarking how big his trot is (wait until you ride Hammy I thought!) and how hot he felt. Moving forward I'm going to be a bit more careful in how I describe him and who I let take the reins. I mean, I was super proud of how Eeyore handled the atmosphere and the trails. He really didn't put a foot wrong except when he got shoved off the trail, but I couldn't really fault him for that. Sure Hammy gave two craps about it, but that is the difference in their personalities. Eeyore is much hotter blooded and more emotional about all the things. Hammy looks like he is stoned most of the time. The biggest thing with Eeyore is that he always does better when his feet are moving forward. If he ever starts getting anxious or bunched up, kicking him forward will ease the tension and make the hamster start working in his head again. Getting tense and slowing down is never going to work out. I think I need to be more specific about HOW to ride him and not just assume someone else is going to know that. It did take me 3 years and a lot of lessons to learn that myself afterall. 

Anyway...there it is. How about you all? Do you loan your horse out to others? Are there restrictions on it? Any advice moving forward if you do loan out your horse or borrow from someone?

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Scotsgrove Hunter Pace: Type 1 Fun

 

Smiling. Always smiling when I’m on Hamilton

By now most people have heard of the three main types of fun. Type 3 being no fun at all. Type 2 is fun after the fact when you have “survived” it and are thinking back on it. I’ve lived most of my life solidly here. Then there is Type 1 fun: actually having fun while doing it. 

Hamilton is introducing me to the world of Type 1 Fun. 


For the third weekend in a row I loaded up the trailer and hit the road. I can’t even remember the last time I rode this much. It feels good to be back at it. The last time I rode at Scotsgrove was in 2015. It was memorable because a) Gem was recovering from her laceration which meant that I took Pete for my first ever trail ride on him and b) I locked the keys in the truck when I arrived so I rode the trail and then called the locksmith when I got back. 

Oops. 

This time I had both chestnut boys with me and was meeting a friend who volunteered to ride Eeyore and keep us company. I have a whole post coming about loaning out my horse as this experience taught me many things and has changed my opinion about the whole "do you let others ride your horse" conversation. More to come another day on that. 

On this day though the sun was shining, there was a cool breeze and the trails were in perfect condition. I couldn't have ordered a more perfect day. 

There were single track trails that wound through the woods providing shade on a morning that was growing increasingly warm. 


There were open fields and gorgeous mountain views.


The only spot along the entire 10 mile track that Hamilton gave two shits about was right at the half way hold. We had been following a pasture fence line for quite a while when we popped into someone's back yard. There were children playing and dogs barking, neither of which bothered either horse. Then we came to a little log pile and both boys gave it the hairy eye and a wide berth. I chuckled because honestly all I do is giggle like a 12 year old when I'm riding Hammy. 

 Unfortunately the second half of the ride wasn't as carefree as the first. Right from the start things got screwy. We left the hold and followed the ribbons on our left as we had done the prior 5 miles. I saw a ribbon on the right and thought it was odd but a few strides up ahead there was another on the left so we carried on...right back to the hold. Oops. We back tracked and found that right hand turn again and this time took it and carried on. We probably added a good mile if not a little more. Oops. 



The biggest issue with the added mileage was that we lost our bubble and quickly ran into what I am referring to as "the incident". We were traveling down a super steep hill on a track that was about 1.5 horses wide and surrounded on either side by kudzu vines. You do not want to ride through that as it can get tangled around the horses' legs. 


Kudzu and the trail before it went down hill

We were taking it easy walking down the hill because a) Eeyore LOVES to run down hills like a toddler rolling and C was not comfortable with that and b) Hamilton has yet to figure out his super long, lanky legs. A nice group of riders came up behind us, slowed and asked to pass. We had an easy spot to pull over, so we did and things were good


And then another group of 5 riders came flying up our asses. They were hauling down that hill. They never said a word. Never slowed. When they were nearly on top of me I told them they needed to slow down and walk behind us until we could safely pull over. The bottom of the hill with a huge flat access road was 100 yards away. They could wait. Or so I thought. 

Instead they squeezed beside me, pushing me off the trail into the kudzu while side swiping Hammy. I barked at them to WALK and the lady laughed saying "I'm trying" all the while kicking her poor horse on to gallop down the hill. She is lucky she didn't break that poor horse's leg. So they get by me and Hammy who honestly could have cared less about the ordeal because that is just who he is, but then they came up on Eeyore who DOES care about horses galloping up his ass. 

He half freaked out as the lady pushed past him at a tranter, shoving his over a ditch. Eeyore let out a small buck and tried to canter off with this lady. C pulled him up within two strides, but her saddle (which did not fit him and pissed him off the entire time but more on that another day) slid around his side nearly depositing her on the ground. Thankfully she had used a breast collar or she would have ended up under him.

To his immense credit, Eeyore stood still as she shifted back on top of him and then tightened her ever loosening girth while mounted. We let them stand for a moment before walking off and calming everyone back down. C was nervous and decided to hand walk for a bit which...eh...not my choice but whatever. 

Once she remounted things were back to normal and we finished without further issue. I love the hunter paces but you really do run into some complete morons out there who have not a lick of sense or trail etiquette. 

Of note, between getting lost and adding a mile plus, the incident and the never ending hand walking we ended up 40+ minutes slow and in dead last. 

Not to end on a sour note though - the trail was amazing, the company was nice and I couldn't have asked for better behavior out of either boy. I found myself giggling out loud many, many times. Hamilton just lights up my soul and if I ever get convinced a heart horse exists, he will be the one to do it. 

 



 




Thursday, September 9, 2021

Smiling All The Way

 A few weekends ago I took Eeyore out to one of my favorite trail systems to a) test out the Aussie on a larger and harder ride b) test out Eeyore’s behavior on the trail and c) begin his fall boot camp to get back in a shape other than round. He did perfect, never putting a hoof wrong over the course of the 6 miles we explored. 

Last weekend I secured my mum to watch Wyatt and loaded up both chestnut boys to hit the same trail with the hubby. I didn’t want my first trail experience with Hamilton, and the first time I’d ridden him in four months, to be solo. I also wasn’t keen on the idea of loaning out Eeyore to someone new as the thought of trying to make sure they were fine while dealing with Hamilton for my first time wasn’t appealing. Fortunately the Hubby was up for the ride.

I adore this picture. It sums up their personalities so well. Eeyore in the back with that dumb look on his face and forward happy ears. Hamilton not ready to put up with this shit and wanting to go back to bed. It’s perfection. 

Folks….I’m having a hard time putting words to this outing. 

From the start Hamilton was PERFECT. He loaded without a  fuss, stood tied to the trailer like a gentleman, and marched off to the woods as if he does this every day. The next 6 miles didn’t change that. 

Heading past the arena to get to the trail. So much to looks at. Hamilton preferred to walk beside Eeyore so he could pretend he was upfront without needing to be the leader. 

We marched off through primitive camping to enter the woods which immediately goes uphill past an old, creepy cemetery. From there the trail heads sharply down to cross the lake via a narrow raised path. To the left is a giant drain and the the right is the river into which the drain dumps water from the lake. It is loud. It is scary. I had to hand walk Gem past it every single outing for years.  Neither boy batted an eye.

The drain. It is loud. Gem hated it with a passion. Neither boy cared.

The trail then heads steeply uphill, a fact Eeyore made us aware of by repeatedly stopping and looking back down, until it crests by an old cabin before turning into glorious sandy single track for several miles.

Dusty hasn’t ridden on trail in close to 8 years. It was like he never missed a beat. He got along really well with Eeyore too which was nice. 

Beyond being out of breath at the top of the climb, both boys handled all of this like seasoned pros instead of the newbies they really are. 

This is the section where life gets good. It is the absolute perfect conditions for trotting at speed. We urged the boys onward picking up a lovely trot that carried us down the winding single track while a smile split my face that remained for the rest of the ride.

The fact I took my hands off the reins to take pictures is very telling. Most of the ride was on the buckle too. He is such a good boy. 

The trail eventually goes up to a TV station building then ducks back down a rocky outcropping at the rather point of the loop. We picked our way down the rocks without either horse slipping or sliding.

The ground is basically one large boulder you walk across. 

This folks, this part of this trail that takes a solid 45-50 minutes and a lot of climbing to reach…this is my favorite section of trail ever. The trail widens just enough to look like a small lane. The footing is bereft of rock and root, is mildly sandy with a thin layer of leaves and/or pine needles, and the entire trail is ever so slightly uphill. There are no offshoot trails for surprise guests. It is the perfect place to gallop. 

I’d love to say we galloped our hearts out but the truth is that Eeyore is fat and Hamilton is young without the conditioning for such things. Both horses were feeling the effort of making it this far over technical and hilly trail and we still had half the ride to go. We did open them up but we kept it to a controlled canter in short bursts with trotting and walk breaks.


The very moment I asked Hamilton to canter he floated above the ground, perked up and flew. I had no fear. I had no worries. I had no thoughts at all. I haven’t felt like that since I was flying down the trail in Acadia Maine my junior year of high school on my favorite of my Aunt’s horses. It was freedom. It was perfection.

After that moment we let them walk a long ways to cool down and catch their breath. There is a short downhill section followed by some flat trail leading to a large bridge. Eeyore never minds bridges so I knew he’d go right over but as far as I’m aware Hamilton has never seen a bridge before. He took a long stare at it but never stopped his forward momentum to march across.


From there it is a long uphill slog back to the camp. Eeyore was hot, tired and done by this point. Hamilton was getting tired as well but was still enjoying it so he plowed ahead. I giggled the remaining mile back! Eeyore was so so so pissed behind Hamilton. His ears, always forward in life, pinned back as he shook his head side to side. Dusty made fun of him and kept him behind Hamilton. Eeyore tired to trot past any chance he could but Dusty wouldn’t let him.

One unhappy Eeyore. Heheheheh. 

Hamilton led quite a ways until we came upon a hiker. He came to a polite stop to stare at the man holding a walking stick and then craned his neck back and look at Eeyore as if to say “Hey, it’s your turn to lead again”. I snorted I laughed so hard! 

Eeyore plowed ahead haughtily and led the rest of the way back to the trailer. We undressed the boys. Eeyore was soaked (happy to note perfectly even sweat makes - yay!) so I led him to the hose a short walk away though you’d have though I was leading him to slaughter the way he acted leaving Hamilton. He settled quickly though once I reminded him who was in charge. Hamilton had barely any sweat beyond the saddle which unfortunately left bare marks and me back sore so I’m on the hunt for a solution for him. He stood waiting patiently at the trailer for our return.

This horse. 

Folks. I can’t. This day was so absolutely perfect in every way I can’t even handle it. Riding with the hubby again. Perfect trail and weather, perfect horses. It was everything.


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Evolution of My Relationship with Horses

 While I grew up riding during summers it was on whatever horse my aunt and uncle had available. They were always amazing bombproof, kid safe horses, typically TWH, but they weren’t ever mine. Plus I was young and reliant on my Aunt being willing to help me catch them from the big pasture so I could groom and bathe them. I spent my days off their farm daydreaming of owning my own. It was a magical, completely unreplicable time of my life, however since each period spent was a week at best, it didn’t make for a lot of horse bonding or relationship building. 

Fast forward to Gem, who was my first ever personal horse. Gem came to me shut down, wary of people and with walls so thick I thought I’d never break through them. Eventually I did. It took three years and a lot of patience. Still, Gem is an aloof mare. While magical on the endurance trail, making all my endurance dreams a reality, my relationship with her is best described as businesslike. 

Random photo drops from around the farm. Wyatt’s Bad Kitty is always around causing trouble

I knew and performed my job and she did hers. She tolerated nothing but the best out of me and made it known when I fell short of my end of the bargain. I doubt she ever believed she did anything but exceed her own role in the partnership. While she was never hard to catch, she also steadfastly refused to be easy either. If I wanted her, she’d stand patiently wherever she happened to be and I had to walk to her. 

She has chilled a bit in her retirement. She will ask for ear scratches or a wither rub when she is in the mood, but in general Gem is still Gem and there is no amount of pampering, loving or snuggling tolerated. 

Fluff and Old Woman Smokey (she is 18 now) looking like I caught them doing something naughty

Then came Eeyore. Oh Eeyore. I wanted something completely different than Gem and well…that is exactly what I got. 

While his personality is larger than Texas, he has his own set of boundaries that dictate the relationship I have with him. He is playful, devious and my comic relief. He is my constant reminder to quit taking things so seriously and pull the broomstick out of my butt. He makes me laugh on the daily. 

Eeyore and I went in a lovely 6 mile solo trail ride a few weeks ago. He was hoof perfect and the Aussie saddle worked great. 

He is however not snuggly. If you try to hug him, he will rip the shirt off your back. He hates scritches, barely tolerates being groomed and can be a bully on the ground so it’s a constant struggle to keep him in his place. While Gem and I had a firm understanding of our roles together, Eeyore needs a constant reminder that I am in fact not his play toy and he does in fact have to respect me. It’s like having a gigantic toddler. A slightly obese, poorly built, clown toddler. I feel more like the parent, teacher, authoritarian than a partner. I’m the one always screwing up his plans, stopping his fun, causing him to sulk in the corner with a foiled plan to drop a mouthful of water down my back. In short, with Eeyore I’m “No fun Mum”.

Hamilton is the obvious new addition though we are now creeping up on his one year anniversary here. When I first unloaded him his was quiet to the point of being depressed. He was stuck inside himself and I remarked many times that he was so bland he actually lacked any personality at all.

Found one of our neighbor’s guinea hens on our property bleeding and in distress. No idea how she got out or who hurt her, probably Fluff as he is a killer on the farm. Rushed her to Dusty’s clinic to see if he could save her but sadly she passed overnight. 

I don’t know if he woke up during training camp or if  he was happy to get to come back to a place he recognized, but he is a changed horse since coming home. He is downright LOVING. He shoves his head against my chest and breathes deeply. He sighs and flops his lower lip while being brushed. He leans into scratches and I even got him to mutually groom with me the other day.

Where Gem is the no nonsense CEO in a tight bun and Eeyore is the pre teen class clown with man boobs, Hamilton is the loving, caring baby that just wants to be held. It has opened my eyes to a whole new world of horsemanship. 

Spent Labor Day bringing new life to an old swing we moved into the garden. I thought it would take an hour. It took 9. 

I find myself lingering in the barn after evening chores finding any excuse I possibly can leverage to pamper Hamilton. A tiny bit of dried sweat in his hip? I must fully groom him head to toe. A piece of hay stuck in his gorgeously thick mane? Grab the brush and I might as well tackle his tail while I’m at it. Paint his hooves with the newest oil I’ve found at the tack shop. Rub his ears. Fly spray his body.

By the time I’m done each evening he is shining and nearly asleep in the cross ties. I’d do more if I could find something else to do to him.

This is likely to be the most gorgeous horse I’ll ever own. I could stare at him all day long and never tire of the view. 

It’s taken a long time and three horses of my own (I adore Pete as well but Pete has always been Dusty’s horse so I don’t count him in this) to get to this point. I never really understood how people spent so much time at the barn. Gem and Eeyore don’t tolerate pampering for their own individual reasons so it has always been utilitarian with them. Do what has to be down and get out. Not with Hamilton. He’d stand and be loved on 24/7 if I let him.



Monday, September 6, 2021

Is That a Rusty Pair of Pliers?

Mentioned to the Hubby that Hamilton still had a bottom tooth that needed to come out. Wondered out loud if I should call the equine vet or the dentist out. 

Turned around to this:



The answer was apparently neither.