Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sheriff's Posse Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm in. Can I come out now?

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

Jay and Skeets went on a short walkabout.

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

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

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

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

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

Did Skeeter care?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 16, 2016

Pre-Posse Worries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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