Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sheriff's Posse Training

I posted the other day about my pre-posse worries and it dawned on me later that night, just as I was falling asleep, that I had never mentioned a posse other than the HellHat Posse and maybe know one knew what the hell I was talking about.

Back in Feb/March, I put in an application to join our local Sheriff's department's Mounted Posse. I had just about given up on my application, when I received an email that I'd been accidentally accepted, but my acceptance was a mistake because I had failed to disclose an arrest in my application. (Seriously, take time to go read why I was arrested. I'll wait.)

In my defense, I was told that once I completed my probation that the arrest would be off of my record. Well, I had the easiest probation on the planet - don't let Gizmo beat up any other dogs in that particular town for one year - since Jay and I had since moved to a different town, that was something I could easily do. Since I'd been told that my arrest wouldn't show up on my record, I didn't disclose it on my application.

Turns out, law enforcement can *always* see arrests, even those that have supposedly been removed. Who knew?

Anyway, I was pretty disappointed and apologized to the Under sheriff for leaving it off, explained what the arrest was for, and asked if I could re-apply at a later date. I got an email back the next day telling me that after looking into my criminal history (just typing that cracks me up), the Sheriff decided I could join the Posse. Turns out I'm not a hardened criminal. Whew.

Stepping out of my comfort zone is very difficult for me, but I put on my big girl panties and attended my first meeting last week, and planned to attend my first training. In my earlier post, I think I mentioned that my concern was more about trailering Skeeter to the arena, not any of the riding.

Saturday morning was beautiful and I bounded out of bed determined to conquer the day. I made lunch, loaded the truck with everything I needed, and then got Skeeter. Jay helped me load her and it took maybe ten minutes. I had allotted way more time than ten minutes to get her loaded, but I wasn't going to complain one bit.

I'm in. Can I come out now?

Me. Trailering my own horse. I'm like a real cowgirl or something.

Jay and Skeets went on a short walkabout.

A round pen! We don't have one of those at home.

All dressed and ready for warm-up.
Jay didn't have to be at work until 12:30, so he followed us over and hung out for a while. He has not turned in his Posse application yet, but plans to do so.

I had accomplished by biggest goals before we even started warming up. My first goal was to get Skeeter loaded. Check. The second was to safely trailer her to the practice arena. Check.  Everything else we accomplished was going to be icing on the cake.

After having my tack checked, I went to mount up, but couldn't find a mounting block. Uh-oh. I haven't mounted Skeeter from the ground in ever. The ground helper told me to give it a try before I went looking for something to climb up on. So I did. And I managed to do it. I haven't been mounting from the ground because A) I'm very short and those stirrups are way up there and B) as much as I weighed, I didn't want to torque her back. However, I've lost just over 20#, and found it was much easier than I anticipated it would be. Skeeter stood like a champ while I climbed up.

We then rode a couple of laps around the arena, which I desperately needed, because everywhere I looked I saw potential spook hazards. The arena is right next to a road where cars, bikes, trucks (big 'uns), ambulances, etc. go whizzing by. There are bleachers for people to sit on. There are empty horse pens on one side. I mean, the place is surrounded by things that could set a horse off.

Did Skeeter care?

Not one bit. In fact, she marched right on by the big plastic wrapper that comes around a case of water bottles without batting an eye. A couple of the other Posse horses had to stop and snort at it. Skeets being rock solid in the arena helped my confidence level immensely. By the time we were done with our "freestyle warm up" and ready to get into our guided warm up, I was feeling much less anxious.

I told our team leader that I wasn't comfortable trotting her yet, so we planned on me just pulling into the center of the arena during the trot periods.

I wasn't sure how Skeets was going to do with so many strange horses, but she did great. The other riders kept their distance until we were both more comfortable. After guided warmup, we started into drills. I was given a copy of most of the drills we do, so I have a vague idea of what was expected of us. We hung to the outside or back for the most part, and completed most of the drills. Again, when the drill called for trotting, I just peeled off to the middle and picked back up at the walk.

That's Skeets on the right, keeping her distance in formation.

She was much more comfortable once we moved up two paces.

You can barely see us, we're so far in the back.
The riding portion was pretty difficult for me mentally. I felt like I was holding everyone up and I wouldn't do the trot portions and Skeeter started acting up. I definitely began feeling like we were in over our heads, especially the more times I had to peel out of formation to move her feet. She was shaking her head, stomping her feet, and swatting with her tail. I thought maybe a deer fly was bothering her or something. If I kept her moving, she would calm down a little bit, but if we stopped, she'd get all worked up again.

My stress level was rising, because I felt an imminent blow-up and I felt like we were being a huge distraction. One of the Posse members looked at me and said, "it's okay if you want to get down and take a break." Those words were music to my ears. We peeled out of formation - again - and went to the rail where Jay was. I had him hold her while I dismounted, because I didn't want her blowing up in the middle of me getting off.

As soon as I was off, she calmed right down. Wasn't a fly, after all. Princess Skeeter was sweating like a whore in church and was done with riding, thankyouverymuch. While she's been getting ridden, it's fairly inconsistently, and never for more than an hour at a time. By the time I dismounted, she'd been getting ridden going on two hours (on top of being round penned) and fat girl don't like to sweat. I can't blame her, because this fat girl don't like to sweat either.

Drill practice only ran for a few more minutes, so we didn't miss out on a lot.

After a short break, we moved on to desensitizing. I felt like such a failure in the riding portion, but once we got to desensitizing, I felt much better. That is something we've worked on and it showed. I think the trainers expected her to be more reactive than she was, but she was an absolute rock star.

She had one little flinch when the umbrella flapped and she wasn't expecting it, but it was truly just a flinch. After she realized what it was, she tried to eat it. I finally felt like I'd done something right in her training. When we broke for lunch, I was feeling pretty good.

I sat with the Posse members for a little bit, until Skeeter started hollering from the trailer where she was tied. I was going to let her "cry it out", but then decided to just go sit with her. If I was feeling insecure and out of place, not knowing what was going on, she had to be too. (Yes, I'm anthropomorphizing.) As soon as I sat down on the tongue of the trailer she quit her hollering and settled down enough to eat.

After lunch, we had trailer training on the schedule. I was super excited, because I know that's her biggest weakness. Actually, that's incorrect. Loading into our trailer is her biggest weakness - she loads like she's been doing it her whole live in other trailers. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the trailer we used for training was a beautiful 3 horse-slant with all of the dividers folded back and one large gate that swung open, so it looked like a stock trailer.

When it was our turn, Skeeter self-loaded her front half, but then thought she was done. I backed her out and lead her in. She stepped up so nicely and quietly backed out when I asked her to. She made me look good. I should have worked with her more on driving her into the trailer, because that's how she *has* to load in our trailer; there just isn't enough room to lead her in and safely get out now that I've removed the center divider. But, I was feeling confident and didn't take the time to drive her completely in - a decision that bit me in the ass a short time later.

After trailer training, the horses got to stand tied at the rail while the trainers came around and checked our knots to make sure they were quick-release. I've used a "Bank Robber's Knot" forever, because the horse can't get loose if they pull back, yet one quick tug by a human will release the knot. It's a knot that is different from the quick-release knots that the others use but the trainers gave me the thumbs up on using it. Thank goodness, because I'm all thumbs at learning knots.

They decided to call it a day after tie training because about half of the members had to go get ready to work the Cattle Baron's Ball.

I was soooo proud of Skeeter. She did an amazing job and held it together even when she was feeling stressed. I couldn't wait to take her home.

Unfortunately, she had other plans. You see, asking her to load into our trailer was One Thing Too Many. My girl was fried. She was tired and had done everything I asked. She surpassed my expectations, but she was D-O-N-E.

After an hour of trying to get her into the trailer using every trick we collectively knew (making the trailer a nice place to rest, bribes, leading her in, driving her in, and even picking up her feet and placing them in the trailer), I decided to take a break and call in reinforcements. It's not that she's afraid of the trailer - that we can work through - it's that she was just over everything. You could see her mule ears grow by the minute. That girl had her stubborn pants firmly in place. The harder we tried to get her in the trailer, the more stubborn she got.

I sent the others off to get ready for the Ball and I called L.E. I assured the others that we'd be okay, that we just needed a break, and that I thought Skeeter would do better with people she was familiar with.

I turned her loose in the round pen and sat to collect myself while waiting on L.E.

The break was exactly what we needed. Well, a break and the magic granola bar L.E. showed up with. I have never been so relieved to see someone in my whole life. I needed some of her special Zen.

She walked over to the round pen with me and you could see Skeeter say, "Thank God it's someone I know!". I put her lead line on, walked her to the trailer, L.E. positioned herself with the magic granola bar in the escape door and that stubborn mare self-loaded like it was her idea. It took less than ten seconds to load Skeeter.

In half an hour we were home and she was back in the pen with the others.

We were both absolutely exhausted. It was a long day full of learning for both of us, and despite her mulishness about getting in the trailer to come home, the day was a great success. I can't wait to do it again next month!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Pre-Posse Worries

Lizzy might not be the purdiest truck, but she'll get the job done.
Skeeter and I start Posse training tomorrow morning. I'm not at all stressed out by riding her in the arena with other horses, but I have been worried about the whole trailering thing. I've pulled a trailer with a horse in it exactly *two* times in my life. Once was with this truck/trailer to take Estes to the Lodge, and the other time was with my friends' big truck/trailer to take Skeeter to Jessica's for training.

There are two parts to my stress about trailering tomorrow:
#1, will Skeeter get in the effing trailer? Remember when we went to Colorado Mustang Days, we had to call in reinforcements to get her and Copper to Denver.
#2, can I get us there safely? Hwy 85 is one pot-holed mess and I am not 100% comfortable driving Jay's truck.

Because I'm a bit stressed, we had a game plan. Jay went with me while I towed the empty trailer to the gas station and got gas. This required me to drive on parts of the same road I'll be driving in the morning. We also had to go to a second gas station to get to an air pump (which didn't work, btw). I got a feel for how the trailer tracks on a dirt road and on pavement. I was feeling pretty good by the time we got home. Since the air pump that we paid for didn't actually put air in the tire we needed, we borrowed L.E.'s air compressor. When I asked to borrow it, she said, "Sure, just back the trailer in here.". I laughed, but attempted it. Luckily, I managed to NOT hit either of the 500 gallon propane tanks in my eighty thousand attempts. Eventually, Jay just took over, backed the trailer in on one try, and we filled our low tire.

I guess that means I'll be practicing trailer backing in the near future (but not today).

The next hurdle we had to get over was putting Skeeter in the trailer. She's been in it before, back when it lived in the pen with them. Heck, she's self-loaded lots and lots of time, but that was on her terms. Jay was willing to help me work with her on loading before he had to leave for work, but then looked in the trailer. Stupid wasps had started building nests in the trailer, which derailed our plan for a bit. I sprayed the nests, then Jay knocked them down for me to stomp the ever-loving-shit out of. I stomped those nests - and the dying wasps within - to dust, then stomped them some more.

I'm lucky that Jay looked up in the trailer, because if I'd tried to load Skeeter and she'd gotten stung, there's no way I'd ever get her back in our trailer again. 

I knew that there was no way Skeeter would load while the trailer stank of wasp spray, so we decided we'd just get up really early tomorrow to work on getting her loaded. Jay went off to work and I went back to stalking watching the EMM in Fort Worth (I love FB live right now).

It's so nice out and I really didn't want to fight with Skeeter in the morning, so I thought I'd give the trailer loading a go. She was doing so very well with her front feet, but wouldn't load her back. I was kind of cussing and thinking the EMM horses get to cheat on their trailer loading, because they get to load into a stock trailer, not a two-horse straight load like we've got.

That grumbling got my little brain a thinkin' and I realized I too could have a stock-type trailer if I just took out the middle divider. I tied Skeets to the outside of the trailer, and started removing the pins holding the divider in. There were a couple that I needed some leverage to get out, so L.E. was kind enough to help me lift the divider enough to take the pressure off the pins. We got the divider out and now the trailer looks HUGE inside.

We fiddled around some more. I introduced Skeeter to the trailer again with both back doors open, because I know it looked different with the divider out and I didn't want her to freak out. She climbed partway in and then backed out. Good enough for me, so I closed one door and tried driving her in while L.E. bribed her from the front with her very favoritest treat on the planet.

Boy, I wish I'd had my camera for that. Skeets would walk her front legs in and then go up on tippy-toes with her back legs to try to reach the granola bars. After we figured out that she was smarter than we are, we changed the doors. I closed the one I was trying to drive her in, and opened the other one. L.E. went to the other window at the front of the trailer and in went Skeeter to get her reward. She stood quietly in the trailer for a minute or two before calmly backing herself out.
I don't think loading her tomorrow is going to be any trouble at all and my stress level has plummeted. As long as I don't have to back the trailer into any tight spaces (or back the trailer at all), and as long as she goes in as calmly as she did today, we're set for tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Joining the HellHat Posse, Part II

Jay decided he needed a HellHat as well, so when we weren't riding on Saturday, we spent the day shopping for a hat suitable for him to make one. We hit a Western store and Jay found, in his words, a "fabulous" hat that made us both smile.

Oh boy, did we both love this hat, but decided it was just a little too big.

We wandered around the store looking for a more appropriate hat, and I wandered off to the ladies' section to find a second hat, so I could make my "winter" HellHat. Instead, I found THE BEST BOOTS EVER! I instantly fell in love with them and fawned over them, before heaving a big sigh and putting them back. Even on sale, they were too spendy for me. However, my hubby loves me and bought 'em for me.

Seriously. Best boots ever.
While I scored at the store, Jay did not. We had more running around to do, and horses to ride, but afterward, we ran to the County Fair to see if they had any hats that would work. It took us no time at all to find just the right hat for Jay's HellHat.

It obviously provides shade, as you can't see his face at all.
His hat was much more tightly woven than our costume hats, so he had to make relief cuts for it to fit.
I remembered, after making mine, that a lot of people use electrical tape because it conforms better.
My contribution to Jay's HellHat was figuring out how to lengthen the hat band.
His completed HellHat.
I love that he's joined the HellHat Posse with me. He was good about wearing a helmet, but the HellHats are so much more fun and less stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Joining the HellHat Posse, Part 1

When I got Skeeter, I made the decision to wear a helmet every time I ride. There's really no excuse not to, except that helmets and Western riders are kind of like oil and water. However, I'm getting older and the thought of a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) sound like no fun at all. After Asset's fall from Ranger a few years ago, I've been very pro-kids wearing helmets, but it took me getting a green horse to jump on the helmet bandwagon.

My friend Tracey from Mustang Diaries introduced me to "Karen's HellHat Posse" on FB. I'd never seen such cool helmets ... er ... hats. From the HellHat Posse FB page:
My husband Mark Plumlee made me my first HellHat after I fractured my skull, just 5 weeks before the CMSA World competition in October 2013. He made my first HellHat that November 2013. In 2014 I won my first World Championship as a Senior Lady 2 wearing my HellHats! It truly gave me the confidence to get back in the saddle. As a spectator once told me, "You know what that hat tells me? It tells me that "somebody Loves You" and "That's one Hell of a Hat!".
From the time I first laid eyes on a picture of one, I knew I had to make my own so one day last week Asset and I assembled the materials and made our own HellHats.

Helmets and costume cowboy hats from Hobby Lobby for $9.99

Asset's embellishments.

The brown ribbon's job is to cover the duck tape we'll use to attach the hat to the helmet.

Step one: cut the crown off the hat. Then you must wear the crown.

Attach hat to helmet securely.

Duck tape doesn't stretch and conform well, so there was some tucking and folding involved.

Asset sewing her charm locket onto her bow. Inside is a note that says, "I am a cowgirl".

Checking the layout.

The bow needed just a touch more hot glue to keep it from flopping.
Asset and Nebalee whipped hers together in no time. By the time I was done cutting up a pair of Bill's old jeans, Asset's HellHat was nearly complete.

Guns and Angel wings (my nod to Daryl Dixon) - what else does a GunDiva need on her HellHat?

Autobot was kind enough to help me with the duck tape step.

Checking the layout before I committed to sewing on the guns charm.

Nebalee and Autobot were the glue gun experts

Mine isn't fancy, but it's pretty much me!
We're both thrilled with how they turned out!

Monday, August 8, 2016

8-6-16: A Monumental Day (Lots of pictures)

Last week, Jay and I went on a guided trail ride up in Estes as a "confidence building" ride. Jay hadn't been on a horse since Pearl bucked him off in May. It was his idea to go ride a dead-broke horse, and it was an excellent idea. The horse he was assigned was perfect for him - easy-going, calm, and willing. My assigned horse, on the other hand, was head-strong and bitchy. She had a bad habit of cocking an ear back at Jay's horse, then spinning 1/4 turn to challenge his horse. What I learned from my confidence-building ride is that my Skeeter has never behaved that way and is much easier to ride than that mare was.

For a while now, we've been saying, "we have to get up and ride". The stars aligned on Saturday and the three of us (Jay, L.E., and I) were all in the same place at the same time, and our neighbor's arena was open.

With the trail ride under our belts, and some solid rides on all the horses by Annie, we were ready! Off we went to the neighbor's arena.

It was truly a monumental day - I know how hard it was for me to climb up on Skeeter after being bucked off of Pearl, and I have years of riding under my belt. Watching Jay make two big achievements in one moment seriously choked me up.

Achievement #1: first time on Copper since riding in Jessica's round pen in February/March. No support person on the ground, no trainer talking him through, and in a much larger space than the round pen.

Achievement #2: first time up since getting bucked off. For an experienced horse person, stepping back into the saddle the first time is hard - for a green rider, it's a make-it-or-break-it moment.

L.E. rode Pearl beautifully (I took pictures, but they were all back-lit and didn't turn out) - she can really make Pearl glide. All that classical riding training from her past is very apparent. While the two of them were prancing around the arena looking all fancy, Jay and I were happy to work at a walk. Jay's goal had been to just get up and sit on Copper, but took it a bit further and rode him for fifteen minutes or so. Skeeter and I worked on walking over things; walking into a "box" and turning around in the confines of said box; backing through and over things; figure-eights around jump standards; just "stuff" to keep us both interested.

It was amazing to get to ride with my hubby and L.E. and I look forward to doing more of it. In fact, I'm so thrilled with how Pearl is going with L.E., that I think she's ready for Autobot to ride. Pearl's not quite "kid" ready, but I think Autobot can handle her in the arena.

Proud Mommy moment - Skeeter stood where I parked her.

Jay and Copper getting ready

Skeeter offering her emotional support to Jay. (Or she might have been sleeping.)

Checking out Copper's reaction to Jay's saddle

This, right here, is everything. First time up on Copper since March.

Seriously, such an important step for both of them.

And off they go!

Look! My hubby is riding *his* horse!

Copper took such good care of Jay.

Just because I think she's pretty.

We had to re-create this picture because I missed the first, but it's still heartfelt
The three of us in the same place, at the same time, on the 3 Mustangeers :)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Birthday Ride

Today's birthday ride was nothing like I've had in the past. Usually, I head up to the Lodge and go out for an afternoon with Mom or Bill. Since my birthday is in the middle of the season, I don't get to ride with both of them for my birthday - just one or the other.

My birthday ride after I put Estes down was a nice enough ride on Washoe and I'm glad I was pushed into it, even if I wasn't sure I was ready to be back up on a horse. My heart was still broken, but it was a good ride and reminded me why I loved being out on the trails.

Last year, I didn't do a birthday ride at all. Skeeter wasn't nearly ready for the trails (still isn't, but maybe next year), but we did go down to Julie Goodnight's for Horse Master, so that kind of took the place of a birthday ride.

I haven't been back up on a horse since Pearl bucked me off in May and I knew I just had to do it. What I hadn't realized was how much my confidence had been shaken by that incident. Skeeter would have been perfectly fine today if I'd just tacked her up and climbed aboard. I, however, would not have been. We spent probably 45 minutes on ground work before I even considered climbing up. My goal was to get up and sit. If I got any "riding" in, that would have been a bonus.

Annie has been riding Skeeter and Copper (and will start with Pearl) twice a week, so I knew Skeets would be fine. I just had to get myself up there. And I managed to. There were some stops and starts, but I did finally swing my leg over. I had pounded some PVC pipes into the ground in a square around the mounting block so I had physical things to maneuver around and "targets" to look at while riding. If I have something to look at, then I spend less time looking down at Skeeter.

Monday, July 11, 2016


We knew getting into this three-horse thing, we wouldn't have time to work all of them on a regular schedule, so we've been looking for someone to help us put wet saddle blankets on them. They are all three green-broke and Pearl has the most riding under her belt, but we have been struggling getting enough hours on them to help them progress.

I'd approached our neighbor, who owns a riding school, about finding a rider back in March (before we even had Pearl) and she put me in touch with someone she knew. The person she put me in touch with is an excellent rider, but doesn't do much western riding and was uncomfortable taking on a discipline outside of her own. I was disappointed, but completely understood.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a text from my neighbor telling me she thought she had someone else who was interested in working the horses. I was really excited until I read that the rider she wanted to send me was 15. I was pretty conflicted about how a 15 year old girl would handle three green-broke horses and struggled with replying for a few hours.

On my way home from work, I got a call from the rider, Annie. It took about 3 seconds to calm my fears about having a "youngster" ride for us. As my neighbor said, she's 15 going on 35. She's been riding her whole life and is currently re-training an OTTB. I invited her and her mom out to meet the horses to see if it was going to be a match.

She worked with confidence and quickly identified areas in which Skeeter and Copper needed work. She rode each of them and was able to respond to both of their very different personalities.

Skeeter was a bit mare-ish, but what do you expect?

Cops was worried, but that's his default with new things.

The day Annie came out, Skeeter developed some random soft tissue swelling in her right hind, but I had her ride anyway. I did cancel the next Skeeter ride, just in case she had an abscess brewing. Turns out it was just random soft tissue stuff (she probably did it while Pearl was chasing her all over Estes' pen) that went away in a couple of days.

Annie came back out and took Copper for a ride at the neighbor's arena and it turned into a great lesson day for him. A storm came rolling in, so Copper got to stand in the barn while it stormed. When he got a little too antsy, he went into a stall. He does not like small horses, so the stall was perfect - his next-stall-neighbor was a pony mare with a baby. Belle's not as small as a mini, and neither is her baby, but they are definitely much smaller than Copper's used to.

Finally, the storm passed and Annie was able to take him out to the arena for a ride. I haven't talked to her much to see how the ride went, but she said it was a good one.

She was on vacation last week, but starting tomorrow she'll be riding all three horses twice a week. I think the horses will respond well to a structured riding schedule, which will make it a lot easier for Jay and I to get up on them on our days off.