Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Horse for Lease or Sale

Please read and share with those you know who may be a good match. Thank You:

For your consideration is RM Arabee, a chestnut Arabian mare with 4 white stockings and a wide blaze, born in 1997. She is registered and Breeder’s Sweepstakes nominated.

Has been shown in 4-H at the State Fair level, and at Arabian Class A shows both at halter and showmanship, and under saddle. Arabee is great on trails, has plenty of stamina, is sure footed, happy to lead or follow and is very willing to please. Versatile, athletic mare – can go English or Western - was shown in Saddle Seat and Hunter. Great manners – bathes, clips, hobbles, stands for farrier, loads in the trailer and hauls well, ties, and ground ties. Does not paw, does not crib.

Arabee would be a great match for a rider with a good seat that wants a good all-around partner to enjoy on the trail or in the arena.

Arabee does best being ridden regularly, and unfortunately I no longer have the time for her. She’s a great mare, and I’d really like to see someone enjoy her as I have.

Arabee is up to date on vaccinations and worming, has had her teeth power floated in December 2011 and the vet said her teeth were in great shape. She has been kept barefoot for the last 10 years and does very well that way, no boots, but has worn shoes before and stands well for the farrier. She is an easy keeper - stays in good weight with just hay.

I am open to a lease, or sale. I will consider offers - this mare is very dear to me, and the utmost priority is that she finds a good home where she will be well-cared for.

Please send an email to Nicole.a.branham@gmail.com for more information. Thank you!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I can see!

Just in case you were curious, I got my LASIK post up on my other blog.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rode in the Rain

Since I have only a few limited, precious hours in any given week to ride (well, really...doesn't everyone?) I wasn't about to let the rain stop me last night!

I guess in full disclosure, I almost DID let it stop me, until I tried on my floppy hat underneath my helmet. If it hadn't fit under there, it wasn't going to happen - my glasses don't have windshield wipers! I really am quite excited about getting in for my LASIK early 2012 - hope I'm still a candidate!!

But it was an actual rain. Not a mist, not a sprinkle - but a real rain. Thankfully it was a warm 48 degrees, and not windy.

Arabee was looking at me strange when I started brushing her muddy wet back, and seemed slightly displeased about the saddle going on. But she was perfect on the longe line, and a good girl for the ride. I mounted by the garage, rode the 1/10th of a mile to the road at an easy trot, and kept it up until we met the first truck. Arabee agreeably stepped off into the ditch and waited patiently for it to pass, when we calmly walked back onto the road and regained our easy trot. We met 4 more trucks in pretty much the same way. It was actually probably a little bit too dark and too rainy to be REALLY safe enough - but all the drivers were very polite and slowed down to pass.

We mostly trotted the entire 2 mile ride in 20 minutes, which kept me plenty warm, even though I'd begun to get pretty soggy in the rain. Arabee was a good girl, rating well. I worked at keeping her trot the same nice, easy trot the whole time, and even though she kept wanting to go faster, she was easy to bring back to the slower trot. I'll also mention here that I have lengthened the sliding sidereins quite a bit - they're long enough that Arabee can reach down to grab some grass (not that she's talented enough to actually EAT the grass with the bit in her mouth.)

It was a fun ride!

Anybody out there suffering from the "winter blahs" - I highly suggest forcing yourself to ride your horse for 20 minutes, no matter the weather. If you're like me, it will put a smile on your face and joy in your heart.

Friday, December 9, 2011


December is Here!

Well, since I last posted in my little series about retraining Arabee using dressage principles - things in real life got busy!! Specifically, corn and soybean harvest happened on our farm. Which meant that my pretty mare got a nice rest in the pasture.....again. Never fear of Arabee getting overworked!!

The next steps in my little "retraining" program involved longing over cavaletti, longing on a slope, and then beginning under saddle work with large circles to establish a good trot rhythm. All of which have not happened, and I'm good with that. The longe work was fun, because I was able to watch my GORGEOUS horse move about....but that was about it.

I got another dressage book from the library that was geared toward beginners like me who already have a horse and ride it, but want to start doing dressage (if anyone really wants to know what it is, I'll look up name and author - I had to return it already).

In that book, it pretty much said to do the preliminary longe work, similar to what I described, then set out riding to develop an independant seat in the rider before doing any "real" dressage stuff through the use of fancy exercises with arms, legs, etc.

So the day the book was due back at the library, I took some notes about all the different recommended exercises. The problem is that a lot of them require knotting the reins on your horse's neck, DROPPING THE REINS, and then raising your arms in various figures and motions about your body. Which I feel is not such a hot idea when riding on the county road!!

Anyway, I've been riding! Between Thanksgiving and the end of November, I rode I think 3 times: the first time about not quite 10 minutes, the second time a little over 10 minutes, and the third time nearly 20 minutes of riding! I tried riding with my reins clipped to the bit with the sliding sidereins still on - which Arabee hated. So I'm sticking with my reins on some sort of bitless device for a while until I can educate my hands enough to get along with my mare. I tried a few different arrangements - but so far really like what I've got now.

My current set-up is a loose ring snaffle hanging from a bit hanger, with the Dr. Cook's on top. My reins are attached to the bitless bridle, and the sliding sidereins are hooked up to the bit. Arabee goes really well in this - and while I realize it's totally a crutch - it boosts my confidence because when she gets super alert (such as when we rode past a place where two chainsaws were running, one of them is felling trees, all while two cars drove by) the sliding sidereins are there to remind her to keep her neck low - which is calming. Don't get me wrong - she still gets high headed, really she has nearly full range of motion with her neck - but the sliding reins through the bit remind her of her job. My reins on the bitless bridle guide her, without pain in her mouth because apparantly I have a lot of work to do in training my hands. Anyway, it works well now, with the short rides I'm doing. It would NOT work on a "real" trail ride - because she can't quite reach down to grab grass or water. I'm working on ways to get away from the sidereins, eventually - as I get my "exercises" worked on, I'll gradually lengthen them until I can ditch 'em. But seeing as I'm terribly sore-legged after my 20 minutes of walk and trot rides - we're a LOOOOONG ways away from an actual, haul-out-to-a-park and ride sort of trail ride.

So, I'm participating in the Big Bad Bloggers' Distance Ride - a virtual ride where you keep track of your riding miles from December 1st 2011 - November 30, 2012. So far I've ridden three times in December - for a grand total of: 3.25 miles!! My in-the-saddle time was 51 minutes, so my pace was about 3.8 mph. It may be turtle-slow, but I do not care because I have been having SO.MUCH.FUN!!! My last ride on Tuesday was the shortest, but I cantered my mare two times (on purpose!) and that was thrilling. She is such a good horse!

Thus far, my rides have been pretty much like this: catch Arabee, let her eat grass while I scrape the dried mud off her tack areas, bring her up for tacking up, then 5 minutes longing each direction, then clip on reins, check girth and ride the day's planned route, hop off, untack, allow her to graze more, then done. Short and sweet - but it's enough to put joy in my heart. :-)

Also, unless circumstances change drastically - the plan is to ride again tonight: from home, to the stop sign, and back (not quite 2 miles- I'll have to measure it before I can report it for the BBBDR) - which will be my longest ride yet for this season! I may throw in a few laps of the barn lot to make it an even 2.

And now my blog is up-to-date on what's actually been going on with my horse.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Step Two: Longe Line Work

(FIRST, I feel it's important to mention that I am not qualified to give anyone advice on training their own horses. I'm writing these posts primarily so I can have a record of what I have done with Arabee. If you read my blog, and decide you want to try what I'm doing for yourself - just realize that I ain't no horse trainer!)

So, my horse already knows how to walk, trot, canter, and whoa on the longe line. She'll do it in a mannerly fashion without snorting, bucking, and farting like a wild thing, too. So, start with that as a goal with just a halter.

From there, it's time to tack up: saddle, snaffle bridle with flash or dropped noseband to support the bit, sliding side reins, and in Arabee's case, a crupper. I started with the longe line clipped to the halter. Later I moved to running the longe line through the bit, over the crown, then clip to the offside of the bit.

Adjust the sliding sidereins so that with the horse standing still, the sidereins are gently taut, not tight. Send the horse out at a trot, looking to establish a good gait rhythm, and so that the pair of rear legs, and pair of front legs, go apart about the same distance - then you know both fore and hind end are exerting about the same amount. (this may not make sense, probably not a good way to describe it w/out pictures)

Once you've achieved the first goal of establishing a good trotting rhythm with both front and back of the horse working equally - the next goal is to get the horse to reach for the bit. As I've read, this may happen nearly simultaneosly. Verbally praise the horse whenever they've even *thought* about doing what you want. If they've made a particularly grand effort, praise enthusiastically and gently ask for a walk - a good reward for a job well done.

Keep in mind your horse's fitness level - if you find those nostrils flaring - look for a chance to ask for a walk. "They" also say to change directions every 5 minutes to avoid fatiguing one side over the other.

In my experience, the first session or two I thought "wow, this is a waste of time my horse is NOT getting it at ALL!" but by the third longing session I saw some serious breathtakingly beautiful moments of improvement. Apparantly, this type of work is quite difficult for a fat pasture-potato, so it's best (per the books) to keep the first several sessions around 15 minutes in length, and not to expect the horse to be able to maintain the long-and-low, reaching-for-the-bit, engaging-the-hindquarters frame for more than a few strides at a time.

Gradually, Arabee has been able to go from a few strides of just long and low, to half a lap, to now nearly two full laps. And it's not just a simple long-and-low frame - it's difficult to describe, but quite lovely: all 4 legs, her back, belly, hindquarters, neck, and poll are all working energetically forward in a rounded, lovely Arabian fashion. But the very nice thing about using the sliding sidereins adjusted like I described above is that the action of the bit is gentle and encourages Arabee to stretch toward the bit, but yet she can absolutely raise and lower her head without punishing her mouth like she would have in fixed sidereins (even with a rubber donut). It allows her to build the correct muscles, but lets her take a break when she needs to due to fatigue.

This post is long enough. There's more to this initial longe work, but I'll save it for the next post.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Step One: Assemble Proper Equipment

Ok, so here's what I'm using:

Snaffle bit. Mine is a loose ring snaffle, and has a very very thick mouthpiece, which I think in fact is thicker than Arabee would prefer. But "they" say a thicker mouthpiece is kinder to the horse. It measures 4 3/4" from ring to ring.

Bridle with a flash noseband. The Mary Twelveponies book called for a dropped noseband. I have another book about driven dressage (Carriage Driving: A Logical Approach through Dressage Training by Heike Bean and Sarah Blanchard) that details very carefully why a flash noseband is easier to adjust properly to suit the horse. This noseband is NOT used to keep my horse's mouth shut - but the way I understand it, the purpose of the flash is to offer support to the snaffle bit, which keeps it in a more steady position in the mouth.

Sliding sidereins. Here again I slightly differ from the Twelveponies book, in favor of my driven dressage book's recommendation. Rather than standard sidereins for lunging, I'm using sliding sidereins. I'll try to get a picture of my longing set-up in action, but in the meantime, they're sort of a cross between sidereins and draw reins. The sliding sidereins allow Arabee to go all "long and low" if she chooses, and in fact allow her to raise her head way up high and hollow if she chooses - but in general, these auxiliary reins encourage her to drop down and round up her back.

Good-fitting saddle. I think anyone reading this will recognize just exactly HOW elusive this item can be!!!! Or for the initial portion, a surcingle can be used. My no-withered mare requires also a crupper to keep anything back in place.

Longe line and whip. Mine has a rubber donut on the end, which I like - kind of insurance against getting pulled out of my hand. Along with this - GLOVES!!! I never, ever longe a horse without wearing gloves. No matter how well-behaved they *typically* are.

The Mary Twelveponies' book also recommends a dressage whip. My horse is QUITE forward enough at this point, thankyouverymuch - I don't anticipate her requiring a whip unless I'm in an arena in the heat of the summer day having consistent work. However, she did need one in the early stages of her training 10 years ago - she did not fully comprehend that leg=go forward - so a gentle tap with the whip was a good aid to have. I do have a lovely fly whisk that I've started carrying - I suppose I could use it as a whip if the need ever arose.

So that's it. Nothing fancy. In fact, I had everything I needed in my possession EXCEPT for the sliding sidereins, which I made myself for less than $10.

One of these days I will get a picture up, and I badly need to talk about what I've done with my saddling. I'm really wanting to wait though until I get the courage up (and the consistent attention of my mare enough) to canter. I feel I won't have a fair assessment until I've done that, really. And really, a longer trail ride (like 2 or more hours).

Next up: the longing part of dressage-y-re-training.

Just Quiet, trying some things, slowly

Well, I haven't posted much. Again.

But I have been off and on working with Arabee.

For 2 nights in a row I've longed her, then rode for a few minutes.

Anyone ever read any of Mary Twelveponies books? I recently read Everyday Training: Backyard Dressage, which I requested via my local library system. I very much enjoyed it - it talks about how dressage training is essentially the basis (or can be) of all other riding. That, if you start with basic dressage principles, you can end up with a all-around, good, well-trained horse that you can go in nearly any direction with (of course, depending on its natural abilities) - jumping, western events, trail riding, whatever.

Also from the library, at the same time, I checked out Equine Fitness: A Conditioning Program of Exercises & Routines for your Horse by Jec Aristotle Ballou. Also a good, informative read - describing how to safely and progressively bring a horse along from unfit to fit, describing different tools and exercises to use depending on the horse's maturity as well as current level of exercise. One of the main things the book stressed was that even if you were going through the motions of the exercises in the proper order, for the right amounts of time, you would not be benefitting the horse UNLESS it was travelling in the proper posture. It essentially stated that if your horse was not moving properly (back up, haunches down) you could not expect to achieve fitness, just a sore, unhappy animal. (I originally stumbled upon this book when I searched info on building stronger stifles)

Okay, well, how to get my horse moving properly? I don't want a "headset" (which unfortunately is what I suckered myself into getting when I started Arabee when she was 4 years old). My goal is a horse who is engaging it's rear-end, light on the forehand, using it's back and neck in a fluid, supple way. You know, on the bit.


But.....don't I (and Arabee, too) want to ride bitless?

Yep. Hmm...

So back when I posted about the cousins riding, I had both girls riding in my rope halter that has a place on each side to clip reins. Arabee actually yielded to rein pressure very very nicely. It was beautiful to watch her engage for those girls, and she did very very well. BUT, in order to achieve that posture/frame, Arabee had constant (still gentle, but constant) pressure on her nose. I'm really not describing the details of why very effectively - but to me it was clear that for riding work in which I'm looking for a specific frame/body position from Arabee, that riding in that rope riding halter isn't ideal.

Okay. So I tried my Dr. Cook's bitless bridle again. Well, same thing - she went very well in it, and did yield pretty well - but I'd quit riding in it a loooong time ago - for the reason that there was no release from pressure - once the cross-under straps got tight, they stayed tight.

I have an S-hack, too. So I rode in it a few times again, hoping that I'd be able to achieve a light feel in the proper frame. Well, I could get a sort of high-headed, probably false "collection" - but anything resembling steering was out the window - and it seemed that Arabee just could not relax and get long and low in it, no matter how loose the rein.

So that left me out of bitless options to try. None of them seemed appropriate for the type of work I was wanting to do - retraining my horse using dressage principles, to achieve correct body carriage, to be able to properly work through some of the fitness and conditioning exercises laid out in the Equine Fitness book, in order to gradually and in a "makes-sense" sort of way bring my pasture potato to whole-body fitness - able to do long trail rides away from home without getting exhausted and sore.

So, I guess, what I'm really trying to say here....is that...I'm working on retraining my 14 year old mare to a snaffle bit again. Something that if I'd have just taken the time to do it right the first time (rather than look solely to head and neck carriage for a "headset") I could be done with all that and just be enjoying my super well-trained, all-around good horse.

In future posts, I intend to lay out details of exactly how I aim to go about doing this, what I'm doing, what my goal is with doing just that - progress, etc. It will very likely take a LONG time, due to my on-again, off-again riding schedule. But you know what - I'm having fun doing it, and Arabee still whinnies when she sees me, so I guess she's not tooooo perturbed about the whole bit thing.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I Rode Today!!!

In my NEW ARENA!!!

Okay...so maybe it doesn't have special, manicured footing (although my dear husband DID mow it short for me in a perfect 20x40 meter rectangle) and maybe there are no dressage letters (but it DOES have tiny, orange surveying flags marking the corners and well....okay....I guess there isn't a fence, or any boundary at all, actually, aside from the visual of short grass vs. tall grass.

But really, for me, it was extremely helpful to have a boundary line on a specific riding area. Helped me firmly guide Arabee where I wanted her, and where I didn't, and it helped me make my circles more or less round.

It was definitely a lot of fun - even if I had to rush because I only had an hour from the time Matt said "well, do you want to go ahead and ride, even though there isn't much time?" and when he had to leave to go back into work again. Hurry - take off my boots, peel off the sweaty jeans, and try to pour myself into my breeches, put the boots back on, catch Arabee, get the saddle area clean, tack up, pick hooves, re-adjust the stirrups, realize that my helmet was back in the house (and also needed re-adjusting), and mount up....with less than 20 minutes left to actually ride, really more like 15, because I still had to untack and rinse my horse off (who, even though it was such a short ride, had ACTUALLY sweated enough to warrant needing hosed off).

Anyway...it was a fun ride, short as it was :-)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Last Week

In preparation for the "big cousins weekend," where all the in and out-of-state cousins come in to the farm for a big reunion/get-together 3-day weekend - Matt told me that he thought I should be sure to ride Arabee so that she won't be too fresh for when the kids ride. The fact that my husband actually WANTED me to ride really made me grin.

So last Monday I saddled up and we "herded" the goats around the pasture - the one with a steep hill down to a creek bed, back up a steep hill, then around the pond. She was sore going uphill on the abscessed hoof, though on the flat or downhill she was good. I kept it short, and to a walk for the most part - it was definitely more of a mental workout - turning, stopping, walking with the goats to keep them moving in the way we wanted them to. Very fun. I keep saying one of these days we'll move on to cows.

So, I turned her back out to hopefully get stronger on her hoof, crossing my fingers that she'd be 100% by the time the girls came out to ride. And thankfully, she was! Well, on grass, anyway - still ouchy on gravel, but true and strong on grass. So, we kept to riding on the grass and all was well.

My husband's cousin's daughter (2nd cousin?) C is 13 years old, and had been taking lessons for a year and a half near their home in another state. Her family stayed at our house, and they came Wednesday evening, and she had asked ahead of time if she could ride Arabee. I agreed - and I am so glad I did - C did great, and so did Arabee, and it was fun. It was also so fun to get to watch someone else ride my horse - I got to see for myself what her gaits look like, and so on. C rode Thursday and Friday morning, and other cousins, L and C, who'd been taking lessons for a little longer though at a different part of the country rode on Saturday. It was fun to see their different experiences and personalities come out - I started each of them on the longe line, asked them to prove to me that they could get her to walk, whoa, trot, walk, whoa, change directions, then told them when they felt ready that I'd unclip them. I had to reserve the right to stay clipped on the youngest - she had been used to a more steady horse than Arabee. When they trotted, Arabee kept thinking she was wanting her to go faster by the way she was using her lower legs to hang on - so in the interest of safety she stayed on the longe line - but I hope she still had fun - I sure did! All three girls were a pleasure to work with, and I think showed quite a bit of potential for being excellent horsewomen!

So to recap, Arabee had to lug big ol' me around the pasture, and chase after goats on Monday, then got 21 days off.

On Thursday C rode on the grass in circles at the walk and trot. She tried canter but unfortunately the grassy area didn't allow for a large enough circle for Arabee to really feel balanced enough to canter more than a half-circle.

On Friday, C rode again - we started in the same area as she rode on Thursday, then we headed across the road to "trail ride" in the pasture, then went back to do more trot-work.

On Saturday, L rode for about a half an hour at the walk and trot, then it was her sister C's turn for a half hour.

Arabee got Sunday off - and I'm trying to figure out how I can build off of this good momentum of workouts and try to keep up a 3-4 rides/week schedule, starting with tonight. Maybe after the kids go to bed around 8:30?? It will still be light, but the mosquitos will be out....we'll have to see.