Sunday, January 6, 2008

Here we go again.

This is a blog for me to write about my beasties. I'll try not to bitch about money or relationships or school or anything else. I need somewhere to keep track of the cute things my puppy does as she grows up, and how the kitten goes from being a retard to being a (hopefully) dignified grown-up cat, and what my horses are up to.

I've got two dogs - Jaime is a yellow lab/hound mix, and Cersei is a yellow probably-a-lab puppy. Jaime is a little on the dumb side, but otherwise they're well named - J (who is neutered) likes to hump Cersei, and Cersei is a beautiful, brilliant, and evil puppy mastermind.

Curtis is a grey and white kitten. Found him in the parking lot at the university in November! He's maybe a longhair? Maybe not? He's got the super-soft longhair fur, but it's not very long. We'll see what he grows into. He's quite the cutie and really amazingly friendly, for being a kitten. He has his moments of trying to eat my face / hands / toes, but for the most part, he likes to cuddle and purr. He fights nonstop with Cersei. He makes the most amazing squalls and howls as she drags him around, but if I dare to break it up, he swishes his tail angrily and jumps right back on her head.

Mainly, though, I have horses. I have four, which is really one too many but I'll manage. Three Tennessee Walkers and one Percheron. I board them at a cheap DIY stable, which means that I invest more time than money in them, and I get to keep them exactly the way I want them. I try for the most natural living style I can manage, and they're all barefoot.

Champ is a 13 yo grade TWH gelding. Dark bay with a small star, and about 15.2 or 15.3. He is and always will be my favorite. If I was ever forced to sell off my horses, I would keep him no matter what. He's evil and highly opinionated, and he's kind of ugly, honestly. He taught me to ride, and (god, I know this sounds cheesy, but it's true) he taught me to be a better person. He hates most other horses and puts up with most other humans, but he will do anything for me. He's got the most "gears" of any of my horses - walk, flatwalk, trot, canter, gallop, and when he's in the mood (not often) a blue-ribbon true running walk.

Silky is an ancient TWH mare. Dark bay with little ankle-socks around her back coronets. She's taller than Champ, standing about 16 hh, but much thinner. She's built a hell of a lot like a STB and I often wonder if that's what she really is. Every vet, farrier, and shade-tree horse expert I've met has looked at her teeth and told me a different age, so I just say she's 20+. She's in the early stages of congestive heart failure, so she's mostly retired. I take her out on the trails for a mile or so about once a month, just to keep her in shape a bit, but I don't push her. She's extremely pacey, and based on her attitude about the arena and her paciness, I suspect she was a padded show horse in her youth. She'll walk, flatwalk, step-pace and hard pace, and every now and then I can get a few strides of a decent running walk out of her. And she's finally learning to canter under saddle! She's fearful and hardheaded, but after more than a year of living with me, she trusts me.

Poppy isn't a horse. He's a gargantuan dog, or maybe a Sasquatch; I'm not sure. He's a coming 4 year old Percheron gelding, and he's taller than Silky - probably 16.1 or 16.2 by now. Weighs over 1300. Black, with a lovely squiggly star/blaze, and a full undocked tail. When I got him last February, he was going through a serious growth phase and he looked gangly, but he's definitely filled out all over in a year. He's the only draft at the barn, and one of very few in this part of the country, so I'm not sure which aspects of his behavior are drafty and which are just Poppy. I regularly read I Gallop On and Eventing Percheron for clues about my big silly boo.

I've started Poppy lightly under saddle, and I'm happy with our progress. He's slow and steady, except for when he gets excited. He's more curious than scared by new things. He's got a bit of buck still in him when he gets riled up or when he switches gears, but honestly, it's not much of a buck. When I got him, he was a complete wuss re: other horses, but a year of hanging out with Champ has turned him into a large furry evil monster.

And finally, at the beginning of December I bought my fourth (and FINAL, DAMMIT) horse. Her name is Dixie, but I'm slowly changing it to Quinn (short for Harlequin). She's a 3 yo spotted TWH mare. She's the only one of my herd who has papers, and they're actually good. She's registered TWH and I could register her SSH and Racking if I gave a rat's ass about that kind of thing. She's about 16 hh, broad, well built, bay roan overo. I bought her for the exact same reason I bought each of my previous horses - something in her eyes. She was bred, raised, and broke at a padded Walker farm, but they sold her because she's too square and won't go padded.* That doesn't mean they didn't try - her feet look like she came out of pads pretty recently. Her back feet are lovely, but her fronts are long, underrun, and narrow with weird growth rings. We'll fix that with time and good trimming. She's rideable but scared of everything, including me.

The holidays were too busy for me to really work with her, but for about a week now I've concentrated on building her trust in me. We're getting there. I can go in her stall with quiet but determined body language and touch her all over, and she'll come to me on her own. Right now her "no" spots are her head and her girth area. I'm not entirely sure what my "style" is, but it's a combination of NH and clicker training and common sense, I think. I push her boundaries a little (touching her heart girth, for example) then back off, then repeat for a little longer. We're getting there.

I truly think she's going to be my next Champ. She has so much fire and so much personality! If I can win her trust, we will be unstoppable. I paid Way Too Much for her, because her former owner (NOT her breeder) didn't really want to sell her. The former owner was planning on having Dixie as her flatshod show horse this summer, and she's made me promise that I'll show her. Showing isn't my favorite thing, but I think Dixie-Quinn and I can go have some fun at our local shows.

*re: "won't go padded." Padded Walkers are pacey. The huge clunky pads "fix" the pace and make it into a (weird and unnatural) running walk. A good natural Walker who can do a running walk is very square, and putting heavy shoes or pads on doesn't do anything "good" to the gait. Therefore, some of these morons down here breed Walkers who won't RW without gimmicks, up to and including soring. Yes, people still do it. Anyway, Dixie was intended to be a padded show horse, but thankfully for her, she's not built for it.

Mainly, I trail ride my horses. We don't have any Official Horse Trails, so we just ride across the highway and hit the four-wheeler (ATV) trails along the Loosahatchie river. I have one steady riding partner, a good friend who loves to ride as much as I do. Sometimes we talk, and sometimes we'll ride for hours in silence looking for wildlife. I see tons of small birds, and lots of red-tailed hawks. We see deer at the right time of day, and we've seen a few coyotes. There are wild turkeys in the woods, but they're hard to spot - mainly we see their tracks. Once we met a bad-tempered little possum in the trail - he wouldn't move, just hissed at us, and we had to ride around him. I honestly believe our trail horses are some of the best in the world. We go near a police academy shooting range, past a football field, under and beside two active railroad tracks, and of course there's dirt bikes and four-wheelers everywhere.

My four-year-old digital camera finally died back in November. I'm going to order a new one this week, so I can take lovely pictures of my horses and informative pictures of their feet. I do my own trimming, and pictures really help me (and my friends at Barefoot Horse Care) see what I'm doing wrong and right. I am by no means a professional trimmer, but last year when I took Champ and Silky barefoot, there weren't any pro trimmers around here. Just farriers. :( Now there's an AANHCP certified couple trimming locally. I kind of feel like I should give them my business, to support them, but I also kind of feel like I'm doing ok with my herd. It saves me money, it keeps me in shape, and I enjoy trimming.

Anyway, I suppose I'm just a smart redneck. I learned how to sit on a horse and steer it around three years ago. Then when I got Champ (9-12-06), he taught me how to ride. Just like I can't find a trimmer I trust down here, I can't find a riding instructor I trust either. I have a good internet friend who actually gets lessons from a real instructor, and I'm pretty jealous of her! One day I'll find someone who actually knows how to ride classically, and I'll actually get some feedback on how I'm doing. Til then, I'll just keep muddling along. My philosophy right now is if you fall off, get back on, and don't let the horse bully you.

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