Monday, September 1, 2014

I Sat on My Horse!!!

I know it doesn't seem like that big a deal to some people, but it's huge to me.

I mean, I can stay on top of a horse (as a general rule) and I have hundreds of hours in the saddle of the past seventeen years.  The last five have been primarily bareback on rugged mountain trails.  I mean, I can mostly keep the horse between me and the ground, but getting on Skeeter for the first time is a Big Deal.

I've never started a horse.  I've ridden green horses until they were well broke.  I've even corrected training issues in some horses, but I've never started a horse.

I know what I expect as far as ground manners and Skeeter is about 95% perfect on ground manners.  She leads with the lightest pressure, but can also get distracted and forget to focus.  I'm much, much more confident on what I expect from her on the ground and I'm much more confident in my ability to get her there.

From her back is a totally different story.  I know that good ground manners translate to riding.  I know that, but it was still a huge deal to climb up on her back today.  I had to trust that she trusted both Bill and me enough to let me climb up on her.  I had to trust that I've instilled enough ground manners that if Bill told her to whoa and stand she would do it.  And I desperately don't want to screw her up and have bigger problems in the future.

It took about ten minutes for me to actually make it onto the back of my horse, but it felt much longer.  It seemed like I did the pressure/release thing forever before finally sliding up.  We started with leaning over her, which Bill has done lots of.  It's not a big deal.  Then I kicked her back, hip, flank and leaned some weight on her.  When she shifted, though, I removed all the pressure by standing back up on my "mounting block".  We did this several times until she didn't care that I had one leg dangling over the other side and she was bearing more than 50% of my weight (not that she cared a lot to begin with, but I had to be sure she'd stand stock still).  She moved off a little bit when she realized I wasn't going to relieve the pressure by stepping off, but didn't bolt.  She took a step or two and then froze.  She's young yet and has never had to balance an extra chunk of weight on her back.  She eventually figured to tighten her stomach to help balance the weight and was able to move a step or two before I slid off.

All of the time Bill has spent playing Dead Indian with her has paid off.  She doesn't care about someone laying across her back and sliding down.  My knees are far too old and abused to be just popping down off a horse.  I need as soft a landing on my feet, and therefore my knees, as possible.

Bill scrambled up on her after I got off and she was just as good.  I lead her a step or two and we called it good.  I removed the halter and just let her be.  As we wandered over to fill the water, I realized I had a halter in my hands and I could just sneak into Copper's pen and quick put it on him for a minute, so I did.

Copper did really, really well. He's still figuring out the leading thing, and asks that I remember to lead him properly instead of dragging him by his face.  He very much prefers to be lead with the person just forward of his shoulder (you know, where you belong) instead of out in front of him.

After Copper got "worked" for all of about three minutes, it was back to Miss Skeeter Bang.  On went the halter and back to the mounting block.  She really balked at it and didn't want to play, so I changed the rules and had Bill lead her up so I could mount from the off-side.  I don't think it occurred to her that I would change the rules and she'd have to learn from both sides.  Ha!

She didn't make it easy on herself by parking out a bit from the block.  I was able to get my leg over, but then had to leap from the block onto her back.  In the video, you can tell that she wasn't exactly thrilled with my weight landing on her back.  You can almost hear her go "ooof".  I started sliding and grabbed onto her with my left leg to try to get centered again. In the video, that's when she started turning into Bill.  It took me a second to realize I was causing the turn by grabbing on with my leg (good for her, moving away from pressure) and as soon as I relaxed, she straightened out and relaxed.

When Bill hopped up on her, she was pretty much over the whole day and pranced a bit.  I made her stand and relax before he got down and we called it a day.

Next time, we'll wander a bit farther.

I actually am just making it up as we go at this point.  I know there are great training videos on how to start horses, but I'm just kind of letting her (and Mom and Bill) tell me what she's ready for next.  It's worked so far, let's hope it continues to work.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Just Because

This picture cracks me the heck up.

When I go to the Tree of Happiness, I often pick an apple for me, too.  It takes a little searching to find one that's not wormy or been pecked at by the birds, so when I find one that I can bite into with fairly high confidence that I'm not going to get extra protein, I enjoy it.

Skeeter does not enjoy this and believes that all the apples are hers.  All the apples belong to Skeeter, and she wishes I would hurry up and learn that lesson.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Growing Up (Warning: wordy and media heavy)

Tuesday was a busy day for Skeeter.  No more coddling, she's on her way to being a grown-up horse and one step closer to being ridden.  Bill would kill to get up on her, but for now he's mostly okay with just playing Dead Indian with her.  I won't be able to hold him off much longer, so if I don't hurry up and get my ass on my horse, he's going to end up with the first ride.

Mom and Bill offered to come down on one of their scheduled days off this month (yes, they only schedule two days off a month for themselves during the season) and help get Skeeter moving.  We've kind of been in a rut.  I tried clicker training, but she's just not getting it, but she's a horse who needs to learn new things on a regular basis.  With Copper coming home, she was preoccupied (as were we) with the new family member, but now it's time to get back on track.

I cut my work day short and headed home, but Mom and Bill still beat me by a few minutes.  When I arrived, Bill had Skeeter's halter on, with the rope tied around her neck and was introducing her to neck reining from the ground.  Sorry, no pictures because I just watched in awe as she moved forward, to the left and right, and stopped.  It wasn't pretty, but she was thinking it over and trying really hard.

I left him to it and ran in the house to change out of my scrubs.  By the time I was done (it only took me about three minutes), the storm I was hoping to avoid had moved in and thunder was rolling.  Mom made Bill put Skeeter away and we ran a quick errand during our rain delay.

Luckily, the rain delay didn't last too long and we were able to resume when we got home.  Bill took Skeeter out of the pen, while Mom and I stayed with Copper.  Apparently, the first time Skeeter left the pen, Copper lost his mind, so we tried to get some video. He must have realized that Skeeter would be back, because the second time was much less exciting according to Mom.  He was concerned and called for Skeeter, but didn't seem to be out of control at any point.


Copper was boring, so I followed Bill and Skeeter around like the paparazzi.  First, they had to squeeze between the truck and the sheds.

They wandered around and looked in the other shed ...

... then Bill got the brilliant idea to have her walk under the clothes line ...


... they did their "Peeping Tom" impression after Skeeter saw Allie-bird move through the window and had a little moment of bolting panic ...

... then they visited the "Tree of Happiness".  I think Skeeter thinks that apples - her very favorite food on the planet - are gifts from the heavens.  She didn't know (and how could she?) that they grew on trees ...

I forgot that she loves apples so much that her brain short-circuits, so Bill had to make her feet move to re-engage her brain, then back into the pen we went.

A visit to the trailer, where my "elasti-mare" consented to putting three feet in the trailer.  She's so long that she doesn't need to put the backs in to reach the hay in the bunker.  With enough coercion from Bill, she finally put that third hoof in.

And then she backed out nicely with a voice command ...

Whew, she did so much, but we weren't even close to being done.  Bill tied up her lead rope and tried with the neck reining thing again, but she wasn't having it.

He deemed her focused enough to get to the main event: Saddling!

I was warned that the second time might not go as well, and I knew it was a possibility, but I wasn't worried.  I asked Jay to come out with me to hold Skeeter while I saddled her up for the second time and it was fine.  She didn't stand stock-still like the first time, because she knew what I was doing and didn't want to put the squeezy thing on, but Jay corrected her and she stood nicely.  We walked around a bit and I tightened the cinch a couple more notches.  She wasn't thrilled with the cinch being snug, but she was good about it.  She twitched her ear and flicked her tail.  That was the extent of her temper tantrum.

She's so good it makes my heart all full and happy.

Tomorrow, the focus will primarily be on Copper and working with leading so that he can come out of the gentling pen soon, but Skeets will still get saddled.  This time, from the off-side, as that's how I usually saddle up at Mom and Bill's place.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


All but the very tiniest of knots have been brushed out of Copper's mane.  Isn't it gorgeous?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Skeeter Doesn't Know Her Name!

I'm not kidding, I wish I was.  Do you know how much of a parent failure it is to own a horse for three months and then realize she doesn't know her name?

On Saturday, Jay's family was here to meet Copper and Skeeter was mugging his mom, so I tried to call her off.  It's not that she was ignoring me, because she didn't even flick an ear.

It dawned on me that she just hears human voices and comes to the fence.  It doesn't matter what is being said, she hears human voices and goes toward them.

I tried it out a couple of times.  Nope, does not know her name.  I'm such a bad mommy.

Luckily, I had already ordered some clicker training materials, so I know what we're going to work on: coming when called.

Mom and Bill were in town today and spent some time introducing the clicker.  She's not "getting" it yet, but she will, she's a smart cookie.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Please Don't Breed

This morning, as I was wading my way through my FB feed, I saw that someone had posted in a mustang forum a mare that "would make a great broodmare".  There are thousands of horses in BLM holding facilities who need homes, why on earth would someone breed another?  And let's face it, if you're backyard breeding mustangs, you're a big part of the problem.  They're not mustangs after they've been domestically bred, they're just domestic grade horses.  Mustangs are mutts, they're not a "breed" like we think of Thoroughbreds or Arabians.  I, personally, love mustangs because they're mutts.  They don't have the same type of inbred issues that "purebred" animals do.

If someone truly wants a mustang, then just adopt one.  The adoption process is easy and there are many trainers out there who are willing to gentle and train your 'stang for you.  What if you want a mustang and there's not a facility nearby?

Then check out this site.  Amanda is a volunteer who spends one day each month at the Canon City facility taking pictures of the available horses.  In her "spare" time, she coordinates trucks for adopters all over the U.S.  To date, Amanda is credited with over thirty adoptions since May because of her website.  Twenty of those horses have been adopted by people outside of Colorado and she's currently working on coordinating a truck to Texas.  The great thing about adopting a Canon City mustang is that the BLM will pay for the first 150 miles of shipping, so if four people adopt and are on the same truck, then the first 600 miles of shipping is free and the adopters only have to pay the difference (split four ways).

I know our mustangs are awesome and that Ranger Mustang has his own group of followers, so if you ever decide you want one for your own and think you live too far away, just remember that there's someone whose passion is seeing these horses placed in their forever homes.  All you need to do is visit her website and contact her.

But whatever you do, please don't support backyard breeders of mustangs.  Maybe if there's no demand, the practice will cease.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Skeeter's Turn

In addition to Skeeter getting a brother yesterday, she got to play with Grandpa Bill.  While we were messing around with Copper, Bill gleefully played with Skeeter.

I did do some Skeeter torture myself before Copper came, but I'm not nearly as evil as Bill.  All I did was rub her all over with the pool noodle and balance it on her back.

Bill, though, is truly an evil genius.  He saw the pool noodle on the ground and got an insane idea to just tie it around her neck.  Why would he even think about that?


It bothered her not one iota.

For the record, I told her not to let Bill do shit to her (way back when he hung the dog toy from her ear), that she'd regret it, but did she listen to me?  Nooooo.  What do I know?

He also decided it was time to start feeling her out for how she would do with weight on her back.  He has put pressure on her in the past and I've followed his lead, but I haven't yet thrown my body weight at her.  Our improvised mounting block is a black feed tub turned upside down, which makes it a bit too tall, but that's better than too short.

Side saddle (sort of)

Dead Indian

Skeeter handled it with her usual ho-hum attitude.  We're going to have to try it soon, I suppose :)