Monday, December 31, 2018

Skeeter's 2018 in Review (January - July)

(I just mentioned to Jay that I was really glad that I've been better about updating the Facebook page than my blog, because as I'm going through my pictures for the year I don't always remember the stories behind them. The short blurbs I've posted on the FB page have helped jog my memory.)

February had its share of cold days, of course. But there was one day that was exceptionally cold with hoar frost. The farrier was due that day, and Mom and Bill had nothing better to do, so they drove down to help out with the horses. We froze our butts off and took some cute pictures of the horses before we cancelled the farrier. We'd hoped that the weather would get better throughout the day, but it didn't.

Couldn't resist lining them up.

As the day wore on, the hoar frost grew and grew. While it was cold and miserable, the frost was gorgeous. Though the horses look cold, they were actually nice and warm unlike their humans.

No riding happened in March, but the Allenspark Cousins did come down to visit until it was warm enough for them to go back up to the lodge. It's always wonderful to see both herds together.


In April, Skeeter and I started our 40-hour posse training. It did not go well, as you might recall. I mean, it could have been worse, but it also could have been better. Day 1 of training is here, and Day 2 here. The day after training, we sadly had a funeral for our former posse team leader. When I got home from the funeral, Mom and Bill were waiting and insisted I get up on a horse. Bill had been itching to ride Skeets, so I climbed up on Washoe. So far, this is the only picture of me on a horse in my uniform and it's not even my horse! I'm probably breaking all sorts of rules by posting this, so ssshhhhhh.... (p.s. the hellhat is not part of my uniform.)

More pictures of the Allenspark Cousins, just because they make me happy.


The cousins took over the hay bale and the Wild Ones came to tell on them.

I don't know what happened in May, but zero riding got done. Sometimes I blink and it's a whole new month. I'm pretty sure that's what happened. There is evidence that I talked to and loved on my horse, but did not get up on her.

Come June, we attempted to finish up our 40 hour training. Attempted is the key word. It didn't go much better than it had in April. I'm fairly certain that's because we ended on such a poor note, she now associates the posse arena with bad stuff, not good stuff. Day 1 is here, and Day 2 is here. June didn't entirely suck, though. We moved Skeeter up to the mountain, where she is happiest. Autobot and Skeeter spent a lot of time together throughout the summer, which made it really nice when I went up once a week or so to ride.


We found out during that first ride that Skeeter did not want to cross the "big" water. It's about 4 inches deep and 15 feet across, but it was no bueno. I dismounted and finally got her across. We had no problems crossing it to come home. We are both much happier on the mountain than anywhere else.

July was full of riding, even if it started on a not-great note. Skeeter managed to pick up a stone bruise, but we thought she'd be okay for a short ride in Estes' memory. I was wrong. While she didn't look lame, once we added my weight and started up the hill, it was obvious that she was still hurting.

2nd Annual Estes Memorial Ride was a bust.
By 4th of July, she was feeling good enough to ride in the parade with Autobot, where they did so well. Because of my volunteer duties with the posse, I didn't think I'd make it up to the lodge in time to see the parade, but I'm glad I did.

Good parade ponies

Autobot and I had a great birthday ride. She took out Washoe, and I went out on Skeeter. Skeets did amazing. We got ourselves in a bit of a bind and she managed to think her way out of it. I came back from the ride all grins. Skeeter was pretty proud of herself, too. You should have seen the smug look on her face when we got back to the lodge.

"Yeah, I'm *that* good Mom"
We ended July with our first real bareback ride. When I first started backing Skeets when she was a "baby" mustang, we started bareback, but only took a few steps each time. Bareback is actually my preferred method of riding, but I've been hesitant to do much bareback on such a green horse. As soon as I climbed on, I felt like I was at home. We've had some really good rides, but I've always been a bit tense in a saddle. However, I haven't done much bareback riding since Estes died, so we decided to start slowly, with a lap around the block, but we felt so good that we extended our ride to the Ski Road loop.

I will forever treasure this photo of Skeets and Uncle Ranger.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Copper, the Big Red Dog

Wow, my last post was kind of a downer, wasn't it? Yikes. I guess I should have been better about updating the blog. I've posted snippets on the FB page, but haven't taken the time to sit down and write an actual blog post. Skeeter's doing amazing on the mountain, Pearl is doing amazing in her lessons with L.E., and Copper and I have taken on a new project.

Since Copper's got a hitch in his get-along, we can't ride him much (in fact, I think he's only been ridden twice this year by Mom and Autobot). However, he still needs exercise. As much as he loves being a pasture pet, the lounging around and eating all day isn't good for him, so I knew we needed to start doing something with him, I just didn't know what.

Just over a month ago, I was working at the range and was carrying a case of ammo from the storage room down to the deck and was dying. So very out of shape. I mean, I knew I was out of shape, but being surrounded by a bunch of fit cops will really drive the point home. As I was huffing and puffing, trying not to show that I couldn't breathe, I decided I needed to join a gym, so I started thinking about it. There is an incredible community center that is very reasonably priced about five miles southeast of our place, but I knew I would not drive past our house to go work out. I needed something closer. I had pretty much decided on re-joining the gym that is on my way to work, but hadn't actually stopped in.

Scrolling through Facebook one night, I saw an ad for a virtual race. Normally, I would have scrolled right on by, but the theme of the virtual race piqued my interest and I looked a bit deeper into what a virtual race was and what it entailed. I could pay my registration online and run the race wherever I wanted to. A plan began to form. I could kill two birds with one stone here - Copper and I would both get the exercise we desperately needed and the X-Files-themed race made me happy. Before I could chicken out, I registered both of us for the race.

I dusted off my Ease Into 5k app and we were off!

Who am I kidding? Nothing's that easy.

Copper's well trained in ground work. The kid knows how to lead at all gaits, so I didn't think there would be a problem. I was wrong. While he enjoyed the walking part of the training, the running part was a ... challenge. I completed our first two training runs with a 1000# anchor. You know those crazy people who run with parachutes attached to them to increase their resistance? Yeah, this was kind of like that, only the resistance was in the form of a cranky gelding.

Only, I can be a lot crankier than he can, and by our fourth training run, I was D-O-N-E with his attitude, so we went to work. When he balked, he got to do some circling exercises, and then I started driving him from the shoulder during each of the run portions of the training. It's a lot more work to have to run in circles than just jog alongside Mom, is what he finally decided. I still wasn't able to do much more than a quick shuffle during that training run, but at least I wasn't dragging a boat anchor behind me either.

He tries for a mare face, but the food hanging out his mouth detracts from the look.

After a couple of days to think about it, our fifth training run went much better. I still had to drive him, but circles weren't necessary and for the first time since we started running, I was able to RUN. Leg-stretching, lung-burning run. It felt wonderful - and I *hate* running. The euphoria came from not having to fight him. I swung the end of the rope at his shoulder, clucked and he stepped up into a nice trot. It was heavenly. You know, for running, which I hate.

Once he understood that he was going to have to trot whether he liked it or not, he began to enjoy it and my workouts got a lot harder! Running next to a trotting horse is HARD! Like, really hard.

Copper looks all sorts of fresh; I look (and feel) like I'm dying.
Two to three times a week for the last four weeks, we've been doing training runs. Copper is enjoying them far more than I am now. I still have to "encourage" him with our first run each time out, but then he trots alongside like a well-trained dog. Once or twice he got charge-y and pulled on the lead rope, but making him back quickly fixed that. It's funny, I literally have him dragging his feet behind me during our five minute warm up, and then after our first run interval, he's looking for excuses to trot. Traitor.

A couple of weeks ago, I was physically hitting a wall. Getting up to go running was an incredible chore and it took everything I had to lace up my running shoes. I was considering scratching from the race (and losing the $54.00 in registration fees), but a little bit of retail therapy lit the fire under my butt again.

X-Files race requires alien socks, right?
I'm still not completely thrilled with this whole running thing, and wish I could say after a month that I'm feeling stronger physically, but that would be a lie. However, Copper *loves* it, and psychologically, I feel good. If only my 47 year old body would get on board that would be great.

Technically, tomorrow is race day, as it's the 25th anniversary of the day X-Files was released, but the beauty of virtual races is that you can do you race at pretty much any time. I have work and Posse stuff tomorrow, so I chose to do the run today. My sister Nebalee, and my niece Asset came out to run it with us, which was fun.

Looking all fresh and hopeful before the race

Just dragging my dog along (and check out the alien socks!)

Nebalee, Asset, and Copper look great. I felt like death, but I made it.

Our reported time.

Official race shirt - I earned it.
Nebalee and I found discrepancies between our GPS apps, so we went with her Map My Run app for distance, which thousands of people use for race reporting. I reported the time from my stopwatch app, which is five seconds faster than Nebalee's app and I don't know why. Not that this is a sanctioned race, so it doesn't really matter.

What matters is that Copper and I did it. There were times when I was sure it wasn't going to happen, and we did a ton more walking than running in this 5k, but we did it. We have another virtual race scheduled for October 6th, and I'm looking at one for the end of October before we hang up our running shoes for the winter. Copper may not be able to earn ribbons in riding competitions, but he can earn his 5k metals, and we'll proudly display them next to anything Skeeter and Pearl earn.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Second Training Weekend, Part 2 (6/3/18)

When I got back to the arena the second day, I was relieved to see that she'd eaten most of her hay and drank a good deal of water because I worried about her pacing herself into an ulcer or colic. She was much calmer, too. Not frantic that her neighbors were being pulled from her pen, and happy to see me.

It appeared that she'd managed to find her brain overnight, but I still chose not to ride, knowing that the training plan was more intense than the day before. With her blow up over being saddled the day before, I wasn't sure what to expect, but she was back to being a "broke" horse.

Day one, I kept her with me, separate from the horses because of her anxiety. Day two, though, with her regained brain meant that she could be ponied from another horse. While everyone else was warming up, I took her into the arena with the other horses and did some circle work with her before handing her off to another posse member to work in formation.

She did incredibly well in formation, so got to go with the rest of the team across the bridge (she did awesome - but better than first weekend training) into the venue.

Right in the middle, surrounded by other horses.
For a horse who didn't want to be around other horses the day before, she did really well with horses close to her on either side. She got ponied all around the park, and got to see all sorts of sights: a huge rodeo arena (she worked in that for patrol car desensitizing in the first week of training), buildings on both sides, livestock barns, and vehicles. She had to stop and stand in formation, and work with the other horses. It was a great learning experience for her.

Despite me being an avid shooter, Skeeter *hates* guns. She's okay with the occasional shotgun or rifle blast from the neighboring hunters, but does not at all appreciate handguns. I know, I know, it breaks my heart, too. Gun training was planned after the tour of the vanue and I was cautiously optimistic based on her morning behavior.

I worked her from the ground during gun training, but it did not go well. The Posse member who had ponied her throughout the morning offered to trade horses with me, and since I was tired of fighting with Skeets, I jumped at the offer. I struggle with walking the fine line between being supportive in her fear, and disciplining bad behavior, so it was a relief to have someone else take it on. In watching the other person disciplining her, I realized I needed to reinforce boundaries, stimulus be damned. Because I was so concerned about trying to be comforting and supportive during something that I knew scared Skeeter, I was letting her walk all over me. My fear was that if I disciplined her for her fear, I would make her fear worse. She did much better with the other handler, which isn't surprising, since the other handler wasn't concerned with how Skeeter felt, she was concerned with keeping her ownself safe.

Skeeter hated the gunfire, but eventually quit trying to jump on the human holding her. I'll call it a win (for now). Once gun training was over, she relaxed again and started to show interest in other things, so we went over to watch the obstacle course.

She was very interested and wanted to go play, but because the other members were testing on the course, we didn't get to. There were still a few hours left of training, but I wanted to leave on a good note. The first weekend training, I didn't do that, and I think it negatively impacted her ability to relax for the second weekend training. She was in such an agreeable mood, I figured she'd load up easily.

I've spent a lot of time and money on trailer training, but she's a stubborn mare. While I was trying to load her, the next group of horses began their gun training. So in addition to having a horse that didn't want to get on the trainer, I also had a horse who was stressed by the gunshots.

I may or may not have threatened to walk her the half a mile down the street to the rendering plant - that's when I knew it was time to take a break. After an hour, I tied her to the trailer in order to avoid killing her.

I'm pretty sure we were trading hateful thoughts at this point.
 I sat on the back of the truck and tried to think happy, calm thoughts. I knew that continuing to try to load her with both of us being so frustrated wasn't going anywhere. There are very, very few things that drive me to tears, and this was super close.

Eventually, the rest of the Posse took a break and another member asked if he could try. Without much hope, I agreed. I told him the only thing he could not do was pull on her head - that's what got us in trouble in the first place. He tried every trick he knew - and he has a deep toolbox of tricks - but she wouldn't get in. She'd load her front two legs, scoot up right until her back legs were touching the trailer and stop. (It's the same thing she was doing for me.)

I, too, have tried every trick in the book. We even started out, when she was brand new to us, by feeding her in the trailer. She thanked me by eating all of the wiring and padding on the divider. She also learned that she can eat from the manger without getting all the way in the trailer, and that lesson comes back to bite me in the ass on the regular.

Eventually, we were down to the last tool in his toolbox - a manure fork. We bribed her as far in as we could get her, with me holding the grain outside of the window to force her to stretch as far as she could, then he poked her in the ass with the manure fork until she stepped up into the trailer to get away from it.

I had hoped to leave on a good note, but two plus hours after I wanted to leave, I was just happy to get in the damn truck and go.

To say our 40-hour training was disappointing would be an understatement. I was seriously questioning our ability to work with the mounted unit, and was beginning to think about switching from mounted to the volunteer (ground) unit. Surprise would be an understatement when I received our certificate of completion for the training.

We are nowhere near being ready to patrol, and I'm still not 100% sure that we'll ever make it as a mounted team, but I'm not ready to give up quite yet.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Second Training Weekend, Part 1 (6/2/18)

The Posse's 40-hour training is broken up into two very long weekends. Well, they're typical weekends, but they feel very long. There is a lot of training and desensitizing that has to go on in order to be patrol-ready. I had high hopes of being able to ride in the second weekend training. I knew we wouldn't get certified, but Skeeter had been doing so well, I thought I'd at least get to ride in warm-up and maybe in formation.

I was so, so very wrong in thinking that.

Skeeter loaded into the trailer pretty nicely (for her), but when we got to the training arena, she lost her mind. She stepped off the trailer, looked around, and said "oh, fuck no. I'm not doing this again!".

Suddenly, things that we've been doing for years were impossible for her to do. Her stress and anxiety were off the charts and the only think I can think of is that her last trip to the training arena had been so stressful that she just couldn't function.

I tied her to the trailer and she could do nothing but pace. I groomed her and attempted to saddle her any way. It was like she'd never seen a saddle before. I got the saddle on the first time, but couldn't get it cinched up because she was moving so much. I tried untying her from the trailer, so she wouldn't feel too confined, and she had to move her feet. And, boy, did she move her feet! She hasn't bucked with a saddle since she was first learning to wear one. Lucky for me, my saddle is light, so I was able to hold onto her lead with one hand and pull the saddle with the other.

I moved her feet a lot, doing lots of turns and transitions, in an attempt to get her to focus on me. After a few minutes, she calmed down enough for me to saddle her a second time, but she was not happy about it. Though I was able to saddle her, I decided it was not in my best interest to attempt to ride her, so we settled in to watch the goings-on.

This was her "happy" face for the weekend.
I'd like to say that the weekend got better, but that would be a lie. She had moments of not-so-bad, but mostly she was anxious and upset all weekend. Part of me wanted to pack it in and go home, but I wasn't about to give up. I don't know if that was the right decision, but I made it and stuck to it, so we both got to suffer through the weekend.

We found out that she hates it when trucks fart at her (air brakes releasing). The water truck wasn't scary, but the farting was and she about turned herself inside out every time.

Then the med-evac helicopter came for a visit. Helicopters fly over our place occasionally, but they never seem to bother the horses, so I thought she'd do okay. She didn't mind at all while it was flying over, until it was time for it to land. She did pretty well, actually, just had to move her feet and circle around me once or twice as it was landing, but no big explosions from her. I wanted to hear the presentation from the helicopter team, so I put her in the round pen and let her be.

When the helicopter left, I went to fetch Skeets out of the round pen only to find that she had rolled in it and slipped it off to the side. I took it as a good sign that she relaxed enough to roll, even if it meant she scuffed the hell out of my cheapo saddle.

It had been a big day, and we still had hours to go, so I stripped her of the saddle and put her in her pen, where she could watch what was going on in the arena, but not be forced to join in the festivities. With her safely tucked into her pen, I could join in on the activities on the ground, where I learned a lot about escorting and controlling people from horseback.

We finished the night with fireworks. The posse horses did great, and Skeeter watched from the safety of her pen, though she refused to eat or drink until I went and sat with her for a while. Once I saw her finally calm down enough to eat, I felt comfortable leaving her overnight while I went home.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Back in the Saddle

Ever since Pearl bucked us off two years ago, neither Jay nor I have climbed back up on her. Mom, Bill, L.E., and Autobot have all ridden her, but we just hadn't gotten around to it. However, we bought her so we could use her and the intermittent riding she's been getting just wasn't cutting it. We have three solidly green broke horses who aren't progressing because we just don't have the time for them, so we decided to send Pearl off for some wet saddle blankets.

I'd been looking around for someone, but Jessica was full, as was our second pick, and the person Jessica recommended was far too expensive, so I kinda put it on the back burner and focused on getting Skeeter ready for the second half of Posse training (post on that will be in a few days).

We have lots of trainers who are Posse members, which means we have lots of different ideas on how to train horses. I never seriously considered sending any of my horses to any of the Posse trainers because I wasn't sure, with all of the different training philosophies, that I would choose one that would fit my own training beliefs. However, during Skeeter's last weekend training, one of the Posse members offered to take her from me when she was giving me fits. After watching her handle Skeeter, I decided that our training philosophies aligned enough that I would be comfortable sending a horse to her.

While the Posse member offered to take Skeeter, I preferred that she take Pearl. It was kind of a quick decision, because she's booked in July, but had an opening this month. I talked it over with Jay, we dug into savings, and off Pearl went to Wet Saddle Blankets Camp.

Jay telling his Disney Princess to behave herself and have fun
The first report from the trainer was that Pearl is "broke with all the fancy buttons". We knew that, but she needed to be "dumbed down" for us. She's a bit too well trained for what we need her for, and if someone asks for something wrong, she gets frustrated and threatens to blow up. The trainer's updates throughout the week were all positive, so I was feeling pretty confident (though nervous, let's not be crazy) on our way for my lesson (6/15/18).

She was a bit hot when the trainer stepped up on her, and in the past, I would have been all about riding her out. She wasn't malicious, just needed to move her feet. However, I've never had a horse so completely destroy my confidence like Pearl did when she bucked me off. Skeeter has never once offered a buck, but my lack of confidence because of Pearl has impacted my ability to relax and ride Skeeter. It was very important of me to get my ass back up on Pearl and remember that I do, in fact, know how to ride.

Pearl's 15 hands, easy, and my little 30" legs weren't going to mount from the ground, so when it was my turn, we went over and I mounted from the fence. All I could think of was how many different ways it could go wrong if she didn't like what was going on, but I slipped my leg over and shifted my weight from the fence to her back. She didn't even flinch.

With the trainer coaching me, we rode circles in the round pen and practiced all the "fancy stuff" that I don't know how to do. She was solid, so we moved out of the round pen and into the arena. Once I was comfortable at the walk/trot, she took us back into the round pen for a bit of loping. Now, loping is not anything I'm comfortable with. We ride on the mountain and there just aren't any safe places to do much more than a trot. The trainer assured me that her lope was much smoother than her trot, which was good, because I could not find my seat on her big, Andalusian-style trot.

We worked on walk/trot, then I asked for a canter. It is nice and smooth, but I was only comfortable with a few strides before I brought her back down to a walk. Her transitions are nice and smooth between gaits, and she calmed down pretty okay.

She likes to go and would be an excellent endurance horse. When Copper came up lame, we were pretty certain that Jay's goal of riding and LD (limited distance) had died. Not true, now that we have Pearl. I think she'll thoroughly enjoy the training required for an LD, and we can set our goal for next fall.

Yesterday (6/19/18), I sent Autobot to the trainer's for a lesson on Pearl. Autobot's been doing some of the Pearl riding, though Pearl makes her nervous. Turns out, according to the trainer, Pearl just had her number. Now that Autobot has learned the "correct" (according to Pearl) buttons, and has learned to deal with Pearl's spooks and temper tantrums, she shouldn't have a problem at all riding her. I haven't talked to Autobot yet to see how she feels the lesson went, but I was encouraged by the trainer's report. Jay goes for his lesson on Friday (6/22/18), right before we bring our Disney Princess home.

The plan is to take her for a saddle fitting next week, so we can continue to ride her and not let her regress. I might even consider taking Miss Pearl to some Posse trainings to see how she'll do, but that won't be until August. I joined the Posse because Jay wanted to and talked me into it, but without Copper, he hasn't joined. Now that he's got a horse who might be suitable, maybe I can talk him into joining now.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day two of being ponied went much smoother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Throughout the day, the wind never let up.




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