Monday, January 7, 2008

...and the FUN stuff

Well, before I trimmed feet yesterday, I rode my paint mare. For complicated and stupid reasons, she hadn't been out of her stall for several days. And she hadn't been ridden in at least three weeks - she pulled a shoe in December and I didn't get the farrier out til late last week to pull the other and trim her. It was in the 60s and very windy yesterday, so it was a perfect day to ride and a terrible day to ride a half-wild horse.

I pulled Quinn out, brushed her down, and tacked her up with no problem. Then we went off to the "mounting block" (i.e. a milk crate turned upside down.) She's 16 hh, I don't want to stress her back hauling my heavy self up there, and I think training a horse for a mounting block is always a good idea. But there were two issues to deal with.

First, Quinn has a weird takeoff. It's her worst habit, probably. You have about 2 seconds from the time you swing your right leg over her back until the time she's charging off full speed ahead. She bows up her back exactly like she's going to buck, but she doesn't buck, she just takes off at top speed for about 15 feet. After that, she'll stop, turn, slow down - generally listen to you. But not for that first few seconds.

Second, the redneck chaos at my barn was in full swing. The big family was out there with all five kids running around, some of their friends and kids were out there, and a few real horsepeople were out. One of my friends was tooling around on her paint QH, and my buddy James was on his gaited mare waiting for me so we could hit the trails.

I led Quinn right over into the thick of things and started trying to get her to stand still and let me climb aboard. A couple of the real horsepeople offered to come hold her head, but I declined - I don't want to get in the habit of having people hold her head. I want a horse that I can mount with no help, not one that refuses to stand still without two assistants. She's not an OTTB and there's no reason for her not to learn to behave.

It took at least five minutes for me to get on her back. She danced and pranced in circles. She stood still, but only til I moved back near the stirrup. She walked away from the crate, and on top of the crate. She lined up a couple of times facing the wrong way. When she started acting a fool, I just looked at her and told her that I had all day to play her games, but she was going to stand still and let me on her back eventually. I didn't discipline her for any of her antics, except once when she started pawing. I generally don't let my horses paw, so I whacked her shoulder and told her to knock that off. Eventually, she realized that I wasn't going to beat her, I wasn't going to get anybody else to hold her head, and I was going to get on her back.

I swung up, got my right foot in the stirrup on the first try, and we were OFF. I knew she'd need at least a lap around the arena to get some of the crazies out of her, but it took way more than that. She charged off in a straight line, as usual. We were headed toward another barn, and there was a BLUE CHAIR in front of it. Obviously it was going to eat her, because she seriously thought about rearing up and running away from it. I got her steered around the evil chair, turned around the back side of the arena, and realized that she was seriously insane. Whenever I tried to give her an inch of rein, she'd try to break into a buck/canter. Whenever I tried to bump the reins to slow her down, she'd bow her head down and tense her back up and threaten to buck. We made it around the back side of the arena and I took her straight inside to let her do whatever it was she wanted to do so badly.

Our arena is horrible at the best of times. The owners don't have a tractor and they don't want to pay anybody to disc it, so it's overgrown with knee-high grass and weeds. It's been raining off and on for a week so at least it was a weedy swamp, instead of hard dirt with weeds. Well, I figured the mud would slow her down and wear her out a bit, and I'd rather fall off in the mud than on something hard, so off we went!

Quinn was on the absolute edge of out-of-control for a good ten minutes. For some reason, I wasn't scared at all. I had a good deep seat, with calm legs and enough energy in my core to keep me perfectly balanced. I had no brakes and very little steering, but I knew that she wasn't actually retarded enough to run us into the fence so I figured I'd just ride it out. And I did! She kept wanting to buck, and wanting to canter, but I just kept her barely in gait and let her slog through the swamp til she got sweaty. Then I asked for a halt, and she halted. I asked her to turn, and she turned. We went two laps in the opposite direction, stopped and turned again, and she was finally ok. I walked her out of the arena, over to James, and said "Let's roll."

We went on a medium-length trail ride - I didn't check the distance on Google Earth, but we probably rode 3-4 miles. I made her lead the whole way, and I made her do what I wanted. James and I usually have the greenest horse lead the way, so the new horse will get used to seeing the sights, not seeing a more experienced horse's tail. I stayed very attentive to how Quinn was feeling physically - if she wanted to speed up, we'd gait for a while. When she wanted to slow back down, I'd make her gait just a little farther - another 20 yards or so at a RW - then I'd ask her to slow down and cool off again.

One of my biggest mistakes with Champ was letting him set his own speed. Now he's incredibly stubborn and absolutely refuses to gait unless he wants to. If I insist that he goes faster when he doesn't want to go faster, he trots. Sigh. He's lucky that I adore him so much. But anyway, that's one of the things I'm trying to avoid with Quinn - I'm not going to push her too hard, but she is going to learn to gait until I ask her to slow down.

We went past a few scary monsters - some big sewer pipes sticking up out of a field, some four-wheelers, and a couple of logs.* She was pretty reluctant to cross the first bridge that we came to, but I insisted and it didn't eat her after all. The return part of the loop takes us back over a different bridge, and she didn't mind that one at all. We detoured back to the first bridge and I made Quinn cross it one more time before we headed for home - she did fine the last few times.

*What on earth is it with mares and logs? Both of my mares are seriously terrified of logs. Dead trees lying beside the trail, stumps near the trail, cut up sections of logs - they're both convinced that Log Monsters are going to kill them. It's pretty annoying... but I guess it's made me a better rider. Last summer Silky would jump sideways every time we saw a scary log, and we would see at least 20 scary logs on a given ride. I got so used to it eventually that I wouldn't even lose my balance. Now the new mare has decided that logs are monsters too! Arrrgh!

Anyway, Quinn was pretty seriously worn out by the time we got home. It was still quite warm, so I was able to hose the worst of the mud off of her legs and belly and check to make sure she hadn't pulled any muscles. Then I turned her out for a well deserved roll, and she ended up dirtier than ever. I'm a little conflicted - I feel like I overrode her a bit yesterday, but I also feel like she brought it on herself. If she hadn't acted so insane when I first got on her, we wouldn't have had to cavort around the swamp-arena and she wouldn't have been so tired later.

It was one of those "maybe I should've lunged her first" days. But it's like the mounting block thing - I don't want a horse that needs its head held for me to mount, and I don't want a horse that has to be lunged before I can get on it.

Tomorrow it's going to rain, but I'm going to ride her again anyway. Maybe 30 minutes working around the property. I want to try out my huge collection of bits on her and see what she prefers. I'd love to get her back in a snaffle and start to develop some flexibility. She's what I call show-broke - get on, kick, and hang on to the reins as hard as you can. Pull hard enough on the curb bit to get her head turned to the side, and she'll go in that direction. But I've got a lot of hope for her. When she was calm and working well on the trail, she figured out my more subtle cues pretty quickly.

I teach neck-reining and leg cues by a really exaggerated and obvious method. If we're tooling along headed straight for a tree, and I want to pass on the right, I pick up the left rein and lay it along her neck. Then I press with my right leg behind the girth, and my left leg ahead of the girth, and finally I increase my contact with the right rein. It seems easier for both me and the horse that way, out on the trail where there's an obvious reason for me to be doing weird things with my legs and hands. I don't have the patience or the skill to teach a horse my particular cues while doing pointless circles and serpentines in the arena. If there's a big friggin tree in our way, and I do weird things with my legs and arms before I do the direct rein cue, the horse seems to catch on to the more subtle cues more quickly.

In other news - I dewormed the other three with pyrantel yesterday, then dewormed Quinn with the same today. I should worm them again around Valentine's Day, I suppose.

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