Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Here's What I'm thinking:

For the next year or 2, my horse time is going to be had probably 0-3 times per week, about an hour of saddle time max at a time. I might get an occasional chance to haul out for a short trail ride - but this would be the rare exception, rather than the rule.

My goals will include working with Arabee on "scary" things - working through Rick Pelicano's book "Bombproof Your Horse" (in quotations because I can't figure out how to get it underlined.....) getting her used to dragging things from the saddle, me putting a coat on and off in the saddle, getting used to traffic and tractors and 4-wheelers from the saddle, walking on/through/over weird know, things that would make her a safe, enjoyable pleasure horse! We're going to get really good at turns on forehand and hindquarters, and sidepassing. I want to be able to open a gate from her back and check the mailbox. I'm also going to continue working with Cora (I haven't posted yet that I put her on Arabee last weekend - she was sooo cute! And Arabee was an angel, too!) and teaching her basics - steering, walking, stopping.....on a leadline for the foreseeable future.

Ok - know - all that is pretty low-intensity, easy stuff - at least physically, compared to legging up for endurance competitions in the hills! The things I have in mind are more mental exercises. But still, I will need a good-fitting saddle, or at least one that won't hurt her back.

My thorowgood broadback dressage saddle worked well in the past, but now is making a muscle-ridge, tightness thing right behind her withers that I notice when I take her saddle off. Massaging the area makes her relax again and smooth out - this is a sure sign of poor fit. If I don't have her wear her crupper, the saddle slips forward while longing. Also not a good sign of good fit. She doesn't really care to walk downhill when I'm riding in the saddle, and when we trot, she gives all-over body shakes, repeatedly. Yes, Arabee.....I hear you!

What I reallllly want is one of the endurance saddles that you can adjust to fit. The two I've been looking lately at are Specialized ($$) and Reactor Panel ($$). Yeesh! I'll have to work on saving up for a good treed saddle that I can adjust for varying fitness levels - maybe there are other brands out there I haven't discovered yet. Right now I'm not looking at putting too many miles or hours in the saddle, and really can't justify laying out that kind of cash right now. I've got a year or 2 before I'll realistically get to do any endurance competition (but I do think I'll REALLY enjoy 50's!! I've DEFINITELY been dreaming about doing Michigan's Shore-to-Shore ride, and have sorta kinda maybe thought about the Old Dominion 100. Maybe...heck, I haven't even *started* an LD yet....but a girl can dream!) Anyway, the point is, serious competition requires a really good fit.....but tooling around on CTC style obstacles on short pleasure rides just requires a good fit. I think my budget right now can get us good fit.....really good fit is going to have to wait.

For quite some time I've been eyeing the Little Joe Saddles - I've seen nothing but good reviews for them. Probably not as secure as a saddle - but they say you can mount from the ground with stirrups and they won't slip - and I know my riding will improve from riding a bareback-style saddle.

They recommend using breakaway stirrups - I'll probably go with the Side Step stirrups. Not particularly "traditional" looking - but who cares? They sound really comfy, and look like they'd be safer than my caged endurance stirrups (which are also not particularly "traditional" looking). get synthetic, western-style fenders, or biothane stirrup straps? I'm leaning toward the fenders - but would love to hear from others why they'd choose straps over fenders. I'm thinking it may be just a personal preference sort of thing...but there may be more to it than I am aware of.

So that's what I'm thinking of starting with. And we'll see how that goes - I anticipate some problems cropping up though - so on the just-in-case shopping list (but I won't actually buy until the need presents itself is:

A sheepskin seat cushion. Not sure if this one will be perfect for the Little Joe/Western Fender combo......but it looks like a close fit to me. I'm a little worried that the top of the fenders will rub my leg - so if this cushion will extend far enough down to cover the fender top, then this should solve that problem (if it even becomes a may not bother me).

A spine-relief saddle pad. Leaning towards a Skito Treeless Half pad/Interpad with Dryback. Tell me if I'm wrong - but I'm having a hard time seeing why I couldn't use a treeless half pad under a treed saddle some day if I needed to? I know with a half pad I'd have to use some kind of thin pad as well - but those are cheap and easy to come by, and I think the pad that comes with the Little Joe would work. I like the idea of the dryback, too. BUT....if Arabee doesn't show any signs of discomfort with the Little Joe saddle and the pad it comes with - I'll leave well-enough alone and keep my $135+ in my pocket!! So this would be another wait-and-see item.

So...that's where I stand now. But we'll wait until after the 4th of July to do any ordering. Would love to hear any input on what I've just written about, positive or negative. None of it's ordered yet - I can still change my mind!! :-)

Looking forward to this weekend!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One of these things is not like the other

Took some pictures today. Arabee and her pasture-mates.

One day, maybe, I will take a photography class and learn how to take actual, real-good pictures. For now, I will have to settle for pitiful substitutes of the real thing. There is SO much beauty in this world, broken as it is. I was just awestruck this evening standing out in the yard, watching the clouds, puffing white, yet rainbow-colored at the same time. Amazing. I don't know if a camera even COULD catch that level of prettiness.

Pictures are nice, but they just don't match the real thing. I love having pictures, but something about looking through a lens at the world really distorts actually experiencing life. Kind of ironic that I'd post pictures on a day I talk about this, eh?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hey, Guess What?

I was wrong! I said I wasn't going to get to ride on Monday....well, turns out my volunteering was canceled, so now Monday evening was free. Not only was Monday evening free, but the arena down the road was open for use, as well!

So, I fixed up supper: chopped onions, sauteed in olive oil, browned deer burger, added a jar of tomato sauce, almost a pint of salsa, 2 cans of beans (kidney and black) and minced some garlic in my cast iron dutch oven. Put the lid on, stuck it in the oven at 250* and voila - supper would be ready when I got back home!

Then as soon as Matt got home he hitched up the truck to the trailer for me, while I caught up Arabee and brushed the mud off and saddled her up. It's only 1 mile to the arena, so I thought I'd try hauling her with the saddle on this time. It went fine - no issues, but I would not likely do it for longer distances. Pulled up, unloaded, and put her in the arena and tied her up while I shut all the gates. It was 4:52pm.

It took her about 20 minutes of walking around and seeing all the sights and free-longing in the arena before I felt like I had her attention even somewhat enough. So I girthed up and got on, started walking around but I felt like a fly on her back - she was paying me no mind! So.....I got back off and free-longed some MORE (next time I will bring my longe line!!). She looked absolutely GORGEOUS - sleek coat, lovely arched neck, ears at attention, tail up, smart gaits....just b.e.a.u.t.i.ful! I kept her moving until I got an ear.....which took a very long time (it seemed like). Part of the problem was (I think) that she'd not seen another equine animal in....well, a very long time - not since I took her to the vet last fall. And also someone had come to bring some of the horses into their stalls for the night, which she thought required super-high alert. Ha.

So finally I got back on, and she just was "up" I tried using seat, hands, legs, voice to get her mind on me. No luck. Darn! I was thinking my arena session hadn't turned out quite the way I wanted it to! Well, I thought - this just isn't safe - I was riding a stick of dynamite with a short fuse, which was making me scared, and tense, which in turn was making her even more nervous (you know how that goes...). So I got off again, and went to go get something to work her brain.

This place is wonderful, they have barrels, a mailbox, a basketball goal, poles - many different obstacles which are used for the therapeutic riding program. I chose barrels, as they are much less tippy. So I lead Arabee up to the barrels, and pushed one over on it's side (she nearly left the county!) and started to roll it (kick it) to the middle of the arena. I encourage her to touch it w/ her nose, and push it with her feet. Repeat this process 3 more times, only with less jumping back and snorty behavior. Apparantly, she'd misunderstood my request, because at one point she made a flying leap from a standstill over the barrel! I was very impressed - she went from stock still to cleanly flying right over the barrel - I was equally glad that I was standing out of the way at the time, as well!

Anyway, I got 4 barrels out, and set them up in the center of the arena in a square. I used them to bend around, to walk circles, and figure 8's and a variety of patterns around. It worked well in getting her brain focused on something other than ogling all around. Once she was focused, I worked in trotting the diagonals, and trotting in a circle around all the barrels, but my square was too small to do that successfully. So I hopped off and moved them out to make a larger rectangle, and we did the same thing as before only at a walk and a trot.

She gave me some really nice sitting trots, but anytime we'd get out farther than 15-20 ft from our barrels she'd quit focusing on me and start watching the arena walls. At one point, at the trot, she tossed her head, and the rein flipped over her ear (she really doesn't care for having her ears touched) which got me thinking uh-oh...but it turned out just fine.

It was a good evening. Started off sorta rocky, but I was able to get her focus on me, and she performed really well after that. My biggest concern/frustration right her saddle fit!?! I honestly don't think it all...visually it seems like a nice match along the front, width-wise, but there is NOT enough wither clearance. She's been giving all-over body shakes a lot, too - which could be caused by fly-season...OR poor saddle fit. When we rode on Saturday she was extremely hesitant/reluctant to go downhill, even a slight downhill, and when I take the saddle off there's an awkward bump (it is swelling, or is it muscle tightness?) just in front of the saddle by her withers. I need to try to check saddle fit without the pad - I have an extremely thick coolback pad - it doesn't leave much room. So anyway....I'm just hoping things are not what they seem - a better-fitting saddle is not even remotely in the budget right now, but if her saddle fits her as poorly as it seems to, I'm either looking at keeping to a walk on perfectly flat ground for extremely short periods of time, or....riding bareback. Neither of which are particularly appealing! So we'll see - I won't ignore my horse's well-being..........but for right now I've got my eyes squeezed shut, fingers in my ears...pretending I don't see what is right in front of me......

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rode on Saturday

I rode on Saturday again.

When I went to catch Arabee, boots and breeches and helmet (on this time, didn't leave it out of sight when I went out to catch her with the halter) she stood waaaaay in the back of the pasture. Head up, ears up, standing at attention in the middle of the cows, calves, and right next to the bull! Just stood there, watching me walk up......and when I got about 20 feet away, she bolted straightaway to the gate where I had begun calling her from! A few calves began to go with her, but turned away when they saw me coming.

She stood in the paddock area waiting for me while I trudged back the gentle uphill where I had hoped she'd come to me in the first place. I shut the gate so she'd have no opportunity to run away again, then haltered and saddled her. I wasn't mad....but I HAD decided that if she felt like running, she could do some on the longe line so I put on my gloves (I NEVER longe without gloves!!) hooked her up, and we took a few laps at the trot and canter - maybe 3-4 in each direction. She was responsive, calm, and it actually took quite a bit of effort on my part to get a canter out of her.

I clipped on the reins, unclipped the longe line, and mounted up. We walked circles around the barn lot driveway, while my husband and children fed calves and ran here and there in the Ford diesel pickup. Arabee's not too thrilled with the wrench rattlin' sound that thing makes, and when I could hear him driving in, I asked for a trot back to her familiar tacking up area, and we waited as they drove past to the house, no drama.

Oh my, it felt so good to trot my horse! Shoot, it felt great just walking around. She was moving so freely beneath me, calm and on a loose rein, and I was even pushing her comfort levels a bit (I took her down the road a bit, off property....she was not comfortable with that on our ride on Wednesday, but was really good about it this time). I have no clue how long we were out, but it was beautiful, wonderful, perfect....a better buzz than any drink! How is it that riding a horse can put a silly smile on a grown woman's face and leave it there for days? I'm not complaining, but I sure don't understand it!

After the ride, I had planned a quick touch-up on her hooves, I got a few surprise visitors - Luke and Cora had wandered up to the barn, so I opened up the back of the Jeep that was parked in the shed and told them to stay inside the jeep, while I rasped Arabee's hooves. That worked out pretty well. They got bored pretty quickly, and started climbing all around the inside of the jeep, but it didn't seem to bother Arabee.

I doubt I get the opportunity to ride tonight, and definitely not Tuesday....but I think both myself and my husband will try to push to find more opportunities for me. I think we'd both forgotten how pleasant I am on horses.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I rode Yesterday

Got the kids to bed early, they were T.I.R.E.D. from our camping trip that we'd taken, I left the house at 7:34pm in breeches and boots and helmet in hand.

Whistled for Arabee, and she came galloping in with the goats.

Got her out, looked her over, tacked up, thankfully noticed that the buckle on the rein was not all the way in, fixed that, reviewed that stirrups are not scary (no big deal, for her this time) then got up.

Just walked, stopped, turned, doing my best to stay in both of our comfort zones. I don't want a rodeo. Just want a calm, quiet, safe ride. And I hadn't ridden my horse in a LONG time, and didn't longe her first, either.

It was fun. By the end my legs were trembling like jello, it was plainly time to stop for the night, though I still had plenty of daylight.

When I got in the house, I was surprised to see the clock read 8:34!! I'd only been out an hour!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summertime Mare

You know what - I'm really not sure why I post these boring posts.....but I really love writing - helps me get my thoughts together. Now, why I feel like it's worth posting to blogger vs. just typing up and deleting? Or just staying in a file on my computer? Eh...I don't know. I guess it's fun to share your thoughts, even if they are one-sided.

Arabee's been 24/7 pastured. Not sure how I feel about that. On one hand - it's super easy - turn her out, she has plenty of roughage (good for horses) access to fresh water and a shelter. She's around other animals (goats, and cow/calf pairs). Actually, she's been really sticking around the cows, and I REALLY hope she picks up on their calm demeanor. I've seen Quarter Horses who live with Arabians begin to act very know, more reactive, higher-headed, trot more floaty, do the tail over the back thing - it's quite comical, really to see how hard they try to be like their friends. Peer pressure, I guess? lol

But, anyway....the drawback for her to being out on pasture 24/7 is that I have seen her scratches begin to come back, and she's bug-bitten. Though, her feet look beautiful!

She looks soooo pretty and sleek! I really desperately crave spending more time with her, and riding her. And it's mutual. The other day, I walked out from the house and called out to her, and she walked eagerly up to me. I offered her a scratch, then started walking for the barn - she came along as if I had haltered her and had a lead rope. She didn't want to leave when I turned her back out, either.

But - and I'm not complaining here, honest!!! I am so amazingly blessed: garden is coming up BEAUTIFULLY (though it takes work to keep it that way), my flower beds around the house are really coming together, my children are growing in amazing ways: Cora can write her name (mostly...she has some trouble with the 'R'....she's 3.5 years), Luke is running, walking, climbing, learning new words to say all the time - he's 1.5 years. I feel like I can never keep the house clean enough to be comfortable - though thank God we have one - I can't stop thinking about Joplin, or parts of Alabama where the tornadoes destroyed so many homes.....completely DESTROYED them....Anyway, and I gotta feed my family - though I really enjoy cooking - it's become a fun creative outlet for me. So all these commitments require my presence. (it's so nice to be NEEDED!) :-) My husband is so hard-working, working full-time off-farm, and during the summer months nearly full-time on-farm. It's just, and I think some parents are different, but....I just can't see letting my kids run around while I groom Arabee, especially not during fly season! And that's just grooming, not to mention actually tacking up and going for a ride! So, I need to have my husband available to watch the kids if I want horse-time. And right now, in this season....that AIN'T happenin'!!

I keep wracking my brain to try to think of a way to make things work out so I can work with (play with) Arabee, because I firmly believe "If you really want to do something, you'll find a way to make it happen" but I think I am just in a season of life right now as a stay at home mom of two young children who's married to a part-time farmer (and believe me, I am incredibly, amazingly blessed to be that woman!!!!) that I can't truly let horse-time be a priority, no matter how much I may want to. It's getting closer to where Matt will be able to take both kids along with him when he's farming - Cora's ready, but Luke just....we'll - he's 1.5!! Kids do foolish things, and need supervision to keep them safe around farms and horses. Things Luke thinks are fun: climbing on the tractor and pulling all the levers, poking the dog in the eye, standing in mud-holes that go partway up his shins (and let's be honest....when you're on a farm....mud isn't always just pure mud....more of a mud/manure mix!) - anyway.....the point is that the boy must always be within sight to prevent him from incurring bodily injury right now. And that's ok! He's a little boy and he won't stay little long. I'm working hard to remind myself of this - my children are so precious, and won't stay small and innocent for long, it would be foolish of me to resent their need for supervision, rather, I need to cherish this time with them. I have the rest of my life to pursue horse things, and in the mean-time, if I get a spare hour or so, sure I can run out and try some horse-time, and I can cherish that time, too, if it comes. But I don't need to force it.

To all you high school girls who are horse-crazy, consider this carefully: Before you decide to buy the horse of your dreams while you're in high school, try really hard to get your horse time some other way. There are many out there who aren't being ridden that you could probably borrow. I know, true - there's nothing quite the same as having your own horse that you can bond with. Believe me, I know! And it is a special, special thing. But honey - you're in high school - no actual responsibilities (I know, easy to say looking back...but it really is a different ballgame when it's you not your parents doing the house payment, the grocery shopping, the meal prep, the car maintenance....Thank you, Mom and Dad!!!) sure you have time for horses now! But you're life is about to change beyond what you can imagine. College of some sort, whether it's beauty school, or a 4-year degree, or whatever, then choosing and securing a career, maybe getting married, maybe having children.....who knows. I sure had no clue! And horses live a very long time, and are very EXPENSIVE to keep. Just, just think about it long and hard - will you be fair to yourself and your horse if you buy one in high school? You can buy a lot of riding lessons with the money it takes to buy a horse, and maintain one.

Here's a brief re-cap of Arabee's history: Born in 1997. Purchased by me in 2000. Shown in 4-H and Class A Arabian shows after I broke her to saddle myself - we had a blast! In Fall of 2003 I went to college, went on a trail ride with Arabee where I was unseated and got a compression fracture in my spine, and got my confidence shaken, besides that I only saw my horse on the weekends, occasionally. Pretty mare was rarely ridden for 3 years. In 2005 I was married and we moved the horses to the farm, where she again, was rarely ridden until the fall of 2008, when I started riding again after my daughter was almost a year old. Started training for an LD in 2009, when that was siderailed for my pregnancy and her injury to the hoof/coronet. Started training again in winter 2009, for an LD IN 2010, when that was sidetracked by the reality of life with toddlers and a farm. Here we are, 2011. Mare in the pasture, me only dreaming of riding. I think I've just described a somewhat common scenario, different in the details - but basically a horse that while it is well cared for, it doesn't have a job. Wrong, no. Ideal? I don't think so. I think horses like to have a job. I also think they like to eat grass and get fat, although they make a mighty expensive pet.

You know, I'm not saying that it was a mistake for me to have Arabee. I'm glad I do! I just wonder how things would be different now. Maybe I wouldn't feel so guilty: When-I-Ride, because I'm not taking care of my family, and When-I-Don't-Ride, because I'm not taking care of my horse. How does a horse-crazy momma choose?