Saturday, February 2, 2019

Guardian Angel

I promise I'll get Copper's year-end review up soon. In fact, I should be working on it right now, but I have to tell you about my Ho-lee Shit moment.

While I started the year off well with riding a fair amount, I had to rejoin the real world which has severely cut into my riding time. Autobot was kind enough to take Skeeter to Posse training for me while I got ready to leave for SHOT Show, and then took her to a de-spook clinic the day after I got back from SHOT so I could help teach a concealed carry class.So while it's been about three weeks since I've ridden Skeeter, she has been getting ridden, and in some pretty high stress situations.

I planned on riding yesterday, but my "quick" project turned into more than five hours and I ran out of time. The weather today was perfect, so I was bound and determined to get a ride in. Skeeter was a bit distracted by the neighbor kids playing, so we did some groundwork to get her brain in the game.

It sort of worked, but I decided I was going to ride anyway, and saddled up.

She wasn't 100%, because she was busy hoovering up her sister's leftover breakfast. Before I saddled her, I tied her too short to reach the ground and let her finish sorting the gravel from the food that she had in her mouth. Or so I thought. When I went to bit her up, a whole mouthful of gravel/food pellets fell out. That silly mare was hoarding food, saving it for later, just like she does with water. We had a discussion about whether or not she was allowed to keep a mouthful of food with her bit in (she was not).

Before I mounted up, enough little things had gone wrong I almost aborted my ride, but decided that I would regret it about five minutes after I put her away. That's almost always how it works, so I mounted up anyway.

Skeets circled the mounting block a couple of times, but finally stood still long enough for me to get my foot in the stirrup, at which point, she took off at a trot. I had my left foot in the stirrup and was in the midst of swinging my right leg over her back.

Thank God, I have ample practice with the running mount, thanks to Queen Estes and was able to not-very-gracefully get myself situated in the saddle while pulling her head around to the left. Once settled, I sent up a quick prayer of thanks to Estes for training me so well. Then I cursed Skeeter a little bit, because she's taller than Estes and if I'd had to do an *actual* running mount, it would have ended very differently.

I knew we'd have a short ride, just based on her lack of focus, but also refused to get down until she relaxed and started to pay attention to me. We did circles, worked on our stop/back, did baby pivots, walked over the pallets, basically anything that required her to think. When she stretched her head down to scratch her face, I decided she was relaxed enough and made one more slow lap around the yard before calling it a day.

I dismounted at the far end of the yard and was walking back to the the hitch rail with her, lecturing her on her shenanigans and explaining that shenanigans were not acceptable. I saw the mounting block and thought I should mount up again, only I thought I'd attempt to mount from the ground. She's just enough taller than Estes that it's difficult for me to do so. I didn't want to use the mounting block, and couldn't reach the stirrup from the ground, so I turned her back toward the pallet. I don't need a lot of a boost to mount up, but the four inches the pallet gives me is very helpful.

About halfway to the pallet, I heard a "pop" and felt Skeeter jump. I turned around to see her bridle wasn't ... right. It took me a second to realize that it had broken and was hanging off of her face. The bit was swinging down by her chest and she looked quite perplexed. I should have taken a picture, because the look on her face was priceless. I initially assumed that the throat latch had given way, since it was missing a Chicago screw. I noticed it a few rides ago, but didn't worry about it, because there was still a tight screw in there and if the throat latch breaks, it's no big deal.

Only, it wasn't the throat latch. In fact, the throat latch was the only thing keeping the bridle on her. When I unbuckled it, the whole thing fell right off. I picked it up and called it a day.

The tie on the off-side cheek piece broke. At first, I thought it had just come untied, but when I looked at it more closely, I realized it had snapped in two.

My guardian angel was certainly looking after me today. Everything went right. I maybe should have listened to the little voice in my head that told me not to ride today, but I didn't. When Skeeter took off while I was mounting, I used the left rein to pull her head around. I can't even imagine - wait, yes I can - the wreck that could have happened if I'd pulled her head around to the right and that tie had broken. I couldn't get my foot up to the stirrup from the ground, so I had to head to the pallet, and it was in those twenty feet that the bridle broke. What if I'd been able to mount and then it broke? Yikes.

Then it hit me - what if that tie had broken while Autobot was riding Skeeter for me? When Skeets gets stressed, she gets really heavy and pushy in the bridle. Nebalee would never forgive me (and I wouldn't forgive myself) is anything happened to her daughter while on my horse.

I put Skeeter away, then decided to do a bit swap. I could have re-threaded a new lace into the bridle, but I knew I'd never be able to trust it again. Instead, I used a skill I learned from the Bionic Cowgirl and started switching around tack. Skeeter's bit went onto Pearl's western bridle. The bit on Copper's bridle was a touch too big, so the bit that was on Pearl's bridle went onto Copper's and Copper's bit will go to Saddle Up on consignment. It all worked out perfectly.

It was a good thing I decided to do the bit swap, because I realized the leather was in desperate need of a good oiling. The leather just sucked it right up. In fact, I'll oil them again tomorrow before I ride. I also took the opportunity to replace a couple of missing Chicago screws (how the hell do they just disappear?) and check everything over. 

I will ride tomorrow. 

And there will be no more shenanigans.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Pearl's 2018 in Review

L.E. should really be posting this update, as she spends time every day with Miss Pearl. They've become quite a team.

Jay and I hoped to get up on Pearl and get some good rides in on her, but the fact is neither of us was confident enough to actually climb on up, so we sent her to the trainer in June to "dumb her down" for us. She has all of the fancy buttons that Skeeter lacked, but riding Pearl is like driving a Ferrari, and we needed more of a Corvette.

Jay telling Pearl to behave for the trainer. Love this picture.

On Pearl for the first time since she bucked me off.
Swinging my leg over the horse who completely destroyed my confidence was possibly the hardest thing I've done in recent memory. The trainer rode her down before I mounted up, but it was still nerve wracking. Jay's work schedule didn't work out for him to get to take a lesson at the trainer's, so he didn't get the chance to ride.

We came to the conclusion after getting bucked off that Pearl was sensitive to saddle fit, so after we brought her home from from the trainer's we took her to Saddle Up in Longmont and had her fitted for a saddle. L.E. had her fitted for a synthetic western saddle last year, but L.E.'s little butt and Jay's don't fit the same. We needed a saddle that would fit both Pearl and Jay.

I can't say enough good things about Saddle Up - they've always been amazing to us every time we've been in. In fact, when Pearl refused to load back into the trailer (weird, because she's the one horse who always loads, every time), they came out and spent an hour helping us get her loaded.

Stubborn mare

In July, I finally grew some balls and climbed back up on Pearl at home. Getting on her at the trainer's was tough, but at the scene of the crime? Yikes. That was tough. It was a short ride, but one that was necessary.

I'm almost ashamed to admit that I haven't been up on Pearl since. Even though she was a perfect lady, my confidence isn't back where it needs to be to really ride her. Hopefully, with more riding time with Skeets, as my seat improves, I'll be more comfortable on Pearl.

I managed to find time to go watch one of L.E.'s lessons at Inspiration Riding Academy Stef rode Pearl first, and they looked so good.

Stef and Miss Pearl

L.E. and Miss Pearl
In August, the mare swap happened, and Pearl got to go up the hill to learn to be a trail horse as well as an arena horse. Autumn worked with Pearl as diligently as she worked with Skeeter, so when L.E. and I went up for a ride, Pearl was ready. I think she's just happy to work, no matter if it's in the arena or on the mountain.

I'm far more comfortable up on the trail than I am in an arena, whereas L.E. is far more comfortable in an arena than on the trail. Having said that, they did great up on the mountain.

After the mare re-swap, L.E. resumed her lessons and they've become such a great team. I wandered over to watch one of her lessons again in September.

L.E. is riding more days of the week than not and has fallen head over heels in love with Pearl. But who wouldn't? She's a great horse (even if she destroyed my confidence). I've been lucky enough to get to join L.E. across the street and get some riding in over Christmas break.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Skeeter's 2018 in Review (August - December)

In August, we did a mare swap: Pearl went up the hill for two weeks while Skeeter went to the trainer's to get some buttons put on. Skeets is really good at trail work, but to do posse stuff she has to be able to do "fancy" stuff as well: sidepassing, turning on the fore and hind. She didn't know how to do any of that. The first trainer update was encouraging:
"Well skeeters pretty damn smart. No buttons when I got on her but by the end of the ride we could sidepass without standing at the fence, pivot both ends, stop within one panel length instead of half a round pen lol and we lope both ways on the correct lead. Usually a sidepass is a 3-4 day ordeal without the fence to help. We also learned to stay 2-3' behind me on the lead rope no matter what I do."
Since the posse arena is Skeeter's kryptonite, the trainer (who is also a posse member) hauled her over there a few times for work, and I had the chance to go have a lesson in the round pen at the arena. I also sent Autobot to do a lesson at the trainer's since she was riding Skeeter so much more often than I was.

The mare re-swap timing didn't work out quite as well as the first time, which was fine with me. I got to have my girl home for a day before she went back up the hill.

"Mom, stop embarrassing me!"
She did great at the trainer's, but we were both happy to be back up where our hearts belong. I thought I was getting a rare treat in riding with both my parents, but it turns out it was just the first of many rides I got to take with them both this year.


I wouldn't have believed anyone who told me that I'd get to ride out the rest of the summer with both Mom and Bill, but it was true. I think there was only one ride in September in which I didn't have both parents with me. The month started off beautifully. Both of us were thrilled to be back up on the mountain.

We took a long ride down to Rock Creek, which involves some pretty serious descents and ascents, then we looped around the top of the ridge to overlook the beaver ponds. As usual, Skeeter was a rock star. (I should probably mention that Alloy was also a rock star and accompanied us on most of our rides throughout the summer.)


Autobot stopped by my work a couple of days after our amazing ride tell me that Skeeter had backed off the switchback. Skeets was okay, just sore, and Autobot had managed to dismount before Skeets went over the edge. Luckily, she didn't flip over and hurt herself, she just slid down on her belly, shook herself off when she got to the trail below and took off down toward the highway. A car had seen what happened and stopped to help. Skeeter wasn't really intent on going home, thought that she should introduce herself to the new human on the highway, and was easily caught. Thank God. It was the best possible outcome all around. As a result, though, our next scheduled ride became a walk around Ski Road just to keep her loosened up.


"Mom, I'm sore."

We don't know what caused her to back off the switchback, but there had been a lot of construction recently in that area (a new house is going up on the mountain) and they had practically undercut the switchback to run the utilities. Where there used to be a small rock "wall" delineating the edge of the trail, there was now nothing. It could be that Skeeter backed up to make the tight turn on the switchback and didn't realize the "wall" was gone. But we'll never really know.

I skipped a weekend of riding and ran away with Jay to go look at the amazing fall colors. Autobot continued to do some light riding on Skeets, just to keep her moving as she healed from her mishap. Skeeter, though, had definite ideas about that switchback and would not go up (or down) it unless she was being led. There was no way she was going to carry a rider up and down that switchback - that's something we'll have to work on next summer.

Since Skeeter wouldn't carry a rider up and down the switchback, I had the opportunity to try to get pictures of the "scene of the crime". Unless you've ridden it, it's not going to be very impressive, but falling off that damn thing has always been one of my fears.

The end of September means the beginning of hunting season, so we broke out our blaze orange for Skeeter's last ride of the year up on the mountain. Despite having to be led up and down the switchback, we had a great ride.

October meant Skeeter got to come home for a bit. Copper was so happy to have his sister home that he wouldn't let me near her. Every time I'd try to love on her, he'd get between us. Normally, I am not a fan of that type of behavior, but I knew exactly how he felt.


Sadly for Copper, Skeeter was only home for two days before I sent her back to the trainer's for some fine tuning. She'd had all those fancy buttons put on her, but then went right back to trail work and we didn't do any reinforcement of what she learned at the trainer's. We got a great text from the trainer that made my heart swell (not that I had anything to do with it, Autobot, Mom, and Bill did all of the daily work - I just went up and rode each week).
"I have to give you guys props. Skeeter is one of very few that left and came back and when she came back she was even better than before. Great job I love it when I can say that."
The HallowEquine party, hosted by the local chapter of the U.S. Wild Horse and Burro Association, was the perfect time for Skeeter to come home. But, first, we had a blast playing on the obstacle course at Spirit Dancer Ranch. As a volunteer for USWHBA, I was busy doing things on the ground to keep the event moving along, so we sat out most of the games, but after lunch we went down to the obstacle course to play around. Mom, Bill, and Autumn all came down to play with us.

Alloy came to the party as a horse fly (10/21/18)

We've all heard of No stirrups November? How about No riding November? Because that's exactly what happened for us. Not one bit of riding. We did try on Pearl's new saddle to see if it fit Skeets. I mean, it is Pearl's saddle, but don't sisters steal each other's clothes all the time? Her black saddle isn't comfortable for either of us any more, so we thought we'd borrow Pearl's. It fits well enough if we shim it that we shouldn't have any issues.

In December, we lost Ranger. It's been a blow to everyone, and I can't imagine how hard next spring is going to be when it's time to move the horses home from winter pasture.

On 12/23, I'd ridden for just a few minutes in the backyard and Skeeter really, really wanted to go for a trail ride down the farm road, but we were the only ones home and I don't like to ride off property without telling someone where I'll be. It was an impromptu ride. I'd pulled her to play Christmas picture dress up and decided to throw the saddle on. Then I decided that five minutes or so would be good for both of us.

Playing dress up 12/23/18

L.E. had some free time over the weekend, so we went across the street to our neighbor's arena. After two months of not riding, I was a bit nervous to climb back up (I can't even tell you how much I miss the fearless cowgirl I was fifteen years ago!) even though I know Skeeter takes such good care of me. We didn't ride long on our first trip over. Another rider joined us shortly after we started riding and since I'm not an arena rider and don't know all of the unspoken rules, I didn't want to get in the way.

Skeeter "watching" Pearl 12/29/18
The weather was even better the next day, so L.E. and I went back. The other rider joined us, but I was less worried about getting in her way this time. I still tried to be aware of where we were in relation to the other horses and not cut them off. We had a really good ride and I wish that the weather hadn't been so crappy today so we could have ridden again today.


Last ride of the year.
Whew, Skeeter and I did a lot this year! It didn't seem like it, but looking back, it was a fair bit. Here's hoping 2019 is even better.