Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

We hope your holidays are safe, sane, and healthy, and that your New Year is dazzling.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Snoopy's mom learns something new today

Here is Snoopy, relaxing in the roundpen. You can see, in the foreground, a mounting block. We keep it in the roundpen for two reasons: 1) sometimes we ride in the roundpen, when we start young horses or need a confined space for a lesson, and 2) it covers the hose.

Under the mounting block is a hole in the ground, which contains a faucet with a hose attached. We use this hose to water down the dirt. There's a concrete lid to the hole in the ground, but the mounting block kind of protects the whole thing.

Except when Snoopy is in the pen. Every time I put him in there, when I come back, he has removed the mounting block and the concrete lid. This always alarms me, as I think at some point, he will accidentally step into the hole and break another leg.

Turns out, that's not what I should have been worrying about.

Today, shortly after I put Snoopy out for some play time, I watched Niki walk over with a bunch of hay cubs cradled in her shirt. She tossed the cubes around the pen for Snoopy to find and eat.

"It keeps him busy, so he leaves the hose alone," she said.

I told her I was always worried about him stepping in the hole and that's when I found out the truth: Snoopy likes to get into the hole so he can turn the faucet on.

On one of his playdates, he actually broke the handle off the faucet. By the time Niki checked on him, the roundpen was flooded.

I knew my horse was a land shark. I didn't know he was amphibious.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

It's the most wonderful time of the year

That's right. It's time to take the Annual Family Christmas Photo!

Last year, I posted a few of the outtakes. This year, I thought I'd show you all of them. This is what we go through - for your entertainment.

We start with the easy task: arranging one boy, one dog, one cat.

When everyone's settled, I can walk away.

So far, so good. Well, good-ISH. Doesn't Katy the kitty look thrilled?

And then Dale takes his place... as instigator.

Once we add the horses, it's madness.

I'm left now with two options for our Christmas card: Should I be nice?

Or naughty?

Comments are always appreciated.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's the simple things

A roll in the dirt, a run around the pen,

I'm thankful for the simple things in life.

 ~ Snoopy

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Goals are moving targets

Meet Copper Kist. He was a red dun Quarter horse gelding, and the first horse I ever showed. Due to the AQHA rules, I couldn't show him in their events because I didn't own him, I only leased him. So I showed him in trail events at PCHA (Pacific Coast Horse Show Association) shows. Their shows have tons of classes for everyone, which is kind of a bad thing because the tendency is to enter all of the classes you are eligible for and the classes for a four-day show run every day, so by Sunday you and your horse are ready to drop.

(By contrast, AQHA shows have very few classes and each event shows two of the four days of a show.)

Showing PCHA was okay for me at the time, though, because I was younger and needed the show experience. After all, I'd only been riding for a year.

Copper, however, was a champion trail horse. I used to joke that I could just show him the drawing of the course and he'd memorize it. It wasn't that far from the truth. All I really had to do was ask him for the gait I needed, point him in the general direction of the obstacle, and he'd do the rest. He'd find the line we needed, adjust his stride to make it look pretty, and keep from clunking the poles.

We showed in Basic Trail for the season and wound up in second place, which earned me a silver buckle.

In the middle of showing Copper, I bought Frostie, intending to transition to showing her. She was so sweet and had such a cute little jog, we were going to teach her to do trail and we'd be able to do AQHA events.

Except that Frostie didn't like being a showgirl. She also didn't particularly like poles. She was never in the mood to learn how to find her own line and adjust her stride - she wanted us to do it for her. And I didn't know how to do that. Copper had taken care of me.

After a couple of years, I tossed my goal of showing Frostie into the Goodwill pile, and bred her instead. It was a foolhardy thing to do. If you have a mare that is not doing what you want, the last thing you should do is breed her and hope for a foal that will do what you want. DNA isn't usually that kind.

But I got Snoopy and he is a showhorse. He loves the excitement of being at a horse show. He loves his work, of going over poles. He loves it so much, he won the Trail Futurity as a 3-year old. After that success, Tina was certain we were going places. She was going to show him in Junior horse and try to get him qualified for the AQHA World Show (an invitational). I was probably going to start showing him when he was five, in Novice Amateur. We'd be in Select before we knew it.

Then, of course, he broke his leg, re-habilitated for a year and a half, and everything was put on hold.

Now he's back, sort of. His leg is as healed as it's going to be, and it's sound, but it's not the same leg he had at 3. There is a fused joint, a plate, and a bunch of screws, and the rest of his body compensates for what it no longer does. While he finds new ways to do old things, he has less tolerance for movements that are too fast or too tight. And he needs the chiropractor on a regular basis.

At first, Tina's goals remained unchanged. The doctor said he could go back to work, therefore we could go back to working toward the World. It was now too late to show him as a Junior horse, but we would just have to get him up to speed as a Senior horse. She was my trainer, so I was willing to go along for that ride.

Then, of course, Tina's grandson got sick, Niki got pregnant, and we all sat back for a year and took a deep breath. While Tina was spending almost every day at the hospital, I was taking lessons from Niki, who was trying to prepare me for when she went on maternity leave. The lessons were grueling, but specific and technical and good. I started to ride better. I started to feel confident on my horse.

We went to a couple of shows, which I've blogged about. I did place in those shows, but more importantly, I had a great time. I felt relaxed and confident on my horse, like I knew what I was doing. I wasn't trying to win, I was playing the "Niki tapes" in my head as I went through the course. Having a nice, slow-legged horse helped, since I had time to prepare for each obstacle.

Now Tina and Niki are back. The Niki at the barn today is the same Niki who left, except she now has a little boy to burble about. Our lessons resumed as if we'd never been out of training. Tina returned with expectations: she was going to resume her training of Snoopy and me and work toward qualifying at shows.

But I had a year to work with Niki and re-assess what I want to do with Snoopy, and suddenly the World wasn't so important. My goals became 1) to keep Snoopy as sound and comfortable as possible for his entire lifetime; and 2) to have fun with him. Neither of these involved campaigning him, or chasing points. The World show became icing on a cake, but the cake, the substance of what I want to do with Snoopy is to go to the shows I can afford (with time or money) and have a good time. I want to feel confident and relaxed and ride my horse pro-actively.

I was worried about telling Tina this. I wouldn't hurt or disappoint her on purpose for anything. But she needed to know what I wanted. I'm the owner, after all, plus I'm the one paying for training. And, even though Niki's lessons can be excrutiating, I end each one feeling proud of what I've accomplished.

So yesterday, the planets aligned to get everyone together, and I had a sit-down with both of them. Tina was much more receptive than I anticipated, and surprised me by agreeing that Snoopy will probably never go to the Open World but we might get to the Select. Maybe. She was definitely okay with my having fun with him, and after a lot of discussion about Niki's lessons versus hers, she agreed that, at least for now, I need Niki's more technical approach to help my engineering mind understand what I'm doing.

Now I'm happy to have everything cleared up and can look forward to the show season without worrying whether I'll be able to meet my goal of having fun. Goals need to be moving targets, because Life keeps adjusting our aim.

Monday, September 12, 2011

She's back!

Niki's back! Niki's back! Niki's back!

Hi, I have some news: Niki's back. She started back part-time a couple of weeks ago. She's got one more week of part-time, then she'll be back mostly full-time. She won't be at the ranch on Wednesdays because her day care can't watch Tyler that day.

Meet Tyler Addison Owrey:

This is a picture of him in his baby-bucket stroller, while I pushed him around the ranch. You see, for a couple of days, I was his babysitter at the ranch while Niki worked horses (yes, she's back to riding). I told her I was willing to do anything to get her back to work. Of course, it didn't hurt that I thought it would be fun to hold a baby again. It was.

And now Snoopy and I can get back to work!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

You can teach a horse to do a lot of things

They may have been taught to bow, but their feelings are their own.

Friday, July 15, 2011

I miss you, Niki!

Ziggy/Henry and Jet are BFFs
Since Niki has gone out on maternity leave, I have been doing horsey day care duties. This is how my first week went:

1. On Wednesday, Monte the farrier came and shoed several horses. NOTE: Monte is a VERY good farrier.

2. An hour after being shod, Frostie was not just lame, but two-legged lame. She is very sensitive about the nail placement. Monte had to reset the nails, pour iodine into the holes and give her some bute.

3. I gave Ziggy (renamed Henry) a turnout and spent an hour washing the dirt out of his coat, not to mention the dreadlocks I had to comb out.

4. On Thursday, Cody threw the shoe that Monte had put on Wednesday.

5. While we were waiting for Monte to come back out, Sue's horse, Gracie, decided she did not like her new shoe and started limping.

6. As an act of solidarity, Elliot started losing the packing out of one of his shoes.

7. I tried all week to ride Snoopy, but by the time I got all the horses done each day, I was tired and there was no one around to hear me if I fell off. I don't require a lot of supervision. I just need to know I won't lie in the arena, moaning, for more than an hour before someone finds me.

8. Cody also broke out in hives again, so I had to medicate him and monitor that.

9. Elliot, again feeling the need to be in with the In Crowd, developed grunge all over his butt that had to be scrubbed.

After a week and a half, I texted Niki. "Your job is hard."

I'm sure she's still laughing about that.

At the end of today, I got an interesting phone call from a lady interested in riding lessons for her two sons, seven and twelve years old. I explained our program: a one-hour private lesson which consists of learning to groom, and ride.

"So, how long is the actual riding," she asked.

"It depends upon how quickly they get the horse ready, but usually it's 30-40 minutes."

"And how many lessons until they know how to ride?"

"I can't really say. It depends upon their motor skills, balance and focus."

This eluded her. "But how long on average would you say?"

"I have no average. I have some students who are fairly proficient by the fourth lesson. Then I have some that take months."

"Well, how long are you out on the trails?"


"We don't ride on trails. We ride in an arena."

"Oh, an arena," she said. "Like for racing?"

"No, there's no racing." I've never had to explain an arena to anyone, but I tried. "An arena is... a dirt area surrounded by a fence."

"Oh, okay." Then she stunned me. "Well, let me talk to my boys to see if they want to do this. They've never even seen a horse."

I'm fascinated: She obviously had no knowledge of riding, and her sons had not requested this activity. What possessed her to think of trying this?

Stay tuned to see if she calls back for an appointment. In the meantime, I miss you, Niki!

Friday, July 8, 2011

A new chapter begins

I have two trainers, Tina and Niki. They are both very good at their jobs. Most of the time, I work with one of them until we reach one of those sticking points where we're no longer communicating. Then the other one takes over. It's kind of like tag-team wrestling.

Last Christmas, Niki made a surprise announcement: she was expecting. It was sort of a surprise because for the several years I've known her, she's told me she didn't want kids.

I kept telling her to never say never.

I didn't want kids until I was around, oh, Niki's age. Then I understood the importance of having a family, and the sheer gamble of raising a child, with its risk of losing it all to heartbreak with each time you hit the jackpot.

Niki and her hubby were told they probably wouldn't get pregnant without medical intervention, so they prepared for rounds of drugs and shots and fertility rituals. Before they got to that, however, Nature intervened.

Niki lunging Ziggy
I had no idea I'd be so excited by her pregnancy. I've only got one kiddo. Hubby and I tried for more, but the baby factory was closed. So I've got 18 years of experience at child rearing, not to mention 9 months of pregnancy, that I have never been able to use.

It was lovely to be able to tell Niki what was normal and what wasn't, to talk about having a C-section (the doctor thought it safest due to an earlier surgery), to let her know it was okay to be terrified of bringing a newborn home and not know what to do with it. I sent her an Internet article about C-sections and babies. The best part of the article advised her, for the first two weeks, to have three things on her To Do List: take care of the baby, take a shower, brush your teeth.

She told me it became her mantra. Baby, Shower, Teeth. Baby, Shower, Teeth.
The last week

As she got closer to the due date, lessons got more demanding. Tina is currently dealing with a grandson who had a bone marrow transplant (aplastic anemia) in addition to running the ranch and teaching dog obedience, so our training sessions may be sporadic. I'm trying to be flexible, but Niki knows I will be riding Snoopy under less supervision than before. She was determined to teach me how to tell when he was out of frame and how to correct him immediately when he wants to be a lazy butt.

On Tuesday, her last day, we had a helluva course, out in the sweltering heat. I did a lope-jog-lope sequence until I was nearly blind with exhaustion. But we got it. Afterward, there were lists of things for me to do. I'm taking care of horse day care while she's away. We went over the list of who gets a turnout or lunge when. We went over a lot of things.

After I went home, I got a few more texts, going over a few more things.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent with more texting. At one point, I sent her a picture of Ziggy the pony's mane. It was in a hot tangled mess. "This is his mane one day without you," I said. "He looks like Ziggy Marley."

She wanted to know what the farrier said about the horses. She called the people who needed to be told about their horses' feet. She worried about us.

And then Friday morning, they wheeled one woman into the operating room and wheeled out one woman plus one baby. Little Tyler was here!

I had joked with Monte, the farrier, that after Friday, Niki would be saying, "Ranch? What ranch? I got a baby!"

Some people speculate she won't want to come back, but I think she will. I loved my son (still do), loved being with him, but needed a scheduled break from him. I wasn't used to being around babies. It allowed me to do what I used to do and know who I used to be, and his day care provider gave me another expert to call upon when I wasn't certain what to do with him.

We're, of course, going to do everything we can to transition Niki back to the barn, even if one of us rocks the baby while she rides. We're gloriously happy for her and her hubby, and can't wait to meet Tyler.

If in a couple of months, she thinks she just doesn't want to get back in the saddle, we'll accept that. But I really don't believe it. After all, how can she leave this face behind?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

When you have to win all the battles or lose the war

Snoopy is who he is. Tina likes to blame his blundering, boundary-less, intrusive, mouthy personality on me, but I think he would have been that horse no matter who raised him. After all, when he was a baby, our groom Hilde worked with him as much, if not more, than I ever did.

I love my big, black horse AND he is a pain in the ass. After six years, I've decided he can't help himself. He wants something in his mouth all the time. All. The. Time. Truly, if he were human, he'd be a chain smoker. Or maybe that guy who's always chewing gum.

So as I'm leading him, he wants to hold the lead rope in his mouth. Or the longe line. Or the reins. Or my shirt. I smack him and he stops - for five seconds. Sometimes less. I always start out being nice. I take the lead rope away from him. Next, I take the lead rope and tug him sharply. We escalate from there, until I'm either popping his nose with the rope or smacking him across the chest and backing him up across the yard.

None of it matters. He doesn't remember, and it wears me down.

For a long time, I let him hold the lead rope in his mouth when we walked. I thought it was a harmless way to keep from beating him every five seconds. It's like having a kid that tests you EVERY (FREAKING) SECOND OF EVERY (FREAKING) DAY. You start picking your battles.

This, unfortunately, was a battle I should have picked.

A few weeks ago, I was taking him back to his stall and stopped to talk to a friend. We were chatting about nothing in particular, blah, blah, blah. And then it happened. Snoopy reached down to grab the lead rope. Except he missed the rope and got my index finger.

Let's say it all together: "OOOOOOOWWWWWWWW."

There was no broken skin, nor broken bones. There was a lot of spanking, and cursing.

Here's the thing - it's been weeks and I still don't have all the feeling back in my finger. It was my own fault for 1) not paying attention while I was chatting, and 2) ever letting him hold the lead rope.

I hate being a mean mom. I have to choose ALL the battles. Do you think he'll ever grow out of his oral fixation?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Keep Out! In the nicest way.

Do you ever drive by a house that has a gorgeous rose garden in the front yard, or an inviting courtyard, or even a bounce house set up for a birthday party? Do you ever pull over to the curb and wander around these strangers' property?

No. No, you don't. It's called trespassing. I don't know about you, but one of my goals in life is to stay out of jail.

So, given that most people do not even traipse across their neighbor's lawn, what is it about a ranch that invites people to come on in and look around?

The ranch where my horses are boarded does have a steady business with both horses and dogs. There are four horse trainers, riding lessons offered, doggie day care and boarding, obedience classes, etc. We want the facility to be open and inviting to the people who want to board their horses/dogs or take lessons.

But twice now, I've had to tactfully escort people from the property who had "just stopped by to look at the pretty horses." One day, there were two teenagers who were wandering through the furthest barn, petting the horses. This is the barn we affectionately call "Murderers Row." At least 5 of the 8 horses in there would love to sink their teeth into you. They're not mean - just curious. Today, it was two women with a two-year old in sandals in the first barn. This is the kindest, gentlest barn, but still - a two year old in sandals?

I gently explain that there are liability issues, apologize profusely, and show them the gate. So far, they've been very understanding about it.

But one of these days, I'm gonna snap.

"What possesses you to think you can come on private property and handle animals that don't belong to you? And when you get bitten or fall down or scratch yourself on our equipment, you probably expect us to cover your medical expenses, right?

"Get out. Get out now." (This last phrase has a subtle hint of Exorcist Voice. Watch my head spin as I say it.)

I'll try to keep it together, but will someone explain this phenomena to me? If you wouldn't let yourself into a stranger's home, why would you let yourself into a stranger's barn?

P.S. Snoopy enjoyed the visitors. They tasted like chicken.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

You learn something new every day

Sometimes I have "aha" moments. Sometimes they're more like, "D'Oh" moments.

This week was definitely worth a headslap.

Snoopy sees the chiropractor regularly. When you've got a leg with metal plates, a dozen screws, and a fused joint, you find yourself having to compensate for the things that leg no longer does with ease. And the other body parts you use start to show the strain of pulling double duty.

Since Snoopy's left hind leg is the repaired one, it's usually his hips that are out. Recently, Niki noticed his left leg taking a lot longer to warm up when she was lunging him. When Dr. Bari came out to adjust him, she found him out in his hips and his shoulders. He spent the next day relaxing after such a major tune-up.

Niki and I discussed it later: what had changed in his workout to suddenly cause him to be so sore and misaligned?

His riders.

For the past several months, Niki has been his principal trainer. Niki's focus when training him was to get him into frame* and keep him there. Once he was warmed up at the rail and holding himself correctly, she would take him over poles. Even when I had a lesson, she would spend a little time warming him up before I got on him.

Now that Niki is too pregnant to ride, Tina has taken over again. She is, of course, a good trainer. She has a different approach and a different agenda than Niki does, however. She warms Snoopy up both on the rail and over poles. As opposed to "helping" Snoopy hold himself up until he can do it on his own, she gives him plenty of rein to let him figure out his stride. There is nothing wrong with this, and together, Tina and Niki complement each other nicely.

When just one or the other is doing the training, the horse must re-adjust. For Snoopy, using his body differently means new parts are suddenly compensating for the bionic leg. This isn't necessarily bad for him - we just need to know and ease him into the differences instead of continuing to push for him to get with the new program.

So we're more on the lookout for the leg to look tired, Tina's going to go easier on his left side, and if he needs a little bute to get him through a day, that's okay, too.

He'll never be the same horse he was as a three-year old, but he loves to work and loves trail poles, so we're going to do what we can to keep him comfortable every day.

I'm just smacking my forehead that we didn't think of this earlier.

*For non-horse folks, being "in frame" is for a horse to hold themselves in a proper posture while they move. Think of it as the difference between the person who walks all slumped over and duck-footed, and the person with the straight spine, who lifts their rib cage and moves their legs and feet with forward momentum.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

An ode to an old horse

I'm hijacking Snoopy's blog today because of a blog I read yesterday. Laura Crum's "In Praise of Henry" at Equestrian Ink, is an ode to her 23-year old Quarter horse, ridden by her young son. Henry is one of those horses: world-wise, rock-steady, gentle-as-a-lamb. Actually, he sounds gentler than a lamb, since a lamb will still kick you as it struggles to escape being picked up, but of course, you'd never try to pick up a 1000-pound horse, and this metaphor is taking me off on a tangent...

At any rate, Henry has taught Laura's son to ride with both confidence and joy, something Laura wouldn't trade for anything, not even the $5,000 she paid for him when he was nineteen. Yeah. Five thousand at 19 - from her uncle.

Who said blood was thicker than water?

It made me think of a horse I bought for too much money, one that I've never discussed here. Several years ago, when Snoopy was a mere baby, I came to the ranch to do something - ride, teach, I don't remember, and a new horse had been hauled in. He was a big sorrel gelding named Call Me One. His barn name was Uno.

He was in the cross-ties, and Niki was grooming him. Now, I had known Niki for a few years, and she had always shown the same personality, of being friendly, but businesslike, and a little reserved. On that day, a Niki I'd never met before was currying this horse, so full of joy I thought she was going to sprout wings and fly.

Uno had been Niki's horse for awhile, back when she was a youth rider. He wasn't her first horse, but there was apparently something about him. I didn't ask her to describe it. I just watched it.

Uno was used at the ranch briefly, as a lesson horse, before Christine bought him and showed him for awhile. He was nothing flashy at any event, but he was a serviceable horse who would get you around at a show without worry. He could do pleasure, horsemanship, trail, and even a little hunt seat eq. They teased that his name was Uno because he only had one brain cell, but he was just a journeyman kind of horse. Tell him what to do and he did it.

Not that he didn't have his quirks. He was afraid of livestock, and once wouldn't come out of the roundpen because he could see the sheep in the front arena. He was also afraid of EZ-Ups, and would startle at them EVERY time he passed by one.

When Christine got too busy with her other show horses, she sold Uno to a couple, Dolph and Irene, who took turns taking lessons on him. I don't think they ever showed him, but they had plenty of fun with him. After a little bit (the years sift by so quickly I'm hesitant to say how long), Dolph went back to school and neither of them had enough time to give to Uno and they started looking for another owner.

Uno was 20 by now, and a little gimpy in his left front leg. We kept it wrapped, with a little medicated gel, and gave him isoxyprene and a dash of bute every day, just to keep him comfortable. I couldn't imagine who would want to buy him, especially at the price they were asking, which was $3,000.

I only knew two things: 1) he was a nice, agreeable, stead-eddy horse to ride, and 2) every time he came out of the barn, Niki lit up like a lighthouse beacon. What could I do?

I bought him. Tina thought I was crazy to pay that much for him. I don't know what Niki thought. I just knew that I'd make certain he lived to the end of his days here. For the next year, I had a great time riding him in lessons (he was the only horse Niki made me apologize to once, when I yanked too hard on his mouth), I used him as a lesson horse, and he got plenty of carrots and currying.
Uno was a fiend for the curry. The rubby-scratchy motion of the rubber nubs would make him stretch his neck into the next county, his lips pursing together like a happy camel. Nothing makes you feel better than making your horse feel that good.

Irene scratching Uno

After a little over a year, he started limping at the jog. Drugs, rest, and therapy didn't help. Dr. Pollard took x-rays, then came back a couple of weeks later to take more. They were showing what we suspected - he was foundering. Oddly enough, it was his heel that was sinking through the hoof, not the toe. The x-rays showed a significant change in only two weeks. Dr. Pollard gave me the bad news - Uno would have to be put down within the next month.

"I know you need time to process this," he said. "But I wouldn't wait too long."

It was a cool morning in July, just before we left for a week's vacation. Everyone told me how they never attended this event because it was too hard. Yes, it was hard. But I felt I owed Uno my presence.

I know some of you won't believe what I'm going to tell you next, but we've had the whole talk about magic in a previous post. Believe it or don't.

Dr. Pollard had just given Uno a tranquilizer, and was preparing THE SHOT. Our groom was holding Uno's lead rope; he was strong enough to guide Uno to the ground when everything took effect. I stood at the side, out of harm's way.

Uno turned his head toward me and looked at me. What I heard in my head was:"Sorry about the bum leg."

"It's okay," I whispered. "Just get back here to us."

You learn a lot from old horses.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Now we be havin' some fun

We had such a good time at the Desert Hot Springs one-day show, we decided to try our luck at a bigger show. The Southern California Quarter Horse Exhibitor Association held their Show Me the Money show at the L.A. Equestrian Center in Burbank last weekend. It was four days of all the things Quarter horses can do - Western pleasure, English equitation, reining, driving, barrel racing, everything except working cows, probably only because cow rental can be expensive.

Snoopy and I limited ourselves to one event: trail. Our trainer, Niki, took him in Green Horse, and I rode him in Novice Amateur. Two classes on Thursday, two on Saturday. It was a lovely weekend.

I began showing by riding my other trainer Tina's champion, Copper Kist. Because I leased and didn't own him, I couldn't show AQHA, so I showed PCHA (Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association). They had about a gazillion classes that I was eligible for, and I showed in them all. Preliminary Trail, Adult/Amateur Trail, Basic Trail... I think I rode four classes each day, and they showed all four days of a weekend event. By the end I was exhausted from learning the trail patterns, much less riding them.

By contrast, learning one pattern and riding one class seems civilized. Snoopy tends to lack stamina, so two classes every other day still wears him out.

I know, I know, I can hear you all whining, "But how did you do?"

The first day we won 2nd and 3rd (the classes are double-judged) in Novice Amateur, and Snoopy and Niki got 4th and 7th in Green. The final day, we got 5th and 7th, and he and Niki got 3rd and 5th.

Each day, each course, had its own easy parts and rough parts, at least for me. The last day, I flubbed a trot-over by making him dive in too closely, but what I think cost us as much was that he was so tired, I was having to work to keep him moving. You never get style points when you make it look hard, and I don't think I was making it look easy.

It didn't matter, though. They were the most fun days, and the most fun courses, that I've ever done. I thought about what I was doing, and was able to communicate that to my big black gelding, more or less.

For those of you who've never seen a trail course, here's Snoopy being ridden by Niki in the first day's Green Horse Trail class. The audio portion of the video was mostly me laughing about something or other, so I muted that and added Hal Ketchum just for fun. If Mr. Ketchum doesn't want me to use his music, I'm happy to take it off. It was just such a perky accompaniment.

I only took this video for two reasons: 1) It's a new video camera and I love to play with my toys; and 2) Niki is four months pregnant here, and I wanted to show her that she doesn't look poofy at all. She barely has a vollyball sitting on her tummy.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

So you want a horse of your own

When I was little, I was horse crazy. I wanted to be around them, pet them, ride them, have one for my very own. We lived in the middle of Illinois in a sub-suburban neighborhood that wasn't zoned for horses. My parents didn't have much money, but none of those things were the reason I was never given the opportunity to know a horse.

My mother didn't want me around horses because she didn't like them, and thought I'd get hurt.

That made me just plain crazy. I would dream about horses, but I wasn't allowed to ride them in my own dreams. I'd wake up arguing with myself ("Gayle, you're having a dream. You can do anything you want.")

Do you know how weird that is?

Flash forward to today, when I own two horses and dream about riding them anytime I want. Life is glorious, unless it isn't.

I went to the ranch today to have a lesson on Snoopy. He was very quiet when I got him out of the stall. Didn't try to eat me. Didn't grab the halter while I tried to put it on. Walked at a respectable distance from me. In other words, he wasn't my horse.

After I groomed and saddled, then lightly lunged him, I met Niki as I led him back to the crossties. "What's wrong with my horse?" I asked her.

She took one look at him and said, "Ooo, he's got boogers."

I saw a big green mess dripping from his right nostril. "That wasn't there before."

"The lunging probably worked it up," she told me. "We'll take his temperature and watch him today."

The thermometer showed why he was being so quiet. One hundred three point eight. Normal for horses can vary between 99.5 and 101.5, so it's a little higher than humans, but 103.8 is definitely too hot. We put him back in his stall and called the vet.

Dr. Garloff came out an hour later and examined him. His temperature had risen to 104.1 by then, so she gave him a Banamine injection, drew blood for testing, and took a little nose snot for a culture. She left me with medication, instructions and a bill.


Yes, you read it correctly. When a horse vet comes to call, it's not cheap. First of all, you pay for the call, since you can't always just throw your horse in a trailer and take it to the doctor. Then, the medications are not cheap because horses weigh 1,000 pounds and you have to use more drugs on them than, say, your pet chihuahua.

Finally, there's the testing. When I get a cold, I get some cough drops, Advil, and a decongestant. A horse cold is much more serious. It can be contagious and go through the barn. It can be something called strangles, which is a very bad virus. Snoopy has been vaccinated for strangles, but viruses are funny - you never know when one of them is going to morph into something that resists a vaccine. So the blood work and nose culture are needed to make certain it's just a cold.

So, Moms and Dads, when your horse crazy daughter (or son) comes to you wanting to be oh-so-near horses, please find a way to encourage their dreams, but think twice about horse ownership. Then do your homework on the actual cost and think one more time.*

*I love my horses and would never discourage responsible horse ownership.

P.S. By the way, Snoopy and I won our Novice Amateur Trail Class!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What fun!

We're back from the horse show. Did you miss us?

Turns out, it was as low-key as Niki had described. There were three of us (from our barn) showing, Christine with her horse Bubba, Sue and Gracie, and me and the Snoop Dog.

We got our horses ready, then Niki schooled Snoopy and rode him in the Green Trail, after which I rode in Novice Amateur. For those of you who aren't sure what a trail competition looks like, we are given a piece of paper with the course drawn on it, like this:

The lines on the paper represent poles, except the wide "H" at the center bottom. That's a gate. In real life, a course looks a lot like this.

And this.

And at Del Mar, they look like this.

At home our poles are kind of beat up and everything's plain, although we do put potted plants and silk flowers around to teach our horses not to eat them. I can name more than one horse who's taken a nibble while stopped at the gate, and at least one mare that picked the whole bush up, pot and all. Guess she wanted take-out.

So anyway, how did we do?

Mostly okay. It was, by no means, that Disney-movie moment where we suddenly do everything perfectly. But we didn't suck as bad as we could have. The lines on the course where we loped or jogged, we did pretty well. I was worried about loping the wheel – it bites me every time. I get three good poles, then either dive into center on the last one, or miss it entirely. This time, we hit the same spot on each pole and kind of sailed around like we knew what we were doing.

It was the slow stuff that needs work. Our first obstacle was the gate. You pick up the rope in one hand, back your horse and then walk them through the gate, making a U-turn. Finally, you back them to the original post and re-hang the rope.

My problem with this is, I have short arms. This was not an issue with Frostie, because she is small and we can get close to the gate without having her feet hit the feet on the standards. Snoopy is large, so I have to find that place where his feet aren't going to take out the course but I can still reach the rope. We were super clumsy with it, and by "we" I mean "me."

During the backup, we had to back around a corner. Snoopy had done this about a dozen times, so when it was time to do it for the judge, he went, "Hey, I got this" and turned before I asked. I didn't know how much to correct him. Should I have walked him forward and asked again? I made a mental note to be quicker in my reactions when he gets anticipatory like that.

As we walked over the final poles, I thought I was aiming us over the "X". Turns out, I wasn't so much, but Snoopy saved our butts, good trail horse that he is.

I still don't know where we placed overall (the trail classes were open card), but I felt good about our performance. We didn't take any pictures because we were all too busy showing.

But Niki was very proud that I was able to put on my big girl chaps and do it.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cross your fingers

Snoopy and I are horse-show bound.

The last time I tried to show my big, black horse, he broke his left hind sesamoid bone two days before the show. It's Friday night, the show is Sunday, and so far we're still healthy.

The show is a one-day in Desert Hot Springs at the Willowbrook Riding Club. We'll haul in. Niki will show him in the green trail and I'll show him in novice amateur. Niki's been to these shows before and describes them as very low key, low stress. I'm trying to follow her lead.

But can I confess to a little stress? The last time I tried this, I literally broke my horse. In reality, I know there's a low probability of this happening again. In my head, however, anything's possible.

That Snoopy came back to soundness after the break is so wonderful, we consider him our miracle horse. For me to get into the arena with him, almost three years later, is amazing. I may be a little weepy on Sunday. I hope I can hold it in until after we complete the course.

That leaves the course. Niki says it won't be extremely difficult for the novice amateurs, and she is confident that I can move Snoopy around on it. I'm not certain if I can move him around and make it look pretty. I try to do things correctly, but in the show ring, I get hyper-focused on the course and getting it done, which throws pretty out the window. I'm also aware of the next person to go and hate taking too much time, so I rush everything.

There's a phrase singers and public speakers use: Don't bogart the mike. I have no idea where it came from, but it means not to hog the microphone and keep the other singers or speakers from their full turn.

On Sunday, I plan to take my time, take my full turn, and bogart the mike.

I was going to take a picture of Snoopy in the wash rack, getting ready for the big day, but I forgot. Instead, I'll leave you with this little ditty. It's worth the 7:21 minutes, trust me. And the horse reminds me of Snoopy during the carrot scene.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

A post-Christmas letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

First of all, my son and I would like to thank you for the cookies and the candy canes. They are very crunchy, and I confess, I have a real sweet tooth for peppermint.

However, we must protest the other gifts you left for us. Snoopy does not care for his cribbing collar at all. Confidentially, it doesn't bother me. As a matter of fact, I think he still deserves a lump of coal in his stocking for that time when he was a few months old and chewed my tail hair off. Can you imagine? As it is, I don't have long, flowing, Flicka hair. I need every strand. Took a year to grow back. But I digress...

I do not know why you would put a stud chain in my stocking. I simply do not need one. Two-legged Mom puts one on me to walk on the hot-walker, but that's her problem, not mine. After you've been around the circle once, it's a boring trip. Well, okay, maybe twice... in each direction... after all, counter-clockwise is completely different scenery. Mom may have wanted a stud chain, but not me.

It's possibly my fault for not writing you a letter with my wish list (which would have included more food, including apples and carrots, a night light for my stall, and fresh bedding every day), but how do you expect me to hold a pencil?

I heard two-legged Mom say something about a TV series from long ago where a horse would use a pencil to call someone on the phone. Of course, he could talk, but I could use the pencil to type you a letter. I just have to get Mom to bring her laptop to the ranch.

You'll be hearing from me, Mr. Claus.

Frostie (and Snoopy)

P.S. Did our presents this year have anything to do with this? Just asking.