Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Training Weekend, Part 2 (4/15/18)

When I got back to the training grounds on Sunday, the horses on either side of Skeeter were being pulled from their pens and she was getting anxious. For a horse who normally doesn't give a hoot about other horses, she was pretty certain she was going to die if she was left while her neighbors went away. But that's okay, because I "rescued" her and she was more than happy to go to the trailer and get tacked up.

There was a lot on the schedule, and I had a brief thought of riding, but dismissed it. We started the weekend on the ground and the training was just going to get more intense, so I decided to stay on the ground. Skeeter got lots of practice standing tied in different locations, which was so good for her. She stands tied now like an old broke horse. Well, most of the time.

Part of the desensitizing planned for Sunday was 'exotic animals', which maybe weren't so exotic, but more 'what they'll see while patrolling the fair grounds'. The night before, Skeeter had already met the mini horse who freaked her the eff out. Skeets jumped like a spider had touched her when she saw the mini the first time. It blew her ever-loving mind (which I found hilarious).

I helped set up the pens in the arena for the animals and got to handle an alpaca for the first time. I guess I expected that they'd have hooves like horses, but their feet are the things nightmares are made of. Holy crap, they could disembowel a person if they wanted to.

Those are big ole nope toes for me.  *from Google images
Luckily, the alpacas weren't set on disemboweling me or the other posse member trying to move them and they went pretty well. We then moved a goat, sheep, and the mini into the other temporary pen, with enough room for people to ride (or lead) their horses around. Despite sleeping just a few stalls down from the mini, Skeets still had to snort and blow at it, while the mini completely ignored her.

She finally quit snorting and blowing, but was still perplexed.
She was so focused on the mini, that she completely ignored the sheep and goat. They did not exist in her world, so I'm fairly certain there was no desensitizing acquired with the other two animals, though I tried to point them out to her.

Having shared space with alpacas at the lodge last year, she wasn't too terribly interested in them, but politely introduced herself at my request.

After seeing the 'exotics' we headed to the other end of the arena to play with other things: the tarp, raincoats, noise makers, etc. We've done a good job of torturing desensitizing the horses at home, so there wasn't much that was hard for her, until we got to the tambourine. I know it's completely my fault we haven't done much with noise makers, because I don't like noise. If I don't like noise, then why on earth would I buy my horses noisy toys? That was a big old fail on my part. The tambourine was not her favorite thing, so I spent a lot of time shaking it around her head, on each side of her neck, rubbing her body with it, until she stopped moving.

When she could stand still, I tried again, but this time over her head. She did not like that a whole lot, but quickly calmed down and stood in one spot. I figured that was plenty of work and moved on to the smoke bombs and flares.

She did okay with them - hated the smell of each - but the smoke in the air and fizzy sound of the flare didn't seem to bother her. She did move away from the smell every time the breeze (yes, just a gentle breeze, not gale force winds!) shifted, but there was nothing panicky about her moving away - it was just obvious that she'd rather not be breathing that stuff thankyouverymuch.

We have an amazing obstacle course at the training center: teeter-totters, bridges, shower curtains, a tire hill, and a bunch of other cool things to play on. When it was our turn to go over, the trainer who had ponied Skeeter yesterday offered to pony her through the water crossing and I jumped at the chance. I wanted to make Skeets cross it, because it's much deeper than the creek at Mom's place and figured I could drive her through it, but getting ponied was much better.

Day two of being ponied went much smoother

With the successful crossing of the water, I took her back and we went to work on other things. I drove her across the bridges without any problem and started her on the teeter-totter. She's not afraid of it, but is also smart enough to know that all she has to do is step to the side to get off. We have two teeter-totters, so she got to go over them again and again and again until she quit trying to step off, then I turned her around and made her to them from the high side a couple of times.

Besides the water crossing, the obstacle I was most looking forward to was the tarp-covered mattress. I watched horses struggle with it last year, when I was working ground support, and wanted to see how Skeets would do. I wish I'd had a free hand to video it, but she did pretty well. It took a couple of attempts to get her to cross it each direction. When I first asked her to step up on it, she thought it was just a tarp, which is no big deal, but the squishiness of the mattress was a surprise and she wasn't entirely pleased. We crossed it in both directions multiple times until she stepped up without hesitation.

The 'shower curtain' and the other obstacles were simple in comparison. She wasn't thrilled with being driven through the long strips of material she couldn't see  through, but she went anyway. We still had a bit of time in our training rotation, so we practiced dragging a tiger.

Not afraid at all.
 After a quick working lunch, it was back to the arena for gun desensitizing. We have hunters nea.rby, so the sound of rifles and shotguns doesn't bother the horses, but they're not fond of pistols. I've shot into the manure pile on occasion, but the horses have been free to run around their pen, I've never had any of the "confined" in a halter.

Skeets did really well for the most part. There was some jumping initially, but she never tried to bolt or pull away. Eventually, the jumping slowed to flinching. I allowed her to keep moving her feet, but she slowed to a stop on her own. She stood nicely, without even flinching, while the trainers finished up. Well, we thought they'd finished up. They'd gone through 30-40 rounds and most of the horses were doing great. Skeets and I thought they were done, but it turns out they were just reloading for round two.

Round two was just too much for Skeeter. We'd reached a great stopping point, but then the stimulus started up again and that was it. She was d-o-n-e. I made her stay in the arena until round two was done, then we went back to the trailer. It was easy to decide that it was time to go home. I'd asked a ton of her, and she'd done an amazing job, but she was done and we needed to head home.

Knowing she was ready to just shut down, I wasn't sure how well she'd load, so I asked a couple of the trainers to help me load her. She loaded surprisingly well, in under ten minutes, without a fight (but with some granola bars and a final treat of black oil sunflower seeds), and we headed home.

The rest of the posse still had a couple of hours' worth of training, and I felt bad about leaving, but I got over it pretty quickly.

While, we won't be certified to ride this year, I'm unbelievably proud of Skeeter.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Training Weekend, Part 1 (4/14/18)

A few weekends ago, Skeeter and I had Posse training. I've been working many long hours, and haven't had any time to work with her, so Mom and Bill have been helping me out. I had hoped to get her loaded on the trailer on Friday, just as a dry run, but Wyoming moved down here to Colorado and brought its wind. The wind just wouldn't let up, and we decided not to try to load her. The wind had all of the horses riled up and we decided it just wasn't worth the fight.

Unfortunately, the wind didn't let up, so on Saturday morning, I figured I'd try to load her, but didn't have any real hope that she'd get in the trailer. Jay came out and helped - it took about half an hour and half a box of oat 'n honey granola bar bribes, but she got in the trailer without a fight. There was hesitation, and there was a lot of getting halfway in, but we didn't fight or get frustrated with each other. Under normal circumstances, I'd call it a win, but considering the way the wind was blowing, I felt like we won a gold medal.

We pulled into training five minutes before it was to start and were met by one of the trainers, who advised us of a change of plans because of the wind. It wasn't a big change of plans, but I had the option to leave Skeets in the trailer, leave her tied to the trailer, or move her to her pen while we had our meeting at a different location. I opted to leave her in the trailer. I knew she wouldn't like it, but at least she'd be safe. I put her hay net in the trailer with her and went to the meeting.

Leaving her in the trailer was the safest option, but her least favorite. By the time we were done with our meeting, she had worked herself into a tizzy and I decided that between the howling wind and her crankiness, we'd do our training on the ground. We've got time - I'm not planning on this volunteer job being a short-time gig - so I'm not in a rush to get us certified as a team. When we do get certified, I want us to be rock freaking solid.

We joined the rest of the posse in the arena for warm-up and then everyone headed over to a different arena, which has three tall walls (really the stadium seating) to block the wind. One of the trainers offered to pony Skeeter over to the arena, and I jumped at the opportunity. The other arena is maybe a half a mile away from our training arena, and there's a concrete bridge that the horses have to cross. I could have walked her across, but partnering her up with a steady eddy horse just made sense.

Skeets was unimpressed with having to learn to be ponied, but the horse ponying her was even less unimpressed with her antics and just ignored her. Eventually, my black mare got with the program enough to be ponied through drill practice.

I'm so thankful that the trainer offered and was willing to work with Skeeter, who was ... distracted ... by everything going on. If the only training we got in on Saturday was the first two hours, it was so worth it. Luckily, there was still a day and a half of training to go.

At lunch time, I tied her to the trailer with her hay bag and went to the meeting room for our working lunch. Skeets was okay when I left her at the trailer, but apparently a box blew by and she lost her mind. That was pretty much my worst nightmare, but since I was already in the meeting room a quarter mile away, she had to deal with two "strangers" calming her down. She didn't get away from the trailer, thankfully, and did calm down pretty quickly.

After lunch, it was back to the other arena. There was some set-up that needed to be done, so Skeeter got left with a new "uncle" until her pony horse was ready.

This is one tired pony, but we still had hours to go.
Training after lunch got way more intense by adding in toys and a cop car. We've done a LOT of desensitizing with the Mustangeers. A LOT. One of my favorite things is to think of ways to torture the horses, so after a rough morning, Skeeter shone when it was time for the desensitizing portion of training. Umbrellas, tarps, giant soccer ball ... she just looked at all of those and said, "bring it".

But the sirens - those gave her pause. We just don't have many sirens out where we live, so she jumped a bit when they first started, but within minutes was fine. She circled the car both directions, touched it all over (I'm glad I didn't have to wash all of the horse prints off of the car at the end of the day), followed it as it drove around the arena and led it. (Of course, it wasn't just her doing this, it was the entire mounted unit, about 40 horse/rider combinations.)

We'd had a big day by the time we called it quits and I settled Skeeter into her room for the night.

Most of the posse members stayed at the arena in their LQ trailers or travel trailers, but since I don't have either, I went home. After her blow up at lunch, it was hard for me to leave her in a stall with other people to look after her, but I knew she was as tired as I was. Maybe more so.

Throughout the day, the wind never let up.




That much wind is exhausting even when you're not trying to learn new things; the combination of the two wore us plum out, and we still had another day of training to go.

Monday, April 9, 2018

First Ride 2018 (4/8/18)

The Allenspark Cousins are here for a month or so

Mom and Bill have been coming down and working the horses for us. It helps that their horses are here as well and they'd like to get them legged up for the mountain, so it's been a good thing. Work for me is crazy right now, I work 6-7 days per week between my three jobs. It'll slow down in May, but until then, it's multiple twelve-hour days.

Skeeter and I have Posse training next weekend, and I hadn't even climbed up on her this year until yesterday. Mom and Bill have both been up on her, and have been working her through her sticky points (mounting block - she hates it). I didn't feel it was fair to haul her to a weekend-long training without her having any ride time in the last four months, so I'm extremely grateful that Mom and Bill can come down and help.

I had intended to get up on Skeets a couple of weeks ago, but ruptured the fascia in my right calf, so was out on injured reserve, which pushed us back even further. However, yesterday was the day. With Mom and Bill down here, we pulled most of the horses and at least gave them a good grooming, but Skeeter got saddled and I eventually climbed aboard. She had to stand tied nicely to the rail for a bit first - it's good for her to learn patience.

A horse photographer, I'm not.

Copper wasn't really crabby, he's just listening to Mom talk to Washoe.
Skeets stood at the rail for a fair bit of time before I climbed up on her. We've quit doing the longe business before riding, because she needs to be ready to go when we are. Some horses need the longing to get their mind in the game - Pearl is one of them - but Skeets and Copper don't.

We had a discussion about the mounting block, but it wasn't a big one, then I climbed up.

Not exactly the prettiest background, but it *is* a between the ears picture.

We rode some figure eights each direction, then I dismounted and Mom climbed up. Mom is not above "bribing" Skeeter to stand nicely at the mounting block, which Skeeter loves, but I find that she gets pushy and mouthy. For Mom, though, it works.

Listening to Grandma on her back and being pretty darn good.
I was feeling pretty good when I climbed back aboard, so I suggested Mom grab Copper and we go for a walk down the farm road. Skeets was doing okay until we got even with Mom and Bill's trailer. Don't know if it was the wind rustling the saddles, or Alloy and Pearl running like fools in the pen, but we had an "issue" - a little rearing and fast backing. I worked her through that and started forward again. I figured that she would follow Copper nicely as soon as we got past whatever was bothering her.

Yeah, that was a big nope. I she would take a couple of steps and hunch up, take a couple of more and hunch up. I could feel the buck coming, so I stopped her, waited for her feet to be calm - which was really hard for her, she was just a live wire of nervous energy - then dismounted to lead her. Two steps into our walk, with me leading her, she finally released the buck. Just a couple of little "oh my God, finally!" bucks and then she walked with me. She did not walk nicely - she was still too wound - but she walked.

I'm thrilled that she was able to control her emotions enough (I know I'm anthropomorphizing) for me to safely dismount. She is doing really, really well, especially after her time up on the mountain last summer, but she's still got a ways to go. I had really high hopes for us getting our Posse certification next weekend, but I think it'll be June before we're certified. We'll attend Posse training, but I'm not sure how it's going to go. If I can get her there and get through most of the training, we'll be on track to graduate in June.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Frosted Horses

Today was farrier day.

Well, it was supposed to be. I'd postponed twice: once because of a work conflict, and once because I was running a low-grade fever and felt like poopie. So, today was the day.

Copper requires pre-medication before the farrier just to make him more comfortable. I had planned on getting an apple yesterday and hiding his partial pill in his apple piece, but I forgot. However, we have freeze-dried apples from our last road trip, so I soaked them in water overnight to attempt to reconstitute them. I shoved his pill in a piece and walked out to treat the horses (and hopefully trick Copper into taking his pill).

I gave him his piece of reconstituted apple, loaded with the pill, first. He spit it out. By that time, the girls had joined us at the fence and were quickly gobbling up their apple pieces. I picked up his pill, shoved it deep into another slice of apple and shoved it in his mouth. He wasn't thrilled with the fake apple, but he ate it because the others were eating theirs. In the few minutes it took me to treat the horses, my hands were freezing. It was 20*, but the humidity is 90% or higher. There's dry cold, and there's wet cold. I hate wet cold, but it does make for some beautiful hoar frost on the horses.

The farrier wasn't due for a few more hours, so I assumed the weather would warm up. Mom and Bill offered to come over and help catch the buggers since we haven't been working them and the cool air tends to make horses feel pretty good.

The girls were a breeze to catch - as always. Copper was less so - as always. Mom and I each caught one of the mares, while Bill walked down Copper. What Copper hasn't realized yet is that he's a complete amateur when it comes to evading humans. Old Man Ranger has a Ph.D. (Piled higher and Deeper) in human evasion. It took Bill about two and a half minutes to catch Cops.

We keep our halters on the fence to make it easy for us, which usually works well. Today, though, they were as frozen as the horses, so they made funny creaking noises as we tied them on. The Mustangeers were pretty good about the funny sounds coming from their halters and behaved even though we couldn't get them near tight enough.

We had all anticipated that it would take much longer to catch the horses and we were ready 45 minutes before farrier time. But it was freaking cold out and we weren't going to stand around for 45 minutes. Mom asked if I was sure the farrier was coming in this weather, so I shot him a quick text during which time my fingers about froze off my hands.

There was just a slight breeze, just enough to make us miserable, so Bill suggested we take the horses into the shed until we heard back from the farrier. Copper and Pearl stood so nicely while tied in the shed. Skeeter, well, she doesn't stand tied very nicely any more. She's become a bit of a pull back. Jessica suggested that it might be because of the trailer battle we had over the summer.

The farrier and I decided to postpone yet again, so the horses got a photo shoot instead. I do wish I was a better photographer, because they look so amazing in their frosty coats.

"Hi Grandma, are we going to play today?"

Poor Skeets has the worst bed-head.

But she looks pretty in this picture, so we'll forgive the bed-head.

I love their frosty tails!

Copper's ear frost is gorgeous.

So is Pearl's. The frost on the ear hair doesn't seem to bother them at all.

Even covered in hoar frost, Pearl looks like a Disney horse.
Once the farrier and I decided to reschedule (again), we turned the horses loose to play and went inside to thaw out. Just the few minutes we were out there was too long.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


(Man, when I slack on blogging, I really slack. Sorry 'bout that.)

The cows moved back a few days ago and the horses were relatively calm about it. I thought it was a non-issue, because, hey, the cows move onto the corn field Every Single Winter. I figured the mustangeers had figured it out.

Today was an absolutely amazing day. While parts of the country are freezing, we're currently in the 40s. I had the whole day off, so I planned on climbing on Skeeter. I'm itching for a ride - have been dreaming about a ride.

Unfortunately, today is the day the horses decided to lose their minds over the cows. Apparently, this herd is very young and not terribly bright (the cows, not the horses in this case) and they've been out on the corn field but hadn't found the water sources yet. Their owner was concerned (rightfully so) and drove them to the water, which is where it always is, right at the edge of the property, near L.E.'s house.

This was the cause of much concern for the horses and their brains fell out their butts. They got plenty of exercise running, bucking, and farting.

Instead of the nice ride I had planned, I got some cute pictures and Skeeter and I worked on ground manners.

Skeeter says, "Move Copper! They're going to eat us!"

Copper is our cowardly lion :)

"Oh good, you're out front, they'll eat you first, Mom."

"Oh no, oh no, oh no, the steaks are going to come eat us! Much panic!"

"Well, maybe they won't eat us yet."
"I'll stand here and be nice, but I can't take my eyes off those moving steaks."
The horses were just riled up jerks for a while, so I retreated to the house. An hour or so later, I went back out with the curry comb and gave them all a good combing. They decided that it was okay to stand quietly at liberty while I combed away the itchy sweat.

I've got a busy week that will begin before sun-up, and end after sun-down, so my next potential opportunity to get a ride in is next weekend. Let's hope the weather holds.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Ole #5

Bucky's death hit everyone who knew him hard.

He was one hell of a cowboy - larger than life - but we can't overlook the woman who tamed him, Old #5.

As Bill mentioned in his Bucky post, Bucky had a rather cavalier attitude toward women when he arrived in Colorado. He'd been married four times and wasn't really looking for #5. He came off as quite a charming cad, so when he started dating the future Mrs. Bucky, who we all loved we knew we had to get a message across.

One of the wranglers (I'm fairly certain it was Ginger) had come up with the nickname "LeBloncheck" for her. Bucky, being footloose and fancy free, was chatting up a couple of women before he started bringing the future Mrs. Bucky around. We liked her. She was sweet and hard working, and even if we couldn't remember her name right off the bat (hence the nickname "LaBloncheck" (the blond chick)), we all took to her. And we knew Bucky's reputation. There was no way we were going to let him break the future Mrs. Bucky's heart that summer, so when things started to look serious (and Bucky had left the other ladies in the dust), we talked Beel into setting Bucky straight.

Beel called the Livery one afternoon, pretending to be her dad, and demanded to speak to Bucky. Now, by this time we knew the future Mrs. Bucky by name and adored her, we didn't actually know her last name, so we had Beel fake it. When Bucky got to the phone, Bill identified himself as "Mr. LaBloncheck" and demanded to know what Bucky's intentions were with his daughter. Bill did such a great job of putting Bucky on the defensive that he didn't even recognize Bill's voice at first. Bucky sputtered and stammered for a few minutes before Bill's laughing gave him away.

We all had a good laugh at the joke and Bucky played a long, but he was ... quieter ... than usual. About an hour later, he walked out of the office into the livery yard and exclaimed, "Cervantes!" We looked at him, confused, until he explained that he knew her last name was Cervantes, not LaBloncheck. He was much relieved to remember her last name and resumed being his normal, boisterous self.

The thing is, Mrs. Bucky is a badass. She had to be to put up with that man. I suspect wives #1-4 were expecting more of Bucky than he was willing to give. Old #5, well, he met his match with her - she took none of his shit - and he adored her for it. As Bill said, she stuck around longer than his first four wives combined.

There's a saying, "behind every successful man is a woman", and that certainly seemed to be the case with Bucky and Mrs. Bucky. She kept their life and business straight. While Bucky was the gregarious front of the business, whom everyone remembers, Mrs. Bucky was quietly working to keep everything on track. She worked circles around Bucky (and most others, actually). One season, while Bucky was managing the livery in Estes, she was our Barn Boss and she was excellent. I loved working for a boss who could do everything she asked her employees to do; there was no "I'm the boss" attitude from her. Yes, she was our boss, but we all respected her because she was fair and pulled her own weight. She spoiled me for all other Barn Bosses, which made the one that followed her even more difficult to deal with. (He was quite the asshat - so much so that Mom and Bill had him fired and run off the property one night, but that's a whole different story.)

She meets every challenge head-on and gets things done. There's this innate confidence about her that is very empowering to those around her. You meet Mrs. Bucky and you know that this is a woman who will figure it out. There is no hand-wringing in her life. There is shit that needs to be done and she's going to get it done.

Mrs. Bucky was here just a couple of weeks ago and as I watched her unhitch her trailer at my place, using a monkey wrench because her hitch motor had gone out, it dawned on me exactly how much of a badass she is. This is a woman, who just six weeks earlier had lost her husband to cancer after caring for him by herself for four months, and who has a 15 year-old son to care for, along with her ranch ... this woman, who has every reason in the world to be curled up in a fetal position sobbing, was standing in front of me taking care of business. Shit needed to be done, so she was doing it. The motor went out and instead of feeling sorry for herself, she figured out a way to do what needed to be done.

I'm awfully lucky to get to call her a friend.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Birthday Ride 2017

As is becoming usual, this post is out of order. If you'd like a synopsis of how Skeeter's mountain training is going, hop on over to my parents' blog. I'll eventually get around to writing up each of our rides on the mountain, but the birthday ride is important - not because it was a spectacular ride, but because I'm now able to continue the tradition I started with Estes so many years ago.

Just for review, here's a video of our 2016 birthday ride. It was a difficult ride for me, because I lost a lot of confidence when Pearl pitched me off. However, I sucked it up and climbed up on Skeets for about five minutes.

She and I have had a few more successful rides since then. As much as I love her, I am still struggling with confidence, though she's never given me any reason to believe she would dump me. So since my birthday ride 2016, we might have had 10 in the past year. I'm kind of ashamed of that low number, but it's changing. Each ride is better than the last and I'm finding my confidence again.

Skeets on the ground and Skeets under saddle are two completely different horses. On the ground, she's still quite a pushy bitch who forgets to stay out of humans' spaces. However, under saddle, not much bothers her. She's like riding an old plow horse.

I had hoped to ride up in the forest for my birthday ride, but there were several factors that kept us from doing that, so we just took a ride around town with Bill and Ranger. Jay was kind enough to trail along with the camera (I decided it was too boring in town to justify wearing the GoPro).

She's only recently been allowed back at the rail, instead of being tied at the truck.

Ranger is so patient with the young whippersnapper.

Finally, we're off.

Right before we got stuck. I'm tired of getting stuck.

Yep. You guessed it, stuck.

Almost unstuck.

Finally on the move again.
Skeeter will probably be coming home in the next week or so, and I need to make a real effort to keep up riding her. Surprisingly, we're both far more comfortable up on the mountain than down here on the flat. Go figure.

Mom and Bill are going to focus on Alloy for a while, and then take Pearl up in the fall to start her mountain training.

Maybe for next year's birthday ride, we can make it back up to the forest and maybe visit my favorite pond.