Monday, December 28, 2015

Off Property!

I'm very late in posting this. Believe it or not, I was too excited to post after it actually happened, which is kind of weird. Skeeter asks daily if we can go work. I'm not kidding. Daily. I would love to be able to do it, but between weather and work, it's just not happening for us.

On Dec 22, I finally had enough time to spend hours with Skeeter. It was a balmy 45* and no wind, so off we went to work.

I wasn't rushed at all, so I tacked her up and we spent time working on the longe line. When I was sure she had gotten her "woohoos" out (as Jessica calls them), I bitted her up and changed from the longe line to my lead line and worked on some small circles. Since she hates flexing to the right, we worked on some turn-arounds in which I loop the lead rope from her halter, behind her butt, and pull from the opposite side. If I want her to turn to the right, the lead goes along her right side, and behind her butt. I stand on her left and pull on the end of the lead rope. This is an exercise Jessica has done with her, but it had been a while, so it took her a few seconds to remember how to relieve the pressure. When I got a couple of good, soft turn-around in both directions, I decided it was time to climb up.

I set out four small, orange cones in what was supposed to be a square, but was more a trapezoid, as "targets". I get bored just wandering around, so I thought that if I had the cones out I'd be able to amuse myself and keep her engaged as well.

I couldn't find the stump I normally use to mount up with - it seems to have disappeared in the snow - so off to the trailer we went. It took a bit to get her lined up with the trailer's running board, but we managed and I finally stopped futzing around and mounted up. I don't know why I always get a sudden attack of the butterflies before I step up, but I do. She's never once - ever - given me anything to worry about, not even our very first sit, but I still have to dig deep as I swing my leg over. Once my butt hits the saddle, though, the butterflies disappear, because my body knows what it's doing. Muscle memory, at least in my seat, takes over.

Skeeter willingly went over to the cones and we started trying to ride patterns through/around them. She's still so very resistant to the right - I'm certain she's not in pain or has any physical issues, she just hates it. Mare. We made some very ugly turns around the cones in both directions and then she stopped, pointing southeast. It took me a second to figure out what had her attention, but soon enough it became clear that there was a little plane headed our way. I let her stand there and watch it, rubbing her neck and telling her it was okay. We watch the plane get closer and closer and Skeeter was fine, fine, fine until it passed right over us and suddenly she was not fine.

Luckily, her "spook" amounted to a bit of quick-feet and a mini-rear before she settled down. As soon as the plane passed, she was fine again and then I realized that my cell phone was vibrating in my pocket. When we ride in the mountains, we don't have cell service, so I've never actually talked on the phone while one my horse. At first, I thought about ignoring it, but it was Mom, so I took it as a teachable moment and answered. Skeeter did just fine standing there while I talked to Mom for a few minutes, but in the short period of time I talked to Mom, Skeets got "stuck". Her feet grew roots and she was going nowhere.

It always feels like forever when you're kicking a stuck horse's sides, but once you start the cue you can't stop it until you get the correct result. Let's just say I got a lot of flutter kicks in that day.

We worked on some more ugly circles and flexing before I felt like we had to leave the backyard. I was getting bored, even with the cones, and at some point it needed to be done. Skeeter was not perfect, but she was listening well, and by God we were going on the farm road.

I quickly texted L.E. to let her know we were headed up the road for a bit and we'd be back shortly.

I cannot even begin to describe the feeling of freedom once we stepped foot off the property and onto the farm road. I was elated and started to feel like a real rider again. Skeeter busted through the snow nicely and managed to keep her feet even when we slipped a touch in the mud.

We didn't get far, because once she realized we were headed away from home she started getting really up. Not in a bad, "I'm afraid to be away from home way", but in a "woohoo, I'm free!" way. Part of me wanted to just go with it and ride until she was tired, but another part of me (probably the smarter (or more cowardly) part) decided we'd gone far enough. She gave me a nice two-reined stop (nicer than any stop I'd ever gotten from Queen Estes), and turned nicely to the right to head back home. We walked calmly back the 100 yards or so and saw L.E. watching us, so I decided to by-pass the trailer and walk on to talk to L.E.

Just crossing back over the property line.
Skeeter walked on nicely until we got near the alleyway to her pen and then did another spooky-quick-feet-mini-rear thing. Don't know what it was about, because as soon as she was done, she kept moving forward. Crazy mare.

We talked for a few minutes and then I got down. Skeeter always groans when I dismount. I know I'm overweight, but she doesn't have to point it out at every ride!

Despite the two spooks, we had a good ride. I had a full week off of work, and thought I was going to get to work with her every day, but that didn't happen. Holidays and procrastination, don'tcha know. Now the weather has gone from cold to frigid and won't warm up again for a few days. Looks like Friday or Saturday will be the next time I'll have a chance to take her out.

She really is a good girl who tries hard.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Snow Day

Yesterday was an unexpected snow day for us! I was so excited to have the whole day off of work and had dreams of being able to take Skeets for a long walk on the farm roads in the fresh snow.

Riding in snow is one of my all-time favorite things to do. There is something so calm about riding a good horse in fresh snow - it's very peaceful for my soul.

I didn't dare to hope that I'd get to ride yesterday, but I did hope for a nice, long walk.

I made Skeeter some warm beet pulp and took it out to her, thinking we'd work after she had some breakfast.

She was pretty thankful for her cereal. Since she's been back from Jessica's, I haven't been giving her beet pulp because she came home at such a great weight and had a whole round bale to herself. Once I got a good look at her, I was glad I'd taken the beet pulp out to her.

She was a bit chilly and wet, so I spent some time roughing up her coat with my gloves to get some airflow. The snow on her back was good, but the wetness on her sides wasn't. Roughing up her coat helped her dry pretty quickly.

I still had plans on taking her for a walk at least, but those plans went right out the window when I realized how spooky she was. She was careful not to run me over, but several times, she spooked and bolted. I suspect the storm brought out the chupacabra and she was smelling it on the wind.

Whatever critter was out there had her watchful and on edge most of the day. We'll have to try again for another work day. Maybe Friday we can have some work time.

I know that one day I'll be able to go out with a bridle and hop on Skeeter bareback and go for a ride in the freshly fallen snow, but that one day is pretty far off, which had me missing Queen Estes fiercely yesterday.

Riding at Home

This mod has been rough; my work schedule has been brutal and I've been feeling really guilty about not working with Skeets, but I'm up and off to work by 7:30 am and get home from work about 9:30 pm. One day, I decided that I was going to take a few hours off in the middle of the afternoon and work with her. Except that my boss scheduled a meeting right in the middle of the time I planned to be gone. I was *determined* to get some time working with Skeeter, so the second the meeting was over, I was out the door headed home.

I got home at 3:15 pm, jumped into some jeans and had Skeeter out of the pen by 3:30. I was feeling the time crunch since it gets dark so early right now.

I rushed her through her longing, only spending fifteen minutes or so before deciding to get on. She had just barely started paying attention to me on the longe line, but I said "good enough" and bridled her up.

I should have spend more time on the longe line. We had to spend quite a bit of time remembering how to line up at the stump for me to mount. Then we had to spend more time remembering how to flex and give to the rein.

Once she was sort of soft on the rein we started "riding" around the back yard. She's so heavy and unresponsive sometimes it's like riding an old plow horse. We rode serpentines and circles. Turning to the right is still something she's resistant to, so we spent a lot of time moving to the right.

I tried not to be frustrated, but I know I need hours to work with her, not just a few minutes here and there. I wasn't frustrated with her, but with work because I had thought I would have a minimum of three hours to work with Skeeter, which we both need. Instead I barely had an hour.

We ended our ride on a good note, just as she was starting to soften and pay attention, but I was cussing a blue streak because I know I need more time. I had wanted to get out on the farm road and start getting some miles on her.

Since she's an only horse right now, she always wants to be outside of the pen and asks daily if we're going to work. I'm feeling some serious "horse mommy guilt".

This past weekend was Baking Weekend, so I was up at Mom and Bill's from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon, but I needed some Skeeter time. I knew we wouldn't have time to ride, but by the time I got home, I had about half an hour before sunset, so I grabbed her out of the pen and we walked over for a visit at our neighbor's. It was the first time I've had her off our property since she came home and I took her over to a place with 11 other horses.  She did very well. There were a couple of times she forgot her manners, but getting set to doing circles worked pretty well at reminding her of them.

Since my neighbor's horses are all been-there, done-that lesson horses, I knew they would be just fine with a stranger visiting. Their laid-back attitude helped, I'm sure. Skeeter got a little high-headed when she smelled the other horses coming up their driveway, but settled right down.

Despite my "horse mommy guilt", I was very proud of how well she did and am looking forward to the day when I can ride her over to the neighbors.

Visiting the neighbor's was hungry work.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Jay's 2nd Lesson

Between Jay's crazy work schedule and his lingering creeping crud, it's been a while since he was able to hook up with Jessica for another lesson with Copper.

Cops is coming a long way, and still has a way to go. He's such a laid-back horse, but wants things done his way (you might have noticed he wears his stubborn pants proudly).

Wondering what Jay's going to ask of him.
Only his second time in the "big boy" saddle. He'd worn a little, lightweight one previously.
He's looking really good with the near daily exercise and is learning new things. He might learn them faster if he'd take off those stubborn pants once in a while, but overall he's doing great. Already, he's much quieter with the bit than Skeeter is. She constantly wants to play with it; Copper just settles it in his mouth and carries it like a gentleman.

Jessica's plan is to start the hang-all-the-crap-on-the-saddle training in the next couple of days and hopes to be up on him by the end of the weekend.

Copper is also very left-sided, so much so that Jessica has taken to handling him primarily from the right-hand side. She turned his halter inside out and now catches and halters him from the right. He prefers to approach people with his left eye and wants to keep people on his left side, so she showed Jay a trick she learned to force him to use his right eye. Unfortunately, I was freezing and didn't get it on video.

Basically, Jay just flashes his fingers (open-close-open-close-wiggle-wiggle) at Copper's left eye until it becomes annoying and Copper gives him his right side. I'm certain it's not a vision problem - Copper does not at all appear to be blind in his right eye, he just wants everyone on his left side.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jay's 1st Lesson

It's been almost exactly two weeks since Copper moved over to Jessica's. Jay was supposed to have had his first lesson earlier in the week, but he caught the creepin' crud and rescheduled for today.

It was cold and Jay's creepin' crud has manifested itself in a nasty cough, but he cowboy'd up and headed out into the frigid temps. Jessica was just finishing up another lesson when we got there, so Jay and Copper hung out. Two weeks is a long time to be away from your horse, and I'm not sure who was more glad to see the other.

"Hi Daddy, remember me?"

"Hey, Buddy, I still love you."

I put together a long(ish) video of Jessica working with Copper and then a few minutes at the end of Jay working with him. I'm a bit jealous of Jay's natural talent - he just seems to know when to release pressure or up it, while I still have to think about it.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sunday Fun Day - Copper

After both Skeeter and I had been exercised adequately and ended on a good note, it was Copper's turn. As you might recall, the horse switch did not happen on Thursday because we couldn't get Copper into the trailer.

We've not worked with a flag with him because he hated it, and we didn't want to make things worse, so we just let him be when it came to the flag. I understood it was a problem on Thursday when we couldn't drive him into the trailer with it. His default escape plan is to back up, so when I tried to put pressure on him with the flag, he'd bolt backward.

Jessica had her hands full working him out of reverse; it seems to be his favorite evasion, followed by rearing. He dragged her all over the property going in reverse for a very long time, but she couldn't let up with the flag. We had inadvertently trained him to back up with it because when he'd go bolting backwards, we'd stop, thinking we were doing something wrong. We were - we stopped. If we had stayed with him until we got forward motion - no matter how long it took - we could have probably gotten him into the trailer ourselves on Thursday.

Unfortunately, we reinforced that back was the right answer and she got to undo that training. He's one stubborn redhead, so it took easily a half an hour before the thought to move forward. As soon as he did, she stopped badgering him with the flag. It took a good bit more time before she could reliably get him moving forward off of the flag.

When she did, though, it was time to take him to the trailer, where she completely screwed with his mind. The trailer became a place to rest. As long as his head was in the trailer, she didn't bother him, but when he moved away from the trailer the flag started up again. Copper is a smart horse, but sometimes it takes a while for him to shed his stubborn pants. Once he realized that the trailer was a good resting place, he started asking to go put his head in.

Eventually, the head wasn't enough, so she started pressuring for the front legs, then the back legs. It took about twenty minutes to get him in the trailer the first time, but after that he pretty much self-loaded. When he loaded and unloaded two or three times, Jessica deemed him trailer trained enough to haul to her place.

It took a while to unload him at her place - he really, really likes the relaxation of the trailer - but he unloaded nicely and followed her up to his new home-away-from-home.

(The video is very long and at times like watching paint dry, but it's cool to see his progress.)

Sunday Fun Day - Skeeter

Since Copper was 1,200# of Nope on Thursday, we scheduled Jessica to come out and work with both of us. First, she worked with me and Skeeter, and then she worked with Copper on trailer loading. It was a long, amazing day.

My niece, Autobot, came over to observe our lessons. We were trying to talk her into doing the Youth Division of the Extreme Mustang Makeover next year, but she's decided that it's too much of a time commitment. I completely understand. Jay and I were willing to sponsor her (adopt the horse, pay for the feed, etc.), but it's an hour and a half round trip from her place to ours so I agree with her decision not to do it. I wouldn't want to make that commute every day before or after school either. But if we had a spare bedroom, we'd just move her in with us for three months and it would be a totally different story. :)

Anyway, I pulled Skeeter from the pen before Jessica got there and started grooming her, but she was wound up. I should have worked her first. I managed to give her a half-hearted grooming session and then we got to work.

Skeeter didn't get worked on Friday or Saturday after she came home because we had chores in town most of both days, so she got two days off to settle in. Boy was that a mistake. She had two days of pent-up energy when we went to work.

With Jessica's coaching, we worked on circling and longing. Now, I worked at a livery, we didn't have much time for "fancy" stuff like ground work. Once a horse accepted a saddle, we just rode its hide off until it was well-broke. This round pen, circling, and longing is all new to me. I've been working on it for the last couple of weeks at her place, but I'm still not very comfortable with it. Since we don't have a round pen, it's important for me to be able to longe her when she needs it. I am not a proponent of longing every horse before they get ridden, but during the training period it's nice to get the "woo-hoos" out. I'm getting way too old and the ground is way too hard for me to "buck it out".

Skeets had some attitude issues that included throwing a hoof at me and telling me very clearly to eff off, but we worked through it. Once her energy came down to an acceptable level, we threw a couple of saddles on her to see which of the two I had to choose from fit the best. She's got thoroughbred-y withers, so finding a fitting saddle could be tricky, but I have one that's okay.

The saddle that fits her the best is the one we started her saddle work in, so I feel good about choosing it in the first place. She was still feeling a bit "up", but not dangerously so. I might have put off riding her, but who knows when I can get Jessica back for a lesson and I definitely wanted other people there on my first ride at home. We don't have a round pen or an arena, so all of her "wet saddle blanket" training will be done "in the wild". I think I rode for less than half an hour, but feel much more comfortable than before I rode. We worked on steering and I worked on not neck-reining. I've got to break that habit for a while.

Her 'workout' schedule with me is going to be much different than with Jessica due to my crazy work schedule. The way I think it's going to work is groundwork on Tuesday/Thursday and riding Friday/Saturday/Sunday, weather permitting. I can't just let her sit, not with Copper gone, because she needs constant stimulation or she'll get destructive.

Fingers crossed it will work out nicely.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Skeeter's Home!

Copper is still here, though he was supposed to go to Jessica's yesterday.

We gave ourselves an hour to load Copper, thinking that would be plenty of time to be patient and get him in. I had let him explore the trailer earlier in the week and he was not afraid and was willing to investigate, so I truly thought an hour would be plenty to gently introduce him to the trailer.

Thursday morning came and Jay got Copper ready. I opened the trailer and Copper walked in just like a pro. But ... we had thought about the work it was going to take to get him in the trailer and not given one thought to how we were going to secure him. I was trying to talk Jay through how to close the slant gate and he was trying to do it with his left hand while keeping Copper in place with his right, but there's a super secret way to release the gate that neither of us knew at the time. We decided to leave the slant gate open and treat the trailer like a stock trailer, so Jay released the pressure on Copper and made to get out of the trailer. Copper took that as an invitation to get out as well and backed out right behind Jay.

I got in the trailer and fooled around with the gate release until I figured out the super secret way to open it. Since Copper had loaded like a pro to begin with, we didn't give loading him a second thought.

Two hours later, we still couldn't get him loaded into the trailer.

We tried everything: being patient, adding pressure, adding bribes, moving his feet, and plain old brute force. It was not happening. I texted Jessica and told her that he must be part mule, as stubborn as he was being. She laughed and said we could probably see his ears get longer by the minute. She was right.

Copper was done, Jay was done, I was done. Even Grandpa Bill was done.

After a flurry of texting, she offered to come out and do a loading lesson for us over the weekend. We headed out with the trailer to pick up Skeeter, even though Jessica offered to keep her until Sunday when we took Copper to her place. I had my heart set on getting Skeeter home, so off we went.

We were disappointed that poor planning on our part (not knowing how the gates worked) meant that not only did Copper not get to go on Thursday, but that it caused frustration and stress all the way around. I tend to think that everything happens for a reason, even if we don't know what that reason is and even if we are disappointed at the time.

When we got home and got Skeeter unloaded, she was a bit distracted and 'hot', so we spend five minutes or so doing groundwork to get her focused. I would have worked her a bit longer, because she was still a bit distracted, but Copper was losing his mind in the pen. With the moisture we've had, the pen is a slippery, mucky mess and we were worried that he'd slip and hurt himself, so I turned Skeeter out into the pen.

They settled in with just a couple of bucks and dove into the hay. Not nearly the homecoming we thought we'd get to see, but they were obviously happy to see each other.

This morning, watching them both back out in the pen, I decided the reason that we couldn't get Copper loaded was because we needed them both home for a while. My heart is happy having both of them here; Jay's heart is happy having both of them here; and even L.E. has mentioned how nice it is to look out and see them both.

Copper is going to training on Sunday, we're sure of that since Jessica is coming out to the house to do a trailer loading lesson, but I needed them both home for a couple of days (even if I didn't know it). I'll also get a riding lesson at home to help transition us to working and riding here.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Lesson 6: A Huge Breakthrough

So much stuff. I'm not sure where to even begin. Today was our last official lesson, as Skeets is coming home on the 5th!

Until today, Jessica had been getting Skeets ready for me. I was really kind of spoiled and feeling like a dude, so when she had me get Skeeter ready on my own, I felt much better. While I was waiting for Jessica to tack up Skeeter's roommate, Hailey, to ride with us there was a big boom. Skeeter and Hailey didn't even flinch. Jessica lives near a shooting range, but this shot was much closer. She had told me that her husband was up on the hill hunting, so I just looked at her and said, "guess we know what's for dinner."

We started with groundwork and Jessica showed me a cool exercise where I move Skeeter in half-circles in front of me while I'm walking a straight line. I start Skeeter on a circle and as the saddle passes in front of me, I make her change directions and continue to have her chance directions as I walk forward in a straight line. It forces her to stay out of my bubble and focus on me even more so than just circling exercises. We need a lot more practice, but we got the basics down. I'll try to have someone take video on Thursday.

We mounted up and worked on the basics. Flexing right and left, walking not like a drunk soldier, one-rein and two-rein stops. Shortly, Jessica's husband came back to pick up the gator and headed back onto the hill to get his buck. I was hopeful that he would get back before I left so I could introduce Skeeter to "dead". Ranger hates "dead", but I'm always looking for opportunities to desensitize Skeets to stuff and a dead buck seemed like a great opportunity.

We continued to work on steering and walking. Not so many circles, but lots of walk in a straight line like I told you to. We went over the bridge the long way and walked through the trot poles until Bob returned with the buck. Jessica had him drive the gator into the arena so I could introduce the big black horse to the dead buck. I had a moment of "oh, should I get off?", but then looked at Jessica and she was completely unconcerned about being up on the horses as the gator came in.

Skeeter has positive associations with the gator - it brings food and takes away poop, so seeing it drive in didn't bother her one bit. I rode her up to the back and she stretched out with her nose to poke the buck and flinched. That's all the reaction she had - a little flinch - and then she set to carefully exploring the buck. She sniffed and nuzzled until she was comfortable and then decided that if it came in the food cart, it must be food and started nibbling on its hide. At one point she picked up a leg like a dog with a bone, and then went back to nibbling along the deer's side. I gave her ten or fifteen minutes of exploration before I moved her away for the other horses to get a turn. I was super proud of her for being so brave and confident.

When we went back to riding, Jessica had me move into a trot, which was so much better than last week. I felt more comfortable, Skeeter was more comfortable and it was going well for the most part, until she got stuck. Lots of clucking and kicking and nothing doing. She was well stuck and my legs were about done. I sighed and stopped to regroup and Jessica reminded me that I had just taught Skeeter that if she ignored me long enough that she wouldn't have to move. I know that, I really do, but I needed to regroup. I couldn't reach back to pop Skeeter on the butt very well, so Jessica told me to over-under her with the reins.

After I regrouped, I squeezed, clucked, kicked and then over-undered that stubborn black mare and she snapped right to work and said, "yes, ma'am." At that moment I had a huge break-through. I've been trying so hard to ride like Jessica and not make any mistakes that I've been timid. I am not a timid rider, not by any stretch of the imagination. Well, not until I started taking lessons and became afraid to screw up my horse. The minute I started riding like I know how to ride, and how I'm actually going to be riding her at home, we started making great strides. Yes, I want my cues to be like Jessica's, and no, I don't want to screw up my horse or be too harsh, but Jessica's not going to be with me after next week. Skeeter and I are going to have to come up with our own communication system, based on what we've both learned during her time at Jessica's.

I was feeling much more confident after Skeeter and I came to an agreement and kissed her up to a canter. We made it about three strides before I locked up and became unbalanced. Damn this being out of shape business. When Skeeter felt me lock up, she immediately slowed to a stop. I didn't ask her to, but I'm okay with it being her default "my rider's in trouble" reaction.

We worked our way around the arena just once or twice more before calling it a day. I can't believe that it's almost time for Skeeter to come home, but am so blasted excited I can't hardly stand it.


Jessica's Mustang Magic mare, Moxie, is in need of some fairly expensive medication, so I'm donating all of my royalties from the online sales of TALES FROM THE TRAIL during the month of November. You can start buying Christmas presents and help Moxie.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Lesson 5: Am I a Beginner?

It's been years, years, since I've ridden a truly green horse. Washoe was the last one, I think, and that was a decade ago.

With the hundreds and hundreds of hours in the saddle under my belt, you'd think I wouldn't feel so awkward, but I do. It's difficult for me to concentrate on what my legs and my hands are doing. I've been riding autopilot on well-broke horses for so long that if my cue was even sort of close, the horse could figure it out.

I don't look so horrible in this video clip, but that's because Jessica didn't take any video of me attempting to trot. I thought I'd try to sit the trot, but I felt like a sack of potatoes, so then I thought I'd post the trot, but that was even worse, so it was back to the sack of potatoes.

Only ten more days until Skeeter comes home. Jessica is going to get her loping in the arena this week and then start riding her outside of the arena so I can ride her outside at home. We don't have a round pen or an arena, so all riding will have to be done "in the wild". I'm actually not at all worried about it, because Skeeter has shown no inclination to bolt or buck. She did get mentally stuck and frustrated a couple of times, but not once did I feel unsafe.

Our next (and last) lesson is Saturday and I can't wait!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lesson 4: Back in the Saddle Again

On Saturday, I finally got to ride Skeeter. It was just a baby ride: working on flexing, go, and one-rein stops.

Jessica spent some time showing me what they had been working on. As usual, I was extremely impressed with how far Skeeter has come. Jessica said that riding her is like riding an old plow horse - she's not overly sensitive and she's kind of heavy on the bit right now, but she's getting lighter.

When it was my turn, there was no anxiety or butterflies. I watched how solid she was with Jessica and knew we'd be keeping it to a few steps here and there, very much like what we did at home when I first "rode" her.

We rode around for about ten minutes, practicing, before Jessica started filming. Oh boy, am I out of riding shape. My hamstrings and adductors are a bit sore from working her through being "stuck".

She's coming along so well that I'll be bringing her home at about 45 days and we can move onto the "wet saddle blankets" phase of training. We'll do the ole switcheroo and Copper will head to Jessica's. I can't wait to see his progress.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Lesson 3 (AKA Who Is This Horse?)

If you've been following this blog for a couple of years, you know how very deeply I loved Estes. She taught me so much and losing her was like losing a piece of myself. Objectively, though, she wasn't an easy horse. She had way more "go" than "whoa". I was careful about who I let ride her because she could be such a pill. Queen Estes would never have hurt anyone on purpose, but she did things her way, thankyouverymuch.

After handling and sitting on Skeeter yesterday, I've come to realize that as much as I loved Her Highness, riding her was like driving a rugged old Jeep - great for ranch work and four-wheeling, but not super quick or responsive.

Miss Skeeter, on the other hand, is becoming a Ferrari - light and responsive. (I'm hoping that we'll instill some four-wheeling in her out on the trail without losing the light responsiveness.)

Our lesson started off with Jessica showing me everything they've been working on. It had been ten days between lessons for me, so there was a lot of stuff. A lot.

Laying across her bareback, getting her used to seeing a human with both eyes.

Working on transitions in the round pen
Finally, some up-and-overs. Mount on one side, dismount on the other.
(Look at Skeets in the last picture - totally unconcerned. Looking at Moxie and Bravo outside the fence, but standing solid with one leg cocked.)

After Jessica was done with the show-and-tell, it was my turn to practice. We started with some driving with the stirrup from the ground, which I'd never done before, but was pretty cool. It's teaching Skeeter what the squeeze from the stirrup means, if I squeezed (pushed in) and she didn't walk off, then it was bump-bump and a cluck to get her moving. We worked both sides and then I lined her up with the mounting block and started leaning over her, flapping the stirrups, rubbing her neck and butt, and generally letting her know I was there.

This was all stuff we had done before at home, so it was comfortable for both of us. It's nice to know that some of the foundation we laid came in handy in her training.

Then it was put weight in the stirrup and do the same thing - lean, rub, flap, etc. She walked off a step or two, but as soon as I lifted the lead rope she immediately stopped. I can't even begin to tell you how amazing that was to me. I went from having to stand on the brakes (Estes) to just thinking about the brakes (Skeeter).

We worked both sides with the standing, leaning, rubbing, flapping business a couple of times before I sat astride. She was rock solid, so we worked on flexing to the right and left just a bit before I dismounted. She had to move her feet a little bit, just a couple of steps, but a slight lift of the lead rope and she came to a dead stop.

I spent far more time than I should have at Jessica's, but I am so thrilled with her progress. I know I say that every week, but it's true. I could have gotten Skeeter rideable and out on the trails, but I would never have been able to give her this level of education. I would have trained her to be a perfect serviceable Jeep and missed out on the pleasure of driving a Ferrari.

(Jessica did take some pictures of me, as soon as I get them, I'll post.)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Round pen video

I wanted to post this with the write up of lesson 2, but it was taking forever to upload. In my hurry, I didn't get subtitles put on, which kind of sucks.

Jessica coached me through my mistakes and helped me be lighter with Skeeter. I never considered myself particularly heavy-handed or overly dramatic, and watching the video I still don't think I'm over-the-top with my signals, but she's got Skeeter so tuned into body language that I literally only need to raise the flag (or even, I swear, think about raising the flag) for direction.

I did get after her pretty hard in the first part of the video for stopping and turning, but even that was just a sharp flap of the flag. By the end of the video, all I was doing was raising or lowering the flag just a few inches.

I'm glad that Skeeter going to training includes Jessica tuning me up, because I don't want to be heavy-handed with Skeeter and if I thought I was not too sharp and Jessica thought I was, then I definitely need the tune up. (If that makes any sense at all.)

Lesson 2

I scheduled our second lesson on a day when Jay could join us, because I wanted to him to hear how/why Jessica does things so that we can work with Copper before he goes for training.

Jessica started the lesson by showing us what they've been working on - picking up feet, throwing ropes all over Skeeter's back (something I'd done, along with tossing it around her feet), and round penning.

Still not perfect, but much, much better.
I've never round penned a green horse in my life. Julie round penned Skeeter at her place, but without one of our own, we've not practiced.

Skeeter and I worked primarily on round penning with some excellent coaching from Jessica. I'm thrilled that with just a cluck I can move Skeeter from a walk to a trot, and blowing her a kiss will move her up to a canter.

See how thrilled she is to see the flag in my hand?

Ending on a good note after some circling practice
I wanted to get back over to Jessica's over the weekend to work with Skeeter a bit more, but that just didn't happen. I did swing by after I went to the range to tell her hi and get a quick scratch in. Saturday was a total loss for me, and I spent all day Sunday working on my new classes. This is the reason why she's at Jessica's - at least I know she's getting worked on a regular basis.

At our next lesson, we'll work on picking up her feet and throwing the rope all over her. Jessica planned on getting a saddle on her this weekend, so there might be some saddling/unsaddling work at our next lesson as well. We're probably still a couple of weeks away from me getting on Skeeter, but I'm so thrilled with her progress that I'm okay with it.

She'll end up being a 60 day horse, but Jay's okay with putting Copper off another 30 days if necessary.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Copper's Pedicure

Thursday was a big day for Copper and Jay - it was their first farrier visit.

Jay's become so comfortable with the horses, it's hard for me to remember that he's still very new to them, so this was a first for both of them. He wasn't sure what to expect and wasn't sure how Copper was going to behave.

Here's what Jay posted on our FB page:
Big milestone for Copper today. He got his very first visit from the farrier. The only prior experience Copper has had with hoof trimming included a squeeze chute that tipped him over on his side and a grinder. This time he had to stand still and let a complete stranger pick up his feet and use hoof picks, clippers, rasps and files. I should also mention that this was my first experience with a farrier. Ever. I was nervous. I have heard stories of horrible horse/farrier relations that include farriers being kicked and horses being struck after misbehaving. I wanted neither to happen. Thankfully my prayers were answered. I couldn't be more proud of how Copper handled himself. He was a real trooper. Not perfect, but I didn't expect him to be either. He pulled away a couple times and got antsy a few times as well, but for his very first trim he was nothing short of a rock star. It was a proud papa moment for me. Copper done good.
Copper's unsure, but willing to go along

"Dad, I'm not really happy. Hold me."

I love this picture of Copper supervising his pedicure

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

First Lesson with Skeeter

Last Friday I had my first lesson with Skeeter. I anticipated doing ground work and I was not disappointed. Skeeter had only been with Jessica for about four days at that point, so I knew she wouldn't be at the riding point.

Apparently, Skeeter was not a good house guest her first two days there and ran like a mad woman. Jessica is persistent, though, and wore her down. Skeeter was just not interested in that strange woman bossing her around and chose to leave. A lot. For two days, she ran around her pen like a fool.

Eventually she realize that all that running was hard work and that standing nicely for Jessica was a whole lot easier. Of course, I didn't know all of that before I arrived for my lesson. Skeeter wasn't hard to halter (ok, with the exception of the Julie Goodnight thing), but she wasn't as good at is as when I first taught her. I take full responsibility for that. I taught her how to lower her head and she practically haltered herself at the beginning, but as she got better at it, I fell into my old livery habits and just threw the halter on her without reminding her to lower her head.

Turns out, I let a lot of my livery habits creep into training Skeeter and Jessica has had to un-do them. For one, we never circled or longed horses. Nope. We caught 'em, saddled 'em, and rode 'em. Rarely picked up (or picked out) their hooves. If they could lead and stand tied and not throw a rider they were good.

I just have to say "wow" at what Jessica has been able to do with Skeeter. We talked about what she had worked with her on. You know, after the two days of running around like a fool. As she was talking, Jessica was demonstrating and I couldn't believe what the black mare was able to do. It might not seem like a lot, but it was huge.

Jessica showed me how to have Skeeter lower her head and put her nose in the halter. I'd done that, but in a slightly different manner, but let it slip as I mentioned earlier. Then she showed me how she kept Skeets out of her space and got her circling. Skeeter wasn't the world's best circler after just a couple of sessions, but she was so light.

After Jessica showed me what they'd accomplished, she taught me how to do it. I have a lot of bad habits to break, but I'm so thrilled with how light and willing Skeeter is. I was happy with her before, but now I'm ecstatic. Jessica had to correct me a couple of times because I was confusing Skeeter, but by the end of the lesson I started to get it.

We talked about how much Skeeter hated fly spray. I can spray her all over with a bottle of water, but the smell of fly spray is what she takes offense to. We also talked about how she's not fond of having her feet handled. I mean, she was okay with the backs, as long as you could hold on until she settled down.

A couple of days ago a video popped up on Pony Peak's Facebook page of Skeeter not only standing to be sprayed with the stinkiest stuff around, but of politely having her back hooves picked up and set down. Jessica did say it was a "significant hurdle", which is polite trainer-talk for "dude, your mare's a bitch".

Jessica is also professional enough to tell me that Skeets isn't going to be a 30 day horse like I'd hoped. That's okay. At first I was thinking there's no way I can afford another 30 days, but I think with some careful not-spending, I can swing it. I don't want to push Copper out any more than he already has been pushed out either, so that's weighing on my mind as well.

Tomorrow is our next lesson and Jay's going with me. I want him to do some of this stuff with Skeeter so he can practice on Copper and hopefully it will decrease Jessica's work load once the big red horse arrives.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Skeeter Goes to Camp

I haven't said anything about sending the horses to a trainer because I didn't want to jinx it. Jay had a trainer picked out for Copper, one who placed top ten in the Colorado Extreme Mustang Makeover (EMM) in May. The plans for Copper to go to that trainer fell through, so I was afraid to say anything about Skeeter going away until it actually happened.

I was super jealous of Jay's decision to send Copper to a trainer, and decided to re-allocate my "new gun" money to "Skeeter's Camp" money and talked to Jessica from Pony Peak Stangmanship. I met Jessica when she was a cast member on Horse Master a couple of years ago and have loved watching her work her 'stangs in the EMMs ever since. She is very zen-like in her approach to training and it shows in her horses.

Here's a video of her freestyle the year she won the Colorado EMM (2012). (You'll have to click the link, for some reason it wouldn't embed properly.)

We agreed she would take on Skeeter after she got back from the Fort Worth EMM (where she placed top ten), so on Monday I borrowed a friend's truck and trailer and hauled Skeets over. Mom came down to experience this milestone with us.

Remember last year when she didn't know her name? Now she comes when called.

Just some showing off for Grandma

When my friend offered me her truck and trailer, she didn't ask about my trailering experience. If you've been reading this blog a while, you might know that it's ... limited. I hauled Estes up the hill once in our small, two-horse straight-load bumper-pull trailer, and I hauled hay up the hill once on Jay's 21' flatbed bumper-pull trailer.

My friend's truck/goose-neck trailer combo was the biggest thing I've ever attempted. It was nerve-wracking because we had to go through miles of road construction, city traffic, and some dirt road driving.  I'm happy to say that I rocked that shit!

Stock trailer. Skeets did not approve at first.
I had just a passing thought as to how Skeeter would do getting into a trailer that hauls cattle, but then it vanished. She started to follow me up into the trailer and the she smelled the cows. I'm not sure she's ever seen cows, much less been close enough to smell them. She backed off the trailer pretty quickly, but didn't go far, just far enough away that she could get a good sniff.

It took about ten minutes for her to decide that the trailer was an okay place, then she walked right in like she had been doing it forever. Meanwhile, though, Copper was losing his mind that I'd taken Skeeter from the pen.

What a sweet face, right before all hell broke loose.

I'd like to say that Skeeter behaved herself once I took off her halter and closed the partition, but that would be a lie. She and Copper started screaming back and forth and she started kicking the trailer. Mom and I loaded up her bale of hay, told her to knock it off, and headed to Jessica's.

It took almost an hour to get there, and Skeeter did really well until we got parked. Funny, when she's concentrating on staying on her feet in a big ole stock trailer, she's too busy to kick.

I knew she was keyed up and was nervous about having to halter her and get her off the trailer because she was so fired up. We decided to keep the back gate of the trailer closed in case she decided to bolt when I opened the partition gate. I opened the partition and went in with the halter, while Jessica held the partition gate closed by reaching through the "windows" of the trailer. Skeeter put up a bit of a fuss about putting her nose in the halter, but in just a few seconds it was on.

I continued to be nervous about getting her off the trailer once the big back gate opened, but she followed me down nicely. Her head got high and she got just a smidge charge-y, but not like when we were at Julie's. It was a vast improvement.

We got her settled into her temporary home and discussed the goals for the next 30 days. At the end of her 30 days, I'd like to have a walk/trot/canter with good stops and left and right turns. Very basic stuff that a green broke horse should be able to do. One of the best things about sending her to Jessica is that I'll get a weekly lesson with Skeeter so that I can learn what Jessica's doing and continue it at home. My first lesson is Friday and I'm so looking forward to it.

The trainer that Jay had asked to train Copper has been pretty incommunicado, so we asked Jessica if she could take on Copper, too. She agreed, so when Skeeter is done, we'll swap out with Copper. It means that they will be separated for about 60 days, which is perfect. It will be good for them to have to rely on themselves and a human for a couple of months.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Work Day

Last week, Jay and I attended a Justin Dunn demo where we were finally able to get our hands on one of his bitless bridles. We've seen Justin demo in the past, and it was good to get a refresher on how he does things. I find them remarkably similar to what Julie does with her horses - it's all about the ground work and controlling their feet. The difference is Justin calls his a "5-part series" and uses it to check in with his horses.

His 5-part series includes: back, left, right, ground-tie, come to me. Since we got to watch it over and over so many times that day, we were reasonably sure we'd be able to do it at home.

We waited a few days until we both had time to work together. We were reasonably successful. I've been struggling with Skeeter's circling work. After Julie's clinic back in May, I finally figured out how to get her to circle left, and we've been stuck there ever since.

Jay worked with Copper for a bit, but couldn't get him to circle either direction. Copper just keeps wanting to go backward and will not take a step forward. All we need is one step for him to figure it out, but he just doesn't get it.

I was working with Skeeter, still struggling with circling to the right, and getting frustrated.

Jay and I decided to switch horses. I mistakenly thought that since I could at least get Skeeter to circle left, I might be able convince Copper to go left. Yeah, I was wrong.

I had no success with Copper, but Jay did with Skeeter. Our Freaky Friday switch-a-roo worked wonders for Skeeter. I don't know what he did, or how, but now Miss Skeeter can do the entire series: back, left, right, ground-tie, come to me.

Back. She doesn't like it and it take some persuasion, but she'll do it.

Come to me. She's good at that because she's a pocket pony.
After we called it a day on trying to teach the 5-part series, it was time to fit Copper's new bridle to him. He has a huge head. Huge. But knew it, but we didn't really know it until we put that bridle on.

We adjusted it as big as we could, but we're still going to need to punch a few holes and order a new browband.  I think, once we get it adjusted properly, he's going to do very well in it. Copper's a sensitive boy who always wants to do right, so I think he'll do very well bitless.

And ... tomorrow's a big day for Jay and Copper! Copper's title inspection is scheduled for tomorrow evening - in two-three weeks Copper will be Jay's horse free and clear!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Horse Master with Julie Goodnight 2015 (Cast member)

This July, as I do every July, I loaded up and headed to southern Colorado to work on my friend Julie Goodnight's RFD-tv show, Horse Master with Julie Goodnight. I first met Julie when I was a cast member seven years ago (2008) with Estes. Since then, I've gone back to work as a crew member every year.

Lord knows I can use some help with Skeeter, so I applied to be a cast member this year and do double duty. The stars lined up and I was able to work it out with Mom and Bill to haul Skeeter to Julie's and back since I was going to be working.

Skeets has tons of holes in her training, but the one thing she does well is trailer loading. When they brought Ranger down to babysit, they left the trailer, so we did a quick practice run with it. She loaded into the unfamiliar trailer like a champ, which assured me there wouldn't be a problem getting her to Julie's.

I headed to Julie's on Sunday, and Skeeter was scheduled to arrive Monday evening. I tried not to fret too much, but as it got later and later in the day, I started to worry. Mom and Bill drove in about 8:30, just before full dark.

"Mom? Is that you?"

Skeets unloaded from the trailer like a pro. I was a little worried that she'd want to bolt off of it after being locked in for five hours or so. I needn't have worried.

It was after she was off the trailer that things got exciting. She circled and circled, trying to take it all in. So many different things and so many different smells. I let her circle until I got dizzy and then stopped her nonsense. Walking her from the trailer to her run was like taking a kid to their first day of kindergarten - she was both excited and unsure. We stopped and soaked it all in a couple of times, but before I knew it, she was loose in her temporary home.

So many smells to check out.
It was getting to be past my bedtime, so I patted her on the nose, told her I loved her and headed "home" for the night. Mom and Bill stayed at Julie's in their horse trailer, so I slept soundly knowing that if anything went wrong, they'd be there.

We had two episodes to finish up the next morning before it was Skeeter's turn, so all she got was a run-by "I love you" as I headed to the arena to work. Bill and Mom did a good job of keeping her company and getting her all pretty-fied.

Bill says, "no autographs!"
One of the best things about Julie's place is the hitch rail. Since we don't have one at home, us two-leggeds were looking forward to giving Skeeter some quality time at the patience post. She did pretty well, though she tried to dig her way to China (we filled it in, Julie, I swear!).

When we finished the two episodes, I ran up to the house to get myself dolled up for the camera and thus began the process of hurry-up-and-wait.

As ready as I'm going to get - or so I thought.
I got the star treatment from Cheryl, who decided to re-do my braid so it wasn't so loose.
It takes time to move all of the cameras and crew to get set up in a new location, which is why the hurry-up-and-wait thing. I understand it and was thankful to have a bit of time to decompress and switch gears from crew member to cast member. Finally, the cameras were set up at the round pen and we were ready to go.

She stood so nicely outside the pen.

Getting my mic turned on. They probably should have left it off.
We had a plan: I would go in the round pen and do some of our usual groundwork to show off what we've learned and how far we'd come (including sitting on her bareback and in a saddle), then Julie would come in and we'd talk a little bit before Dale Myler would work with Skeeter. That was our plan.

What actually happened: Skeeter lost her mind. Her brains fell out her butt. Everything we'd learned and practiced went right to hell in a handbasket. We managed to do a bit of circling and leading. We tried standing and taking deep breaths to calm down. We walked around some more and circled a bit more, but Skeeter was having none of it. I finally got to the point where I felt like, "well, this is the horse we've got, so let's get going" and had them bring in the mounting block.

Bill might end up on camera, since he came in to help out.
She wouldn't calm down enough for me to mount up, so we just worked on laying weight across her back from both sides. I was willing to climb on up, but Julie decided to err on the side of caution. She asked what I thought of really working her in the round pen. Initially, I was afraid to amp her up even more and lose what little control over her I had, but when Julie offered to do the round penning I couldn't resist. I mean, Julie Goodnight working my horse? It was an offer I couldn't refuse.

We removed Skeeter's halter and turned her loose in the pen with Julie. I perched on a hay bale on the other side of the pen so I could see and still be on camera. It was amazing to watch.

At first, Skeeter did her level best to ignore Julie. She did what was asked, when enough pressure was applied, but made it very clear that she wasn't happy about it. In fact, she very clearly told Julie to eff off more than once. Slowly, very slowly, she began to regain her brain and focus on Julie. It was a pleasure to watch and I'm fairly certain Julie was having a good time with my challenging mare. After about fifteen-twenty minutes, Skeeter came around enough that we could move on with the episode.

Or so we thought.

Skeeter is good about getting haltered. If she balks at it, she takes fewer than ten steps before she's "caught" and then stands quietly for haltering.

My horse. My stupid, wild mustang, decided that she didn't want haltered and took both Bill and Julie dirt skiing. I heard her husband, Rich, telling her not to get hurt and all I could think of was if Julie got hurt it would be my fault. After a few minutes, they were able to get the halter on the fire-breathing dragon as I watched, absolutely horrified. Skeeter's first haltering wasn't nearly that crazy and I have video to prove it.

I should have just gone back in the round pen to halter her, but there's this whole thing about having to stay clean for the episode and Bill has haltered Skeeter almost as often as I have, so I didn't expect it to be a thing.

I don't have any pictures of the round pen work or what happened during the teaching segment of the episode, because cameras aren't allowed while taping the actual episode. All of the pictures we have were taken between shots, but I know the finished product is going to be amazing.

Dale quietly slipped a bit into her mouth and adjusted it, then taught me how to "work over the withers" with her to teach her to give to the bit.

We put her in a 3-ring combo for the episode, which seems to be the favored bit on the show. After talking to Dale, I understand why. The 3-ring combo has five points of contact: the nose, curb chain, poll, tongue, and bars. It's designed so that the horse first feels nose pressure and then the other points of contact back up the nose pressure.

In "real life", though, I'm going to start her in a Myler 04 snaffle to get her used to carrying it around in her mouth. She'll get to do her ground work and circling work while wearing a bridle for the next couple of weeks until she's ready to move into the 3-ring combo.

I brought home two bits: the Myler 04 snaffle and the Myler 04 3-ring combo. Both will be excellent bits for her. I also brought home a new set of Julie's rope reins and her bitting system. When Skeeter is comfortable carrying the bit in her mouth, I'll add the bitting system to the equation to help her learn to carry herself properly. The beauty of the system is that it's not dependent on my ability to time the release on time - the release is completely controlled by Skeeter's movement.

The 04 snaffle with pretty rope reins

It's not a "pinchy" snaffle like most are.

The 04 3-ring combo

When it was time for Mom and Bill to pack up to leave, Skeeter was over the trailer and didn't want to get in. I'll admit, I had them resort to a bit of bribery to unstick her feet. It occurred to me that while I thought the whirlwind 24 hours she was at Julie's with me was fun, for her it was a lot of work and learning. It couldn't have been easy to get trailered 5 hours each way for her first trip, and then get left alone in a pen with strange horses next to her over night, and then get tied to a patience post for hours (not exaggerating, she probably spent two to three hours standing tied), and then get worked in the round pen, followed by having to get a metal bar put in her mouth and learn about that. It was a lot of work for her busy little brain to process, but it was good for her (and me).

I'm so thankful to Julie and Dale for their help and patience with Skeeter. I'm also very thankful for the support of the rest of the crew that I've been lucky enough to work with for years: Heidi, Sharon, Cheryl, Lucy, Twyla, Mel, and Steve. It was fun to get to have my friends (and Mom and Bill) with me through the whole process.

If anyone has the opportunity to apply to be a cast member for Julie's show, jump on it! It's an experience you won't forget.

Click HERE to read about Mom and Bill's version of the events. Those two are crazy - 36 hours away from the lodge and they consider that a vacation.