Friday, June 28, 2013

Monsoon Season

New Jersey has been inundated with a truly ridiculous amount of rain.  It has rained every single day for over a week.  Not only has it rained, but we've had lightning, high winds and tornado warnings.  It's getting ridiculous.

 I have a show on Sunday.  It's supposed to storm on Sunday.  I'm still going.  I want to get a 60% at 3rd Level, so I can be done with 3rd Level because I'm bored with it.  We'll see how it goes.  What with this monsoon, I'm not as prepared as I would like to be.  I'm hoping for a bit of magic.

I got this picture of Spider with a rainbow during one of the breaks in the rain.  He's my pot of gold.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Jack Joins The Herd

I think one of the greatest mistakes that we often make with our horses is to keep them separated.  Horses are social animals.  They need that interaction to be happy and whole.  It isn't enough to have them live on a big farm where they can see other horses, or sniff them through the bars of a stall.  They need to touch other horses, to groom other horses, to play and fight and learn from other horses.

Most people use their horses for an hour or so every day.  That leaves the horse with 23 hours to himself.  If he's alone for those 23 hours, what is he learning? We expect our horses to know the "rules" of social interactions, and punish them when they break the rules, but that isn't fair if he only has an hour a day to practice.

I understand why people don't want their horses turned out with others.  Horses are big and rough, but still delicate.  They can get physically hurt when they're turned out together.  But, we're hurting them mentally when we keep them all alone.  It's a tough call.

Jack couldn't join our herd immediately, because he was still a stallion.  After he was gelded, it still takes some time for the testosterone to work out of his system.  My biggest concern was little Matilda.  Spider and Vinny can hold their own, but Matty is small and a mare.  I didn't want Jack to accidentally hurt her, so I waited.

In the end, the decision was taken out of my hands.  Jack let himself into the herd.

My barn has dutch doors on both sides, and I had been opening the top so that Jack could sniff and interact with the other horses.  Apparently, he also figured out how to open the latch.  But, he didn't know what to do next.  When I went out to do my morning chores, I found him standing in his stall like this, with the door wide open.  The other horses were at the far end of their field, not paying attention.  So, I figured "What the hell..." and opened the door all the way.

First, Jack inspected the other horse's stalls.  Once this was done, he headed out to join the herd....

The herd was not impressed.  Being a high-strung, full of himself, 3 year old TB, Jack was not happy with their lack of interest.  He decided to make them notice him.  By doing what 3 year old OTTBs do best: running in circles.

"Look at MEEEEE!"
The herd was still not impressed.

Poor Jack.  After a few laps, he eventually gave up and came over to where I was cleaning stalls to get  some attention.  He doesn't really know how to "be a horse" yet.  Luckily I've got a pretty good herd, who will show him the ropes.

By the time evening rolled around, he had given up on trying to impress them, and was just happy to hang out with his new friends.

I just need a palomino or a dun, and then I'll have one of every color!

Saturday, June 15, 2013


New Jersey's really been getting dumped on in the past week.  These storms have made it hard to ride.  But, I have been getting rides in, here and there.  My consistency has not been good, though, and it probably was the reason for my recent un-horsing.....

If you're going to ride, you're going to fall.

That's something I've always told myself.  Mostly because I've fallen a lot.  I've rarely had the good fortune to ride really nice, well trained horses.  And when you ride the misfits, you're going to get dumped a few times.

But, the last time I got dumped was about six years ago.  It was a nasty little Oldenburg, and he was the last horse I rode for pay.   After he dumped me, I was done with riding other people's horses.  I only rode my own horses, and I didn't get dumped.  But I was always wondering when it was going to happen... because if you're going to ride, you're going to fall.

It was my own damn fault.  I've ridden Spider so long that I've become used to a trained horse.  Jack is so quiet that I forget that he is only 3 years old, just a baby.  And, while he's broken to saddle, he has no clue about ideas like "forward" and "leg".  Racehorses are led everywhere until it's time to run, and the jockeys can't use their leg.

Jack all saddled up.  Yes, I know the bit is too big.  Spider and Vinny have giant heads, and I haven't got around to getting Jack his own bits, yet.  

So, we were working on that.  I was asking Jack to walk from my leg, then halt from my seat.  He was doing very well, and I should have stopped there.  But, I got greedy.  I tried for trot, Jack didn't understand, and he got frustrated.  He tucked his head under and started crow-hopping.  Because he doesn't understand leg and forward, I couldn't get him to stop.  I wasn't carrying a whip (a mistake I won't make again!).  The only thing I could do was try to pull his head up.  When I did that, he reared. Straight up.  I stayed on, though, until he dropped back down and started crow-hopping again.  I popped off, right onto my butt.  But I never lost my reins!

I ended up with a scraped elbow, a bruised butt and broken reins.  Jack was more upset than I was, but he wasn't upset with me.  The reins were broken at the buckle, so I got back on with my split reins and we went back to the walk-halt exercise.  We did that for a bit, because I knew it was something he could do well, then I got off and he had a nice bath and rub down.

Since my dumping, I'm concentrating more on in-hand work.  Jack needs to learn how to go forward from pressure, and I'd prefer him to have his meltdowns without me on him.  I have ridden him, but just kept it to simple things that he can do and feel good about.  I keep our sessions short, and I try not to get greedy.  In spite of all his experience, I have to remember that he really is just a baby.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Finding Balance

New Jersey is being temperamental this week.  Memorial Day was freezing and windy, and now it's hot and muggy.  I think the Garden State needs some Regu-Mate.

The weather is leaving me feeling un-motivated, but I'm still plugging away.  Jack is learning how to be a riding horse, Spider is learning how to ignore the neighbor's dogs.  At the moment, Jack is the more successful of the two.

Jack is fairly relaxed and has good rhythm under saddle, which is a good start.  He now needs to learn to accept the contact and balance himself.  A racehorse is trained to take the bit and run.  He leans against the jockey's hands to support himself as he surges forward down the track.  A racehorse's trained response to contact is to lean against it and go faster.  I have to change that training in order to make him into a dressage horse.  I have to help him find his balance. But, I also have to remember that he is only 3 years old, and his life has changed dramatically in the last few months.

Because Jack is still a baby, I only work him 3-4 days a week.  He gets handled and groomed daily, but  I only put him to "work" a few times a week.  I put work in quotations because my work isn't really that physically hard for him. On the track he worked nearly every day and he worked hard.  Here, his job is just to learn the new, unfamiliar rules of dressage.  It's more of a mental workout, at this point.  But I have to find the right balance between keeping Jack physically fit and mentally stimulated, while not pushing him too hard and letting him be successful at his new tasks.

On the trails.

I also have to find balance in my own life.  Jack is a welcome addition to our farm, but he's still an addition.  Not only do I have to train a new horse, I have to take care of him, too!  Another horse means more poop to scoop, another stall to clean, and more feed bags and hay to load and unload.  My farm chores take longer now, and I have to manage my time wisely to get everything done.  

On a positive note, I have found myself much more balanced in the saddle!  Spider's bad side has always been the left.  He goes completely hollow and just leans into the inside going left.  Through years of riding him, and multiple physical issues of my own, I had also developed a propensity to lean badly to the left. But, left is Jack's good side, and that is making me straighter in the saddle.

I usually ride Jack first, because he's the less physically demanding of the two rides.  We start out going left and he carries himself well, I can sit straight on him.  Then we go right, and he tries to drop to the inside.  But, right is my strong side and I'm not used to being dropped to the right, so I correct him and I'm able to easily sit straight in the saddle for the whole ride.  Then I get on Spider and he tries to drop me off to the left.  Because I was just riding Jack, it feels weird to be shifted left.... so, I correct it.  And suddenly, I'm sitting straight in the saddle on Spider, too!  

I'm also finding some balance with the dog situation.  It's been a few weeks, and neither the dogs nor Spider are getting used to each other.  That means it's up to me to keep Spider's training sessions focused.  I can't coast anymore, I have to ride every step.  At first I was extremely annoyed by this, and the neighbor's kids probably learned some phrases that would make a sailor blush.   But, now I'm getting used to it.  I think it's making my riding better.  It's sort of like being at a show, all the time.... which will hopefully translate into our next actual show!


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