Monday, April 30, 2012

Tack Ho'-oooooly Crap I Bought a Saddle

Correct.  Yes you read that right.  somebody let me out of the house with my checkbook (but not my visa.. where did that go???....) and apparently the end result is a new (cringe) saddle.

I love, love, love, love love my Prestige Optimax, but I do not (sadly) love it on Prairie.  Her shoulder is so upright that the balance of the saddle is all wonky and all the shims in the world don't make it feel like it should.
If it looks like I'm about to tip forward onto my face.... You're right.
Add to that the fact that the tree is nearly a Wide, and Miss Prairie is really more of a Medium.  I'm not great at mental math but I'm pretty sure adding up those facts makes the Prestige sub-optimal choice for the new mare.

This realization makes me sad for a number of reasons - The first is I spent a really pretty penny buying the damn thing and only got to enjoy it on P1 for a few months before she went off to Summer Camp and decided to show me what her body is supposed to look like (hint, it's not something you'd put a "wide" saddle on).  But, I dutifully kept the Prestige in the garage - clean and covered just waiting for a new mare to put it to use again.

Sadly, buying a new horse to fit the saddle didn't work and The Boy has firmly vetoed a third horse that would justify keeping the Prestige (smart man).   Additionally, while Prairie lacks the, um... demonstrative tendencies that Pia has for even the slightest less than perfect fit - it doesn't seem fair to strap a mediocre fitting saddle to her back just because she won't buck me off as punishment.

(see how I made a new saddle sound like a responsible decision??? that's what I do.  I justify things...)

So, we've been on the hunt.  We've looked a few consignment saddles at the local shops, but nothing has been outstanding.  Finally I had my favorite fitter out and gave her strict instructions to not tell me the cost of ANYTHING until we see what fits Prairie, and then what fits me.

This seemed like a good decision because I tend to gravitate towards the pricier end of my available options under the misguided assumption that the prefect piece of equipment will no doubt solve 90% of my problems... Cognitively I know this isn't true, but my subconscious consumer figures that throwing money around usually doesn't make problems worse... it just wastes money.

Anyway, the fitting process began and I learned an interesting fact about P2.  While she is a traditional Medium width, her back is flatter than most of the panels on mediums, which means most "off the rack" medium trees fit nicely up front, but the rails/panels have too steep an angle for ideal fit.  (this concept took me a while to wrap my head around, but as I watched saddle after saddle land on the mare's back I started to see how the shoulder/wither clearance was great, but the panels of quite a few saddles looked like they were on a knife edge along her spine.... Apparently this mare was going to be trickier to fit than I had initially thought.

I quickly ruled out all the consignment options that Saddle Fitter had with her and began considering ordering new.  Once again I reminded her not to tell me the price tag of anything so that my brain wasn't consider the advantages of saving $$$ or buying-talent when I was trying them out.

We narrowed the field down to three models (by two different brands) and hit the arena.  Prairie seemed to move fairly comparably in all three on the lunge, but we ruled one out as soon as I sat in it.  The final two to consider were both  deep seat/narrow twist/pretty squishy options with medium knee blocks.  I switched between them a few times and finally made my decision.

"THAT ONE!" I proclaimed proudly, feeling as though I had made an objective decision.  Clearly the saddle I felt the most secure and balanced in, and something that P2 was nice and springy and relaxed in as well.

I won't even ask if you think I chose the expensive option or not, because I'm pretty sure that if you've read this blog for any length of time, you know without a shadow of a doubt that my heart/brain/checkbook always follows the $$$.  (dammit).

So here is what we got, a Hastilow (anyone out there heard of this?!) Elevation.
 They're made in England by a "master saddler" and his brother and his dad.  All hand cut, all made to measure (which means my freaky long femur won't look out of place).  Plus two fun extra bonuses:
1) The tree is adjustable so there's a chance (a chance!) that this will also fit Princess Pia.
2) The swatch chain of leather options was DROOOOOOL worthy.  I should have taken a picture.  Part of me almost wishes Prairie wasn't black (did I say that!?) because there were so many beautiful browns to choose from, along with some bad ass piping choices which could have resulted in a slightly rainbow-esque saddle.  Ultimately I ended up with black (yawn) but with GOLD piping.  I almost got red cause that sounded sexy, but gold won't be obnoxious, and it has a better chance of looking good on other horses since the fabulous-adjustability means I'll obviously use this on every horse I'll ever own ever again.  right!?
In my post purchase internet hunting I didn't find much (but mostly favorable reviews thank god) along with a picture of one of their saddles with the gold piping.  I like it.  Not too in your face, but a little somethin' somethin' to set it apart. thoughts? I suppose if I hate it I can always take a sharpie to the piping and make it match...

 So it's on order.  Set your egg times for 10-12 weeks and I'm sure it'll be here before we know it.  After writing the deposit check (wah), we settled down to adjusting the shim situation on the Prestige to make it work for the next few months.  The fit is decent, and I feel more balanced, but it sort of feels like I'm trying to ride my horse with a pillow-top mattress between my seat and her back.  Not exactly a super close contact...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

MT Day 4: Prairie's Turn...

This time down at the Oregon Horse Center I sort of knew what to expect from Princess P... I didn't know how much she would have improved, but at least I knew that she was going to enjoy the obstacles and I was going to enjoy working with her on them.

Prairie was a bit more of a mystery.  Partially because if there ever were an Arena Baby, she is it, and the only time I've hauled her someplace new was to change barns.  So there was the mystery of how she does in a portable stall surrounded by 100 other screaming horses.  How she'd do without any turnout for a few days and the million dollar question of what would she think of all the weird random crap I was going to ask her to walk over.

My first few posts answered most of those questions but, much like Pia, Saturday Prairie got to go for a gallop in the field as well as spend some serious time with the obstacles that evening.

So here goes:

Same thing as P, nice morning, cool, calm, and lazy - Prairie seems pretty ok with the "atmosphere" of the grounds. I can tell that no turnout makes her a bit more looky, but really, I don't know too many horses who you can lock in a (new) stall for 3 days, then take out into a big meadow and walk around calmly on... So P2 gets some serious points for that.

I could tell that Prairie was out of her comfort zone in the field, but if I had to label her reaction, it would probably be "concerned" more than "panicked" or "explosive."  her eyeball just looked a bit, well - concerned, as though she really didn't know where her nice, neat arena went.

"wh-where are the fences!? and where is my dragged footing!??"
So. adorable.

Anyway, Much like P1, P2 also got her turn to gallop through the grass.  I was going to do it myself, but then I thought "self - you have a perfectly good Cowboy Man here and there's no need to jostle your confidence or push your boundaries."

P2's concern quickly gave way to *shoving* her mouth full of grass...
So, (without shame) I slid off the mare and handed the reins to Cowboy Man to let 'er rip.  Knowing that when P2 gets unbalanced in the canter she becomes a drama-llama to the extreme (which in turn freaks me out), I figured I'd let CM have that ride since he doesn't seem to care about silly things like panicked horses, or a total lack of control.

As predicted, as soon as P2 accelerated past the quiet, contained working canter we've been playing with her brain sounded the alarm that something (her hind end) was chasing her and omg-we-have-to-go-now

Not exactly the most graceful thing to see in slow motion, but interesting nonetheless.  She has a powerhouse of a hind end.. I can't wait to see what she can do with it when it's actually up underneath her...

Cowboy Man's approach was very different from mine.  Mine is to count on the mare hitting our new favorite bit when she drama-llamas, thereby containing the outburst and keeping her under control and on my aids. (this makes sense to me, also, it feels safe).

On the other hand, CM figures that she has to lean to use her body such that when she is alarmed, she doesn't shoot her head straight up and string out like a freight train.  So, instead of shutting her "spook" (if that's the right word) down, he slowly "surfs" her into big looping turns and allows her to bring her own nose down for balance and slow herself.  This means he keeps the lightest of contact (shudder) which leaves P2 without her safe, secure "box." 

Yet another example of how I enjoy CM's process but know I would never (ever ever) have the instinct to do that myself.  After a few more runs the panic left P2's face/neck, but I could still  tell she really isn't thrilled about being totally responsible for her own body.  I'm working on addressing this (in our own way) by exploring some long lining and free jumping at home (since I don't trust myself to not interfere with her galloping out in a field...)

It was nice to see that P2 was willing to return to grazing almost immediately after each run.  Cowboy Man has tuned me into that little signal - since most horses won't eat (even when surrounded by tasty grass) if they are totally nervous, anxious, scared or otherwise concerned about what's going on.  A good example of this is that early on, P1 would be reluctant to graze on trail rides, choosing instead to be obsessed with what the other horses in our group were doing, or what was lurking in the woods, or (god forbid) doing her neck twisty thing in protest of everything.   At this point it's rare if Pia isn't willing to accept a long rein and graze in between trot sets/gallops/whatever.

Seeing P2 quickly return to grazing between her gallops was a good indication that as scare as her fast moving legs are, her brain comes back to earth quickly and consistently. (good mare)

Having finished our gallop rides and slow-mo filming, P2 got a nice break and pile of hay while we played with Pia.  Their newly formed obsession made me think that P2 would be pacing, calling and pawing constantly with Pia gone, but when I came back to her stall I found this:

not exactly a ball of nerves...
This mare is so cool.  I mean, she's dorky sometimes, but the more we worked with her over the weekend, the more I'm thinking that Prairie isn't so much "ditsy" as I've previously accused her of, she just hasn't had a lot asked of her in terms of brain power.

This became even more apparent as I swapped mares and took P2 back to the obstacles for an extended school.

For one thing, she remembered all of our discussions about not crowding me and rating my movement.  Arms down mean "walk with me, come forward."  Arms up - "stop, or maybe slow down if they only go up for a second."

For another, without Pia in the ring with her, Prairie was sniffing everything and very forward to each obstacle.  Anything she didn't understand she just shoved her big nose all over until she was comfortable walking in/on/over it.   The only thing that took a few tries was the water, which by this point of the weekend is a putrid, stinking puddle of manure and nastiness.  Not exactly a welcoming clear mountain stream... (to be fair I wouldn't put my feet in it..)

The only other challenge was asking P2 to really control her body and it's momentum.  For example, when stepping up on a bank (which she was perfectly willing to do). It took a lot of deliberate work to get her to realize she could pause herself halfway up, or halfway down (up was easier than down).
All the way up was cake.  she's pretty sure she's *supposed* to be on a pedestal..
Then we figured out how to pause going up (and get cookies)
The (very challenging) pause on the way down.  (it's a lot of mare to brake)
I spent a long time on this trick because I wanted to get to the point of not needing any nose/poll pressure for P2 to start and stop.  The stop with nose pressure was easy, but the big-picture goal is to have her focusing on my body language and stopping herself not leaning/bracing/relying on me to do that for her (however lightly).

After that, the rest of the "baby" course was cake.  She marched up to ditches, sniffed them, and walked through, she marched over bridges, sticks, tarps, you name it.  I was pretty impressed.  Here's a quick clip of some of the baby obstacles strung together.  I'm impressed at how relaxed she is and how engaged she is with what's around her....
(ps - we aren't going to win any showmanship classes, but considering what an aloof moose she can be, this if pretty damn good).
(pps - I was also pretty sure that at some point I was going to walk backwards off one of these bridges...)

After that we headed to the "big kid" ring and tackled bigger banks, the car wash, the water and the other bridges.  It took about 30 minutes before P2 noticed the totally-terrible-completely-horrifying-beyond-freaky DONKEY that had been added to the course.

Admittedly, it's a creepy looking wooden cutout.  But I'm pretty sure that it's not the malicious villain that Prairie made it out to be.  What really cracked me up is that we were walking over the wobbly suspension bridge when she caught sight of it, FREAKED, then proceeded to water ski me around the arena eventually busting loose and escaping to a "safe" distance hiding behind the car wash.

When I collected the mare, we approached the totally-terrible-completely-horrifying-beyond-freaky DONKEY and she made peace with it.  (I know she made peace with it because after sniffing and licking she started eating it.  You don't eat things that scare you, you just don't.)
Creepy, but not exactly out for world domination...
Assuming we were now ok with the totally-terrible-completely-horrifying-beyond-freaky DONKEY I retried the wobbly suspension bridge with a similar reaction, though this time, instead of breaking loose the mare "escaped" via the high bridge (with no railings) and craggy rocks on either side.  I managed to hang on and ski (skijor?) along behind her with visions of snapping legs flooding my brain...

So, we sniffed the totally-terrible-completely-horrifying-beyond-freaky DONKEY again. Licked it, then started chewing its nose, so once again I spun the mare and went for the bridge.  Here's a video of our third attempt where the mare bravely faced her fears.
(seriously though, how she's scared of the donkey but thinks a crazy wiggling bridge is ok, is beyond me...)

There are two videos of this same attempt (the first escape and the second skijor...) which I might have to post later.  P2's early horror at the donkey is really quite spectacular...

After we mastered the donkey we played with the car wash, log pile and other ditches.  For being such a big, long mare I'm impressed with how well she handles her toes.  The big logs piles in particular.  I would have guessed she would whack and stumble her way through those...

All in all, I'm impressed with P2.  I feel like with some consistent ground work, and a deliberate effort to not only trot around the sandbox, she is going to be a confident, forward girl - and those ditsy spooks will continue to diminish...

What a love.

Friday, April 27, 2012

MT Day 4: Pia's Progress

As I started dumping photos and videos and whatnot onto my computer I realized I have so much stuff from Saturday at the Clinic that I really need to break it down.  Seems to make the most sense to focus on each mare one at a time, so I think that's what I'll do.

By either numerical or alphabetical order Pia/P1 wins the race so let's start with her:

The mares were equally calm and happy when we threw them hay in the am, which gave us time to wander off in search of more breakfast sandwiches before starting their workday.

After some long hand walks and grazing, we tacked everyone up and headed back to the Meadow for some breezing and to try to use the camera's cool slow motion feature for looking at everyone's gaits.

Pia was great.  She's gained so much confidence over the last year.  She's alert and eager but no longer petrified of things (at least when you're on the ground).  Reassuming his role as camera man, The Boy was on the ground, leaving Cappy to be ponied around with us.  P has been ponied but never been the pony-er, so it was interesting to see her shift from wanting to kick the crap out of him to slowly softening and accepting Cappy on her flank while she was being ridden.

We warmed the beasts up with some light walk/trot work in the morning fog before having Cowboy Man gallop them out one by one.
When it was P's turn, we managed a bit of an experiment and had her go both in her Aussie saddle (recently returned from the fitter having been narrowed) and my old Klimke Dressage saddle (which fits her "ok" but is a much less obtrusive saddle on her back).

P's run in the Aussie Saddle:

And P in the Klimke:

My relatively untrained eye doesn't see a huge difference in her movement but she "looks" more eager in the dressage saddle and Cowboy Man swears she felt softer in her back with the Klimke as well...

(as a side note, how cool are these clips!? basically the camera takes 5 seconds of footage at 400 frames per second, then plays it back at a normal frame rate giving you the 1:06 long video... can't wait to play with this more)

After P, we played with Aspen (my vet's big fun Dutch boy) and then P2 got her turn.  I'll save P2's absurd response to moving "fast" for her own post, but I'll just say that I'm pretty sure she scares herself with her own legs.

When everyone was done, we headed back to the indoor.  I put P2 back in her stall so I could focus on Pia and watched her work (for the second time) in the warm up arena amongst the chaos.  She was more forward Saturday than Friday, but her eyeball was still wild and she was not exactly thrilled to be there.

It's hard to tell in the photos (and some of the video even) but CM rides with a very light contact.  He doesn't want to shut P down, instead he wants her to use herself and rely on herself.  To a certain extent I think if I hopped on and asked her to go in a frame she'd either say "screw this" and get me off, or the work would be a distraction and would help her settle.  That's good from a "I need to warm up for my class" perspective, but not actually helpful in the "P needs to be comfortable and confident" perspective. (I know that sounds a little "woo-woo").

P realizing this isn't so horrid after all
It took approximately 10 minutes to get the mare moderately calm and happy to the point that her ears were up and not pinned 100% of the time, but every time something "exploded" around her (A lunge whip cracking/lady falling off/ loose cow/etc) she'd lose it just a touch and we'd have to deescalate her again.

The really good news there is that she actually deescalated.  That wasn't an option before - if you lost her she was gooooooonnnnnnne for good.  So, kudos mare.  You're growing up.

Parting of pacifying Pia included stopping for carrots every time she successfully got around the ring without a tantrum.  The Boy served as carrot dispenser...

Once P agreed to walk calmly around the arena, we headed into the obstacles to see how she would fare under saddle (again).  This time she was able to tackle a few more challenges without Cowboy Man having to get off and lead her through.  We took advantage of other horses in the ring to be leaders for her and P was quite pleased with that.

It surprises me (and confuses me a bit) that P is so forward, willing and calm about all the obstacles when you are on the ground... but the same obstacle is a no-go when you are mounted.... It's an interesting place for her to be.  Trusting with you at her shoulder, but still nervous under saddle.  Sadly for P, Saturday was the end of accepting that disconnect.  Cowboy Man decided that he had enough trust and enough history with P to really push her a bit more from her back.  We're also pretty confident that (especially in the Klimke) P's pain level is low-to-nonexistent so we can be pretty sure that her balks are 98% attitude only.  Part of getting that trust level back up is being really careful that we never force her into anything that causes pain.  If we ask her to do painful things... why would she trust us?

She wouldn't. And didn't.  But we're moving past that, and since we have a nice long history of asking for things that don't hurt anymore, it's time that P gets over the anxiety that something might hurt.

So, onward the mare went.  there were a few bucks, but for the most part she was appropriate in her objections.  Cowboy Man did hop off a few times to lead the mare through things, but he would immediately re-mount and proceed to repeat the process under saddle.

Here you can see that P is still not forward to some of these things, but she's also holding it together and not totally freaking out.  Would I want to run her cross country? probably not, but she's trying!

A few more shots of P doing P's thing:
P says "no." (again)
Following the leader got us in the water and in the ditches. 
P didn't need a buddy for the baby bridge
Or the weird log piles...
Or the scary high bridge...

Or the wobbly suspension bridge! (why would a horse walk on this!?)
This big scary water/waterfall...
 One last video of getting through that pesky car wash... this girl has a lot of try in her:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

MT: Day 3 - Meadow Ride & Scary Water

Friday was our first full day down at the clinic which was filled with all sorts of adventures.

Both mares made complete and total messes of their stalls, and I found them in the morning both standing with their noses in the back corner so their nostrils could wuffle into each others' through the gap in our portable stalls.


Anyway, after throwing some flakes of hay and securing a dirty, delicious breakfast sandwich we took the mares for a walk and hand grazing, before tacking everyone up for a ride.
So. Much. Love.
 Yup, everyone.  Which may I remind you is 4 horses... which means we'd need four people (me.. Cowboy man, vet, and..... THE BOY).  ta-da!

All tacked up we headed out to the big pasture to go for a nice walk around the hay fields.  Pia was extremely polite and calm - Cappy (The Boy's Mount) was confused ( was The Boy), P2 was raring to go, and Aspen was politely tagging along.  It was a gorgeous ride, and I was able to enjoy it all the more so with P2 striding out in front and The Boy managing to stay on board his pony ride.

Once again, no photographic evidence of our lovely ride since The Boy was... well, riding.  But when we got back, I DID dismount first and managed to grab a quick video as Cappy began attacking a mud puddle (he later attempted to roll in it with The Boy still in the saddle, I missed that little fiasco on film).

After our ride the beasts got lunch (so did we) and a bit of a break (so did we).  We got back to the barn in time for the last session of the day to get under way, Pia and Aspen got tacked up to go for a gallop.  P2 continued her nap.

P breezed out nicely and seems to really be moving much more comfortably.  When we got back to the barn, she went straight to the warm up arena to see how much her little P (not pea) brain could handle.

She was a spaz case, but honestly, I have to say that given all the commotion (and cows) I'm impressed that she kept all four of her feet on the ground.  Clearly not thrilled with life, but significantly more tolerant than she would have been a year ago.  and by "tolerant" I mean she didn't kill anyone. :)
Here's a snippet from her first "Arena Ride" in MONTHS.

After P calmly walked around the arena a few times, we walked into the Obstacle Arena and let her explore under saddle a bit.  She was tense, and less willing under saddle, but at a balk, Cowboy Man would hop off, walk her through the offensive obstacle then get back on and complete it under saddle.  P was a star.  There's no way she could have handled any of this under saddle last time we were here, so it was pretty spectacular to see that tangible improvement in her attitude and mental state.

I went back and grabbed Prairie so she could join in on the fun and we all began working the obstacles.

P2 was good with everything except for the water, and the car wash.  P1 was no help with the car wash
P1 says "no."
We got them both through it (P2 was surprisingly a bit easier to convince the plastic wasn't scary) and then we went to work on water.

Prairie was not that interested, but also not that defiant. This is what her "balk" looked like:

She was polite and brave and eventually we had everyone stomping through the mud puddles happily.

With Coyboy Man playing with P2, I got to get some quality P1 time in, which was much appreciated.
All in all, a very productive day.  P2 was great going for a ride outside, The Boy legged up on a horse, and both mares were confident and trusting with the obstacles in the evening.

All good things!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

MT: Day 2 - Arriving

Thursday was one of those *damp* mornings on the Olympic Peninsula.  Where the fog (although pretty) seeps instantly through however many layers you attempt to wear.  This was particularly unhelpful given the fact that The Boy and I woke up moderately chilly (and already damp) in a boat.  A pretty boat.  But a boat nonetheless. Also, the peculiar shape of the berths (nautical term for bed, point!) made my usual strategy of implementing The Boy as a space heater of sorts totally useless.. darn it.

A quick stop for coffee (and pringles) had me almost back to normal before we made it to the barn.  Both mares looked bright eyed and happy which I took to mean that they must certainly be ready for an adventure.

I started by grooming Pia up.  She is a dirty, dirty yak.  The Boy asked if she was a "different color."  Which technically, I suppose she is now.  I'm sure if you could bottle that color it'd be something like "Nice 'n Easy - Mountain Mud" or perhaps "Garnier Nutrisse - Nasty Ass Mare."

Then I went to wrap the mare's delicate little leg bones and realized that perhaps all of this time out in the herd, without a thought to "turnout boots" has left miss P a bit.... well, feral.

Feral Mare eats her hay straight out of a Bobcat...
This suspicion was confirmed when it proceeded to take me twenty five minutes to get four decent looking standing wraps attached to the beast's legs.  I damn near killed her.  Thankfully The Boy was madly re-rolling my wraps about as fast as P was tangling them up (though I nearly killed him when after finally getting the last hind leg wrapped... I discovered that he had rolled up my bandage the wrong way leaving me with no velcro to fasten my handiwork.  (daaaaaaammmmmit).  But we got over it, and eventually Pia was left to stomp around like a cat in snow hissing at her wraps.

Assuming that my good, sweet, Prairie would sooth my frustrations I pulled her out, brushed her up quickly and started to wrap.  However, in the absence of cross ties - apparently P2 also goes a bit feral and it took another 20 minutes before her big black legs were adequately protected for the trip.  (mares. humph)

(it should be noted that approximately 40 minutes into this silly exercise I nearly abandoned all Pony Club training and considered letting the beasts ride naked in the trailer..but- my guilt persuaded me to persevere with the Sisyphean task of wrapping...)

Once we actually got on the road. It was smooth sailing.  The mares were munching their hay at exactly the right rate to keep them occupied.  We fortified ourselves with Milk Duds, Pringles, Pretzel Thins (delicious), apple juice and cherry coke zero (personal fav).  Moments like this poke a few holes in my "Equestrians are Athletes" soapbox, but I'm ok with that.

We soldiered on through a nasty rain storm which found us just as we hit Portland traffic, but everything dried out as we continued south and by the time we pulled into the Oregon Horse Center, there was (dare I say it) some sunshine.

Mares both came off the trailer cool and quiet and utterly in love with each other.  Separation of more than 10 ft prompted panicked whinnies and stamping, which was less than charming while we were trying to locate our stalls.

Prairie's ears indicate that I have led Pia the maximum 10 ft from her in order to take this photo..
Everyone enjoyed some hay and water (I love that they both drink funny water without batting an eye) while we organized all of our accessories, then we decided that before we fed ourselves dinner, we should at least walk everyone around the obstacles a bit.

The Boy took Pia (he kept calling her his "date") and I attempted to wrangle the Big Black Mare who's lack of ground manners was also less than charming as we bowled through narrow aisles and past braying donkeys/barking dogs/screaming children.

P2's behavior warranted a quick lesson in "keeping slack in the lead" which I'm happy to say only took a few minutes.  As for the actual obstacles, she was significantly less freaked out than I thought she'd be.  Alert? sure.  crazed? definitely not.  obsessed with Pia? certainly.

P2 basically had her nose attached to Pia's butt and followed her everywhere.  I decided this was ok, because Pia was climbing over/under/through every obstacle like no big deal, which Prairie naturally assumed was the party line.

I have no pictures of this little schooling session as The Boy cannot function as both Pia's date and official documentarian.  I failed to really consider the math on how many hands we have between us, and how many horses we opted to bring.
(an important consideration for future planning with regard to more horses, dogs, or god forbid children).

Since everyone seemed to be playing nicely and refraining from any unacceptable tantrums, we called it a night and tucked the mares in with equal amounts of hay and shavings.  Prairie immediately laid down and started snacking on her hay from the ground.  I figure this is probably like me consuming a good portion of my daily caloric intake while reclining on the couch.  nice work mare....I tip my hat to you.

So, in summary.  both mares were terrors with wraps, but loaded politely.  Hauled great, drank lots of water, seem to get along and were champs during our first pass at the obstacles.  So far, so good...

As for us, we headed back to our Holiday Inn (upgrade!) and opted to eat dinner in their "Italian" restaurant.  Not sure what made me think that a restaurant in a Holiday Inn would be remotely delicious (it wasn't), but I suppose technically it was food and after our road-trip-snacking, it was probably significantly better for us than anything we had eaten up to that point - which has to count for something.

Just not a lot.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hacking Day

I'm a moderately terrible person.  Partially because I'm doing a crappy job of uploading my pictures and videos from the Mountain Trail weekend, but more so because I blew off my favorite charitable organization in the name of riding my horse.

Usually I take my commitments seriously.  And I adore the women's shelter that I work with.  BUT I just couldn't bear the the thought of a board meeting while 70 degree sunshine and an empty barn called my name.  Judge me as you will, but I don't regret it for a second.

Prairie was a great mare.  I have my working theory that she's more scatter brained/loopier when I work her in the evenings around dinner time.  That seems to be when she sees monsters in the woods and scampers around and makes a ruckus.  But last night, she did none of those things.

Maybe it was the fact that when I got to the barn she was dozing in her stall, or maybe it was the warmth of the day or maybe it was the confidence she got from her big adventure (or maybe she's just exhausted?) but she was a very, very good girl even for a 5:30 ride.
(total amateur-non-supermom photo)
I didn't want to work hard.  Mostly my goal was just to see how she was feeling after a weekend couped up in a stall and tackling scary obstacles. 

Before I got on I walked her around the ring working on our groundwork from Mountain Trail and even asking her to climb over a few baby jumps and scary things in the corner.  She was braver than she has been which I took for a good sign forgoing a lunge to just hop right on.

She was a bit stiff, but soft and willing.  Stiffer to the right than left (weird?) but stayed light in my hands and light off my leg.  We trotted around in big loopy things for about 20 minutes played with some canter departs, then during a walk break I started playing with some lateral work trying to ask for leg yields and such without any contact on the reins.

Mare gets bonus points for mostly figuring it out and moving over easily.  Then I picked her back up, did a few shoulder-in's and leg yields at the trot and called it a day.

I even busted out the old video camera to set it up.  I need to work on my camera angle, but here's a short clip of us trotting.  You can see we're on the forehand but all in all, that's a relaxed mare! (yay!).

You can see me play with stretching her a bit, but mostly we're just looping around... I get mesmerized watching her move.  (me? less so... why can't I sit up!?)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mountain Trail Day 1: The P's Meet

Like last time I think I'll try to break down our big Road Trip by day so that I can capture all of the mare filled magic appropriately..

Wednesday I packed up myself, the mare and The Boy and we headed West for P1's summer camp.  P2 loaded like a gem, hauled like a gem and unloaded... like a gem.

She did look a bit out of place with her glossy summer coat and giant padded halter, but so did P1 way back when she stepped of the trailer there too..

The herd was grazing quietly and seemed not that impressed by a new mare snorting around the property.  After pulling her wraps I decided to put Prairie in the stallion pen which would give her a shared fence line with the herd, but an extra-high shared fence line just in case anyone thought trying to jump it would be clever...

I know I've mentioned it before, but watching "the herd" interact is so different than watching stalled horses or even turnout buddies interact.  It's amazing how complex, effective and interesting 'the herd' is when you sit down and watch.  At first my plan was to throw Prairie out into the stallion pen, then quickly clean out my trailer and pack up Pia's goodies before Cowboy Man showed back up from his afternoon trail ride.  My plan of efficiency was thwarted when I realized that even through Prairie was separated from the herd, she was still within smelling distance and that meant there were lots of "greetings" and other interesting things to watch.
"why are they so dirty?"
It was fascinating to watch what order the horses approached Prairie in.  It was all the "top third" of the pecking order, but not the leaders.  a few mares, a few geldings.  The bottom of the herd (P included) stayed away, as did the lead mares, who apparently couldn't be bothered.

That is, until a big group of their horses decided that something really interesting was going on and the fence line suddenly got rather crowded.  Only then did the lead mare and her adult daughter bother going over to investigate.  They chased off the rest of the herd, sniffed Prairie, then went back to grazing.  While they themselves weren't too impressed with the mare, they didn't really want her socializing with the group until she had been scoped out.

Meeting Aspen - a middle of the pack, fancy KWPN before Rose chased the group away. 

wondering where her new friends went ...
Pia lurking from a safe distance.  (she wasn't impressed)
After I watched Prairie meet and greet the group, I pulled her out, threw her in the arena and let Cowboy Man play with her a bit.  Prairie's groundwork is not exactly her strong suit... She isn't a bully, or dangerous, but she's not exactly tuned in when you're walking her places.  I definitely don't have control of her shoulder and that was one of the big reasons I wanted to spend the weekend at Mountain Trail Funland - To solidify and dial in our skills in that area.

So we started with the basics. Letting P2 run amok, but controlling her treat bucket and ultimately, controlling the "space" at one end of the arena.  Cowboy Man was impressed with how quickly she figured out the game and was also impressed that she seemed to have very good social skills.  That is to say that she wants to be a horse and meet other horses, not stand sullenly with no interest in a herd.  Sometimes this is something we scold our horses for, but their desire to connect and socialize is ultimately what makes them dynamic partners who trust us and work with us rather than just submitting to us.

(it's why P had to learn how to be in the herd before she could learn how to be in relation with a human again..)

I totally failed to get any pictures or video of this.  I guess I was busy listening? rare for me...

After playing in the ring, we got to play with Obama the Llama (who went unnoticed until it (I say it because it is the CREEPIEST llama ever, gender is definitely neutral) staggered to its feet sending P2 into outer space).

I was shocked that when I asked Prairie to approach the llama the issue wasn't getting her close, it was preventing her from running right up to it.   Her instinct to "go forward" to scary things is also good.  It gives us something to shape and work with right away.  It also suggests that ultimately she's a pretty confident horse.  Poor llama had to be patient with our "training opportunity"  I grabbed a quick clip.  P2 wanted to take him home with her.  I told her no.  He smells bad.

Then I got the big mare all settled into a stall and run where she got to meet Pia for the first time.  Pia looks awesome.  She's starting to muscle up again, she's quiet and calm (although still mischievous) and loves, loves, LOVES her boyfriend.  She did break away for a moment to sniff Prairie and make friends.  Little did either of them know - the next day they would become BFF's forever.


Pia was not initially impressed with the larger, goofier mare.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Two P's in a Pod!

Quick update. The mares have officially met, nosed, and fallen in love with each other. Their adoration was solidified on the trailer ride down. So far so good. P1 is rocking everything an P2 is calm and happy but totally not sure what the heck she's supposed to do....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Glamour Shots (!!!), cross tie snapping and other fun things

Yup.  Mare is Boss.  Me? we can discuss it later..
 Where to begin, where to begin.  It's amazing how if I miss a few blogging days my little gerbil brain is entirely incapable of remembering much of anything that happened before breakfast...

I know I've seen the mare every day... and I'm pretty sure she was a good girl for most of it.  I'm also pretty sure she was a twit for some of it.. but the details are escaping me.

Aside from a few standout events.

1) P2 learned how to sit down in the crossties.  It took lots and lots of training, but I finally got her to "sit" on command.  Assuming the "command" is clippers on her bridle path.  (dammit).  Never fear.  Due to sturdy German engineering, the pretty new halter survived.  The cheap crossties... not so much.

2) SUPERMOM!!!!!  Supermom came to visit.  You might remember from previous visits that along with consuming wine/champagne/snacks, when Supermom comes someone usually gets their ass kicked.  (the someone is usually P1..) But this time she came armed with her camera and we had a total Glamour Shot session with P2.

3) we rode... several times? This is where my memory fails me.  I know that we had one great ride, one annoying ride, and one ass kicking ride that resulted in P2 remembering how to sit down on her butt (not like in the crossties, but in the good sit-down-lift-dressagey way).  So, for lack of interesting details we will just go back to item numero dos.

2) (again).  So, after a round (or two) of mimosas Supermom and I headed out to the barn to play with P2 and see how much of a supermodel she can be (assuming the correct angles on her ears).

We had a blast.  Thanks to some good coaching/suggestions, Supermom captured some absolutely AWESOME shots of me and the mare.  She's got some serious talent.  If anyone in the Puget Sound region needs portraits of their beast, I highly recommenced you check out her site Impact Decynes & Photography.

The mare and I had fun.  Prairie got her face stuffed with treats as a reward for snuggling with me and putting her ears forward, so I'm pretty sure she thinks this is the best workout ever.   So without further ado, here are a few teasers.  Expect to see nothing but these photos on the blog for... a while :)

She looks all sweet, but she's hunting for cookies..

love this one.  her head looks dainty!

Ears forward courtesy of Dad and a giant bag of cookies

Mare was not excited about bareback...

not sure what the heck her human is doing...

If we were jumping this is the perfect "what's my course" shot...

she fancy

seeing all her toes off the ground like this makes me feel better about struggling with a sitting trot...

playing with lengthenings

Yup.  She's a supermodel.  I can't stop flipping through all the pics and I really can't pick a favorite... which means that The Boy is slowly coming to terms with the fact that our house my just get wallpapered in a ga-zillion giant prints of me and the mare... it could be worse right?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

In Remembrance

The horse-world here in Washington is reeling from the shock of losing one of our hometown greats.  Amy Tryon was a complete and total inspiration of how to do things right in this world.  Respected by eventers and non-eventers alike, Amy was proof positive of where dedication, love, passion and a ton of guts can get you.

I only had the opportunity to ride with her once and it was years ago - but her quiet reserve came through in the carefully thought out coaching.  No barking, no yelling, no yammering endlessly.  Just quiet observations and wise suggestions as you passed by.

I have a lot of personal respect for how Amy built her program, her horses and herself.  There are not a lot of people out there capable of taking the path she chose.

So, in this spring sunshine, I remember her, tip my hat and hug my horse - grateful for every day we are allowed with those we love (both horse and human).

Amy and Poggio at Rolex '05
(Aside from being a rare Olympian from this neck of the woods, I always loved following Amy and especially Poggio, the OTTB she bought from one of our employees after his "bad feet" kept him from being a successful mountain trail horse... what a gem.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Frenchie Pin Cushion

I think I mentioned a while back that the Frenchie is having issues with her little hind legs.  She is DEFINITELY more neuralgic than P ever was, but still, we're trying to manage it as best we can.

The real devastation is that most of the damage seems to have occurred when she went under anesthesia for the MRI to find out what was wrong... she woke up 10x worse than she had been and we've been scrapping and yelling to get her back to at least where she was. 

(Note to self, anesthesia has not helped ONE of your animals. Ever.  Not once.)

Anyway, Maisy-dog comes with me every time I go see P and she gets to play around the farm and get some Class IV laser and usually some acupuncture thrown in for good measure.  I had to snap a few shots on Tuesday when I was there.  The puppy was too cute.  She was obsessed with the daffodils and kept sticking her nose on their vase.  No idea what that was about but she's adorable.
flower, flower, flower, flower...
Also, this was the first time we did electric stim with the needles.  I know I love it when I get stim, but Maisy was confused as to why the needles were buzzing. 
still seems normal...
(confused/concerned  ears)
Good little dog.  And she always moves so much better after a treatment... P's spa really does work wonders...

Happy Friday!
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