Tuesday, May 31, 2011

True Prospect Fire

For anyone who procrastinates the start of their workday at eventingnation.com like I do, you've already heard of the beyond tragic fire at Boyd Martin's facility.   For those of you who don't (whether it's because you're working or procrastinating somewhere else..), Boyd and Silva Martin's gorgeous True Prospect Farm suffered a catastrophic loss after an electric fire took down the top barn on the property.

There are a few tragedies that loom large in owners heads.  In fact, just last night I had a really spectacularly stressful trailer accident dream that resulted in jackknifing the trailer off the side of the road and watching it twist down a ravine while I screamed myself hoarse. 

Few things are as terrifying to me as trailer accidents or fires where the scope and magnitude of the situation make our large and magnificent horses seem fragile and trapped.

My heart goes out to Boyd and his entire team today.  While terrifying events like this are never easy for anyone, I can only imagine the grief and sorrow associated with the loss of one of our top programs and all of the love, talent and potential that goes with it.  Prayers to the horses who were saved and are recovering at New Bolton... Neville Bardos is among them.

If your horse is closer than a 2 hour car/ferry drive, give them an extra big hug and enjoy them today.  P will have to settle for some love via email.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Home, Home on the Range...

Thanks to everyone for their comments.  I literally had a brain explosion yesterday over that post.  I'm sure I probably should have directed the mental energy toward work, but... eh, who cares.

I just wanted to follow up by saying that I am still just feeling really good about what the next couple of months may bring for P and for my skill set as well.

I really am not getting the "cult" vibe from this dude, and he certainly doesn't seem to consider himself some sort of animal medium, or guru or magician, which I find exceptionally reassuring.

What's interesting to me is that so much of what he says makes sense to me, but so much of what he says is totally contrary to my experience or comfort zone in terms of how to build a training foundation with a horse.  So that's a little confusing still, but I'm sure it will sort itself out.

In more important news, Miss P appears to be playing well with others and is enjoying her time.

Oh to be a lady of leisure...
Courtesy of Cowboy Man...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Man with a Plan (or what I could remember of what I wrote..)

I've been promising an extended version of how exactly the Cowboy Man thinks, rides, and acts.  Unfortunately, I've had multiple clever conversations with friends/horsey friends/coworkers and family and possibly exhausted all of my intelligent explanations of what exactly the "plan" is for Miss P while she's on vaca.

Even more unfortunate is the fact that once I actually DID write all of this down in a cohesive manner, Blogger ate it.  All of it.  And it's not even pretending to say it's sorry.  (grumble grumble).


Actual cowboy may differ from picture
Okay, so, here comes my not nearly as eloquent or organized summary of Cowboy Man.  Basically it comes down to four basic principles:

1) Let the horse be a horse.

2) Establish unwavering trust as the foundation of your training.

3) Let the horse learn on the horse's terms

4) Grow Balls.

He didn't tell me these four principles, but as far as I could tell, everything came back to them and I think they make it easier to understand his process.

Let the horse be a horse.

So this is the first (and most basic) step.  Horses have a natural state of being and the closer we can get to letting the horse live a totally natural life, the happier and more relaxed of an animal we'll get.  Once acclimated, all of the horses on Cowboy Man's property live with the herd 24/7.  They sleep in one big corral together and get moved out to different pastures during the day together.  The only time someone gets pulled away from the group is if they are sick, injured, or getting worked.

Similar to how the Dog Whisperer works, Cowboy Man believes that the horses learn more from the herd than they can from us.  Aggression? Anxiety? Let the herd sort it out.  No one teaches them how to socialize better than the Lead Mare.  And tightly wound, spooky horses quickly learn to take cues from the group as to what really matters (grass) and what doesn't (the llama). 

As I mentioned, the entire property is fenced in, which means that the horses even move naturally.  No halters for getting turned out - rather Cowboy Man just asks the Lead Mare to follow him to wherever they are going and the rest of the group falls in line, moving as a unit.

Right now the group is ruled by a very dominant Lead Mare.  It's hard to pick her out unless a skirmish arises, because otherwise she keeps quiet and calm.  The horses in the group who tend to be nipping and kicking and pinning their ears are more often the lowest on the totem pole, which is why they are constantly trying to claw their way up.  As a general rule, the higher up a horse ranks, the more calm and less aggressive they are.

#2 in the group is actually the Lead Mare's filly.  She's 5, but if for some reason mom is snoozing or ignoring an issue (or being ridden) Miss Filly steps in.  #3 is a late cut gelding who really fills the "stallion" role.  He never leads the group, but instead he will bring up the rear when they move.  Additionally, he's often physically distanced from the group, relegated to lookout duty, especially if Miss Bossypants is taking a nap.

Cowboy Man acknowledges the group dynamics and tries to keep from interfering as much as possible.  Once example of how he refrains from interfering is his choice to grain/supplement the horses on an individual basis away from the group.

His rationale is because the herd has a established "rank" for who gets to eat first and who gets first crack at the tastiest grass (or grain).   The regulated manner of feeding in a barn ignores this principle and often incites or encourages food aggression or resource guarding without us even knowing it.

Just think about it - even though most boarding barns don't allow the horses enough social time to really establish a firm pecking order, the fact that we wheel a cart full of hay down the aisle and distribute it at "random" can cause stress, anxiety and aggression in even the most even keeled horses.  It makes sense to us, we often feed down the line of stalls (closest stall first, farthest stall last..)  But, imagine if you will, what would happen to the Lead Mare if her stall just "happened" to be at the end of the aisle.  Even though she's the queen, by the nature of her stall location, she gets fed last and therefore her authority and rank is challenged.

It might not seem like a big deal to us, but in horse reality, we're screwing everything up.  (the image of distraught/embarrassed teenagers reacting to well intended parents is what comes to mind "but moooooommmmmm blue sneakers aren't cool! they have to be teeeaaaaal")

I also think of Pia, who had taken to pinning her ears and charging the fence line whenever another horse walked by.  Is she mean? Maybe.  But it's more likely that given her solitary turnout, she's just trying to posture/play/establish a role anytime another horse was close enough to interact with.

Learning to acknowledge what's "natural" for them, allows us to identify where we are (unintentionally) imposing stress and strain... which allows us to control the controllables and move forward...

Establish unwavering trust as the foundation of your training.

Once Cowboy man has been able to establish a more natural lifestyle (and therefore head space) with a new horse, he begins his work with them.  I believe that I mentioned the noticeable lack of halters around the barn, but essentially there are none... anywhere. 

When I first unloaded Pia, I explained to him that he'd probably want to keep the chain over her nose until he had firmly established his role with her.  He smiled politely and said "ok, but I think we'll be able to do away with the chain all together"

I rolled my eyes and thought, sure buddy.  good luck with THAT one. (as I recalled Pia dragging The Boy down the driveway at the vet's, or her mad dive for grass when I was leading her back to her paddock..)

But the more we talked about his methods, the more I realized that a chain-free future might not be all that far fetched after all.

Cowboy Man starts with the premise that we have to earn the right to work with our horses - and that right starts with asking them to politely walk with us, follow us and do what we ask.  This starts by establishing a tight, reliable "join up" whenever we ask for it.  He feels that whenever we resort to using a constraint (halter/whip/tie down) we're bypassing the request and throwing away whatever trust or relationship we were trying to establish.  I would tend to agree with him, but I also know that as good as P is with her groundwork sans halter, that there is NO WAY she would stick by me should anything more exciting be going on.

My personal instinct has always been to start groundwork with a halter and lead, then remove the lead (but keep the halter in case I need to snatch her back), then eventually work at liberty in a round pen, move up to an arena, and if we ever had 100% obedience halterless in the ring, we could go to a pasture or something even more open...

Cowboy Man says "wrong."

We have to establish the connection under all circumstances and earn the right to ask a horse to work within a confined space with us (jigga whaaa?).

What this means is that his first "join up" happens by way of asking a horse to follow him away from the herd (and pasture) in order to walk back to the barn.  I can flat out guarantee that there is no way, P would ever follow me away from food, or friends (let alone food and friends) without a halter, lead and probably a chain.

When I asked him what he did when any self respecting horse ran away from him, he smiled and said "follow them."

right. follow them... 

Apparently, he just follows them.  So this means, that sometimes it takes him four hours (FOUR HOURS) to convince a horse that they might as well walk with him, because he isn't going to give up and go away. If the horse follows you for a few steps than trots off, you trot off after them...

Eventually the horse figures that there's no easy way away from you and they willingly oblige.  Of course, he said that for every time you give in and resort to a halter, you simply reinforce that the horse need not "join up" or oblige your requests without one. 

Apparently, these four hour marathons happen often enough that his local Domino's Pizza knows to deliver straight to the middle of whatever field he is jogging around in as he attempts to convince a questioning horse..

(this, I find hysterical)

Essentially, the philosophy behind the infallible "join up" is that in the herd, they don't get to question the Lead Mare.  She moves everyone when and where she wants and they oblige.  (she also does this without the use of any halters whatsoever.. clever girl that she is).  So the goal is to establish yourself to be as diligent and consistent as any Lead Mare worth her salt.

Cowboy Man acknowledges that the problem is our human schedules don't often allow for four hours of jogging around after our horse asking them to think of us as Lead Mares.  In fact, I can guarantee that if Pia spent more than 10 minutes trying to ignore/get away from me, I would quickly resort to a handful of grain and a halter hidden behind my back...

However, I do understand how that "shortcut" totally negates the "horsey" way of thinking in terms of unquestioning obedience.  It stems from restraint, as opposed to social hierarchy.  The fact that P is a great listener on the ground (sans halter) 80% of the time is a good start.  But that remaining 20% means that my authority isn't based on her unquestioning submission to me in a social sense...

Once Cowboy Man has a solid "join up,"  he adds in lateral movements, nose positioning (up, down, side to side and flexion) along with a "stay" command.  The "stay" basically allows him to ground tie any horse anywhere while he jogs around the barn preparing grain/grabbing equipment or whatever else he wants.   He also begins more liberty work whereby he encourages the horse to "mirror" him.  That means more than just following his body language for walk/halt/turn.  It means that they jog quietly when he jogs quietly, they move out when he moves out, they collect when he sits back and they even kick and play when he runs like a lunatic.

One interesting point he made was about not discouraging the "pride" a horse shows when they puff up, arch their neck and kick about.  He claims that too many riders discipline the "pride" out of a horse then spend years trying to get that natural sparkle and suspension back into a horse's gaits under saddle.  Instead, he says as riders we should learn to better identify the difference between playful pride and aggression.  Aggression means we lost the "join up" somewhere, where as the "pride" means they are comfortable, happy, and engaged....

Let the horse learn on the horse's terms

Staying consistent with the theme of keeping a horse in a natural brain state, everything about Cowboy Man's ongoing training tries to parlay off instinct and natural tendencies.  Since a horse in the wild would spend most of it's time galloping/scampering around to greener pastures/new ponds or scampering away from scary things (cougars/ponchos/llamas..) out in the open, that's where he starts.

Conversely, horses spend very little time trotting in circles or in regular patterns (be it dressage, hunter courses or barrel racing..), which means we have to ask nicely and build off an established relationship before they have to work for us in a confined space.  Consequently, Cowboy Man spends his first rides out in a big field.  A really big field.

He likened the first few rides to surfing - in that he lets the horse pick where they go and how fast they go there.  Instead of cramming them onto a 20 meter circle until they are calm enough to move down the longside without exploding, he lets them swoop and swirl and move as their heart pleases while he slowly increases the amount of "ask" with regard to controlling direction and speed...  After the horse happily accepts guidance in a field, he moves to the trail, where he relies on the "join up" relationship to get them through ponds, over bridges and past llamas (ooooh scary).  Finally, when the horse is confident and comfortable, he'll begin to ask for arena work and repetition in movement.

His other key is staying extremely conscientious of how much the horse can take.  What is an "ask" versus a "demand."  How much can he request based on his relationship before he has to rely on the help of a constraint to communicate?  He did clarify that there is a difference between unlocking a horse, and working with a horse that he is firmly established with.  This means that while a brain-dead-socially-withdrawn horse who shuts down when asked too much, will get a different "ask" than his trusty mount who decides to test the relationship and refuse to cross a stream.  The first horse requires that he sit back, think about whether or not the question is fair and encourage the horse to trust him.  The second horse may get a smack from the crop and a reminder that they don't have the privilege of questioning his decisions.

It all comes back to the Lead Mare.  We have to be the Lead Mare.

Grow Balls

This, is the step that (ultimately) is why we are with Cowboy Man in the first place.  I, am not emotionally equipped to spend 4 hours asking Pia to follow me in from the pasture.  Nor am I ready to hop on and let her rip around a huge pasture while I pray she won't destroy me in the process. :)

Quite frankly, I'm totally okay with both of those facts.

I'm not saying I can't, or I won't grow a pair, but I'm not quite sure I have the resolve, experience, or history to go all-in without some help.

Whew. Ok, that's my summary.  it's not as good as the first draft, but hopefully I didn't forget any of my clever descriptions.  More on Dr. Finn in our next installment...



I literally just spend an hour typing up the longest manifesto on Cowboy Man and his theories for training.  ONLY TO ACCIDENTALLY HIT Ctrl-A and then the space bar thereby deleting the WHOLE DAMN THING. and of course blogger SAVED IT before I could close out and recover a partially saved draft.

I am going to attempt to find some whiskey to shoot before calmly returning to the computer and attempting to recreate what was undoubtedly some of the most organized writing I've accomplished in some time.

If no post appears, then you know that I either couldn't find any whiskey to soothe the anger, or I just couldn't bring myself to duplicate my efforts.  Either way, my apologies.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

P's New Home (weekend review #2)

Sorry for the lack of pictures yesterday.  I put The Boy in charge of documenting our big move, which means that we have a random smattering of images to share.

It also means that there was a slight fight with the iPhone on actually relaying the pictures over to me...

Anyway, without further ado, here's Miss P.  It's definitely a repeat info from yesterday, but with the added joy of more pictures of P's gorgeous nose.

Where will the magic traveling box take the mare this time?

As always, P loaded like a lady (I really do think she's attached to her food), but she got a bit shuffley when the OTTB who lived next to her starting screaming his head off.  He was still surrounded by the five other horses who live next to him, so I wasn't really too clear on what all the fuss was about.  Regardless it was agitating P, so we said our goodbyes quickly and just hit the road.

One ear on food, one ear on loud, whiny gelding.
Like I said, the haul was easy.  I got to eat the junk food that I allow myself on long car rides, AND I had my first cherries of the season.  Cherries are perhaps the one food I can actually eat myself sick on.  It's a compulsion.

The big, old barn.  I love the look of older barns...
 It's hard to see in the picture above, but I'm standing with Dr. Finn and Cowboy and a cute Hanoverian mare.  I'll talk about the mare more later, but she's a really interesting little case.  She showed up to the farm totally shut down - sullen and asocial.  She still doesn't quite interact normally with the herd, but she looks pretty darn good now.
P's "don't-jump-out" corral
Pia was pretty obsessed with the herd in the distance- and also with the llama who she was fairly certain was hunting her.
"not now, there's a LLAMA"

"oh, food..."

Like I said, the mare settled in nicely, and I've been getting text updates regularly letting me know that she's playing nice greeting everyone appropriately as she gets the chance to.

The "please-don't-go" nose   ::heartbreak::

Monday, May 23, 2011

Successful Delivery! (weekend review #1)

I'm going to try to break up all the information from our trip on Saturday so that this doesn't turn into one giant monster post.

Oh, that and without a horsey within striking distance, the blog-worthy news might slow to a trickle.

Oh, that and I managed a whopping 3 hours of sleep last night for absolutely no good reason.  (current consciousness is courtesy of 8- actually eight - cups of coffee).

Saturday went fantastic.  The weather turned a bit, but 55 degrees is a perfect temp for hauling horses as far as I'm concerned.

I let Miss P stretch her legs for a bit in the indoor, though I didn't chase her since I figured the almost 3 hour haul would be enough stress on her poor, out of shape legs.
looking like a TANK
P has certainly, um... "filled out" in the past few weeks without our regular rides, but she looks cute, and although the picture doesn't show it, she was GLEAMING before we packed up and headed out.

We opted not to take the ferry, since I just feel more in control on firm ground, which made our trip almost three hours after factoring some weekend traffic.  We stopped once for gas and although P was warm, she wasn't sweating and was working her way through a majority of her hay net, which I took to be the sign of a content traveler..

As we got closer and closer to the farm, I got more and more nervous.  Google maps routed us on all the back roads, so there were points were we were essentially driving down one lane roads with absolutely no where to go should another rig meet us in the other direction.  There were a few totally sketchy farms and even some places that I verbally informed The Boy we would NOT be unloading at should our destination in any way resemble them.

He did a good job of calming me down and telling me to just wait and see.  Which we did.

What we did find at the end of our google-map scavenger hunt was a totally adorable little farm.  Nothing fancy, but certainly well kept and lots of happy animals meandering about.  I say meandering because, aside from the "herd" which was definitely relegated to a sectioned off pasture, there were happy dogs, a clever looking barn kitty, one llama and a one eyed horse roaming the property without restraint.

P unloaded like a champ.  Her eyeballs promptly removed themselves from their sockets at the sight of the herd, the dogs, the kitty and finally the ever terrifying llama, but I was proud that she kept her head and walked politely around the drive while we stretched her legs. 

The grounds are centered around a stunning old dairy barn, with a massive gabled roof.  Most of it is open inside, but there's a row of stalls each with big runs (though narrow) coming off the back end.  Otherwise, there's a cute pond, big ring, trampoline, and several large pastures sectioned off within the property.  The entire place is fenced (hence the roaming menagerie) and frankly it was nice to be somewhere with an open horizon where mentally you could just see beyond the property lines.
Happy Herd off in the distance...
 I pulled P's wraps so she could go get her kicks out in the arena, but that meant a remarkably close encounter with the llama.  Apparently the llama's main purpose is to scare the horses.  He's a desensitizing "tool" for the cowboy and sometimes he'll pony the llama on trail rides just to get horses used to not only seeing them, but god forbid touching such a strange creature.

P was skeptical but she bravely walked by as we entered the ring.  I turned her loose and OH MAN, did she move.  Tail totally flagged (I blame Supermom for all the exposure to arabs ;) ) and floating around like a little princess.  Not a hint of the sticky, mincy trot we've been seeing back at home.  I know we have other things to work on, but man it was nice to watch her really move out and float around like the proud lady she is.

Also nice? P made a point of checking in with me every two minutes or so while she was gallivanting around.   The Cowboy mentioned that he was impressed and that her check in was a good sign that she isn't shut down socially.  I guess that means we're starting in a good place, but more on that later.

After a bit, we put P in her own corral.  It's about twice the size of the paddock she had before, with a nice bit loafing shed.  She was calm until I walked away, then the antics started again...

The Boy and I stuck around for a couple more hours, watching Cowboy work with a couple of horses and chatting with Dr Finn, who was also there to meet us.  I'll dive into Cowboy's work tomorrow and describe Dr. Finn's plans as well. but it was overall a super reassuring and wonderful time spent with both of them.  When we turned our rig around and started to pull out, P really lost it and started screaming.  It's a good thing we were already moving, because I might have jumped out and stayed with her otherwise...

When we finally did pull out of the farm, I had promised The Boy a stop at one of his favorite restaurants from growing up.. The Three Crabs.  Frankly, I needed a glass of wine to help digest everything so we made a date of it and indulged in the finest they had to offer...
I loved these three crabs as a kid.  Refused to order crab as I was convinced I'd end up eating one of them...
 Clearly I was feeling self indulgent so I ordered THIS monster of a meal:
Approx 3,200 calories and 8 days worth of sat. fat
I love that you can't even tell what this is... but I can assure you it's DELICIOUS.  Beer battered fish sandwich, served open face on a toasted buttered bun, doused in clam chowder and topped off with cheese.  Who even thinks of that!?  I only got about halfway through but I loved every bite of it...

The Boy was significantly more restrained and got the traditional specialty:
Chomp Chomp
By the time we got close to home, it was nearly midnight which warranted simply parking the trailer on the street and dealing with the rig in the morning.  I got everything cleaned out, organized the tack room, which now holds nearly every piece of equipment I own, and took anything leather home for a Pony Club style MASSIVE tack cleaning session before storing everything for a few months.

It was somewhat relaxing.  I took absolutely everything apart, scrubbed, oiled, oiled again and even busted out the brass polish for all my buckles and hardware.  I don't think I've touched that stuff in ohhhhh.... ten years.

I got a happy text and pic from Cowboy yesterday, with a supremely content looking Pia, so all is good on the western front.

Time for more coffee.... or maybe a nap under my desk...

Friday, May 20, 2011

SLOW - Mare grazing...

P, heading the speed limit...
Yesterday I enjoyed this warmer weather with Miss P out at the barn.  We had a nice lunge session whereby trotting at anything more than a sedated jog appeared to be far too difficult in the raging 67 degree heat.

I didn't mind P's laziness, as the BO was giving her 18 year old son a lunge line lesson at the other end of the ring.  Apparently he's "learning dressage" for his senior project in high school, so for the next 3 weeks he's taking lessons twice a day and somehow the BO managed to convince him that feeding and cleaning stalls is a critical part of the process. :)

When the lesson was over, I unhooked P and let her wander loose.  Apparently the sleepy jog was all an act and she let it rip.  Holy hell, I haven't seen her move like that in a WHILE.  She was full on moving.  Galloping long sides, slide stops, spinning, bucking, galloping...(This mare does not look neurologic in the slightest...) Of course it only took about 2.4 minutes for her to exhaust herself at which point she (in typical fashion) wandered over to me and just stuck her face under my arm (cute mare).

We cooled out working on our halterless groundwork and then I let the mare graze.  We had to be a bit creative since the paddocks were sprayed with moss killer and are apparently still totally toxic (ew).

Pia settled for a strip of grass along the driveway and we hung out until the flies got too bothersome and a horse eating weed eater threatened our safety (so she thought).

Today we enjoy even better weather so the mare gets a bath before her big trip tomorrow!  The ride is 20 minutes longer if we drive around Puget Sound instead of taking a ferry across it.  Part of me feels like the 20 minutes is worth saving the ferry ticket...  but how cute would it be to get a picture of Pia on a boat!

I frigging love where I live
Makes me think of that Lyle Lovett song.. 
                           If I had a boat I'd go out on the ocean
                          And if I had a pony, I'd ride it on my boat...
I'm a nerd I know.

Anyway, the trailer guy just called and we have a fully tuned trailer with new brakes and freshly packed bearings all set for the trip.  P will be fluffed and buffed and there's just a few things left to grab..
I will miss this barn

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Perils of Making Lists

In an attempt to calm myself down and breathe normally when contemplating everything that needs to happen in the next 7 days OMG, I started making lists.

I made a list of things that must be done at work (BORING)

I made a list of things that need to happen at the loft (TEDIOUS)

I made a list of things that need to be done at the new house before I can move in (EXCITING BY TOTALLY OUT OF MY CONTROL)

and I made a list of things that I need to remember/do for Miss Pia and her Big Adventure. (DOABLE)

The lists were even pretty decent.  Unfortunately I mixed them up and didn't realize it until I was at the loft with Mom and she pulled out my list...

"sweetheart, where are the pads? also, do we still need to vacuum out your locker?"

Oops.  Turns out lists are only helpful if you have the one you want.

Oh well.

Today I pack up my pads, tack, and vacuum out my locker.  The rest of the blankets, wraps, and random junk will come with me when I pick the mare up on Saturday.

Two days!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I suppose the shoe had to drop at some point.

And not that anything bad has happened, more that I'm just starting to have a teeny, tiny, ever-so-slight Freakout.

I'm sure it's because yesterday involved some serious wedding planning along with packing up my kitchen along with hauling the first bits of my horsey life out of my barn. All in all, lots of opportunity to feel a bit overwhelmed and disorganized.  Fortunately mom came prepared with a bottle of champagne, which we proceeded to drink in plastic slurpee cups while we carefully wrapped and boxed all the appropriate stemware..

Re: Pia I think I'm just coming to grips with the fact that I'm about to start writing some really big checks and not seeing my horse with any regularity.

I tried to think of the longest I've gone without seeing her since her arrival - and I'm pretty confident it's not more than 7 days.  So aside from parting with the cold, hard cash, I've also got to wrap my head around the fact that P will be really far away and really, really hard to see with any regularity.

I really don't like it.  I don't like thinking about it, and I don't like not knowing what our plan it...

Which means it must be time to revert to a Short Term Plan... (STP)

Today: Groom and play with horse, pack some tack up

Tomorrow:  Pick up Trailer from trailer place with fresh wheel bearings and brakes

Friday: Enjoy 70 degree weather, wash horse, get her all pretty for her trip

Saturday: Haul, cry, pat pony, hopefully feel REALLY REALLY GOOD about where she's going.

Sunday: Drink bottles of wine while I watch checks clear my account and try not to feel terrible about paying board at two barns for 10 days.  (LAMER).


Monday, May 16, 2011


1.77" could refer to how far I've ridden my horse this month.


1.77" could be how high we've jumped (whee!)

But unfortunately, It's the amount of rain that Seattle racked up on Saturday.  Doesn't sound like much? It is.  In fact, it's only one hundredth of an inch away from how much rain we're supposed to get over the whole MONTH of May.

ew.  Squishy, soggy, ew...

Needless to say, the mare stood in the rain the entire time and just watched everything going on.  She's insistent on making friends with the new boy in the barn, but little does she know that I plan on separating them before love can even blossom.

Not much to report on the mare.  She's wet, I'm wet, the barn is wet.  Everything is wet.  Although the forecast has sunshine and SEVENTY degrees slated for Friday and Saturday, so we should have great weather for packing up and hauling out. 

Today we play, maybe we'll go for a walk - assuming the rain lets up for more than two minutes.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Crazy, Flaming, Happy Mare

I haven't forgotten about the mare.  But blogger has been making it hard to share that fact.

Frankly, the recent "downtime" from bloggerland has made me painfully aware how often I distract myself with everyone's updates and stories.  Facebook I can take or leave in a second... but apparently I go through severe withdrawals if blogger goes down for more than 12 hours. :)

Anyway, back to Mare:

Mare is fine.  She's still shedding - I informed her days are about to start getting shorter again, so she might as well stop, but she was too focused on the new gelding in the barn to even pretend that she even knew I was there.

I kept track of her first two cycles since going off the Regu-Mate, but lost track after that.  However, I can confidently report that the mare is in full on heat, and cycling with the best of them.  The BO's new gelding (who is a total hottie-patottie) really had no interest in Miss P, but she was not to be deterred.  She damn near ripped the cross ties off trying to reverse until she was in front of his stall again.  (hussy)

Anyway, I groomed the shedding beast up, took her to the ring and let her rip.  She about bounced OUT of her halter as I was taking it off and proceeded to hop, buck, fart, squeal, and shriek for a full twenty minutes before even noticing that I was still in the ring.  I'm serious.  She actually stopped, turned, spooked at me, then walked over and nuzzled my arm like "oh hi, didn't see you"

Weird horse.

I threw her on the lunge for a few transitions, did a little bit of ground work (for posterity) and called it a day.

mare is clearly more interesting in ANYTHING but me.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Space-Time Continuum

Good god, not too sure where time is going, but it's FLYING.

Good news? I got an offer on my condo, and I'm in contract (YAAAAY)

Bad news? They want to close in 20 days (boooo)

Roll that on top of moving the mare, moving $$, trying to tackle a lawsuit, one wedding in Colorado, one Birthday in Canada, a trip to Kansas, trying to get the brakes redone on the trailer and you've got one wigging out lady over here.

Also? in theory I should have had a grossly overdue pedicure, some serious waxing and a haircut before showing up to see good friends from days gone by, but frankly none of those things are going to be accomplished.

Things that are going to be accomplished? Seeing the mare, making her lunchboxes for the weekend, running around with her for a bit and (hopefully) packing my carry-on.

Sometimes the length of my to-do list depresses me, but carving out some time with the mare never does!

Oh and on a totally unrelated note, I have a totally adorable dress that's a little bit country to wear for this wedding, except for the fact that it's possible it might suffocate me (apparently I am not the same size I was last year).  However, I've had my heart set on wearing it, so I'll struggle through.  Nothing a fantastic belt, and some serious heels can't help..
CUTE dress. The Boy however was less than thrilled about the square dancing we were attempting at the time...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Those who can, Ride. Those who can't.... Target??

Thank you to everyone for their comments.  This has been a whirlwind of a few days (sick, crazy work, horsey decisions..trying to sell the condo..) but I think I'm getting a handle on all of it.  :)

I'm 99% certain that P is going to Summer Camp.  I still have a few questions to ask and logistics to figure out, but I'm feeling like we haven't made any progress recently (maybe even back tracked a tad) and nothing we've tried thus far has seemed to be the change that P is trying to ask for.  SO, unless something huge and big and scary happens, (or is revealed), Summer Camp is our plan.

I've fished around in my (little) horsey circle, and everyone who's worked with Dr. Finn has either found some benefit, learned a lot, or had a horse changing experience.  Frankly, I'm up for any of those options, so we're good to go on that front.  Also, what's to lose? (aside from more money..)

Which brings me to my second rambling thought process:  $$$$

In theory, Summer Camp was supposed to be cheaper than our current situation.  Which didn't really make sense to me, but I figured I'd roll with it.  Of course, upon further inspection, it is certainly not.  Right now we pay a well deserved $675 for our board.  Full care.  Full, impeccable, wonderfully attentive care.  Board at Summer Camp is $500 a month.  I still can't quite figure out what the care level is.  I guess it varies depending on whether or not the mare is in a stall or out running with the herd... Of course, the "training" component is $800 a month.

OH HEY EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS! you tried to sneak up on me!

Realistically, for P getting attention/groundwork/eventually under saddle work, I know this is a bargain.  After her immersion with the herd, she'll start "school" 6 days a week... So realistically, that takes the cost per session down to a totally reasonable $33.  That I can swallow, but still.. the grand total of $1300 is definitely more than the initial $500 number..

Oh, and then there's the body/vet work.  Anything that P needs from Dr Finn in terms of treatments will be on top of that.  All I can say is that it's a DAMN good thing we got an offer on the condo yesterday.. because it looks like I know exactly where my old mortgage payment will be going...

The BO knows that we're figuring out logistics and that we'll likely be leaving.  Of course, there are still decisions to make there as well.  She made it pretty clear that she's holding me to 30 days notice, which pays our board for the month... which is fair. And she also mentioned that if I want my spot held at the barn, it'll be $150 a month.  I love my barn, I really do.  And I love that none of the boarders are crazy, and no one steals things, and that the BO pours her time and energy into keeping everything top notch.  I don't know that I'll be able to find another barn like that so easily, but I also don't know that I can just watch $150 roll off the bankroll each month for "nothing."  I know that my peace of mind isn't worth "nothing,"  but with the bigger bills from summer camp, I can't be certain if it's a good use of my resources.

Also, I guess there's always the possibility that after Summer Camp, we may need something that my current barn doesn't offer.. more turnout, more trails? but who knows.  What would you do? pay the reservation fee? let it go and risk it?

I'm a little nervous because right now we have exactly ONE spot open.  But, the BO is bringing in a new horse probably in the next week, one of the riders who leases a horse there is bringing a new horse to try, and one of the three year olds who left to be started is due back in two months.  Of course, the mare and the baby might leave soon for bigger pastures, and one horse is up for sale... but............ Arrrrggghhh 

So, in an attempt to ignore all that crap, I opted to play with the mare.  We ran around the ring for a bit, ate some grass, then I started some of our homework from Dr. Finn.  Ladies and Gentlemen... Pia is learning how to target.  

Well, kinda.  I mean, at least it's giving us something to do while we aren't riding and before we go away to camp...

Shaping behavior is right up my alley, since I spent WAAAAAY too long in a lab teaching pigeons how to "use tools" and replicating studies with chimps.  Somehow, I totally allow myself to check out of that mode with horses (sometimes) and I end up personifying them and not holding myself to the same strict standards of "science."

Long story short, I had a bag of carrots.  And Pia got one every time to touched the end of the whip with her nose.  We started with 2 minutes in the arena while she was still running loose and she got the concept right quick.  I gave her a break while we hand grazed, but then I did a few more minutes back in the barn and got some "video" on my phone.  Bear in mind this is the first day, so I'm not being too picky about how she touches the whip, or where... rather trying to associate her seeking it out with a reward, and slowly asking her to move around a little more in order to reach the end of the whip.

Of course, the cross ties made life a little difficult since P just wanted to keep moving forward, pull them tight and then she'd get annoyed that she didn't have any leeway to move her head and touch the whip.... brilliant.

Anyway, here's our cute videos.  So far I think the only lesson she's learned is "PUT EVERYTHING IN YOUR MOUTH,"  but a few more sessions and she'll figure out what the specific goal is....

She's damn adorable.  I managed to sneak in one more handful of carrot bits.. so we worked for about one more minute and called it a day.  This mare learns fast.  What a gem.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Second (3rd, 10th, 400th?..) Opinions

Sunday was our appointment with Dr. Finn, and I had been greatly looking forward to it.  In addition to wanting to see her approach with P and listen to her analysis of another horse in the barn, Sunday was forecast to be 66 degrees and sunny - which we haven't seen the likes of in Seattle for going on nine months

The weather didn't disappoint, and frankly neither did Dr. Finn.  I got to the barn just as she was finishing up with the other horse (an adorable older Dutch guy who's been cranky but not "off").  While she was interested in working on a couple different parts on the old guy, she was primarily focused on his feet and how they were likely contributing to his increased crankiness.

She led a very informative and interesting discussion on her philosophy with feet (basically following Pete Ramey's principles) that I really enjoyed.  Most interesting was listening to her difficulties with sharing her observations and theories with local farriers as well as other vets.  While she trims her own horses, she tries to leave clients with instructions and goals to pass along to their own farriers for implementation.  I've had my own struggles with diplomatically guiding a farrier's trim, but I was somewhat shocked at how often her opinions were entirely discarded.  Regardless, I was really curious what she would have to say about Pia's shoe-throwing-bull-nosed-newly shod toes.  :)

She started her exam of Miss P with an in depth history of my time with her.  I tried to fill in as many details about her childhood with Supermom  (her preemie birth, slow and steady start, ground work, etc) to which Dr. Finn immediately filled me in on the Chinese medicine implications of an early birth.  Of course, just when I started to think that maybe she was going to head a little farther out to left field than I was comfortable with, Dr. Finn came right back and starting giving me her observations of P's physical condition.

Right off the bat she focused on an overdeveloped muscle where P's neck ties into her shoulder.  This is a large lump of a muscle that's decidedly below her topline, but remains prominent regardless of how much work the mare is doing.  Apparently it's not normal (I guess I knew this) and the rigid tone of it suggests that it's formed as a compensating factor for other inadequacies.

What's the downside? Apparently it's restricting her shoulder's range of motion rather severely and would explain why she sort of hurls herself over cavaletti (especially at the canter), instead of reaching up and out with her shoulders.  It might be somewhat due to her feet, but who knows.  Oh, and also, it would apparently make "moving forward" a bit of a tricky question for the mare.  (interesting)
This pic is from last summer when P had already had 2 months off... topline melted away, but weird neck muscle remains!
Next up we addressed her mouth and jaw, which P was NOT excited to have handled.  We got an "excellent mouth!" comment from the dentist last week, so I was surprised to see Dr. Finn so intrigued by the level of discomfort that P had around that area.

I want to clarify that P is not head shy in the slightest.  I can clip anywhere, shove my hands down her ears, in her mouth, up her nose... but in terms of being palpated, or massaged, there were all sorts of unhappy trigger points going off.  I asked if this could have anything to do with Pia's weirdo stretch (head to side, neck totally extended), and she thought they were probably associated.  Dr. Finn asked if Pia yawned (I said yes), and then asked if she did it normally.


Apparently that means "straight" and not always with a crossed jaw.  I honestly couldn't answer the question, but P's 10 consecutive crossed jaw yawns answered the question for me.  Apparently she does not yawn normally.  Apparently that is also an indication of something being somewhat misaligned in her poll/head area.
P demonstrating her weirdo stretch in Sept 2010
We moved on to P's stomach and ribs, which were ok, until we got to her last few ribs which, apparently are not only "slab sided" (not normal) but very, very ouchie for Miss P.  Mind you I curry the crap out of the mare and she doesn't flinch, but I think Dr. Finn was poking her in a different manner.

Finally she noted P's lumbar area which has her distinctive hump, which she pointed to as being another locked up, self inflicted issue. 

Essentially she was seeing a bottled up, locked up, unhappy mare incapable of moving freely even if she wanted to...

That's when we moved outside to walk/jog for Dr. Finn, but Pia was being a pistol - so she asked if Pia would be happier to free lunge for a bit.  Pia is always happier to be free lunged for a bit, so we moved to the ring and let the mare loose.

By this point, a majority of the barn (BO, boarders, sig others, my dad..) had collected in the corner all just waiting for the Pia show and what insights from on high Dr. Finn would be sharing with us.

I didn't get to hear Dr. Finn's comments while I was chasing the mare in circles, but my heart sorta stopped when after only two minutes Dr. Finn called out "ok, that's good, come on over here..." and waited away from the group to talk to me.

In my head this was the equivalent of being taken into the "little room" at the dr's office to hear the results of a routine test.  No good news is ever delivered away from public ears, and I was pretty sure that since P had only been motoring around for a few minutes, that she couldn't have been deliberating that hard over what she was seeing - or what she wanted to talk to me about.

I stopped, called P (who came right into me) and we walked over to where Dr. Finn was waiting...

She opened the conversation by asking me what my game plan was.

Ummmm, well, I was hoping to get an easy diagnosis that everyone else has missed- give my horse two weeks off, and be home in time to make a tuna fish sandwich then go enjoy the rare emergence of the sun...

What I actually said was a very eloquent "uhhh, what do you mean by gameplan?"

I quickly realized that she was trying to ascertain what my commitment to the horse was, and what my priorities were in terms of treatment options.  OHHHH, you mean am I going to take her out back and shoot her if you tell me I need to spend $$$$ to make her better?

No.  No, I'm not.  In fact I'd probably move into her cute little shed and save on rent if that helped me afford whatever crazy option you're about to suggest.

I reminded Dr. Finn that I was all set to drop $15k on spinal surgery a year ago, and I remained pretty damn open to nearly any option if it had a snowballs chance in hell of making the mare more comfortable and hopefully a little happier under saddle.

Dr. Finn went on to discuss that while P was by no means the most "drastic" case that she had seen, she was confident that in order to begin to unlock all of her weird muscle issues and make some real progress - that we needed to hit a Big 'ol Reset Button.

Reset Button.  I like reset buttons.  I hit them all the time.  On my computer, on my wii, on myself... but I wasn't totally sure where exactly Pia's reset button was located, or how exactly to "hit it."

Dr Finn gave me a quick rundown of how she would approach rebooting Miss P if she had full access to her.  She also made it very clear that she didn't think she could be much help without full access to her....  Which consequently, brought up the rather obvious point of how to give Dr. Finn an all access pass to the Pia Show.

Summer Camp.

Apparently Miss Pia will be going to sleep away camp this summer.

Dr. Finn has big 'ol ranch in the banana belt of Washington just on the other side of Puget Sound.  Apparently for the first 30 days, new horses are slowly introduced to her roaming herd of horses, who eventually P would end up being turned out with 24/7.  The idea is to give new horses as natural a lifestyle as possible.  Letting them socialize, run, and squabble as god intended.  They gallop, they fight, they cross ponds, they sleep, they roll and they get really, really dirty.  (Not too different from Caesar Milan's whole "pack" theory for problem dogs.)

After however long it takes to get the horse thinking and acting like a real horse, Dr. Finn and her cowboy friend work to slowly bring them back to work. They do lots and lots of groundwork, including targeting and some parelli(ish) games before broaching undersaddle work again.  All of this happens hand in hand with consistent bodywork, hoof rehab, and any other necessary treatments from Dr. Finn.

Eventually, cowboy man starts really riding, with the intent to keep the horse moving as naturally as possible as they reacquaint themselves to work again.  Apparently this means full gallops in nothing but a rope halter, which I can safely say is a strategy that I have not tried on my own. :)

Ideally, Dr. Finn wants full owner participation but in considering the 2+ hour drive (and a ferry ride) to get to the ranch.. it's not very realistic for me to be involved more than twice a week..

However, that phase a long ways off and I'm still sorting through things.  Right now I am feeling pretty confident about my decision to jump all in to the process -  Give P time to reset her horsey button, re-muscle and reenter the working world with a few things adjusted from the bottom up.

So again, to recap we spend 30-60 days with the herd, 30 days with ground games, then back to work.  Dr. Finn says ideally horses spend 3-6 months with her before they are ready to go home and maintain their changes.  She's worked with a number of sport horses, and right now her herd has a number of warmbloods all enjoying their little sojourn away from their normal lives.  She's successfully rehabbed jumpers, FEI dressage horses, eventers and even a few reiners.

When I was talking with her it sounded brilliant.  When I regurgitated it to The Boy, I couldn't quite capture the magic, and even as I'm typing this I feel like I"m not connecting the dots as clearly or concisely as I should be.   Maybe it's my RAGING cold, but I doubt it.

Regardless, there are still details to be figured out before P packs her bags for the summer, but I'm really liking the idea of trying something completely different and hoping it helps.

Plus, I really loved going away to summer camp and I'm sure P would too...
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