Wednesday, December 30, 2009

10 Happy Things

First - cause yall know I like words - the caveat. I don't believe things can make a person happy. Other people can't make a person happy. Happiness comes from inside oneself. I'm sure you know somebody who "has it all" who's totally miserable, and you know someone with "nothing" who is just genuinely happy to be alive. I strive to be the latter. Still, I can come up with 10 things I enjoy about life! These are in no particular order.

Living in Reno
This state rules, and this town rules pretty hard too. I got used to seeing slot machines everywhere pretty fast, but I'm still pretty gleeful when I can go buy liquor at any time of day on any day of the week. No more planning ahead! I'm particularly glad I live in Stead - the valley floor is all smogged up from the temperature inversion trapping crap down there. I don't mind driving down to a thriving town to eat in great restaurants or shop at good stores, but it's nice to be breathing cleaner air up here in the boonies of Stead. I hear the California Sierras are gorgeous, and I'm looking forward to packing at Granite Chief with the BCH this summer. And there's all those good rides, all over western Nevada and eastern California! And as soon as I save up a grand (i.e. don't spend it on the horse), I can take my husband to a once-in-a-lifetime meal at the French Laundry.

My husband
He rules. I rarely write about him, because this is my horse blog, not my Funder's Weird Life blog, but he is truly my best friend. We have been together 9 years now, and it feels like forever, but in a good way. I say I'm lucky to have him. He says he's lucky to have me. Maybe we're both right?

My Dawg
Cersei is the best dog ever, hands down. Even when she eats a gallon ziplock of frosted mini-wheats, then farts all night and makes us think we've been attacked by biological weapons.

Dixie
Sometimes I get totally furious with her, and sometime's she's just perfect. This is one area where my general life philosophy of "live in the now" doesn't always pay off - I get mad because I feel like I haven't made any progress with that damn brain damaged yakmule, and I am such a horrible excuse for a horse owner - but then I think back on how far we've come, and I feel better about things. And I have it all written down, in case I ever doubt how crazy she used to be. Today, on the trail, I got off and led her a couple of times, then got back on. If you'd told me a year ago that I'd be able to calmly mount Dixie on the trail as another horse walked away from us, I would have never believed it. We're getting there, we really are.

Memory of Champ
He was such a fantastic horse. I would have never considered buying Dixie if I hadn't had so many hours with Champ. He was fugly, opinionated, trotted if you dared to make him go faster, and had the roughest canter I've ever felt. He had a heart of gold, though - he tried to figure out what this bumbling idiot on his back wanted, and he never quit and never got mad. I loved that horse so much, and I'll always carry a torch for him. I feel lucky to have spent two years with him.

Cats
Our cats are wicked little brain-damaged monsters, and they bring us so much amusement. The Kitten plays fetch with a clear plastic tube, unless she loses it. The Crazy One yowls at the walls sometimes, and I think he thinks we're hallucinations or demons sent to torment him. Both of them love Cersei, who is confused and disdainful about the little monsters. They are extremely funny pets.

Friends
I met some of my best friends through this blog. That really surprises me, on so many levels - that I've kept yapping long enough to have readers, for years no less, and that people think I'm cool enough to email, chat with, and meet up with IRL. Yall make me happy!

Being alive for 2010
My younger readers will be totally blase about this, but anybody my age (30s) or older will understand. DUDE! WE LIVE IN THE FUTURE! Where's my flying car? Ok, there's no flying cars, but the Internet is just as good. We made it through 2001, and we made it through 2009, and 2010 will be the best year yet.

Having a warm house
I glossed over it in my blog, but for two months two winters ago I lived in a house with no heat. There were no physical gas lines running from the street to the house. I didn't realize the lines were cut before I moved in, and it took two months of wrangling to legitimately legally break the lease and move. I only took my clothes off to shower and change at friends' houses, and I slept on the couch with a Cersei-puppy on my chest and a Fluffy Kitten on my head. It was HORRIBLE. But it was life-changing in a good way, too. I am a total wuss about being cold, but two months in a frozen house made me realize there's cold and there's cold. My whine level went down markedly. And now that I've lived through the house with no heat, I am so much more grateful and happy with what I've got!

Is that 10? No?

Digital music
Here's another one that'll date me. No more mix tapes! Freed from the tyranny of the radio! And nothing obsolesces - yesterday I found a mix CD from 2000. It sounded exactly like it did in 2000. I don't miss cassette tapes one bit, not at all.

Ok, there's 10!

Who hasn't done this meme yet? Who wants to do it? It's actually a lot of fun to list things that make you happy. I am terrible at passing these things along - I feel like I should give it to everybody I read, but then it wouldn't be ~special~, so just comment if you are doing it, ok?

BLAH

Winter is blah! I am, surprisingly, not very cold or bothered by the snow, I'm just sick of the lack of sun. And the fact that my horse looks like a yak, so I have to be really careful to not let her work too hard and get too sweaty. And I can't see the trails, so neither can she, so we have to go extra slow lest she step off a ledge and break her leg. It makes for some boring midday rides.

But the wildlife has been spectacular. When you last heard from us, we'd just seen yeti. Since then, I've seen coyotes three separate times!

Right before Christmas, I went out with S and the dogs, and she spotted a coyote on a hill about 30' above us. The horses never saw it, and the dogs never saw it, and eventually we moved on and left it to look for rabbits. Then right after Christmas, we were riding down in the canyon and I spotted the remains of a peacock. Somebody in her neighborhood had a nice young peacock, but a coyote snatched it and ran down in the canyon to eat it. Nothing left but wing feathers and a few tail feathers. As I was driving down the hill back to the highway that day, a coyote ran across the road a little in front of me.

Then yesterday I went out alone with Dixie and Cersei, and ALL of us saw TWO coyotes. Dixie and I were coming up on a fork in the trail, where if we went left we'd go out further and if we went right we'd go home sooner, and we were gearing up to have a big disagreement about which way to turn, when she stopped dead in her tracks and stared straight ahead. I looked too, and saw a big coyote with a cottontail in its mouth. It looked at us for a while, then looked to my left, so I looked to the left and saw (presumably) its mate. The one on the left was smaller, so I'll call that one the female. She stopped for a while and looked at all of us, then circled around to stay about 50' away and rejoined her mate. Cersei, bless her heart, had been snuffling around in the snow, completely oblivious to everything, but she finally noticed them. She puffed up like a hedgehog and started jumping up and down, stiff-legged, barking at them. She started to run over to investigate them, but I called her back and she came. (Of course she came - she really is a remarkably good dog.) Everybody watched everybody else for a bit, then I turned Dixie to the right and we left them alone.

I'd been planning on going left and doing the Mines trail, but I kind of wanted to leave the coyotes to eat their rabbit in peace. I am a softie, I know. :)

Weather permitting, I have a big weekend planned, but I have moments of being totally superstitious and I don't want to jinx it by talking about it!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Yeti sighting!

Yesterday we went out with S, Summer, and the dogs. I brought the camera - I don't even bring it when I'm riding solo, because odds are I can't stop paying attention to my mare long enough to take pictures.

We threw Christmas rump rugs on the horses - tree skirts!
Festive horse!

We saw carnivorous yeti!
Yeti!

If you can't see them, click on the picture to make it bigger. You can see their poisonous horns, and you can imagine their slavering fangs and clawed hooves. Treacherous beasts!

There was another on the slope to the south. Clearly, they were planning on circling around from behind and eating the horses.
More yeti!

It was really beautiful out there.
S on Summer

Cersei had a wonderful time chasing Oscar (S's young dog), but she is on the injured list today. The snow is old and icy and crusty, and her pads took a beating. She's got pretty tough feet, but the tips of her pads are split. She is snuggled up next to me on the couch.

Dixie did pretty well with Summer there to keep her steady. I got really uncomfortable a couple of times and thoughts of our gory death flashed through my mind. :( We did the mines trail, but the actual canyon part of the ride has a couple of rocky sections. We didn't want to take them over the rocks with the snow covering everything, so we cut up to the top of the hill and then back down to the sandy part of the mine trail. S fearlessly rode calm Summer sideways up this steep sandy hill, and hot Dixie went plunging up after him, but I couldn't deal and turned her to go straight up the slope. Then once we got on top, she really got nervous, and we still had to get back down! S went back down the side, but I thought it looked way too steep, so Dixie and I went further along to where the slope was easier. It was pretty nerve wracking, but she stayed surefooted.

Went to Crysta's Christmas party last night and had a good time! I met a gaited horse person, and some fun non-horse people, and made faces at the CUTEST baby girl. She thought I was awesome and stared at me nonstop. Then her mom handed her to me and she burst into immediate tears. As soon as I handed her back, she went back to staring and smiling at me. I was only acceptable from 2 feet away :)

I may sit on the couch and watch football all day. Happy Solstice Eve, yall! If I'm doing the math right, then Monday morning will be the actual solstice. That means today is the shortest day of the year, so I might as well nap on the couch, right?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Yetis and BBQ

I was AWOL from the internet yesterday due to excessive BBQ consumption.

The only truly outstanding food from the Memphis area - the thing we do better than ANYBODY else, and if you wanna fight about it, bring it on - is barbeque. Memphis, like every other city its size, has a bunch of good restaurants and wonderful local twists on regional and international classics, but we're really most proud of our BBQ. I will be polite about anybody's well cooked 'cue - my momma raised me right. But my husband and I miss Memphis BBQ so much that we will have it Fedexed to us. His mom sent us two racks of ribs and two pounds of pulled pork from Central BBQ for Christmas! I get the ribs; he gets the pork. Two of each so we can dive in the day it arrives, and save the rest for the actual holiday. Yesterday was Cue Day, so I ate a whole rack of absolutely perfect ribs and then sat on the couch in a blissed-out daze all afternoon.

Pre-Fedex, I met the trimmer at S's and got Dixie's feet fixed up. He, like Aarene, has a horse that paddles on one foot and wears toe unevenly on that foot. And he saw the bruising, but agreed that if she's not lame not to worry too much about it. I volunteered to trim her in between his visits. I still want him to come balance her up perfectly every six weeks, but I'm going to work on the obvious stuff.

I did learn something cool - he said overgrown bars were making her back lateral quarters and heels flare out, and I could see what he was talking about when I looked at the sole.

Dixie is a pretty nicely put together TWH. I was noticing yesterday and today how she naturally tracks up perfectly - you can really see it in fresh snow. Just at a normal, uncollected, slow walk, her back feet land perfectly in the tracks left by her front feet. Usually, that means that at a faster gait, if she's "tucking her butt" correctly, her back feet will overstride where her front feet were by a couple of inches. Not that I would know - I don't have a very good view of her back feet from on top ;)

Today we made a bold expedition down to the end of the road and about a quarter mile in the snow. She kept a close watch for yetis. When we turned around for home, we had a fight about how fast she'd zoom home. Then I managed to quit fighting and relax and half-halt over and over again until she slowed down. And she actually did! Yay us! I was still in the "don't fight with her" mindset when we got back to the driveway, and I did not tense up and anticipate her falling down the slope on her forehand and breaking in to a trot. I stayed loose and asked her to go slowly, and she did.

One day we'll actually condition again. For now, we'll just do mental conditioning. It's all good.

The sun went down behind the western mountains today at 3:51 pm. It didn't get really dark for an hour after that, but still! I can't wait for the solstice.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And the grooming - clicker post

After the ride, I wanted to take pictures. But Miss Thing had some seriously nappy frizzy mane hair - getting snowed on and frozen really didn't do it any favors. That meant Show Sheen, which comes in a Horse-Eating Spray Bottle, which means either a fight or clicker training. I was certainly not going to spoil a perfectly nice day with a fight, so clickery it was.

I don't usually use an actual clicker with Dixie. I know I'm losing some amount of subtle benefit by using a tongue-click instead, but honestly, I'm not very coordinated. I'd rather get the timing perfect and use an imperfect tongue-click than be constantly dropping stuff, trying to click the handheld clicker, and missing the perfect moment to mark. I'm a work in progress.

The Show Sheen was half-frozen, so it made an interesting noise when I shook the bottle. I c/t'd her for touching the bottle several times. Then I pointed it away from her and squirted it a couple of times - got some ssssssh squirting noises and a few of those quacking noises spray bottles sometimes make. Dixie jumped to the end of the lead* and quivered, head all the way up. I held the bottle up and urged her to look at it and touch it, and went back to c/t for touching it with her nose.

*The interesting thing is that she wasn't actually tied up. I just loop the lead around one of the cleats on the side of my truck - she rarely pulls, and when she does pull loose, she walks 10 feet away and nosedives for the alfalfa. So even though she was scared, she wasn't terrified.

I repeated squirting away from her and c/t-ing for touching the bottle a few times, then I started holding the bottle up near her mane. She yanked her head up, but didn't move, so c/t. Touch the bottle, c/t, hold the bottle up, c/t. Eventually I squirted her and clicked before she had a chance to go ballistic - once I'd done it once, the battle was won.

I got that whole unruly mane absolutely coated in Show Sheen in minutes. Of course I kept clicking - at first it was a click for every single squirt, and a bit of "touch the bottle" every now and then, but she calmed down to where I could squirt 3-4 times before I c/t'd. Then while her mane dried, I picked her feet and packed some goo in the crevices of her frogs, then brushed out the mane and took pictures.

I like to write about clicker training every so often in case somebody's sort of "on the fence" about it. Yes, if you get good at it and really enjoy it, you can happily incorporate clicker training into every single aspect of your horse care. But you don't have to go whole hog. I suppose if you do not ever feed treats, it's not a good training tool for you - but it can work for anybody else.

When I was first getting into clicker training, I wasn't sure about frequency and timing and stuff, so that's why I just described the whole Showsheen session. You don't want to bore the horse with an hour of "touch the bottle," and you don't want to move too fast and scare the horse, or positive reinforcement will cease to work. There's a lot of times where I'd get some good early stages of "touch the bottle" but then I'd push too fast with the later work. She'd get really scared and shut down mentally, and I'd have to put the evil spray bottle away for another day. But horses are forgiving and greedy, so we'd keep coming back to it.

Semi-Annual PSA

Ok, I swear I will calm down about Dixie's feet unless she actually, you know, goes lame. They're fine. I know where the room for improvement is. I have a good local trimmer, and some great internet trimmers, and a rasp. She'll be fine.

Today I rode for a bit and took (and even printed!) some pics for her upcoming brand inspection thing. She looks like a yak, but at least she has a nicely combed fluffy mane. But that's another post - this is my PSA post.

If you haven't read it before, please read Animals in Translation. Your library probably has it, and if not, it's available used on Amazon for under five dollars. When else will you find a truly useful horse item for under five friggin dollars, yall?

There are tons of books that do a very good job of explaining horse behavior. There are lots of free scholarly articles about horse anatomy. This is the only book I ever read that really helped me understand how they think - not herd dynamics, and not vision and flight response stuff, but how their little brains process what they see. Temple Grandin has a convincing argument that animals perceive the world in a similar way to how autistic humans see the world. She didn't write a horse-training book - she's worked with cows way more than horses - but I've developed such a kind understanding of what horses go through from her book.

I am afraid I'll misrepresent something if I try to explain the book, so I'll just tell you about my ride and how it could've gone differently.

Dixie was peacefully snoozing in the snow when I got there. The other horses were standing guard as normal, and it was just her turn to take a nap. She was pretty pleased to see me, and walked about halfway to meet me! That's unusual for her - usually I have to walk up to her and hold out the halter, then she sticks her nose in it and follows me politely. I led her out of the gate and she got very excited. I walked her around and let her nose the earth moving equipment, the muddy gravel, and the snowy areas for a while. Then I saddled up, mounted, and we rode out.

It took a long time to get out of the gate. She needed to stop and stare way more often than usual, and she had to drop her head and nuzzle the snow every few steps. She wasn't trying to panic and turn around for home, and she wasn't terrified - just very inquisitive and unwilling to barge on ahead. When we got to the road, I asked her to walk down the cleared muddy gravel road, instead of on the verge where we usually walk. I didn't want her to step in a hole I'd forgotten and feel trapped and freak out. She really wanted to walk in the snow, and we kept renegotiating. She kept doing the very strange nuzzle the ground and look around thing.

We moseyed very slowly down the road to where the trail branches off. I knew we weren't going to get far, but I asked her to walk off into the snow on the trail (like she wanted to do all along!) We got just a few strides off the road and the whole thing got to be too much for her, and she started getting nervous. I asked her to turn around and walk home really calmly, and she did. I had to half-halt like 17 times in a row at first, but then she settled in to a nice calm fast walk home.

Here's what I saw today: The exact same place we've been riding, almost every day, for the last three months. There was snow, but all the landmarks were clearly visible, and the road was even uncovered.

Here's what she saw: Something completely different. An alien world covered in alien white stuff, and a road that didn't look or smell or feel like the road she's used to.

I could've gotten mad, because the damn horse was so complacent about the damn snow that she was laying down in it! And we barely got out of sight of her buddies! This trip was so close to home that there's just no WAY she could really be afraid! Argh stupid hateful yak of a horse, always ruining my fun!

But I didn't get mad. As soon as I led her out of the paddock and she started acting so peculiar and curious, I realized I wasn't seeing what she was seeing. Horses don't generalize well, and they don't seem to remember the way we do, and it was a different world for her. She was used to the snow in the pasture, but that didn't generalize to snow outside of the pasture. Nothing smelled the same. Nothing looked the same. Everything was covered in white stuff that didn't taste like anything. Even the road, which might have been familiar, was wet - a state she has never before seen it in.

Once I looked at the day from her point of view, she was a fantastic companion. She wasn't scared! She got nervous when we walked into the snow, but before that, she wasn't even remotely upset about it. She needed a lot of extra time to process what she was seeing and smelling and hearing, but she wasn't upset. That is a huge improvement for us. I am so very happy with both of us!

Anyway, the book does a really good job of giving you a paradigm to view your horse's behavior through. Temple Grandin is, of course, a human, so her book isn't any more infallible than anyone else's. Nobody will ever know what horses really ARE seeing, smelling, thinking. But Grandin's "thinking in pictures" paradigm holds up pretty well to my real world experiences with real live horses, and I bet it would hold up to yours too.

Monday, December 14, 2009

OMG, she's going to give me ulcers

Today the snow had mostly melted so I went up to ride. Last week S had some guys come dig water lines to the pasture troughs, and they got slowed down by the bad weather. There's a backhoe and some 5' deep trenches. I led Dixie around and let her bite the snow and stare at the enormous holes and piles of dirt, then got on and didn't really go anywhere. She was pretty nervous because everything looked completely different, and I didn't really care if we went anywhere - just sitting on her was enough.

Then I took some hoof pics. And now I'm totally wigging out again - she has huge bruises on her soles. I can only assume the huge bruises have been there for ages. I never wash my horse's hooves before taking pictures, and I don't use trimmers who trim sole, so this is the cleanest they've been since the day she was born, probably.

Her frogs aren't eaten up with thrush - they're pigmented. I dunno if some white hooves have pale frogs, but Dixie's feet have pigment on the heels and frogs. I did squash a lot of goo in all the cracks in her frogs, and I'll keep doing that every time I see her.

Also, she's about 7 weeks post trim at this point. She was supposed to get done Friday, but it was too cold to trim. The trimmer said he tried on Thursday and the hooves he tried to trim were so cold they were brittle, so we rescheduled from last Friday to this Thursday. If you notice that they're still lopsided, that's why.

Egads, bruising.  LF solar.

RF sole bruising

I really don't think the bruises are a new development. Her diet hasn't changed, her activity level has gone down in the last couple of weeks, and she's not standing on frozen ground - the horses hang out by the gate, and it's layers and layers of packed, usually dry, manure.

Is this old bruising that is just now growing down to where I can see it? She's been here about three months, and she was ouchy on rocks when she first came - all flat-footed from that farrier in Ohio. Is it bruising that's currently happening? I really don't think so, but it's possible. She is an amazingly stoic creature, but she sure acts sound now.

Should I treat it, i.e. boot her? I was planning on getting boots early in '10, maybe the trim cycle after this. I think her feet are almost stable, and I hate the thought of buying boots and having them not fit four weeks later. Should I expect abscesses? Ugh, I've only ever had one horse blow one abscess. I do not intend to let anybody go digging around in her foot - I think they're like blisters, and they'll pop when they're ready to pop.


Here's a more cheerful picture! Her coat around her eye is darkening up. I suspect it's an adaptation to the increased light up at this elevation, but I have no real idea. She used to have a brown face with black-tipped ears, but she's definitely got black hairs around her eye now.
Her eye's darker

I let her eat scraps out of the wheelbarrow while I took those pics.
Pretty picture

I take pictures of this view a lot. The fog down in the valley (i.e. all of Reno/Sparks) was the thickest I've ever seen.
Fog in the valley

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Everybody likes a little dog!

I'd rather have a little dog than a little shop, any day. (Any Dr. Who fans in the house? Anyone? Sigh, probably not.)

Sometimes a little dog has a little stick.
"Come and get my stick!"

Sometimes a little dog has a little tumbleweed.
Death to tumbleweeds

Sometimes it's a headless little dog!
Headless Dog!

And sometimes it's a very serious very snowy little dog.
Frosted Dog

She lives! And thrives!

Today looked like my Big Chance to visit Dixie. Look at this stupid forecast!



I put on my Frozen Southerner outfit, with minor changes, and headed out. I wore a different pair of wool socks today, and I tried the very thin black wool/spandex glove liners. Both were failures. I have one pair of expensive Smartwool socks, five pairs of cheap and ugly - but extremely effective and comfortable! - Costco wool socks, and three pairs of very pretty and soft wool/silk blend Costco socks. Do not fall for the wool/silk blend socks at Costco. Yes, they come in rose and blue and heather grey, and ooh they feel soft, but they aren't all that warm and they don't have very good elastic properties. Also don't buy those super-thin glove liners I linked in the comments to yesterday's post. Also not very warm.

I managed to keep my momentum up and got up the mountain to where Dixie lives without any problem. S's neighborhood is all 15+ acre lots, and she lives at the back of the development, so it's a very low traffic road. Good for riding, bad for snow removal. I slid gracefully into S's driveway and was delighted to see that Dixie had watched me drive up and was ambling closer to the fence. I fed her some Frosted Mini Wheats (because I left the apples in the truck and they froze solid - D'OH!) and scratched her face for a while.

She lives!

There you go. Four inches of snow, two run-in shelters, and no blankets. Horses really are tough!

I should measure her and buy her a blanket, I suppose. The only situation I really worry about is a cold hard rain, which is extremely rare in the hills where she lives, but there's no harm in having a waterproof light blanket on hand. Surely she's smarter than a turkey and will go in a shed if it starts raining... but I don't want to count on that.

I took a fuzzy-yak picture for my mom, but it's not very impressive. Her head looks like a goat's head, and her legs look like an airbrushed unicorn on a license plate, but you just can't tell how thick the hair on her body is here.
Fluffy horses

Here's a slightly different angle of a view I post a lot, looking down the hill into Reno. Look at that frozen fog inversion layer crap!
View into town

I thought to take a picture of Tempus's Weird Foot too, for Lythia. I was telling her that Tempus had an injury to his coronet band as a 2 year old, and his hoof wall has grown out weird there ever since. It doesn't bother him at all; just looks kinda funny.
Tempus's hoof - for Lythia


I had to put the chains on to get back out of S's driveway and down the hill. Here's the theoretically-plowed road:
Driving back out

I might try to get back out tomorrow - depends on how much snow we get tonight/tomorrow am.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gear test

Last night we went to Sierra Trading Post and upgraded my cold weather clothes. I got two pairs of fleece-inside long johns, two pairs of glove liners, and a Columbia ski jacket (at ridiculously low prices, too.) Today I tested it all out.

I drove off up a gravel road, put on the chains, drove back out to the paved road, took the chains off, and came home. Needless to say, it was not as easy as I just made it sound. It was horrible. But I got it done without needing to beg for help from passersby, and more importantly, I never got cold. I got hot, actually, but all the synthetic stuff wicked away all the sweat and I didn't get chilled once I started driving again.

Then I came home and taught Cersei to dig in the snow. Got a lot of pictures, and I'll post the good ones later. Again, I got totally covered in snow, but I wasn't cold. I had to take off an outer glove to work the camera and that hand got chilly. It was sunny, calm, and in the low teens, so not the worst conditions Nevada has to offer but not the best either.

Monday, December 7, 2009

WD 09 Day Two

It snowed all evening. It snowed all night. We had 10-12" when I woke up in the morning! Then it kept snowing, all day - finally stopped around 5 pm.

We were pretty sure that going anywhere was foolishness. My husband worked from home - a good plan, according to his coworkers who DID drive in. I carefully observed people in our complex all day, driving out in their little cars without chains or snow tires, and I think it is actually possible to drive on snow. I am planning on trying to go visit Dixie tomorrow, but the road up the mountain that she lives on might defeat me. It'll be an adventure!

I called first thing and the horses are just fine. S gave them lots of extra hay and nobody's shivering or unhappy. I have to trust that she knows what she's doing, and that horses really ARE evolved to live in cold weather. If I had property, with Dixie at home, I would probably try to bring her in the house to warm up.

Here's a video of Cersei in the snow:

Cersei loves snow from Funder on Vimeo.




And another. (I <3 my lil' dog!)

Cersei playing in the snow from Funder on Vimeo.



Here's the enormous tractor that plowed the parking lot in the afternoon.

Snow TRACTOR plows our parking lot from Funder on Vimeo.



Reno area people, how was your big snow day? Zach, did your school get cancelled?

It's going to be below freezing (lows near zero F for the next two nights!) and then another storm is coming later this week. This is the most protracted White Death I've ever been in!!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

White Death '09

So I rode yesterday, and got way too cold, and really need fleece long johns. And I went to a Christmas party with a horsey gift exchange, and my red halter with lighted blinking reindeer antlers wired to the crownpiece was a huge hit. But the most important thing I have to talk about is SNOOOOW!

Tonight: Snow likely. Cloudy, with a low around 19. West wind between 10 and 15 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%. Total nighttime snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches possible.

Monday: Snow. High near 26. South wind 5 to 10 mph becoming east. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of 3 to 7 inches possible.

The most snow I've ever seen in my life was about 8" when I was in college in Virginia. This is mind-boggling. And it already snowed like an inch on us (none down in Reno) this afternoon. Snow pictures tomorrow!

(I hope my horse is warm. I'm sure she is, she's hairy like a yak and she has two huge shelters available, but I can't help but worry, a tiny bit.)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Plans and feet

Here's why I never post any bold riding plans: Plans change.

Earlier this week, ~C and I decided to ride Palomino Valley today, and S and I were going to trailer across the highway to Hungry Valley for a (slight) change of pace on Saturday. S was going to take Tempus, the gelding, because neither of us think it's a real smart move to put my hussy in a trailer with Summer. The catch with Tempus is that he has some nerve damage in his face from a long-ago pasture accident, and he can not deal with stuff touching his face - like rain or snow. When the NWS put a chance of snow in the forecast for tomorrow, that nixed our Hungry Valley ride. I was still on with ~C til her truck made some very disturbing noises this morning, and then that was off too.

I have nothing but respect for the type of people who can say "Ok, next week I need to do 30 miles in five days of riding, so it'll be 5 miles Monday, speed work Tuesday, off Wednesday..." and so on. I am not, and will never be, one of those people. I try not to plan more than two days ahead, and I don't like to box myself into a corner, where, say, if I don't ride tomorrow I won't get to ride for the next three days so I have to ride tomorrow even if it's pouring down rain. I was hoping to do a long ride today, but since it didn't happen, I'll do a long (>5 miles) ride tomorrow or Sunday.

Riding:

Dixie was in raging heat, so I figured we'd do a shorter ride at a faster speed today. And the Garmin was actually charged, so I got lap times and everything!

She is, unfortunately, a lot like me. She can walk at a good clip for miles and miles, but she doesn't have the muscles or stamina to do faster work yet. I don't think I'm pushing her too hard by asking for short faster days, but feel free to let me know if you think I'm doin it wrong! Our totals were 3.87 miles in 1:14, average of 3.1 mph.

We did our usual stop-and-go warmup for 20 minutes, then we headed out down the trail at a nice fast walk. Then we were attacked! We rounded a corner and a covey of quail exploded across the trail in front of us, all flappy feathers and blood-drenched talons and weird whirring noises from their robotic innards. Dixie froze, all on her own! She jumped a bit, but she didn't try to run. It took a LONG time before she felt ok to move on, but eventually we did.

Our first speed lap was .4 miles at 5.9 mph average. She mostly racked. Then a .2 mi cooldown, then a .2 mile speed lap at 8.7 mph - rack and canter. A long half-mile cooldown to get her thinking again, with just a few strides of trot here and there, then a little more fast work. She was getting tired at this point, and I had to ask her to continue instead of asking her to slow down. .15 miles at 6.4 mph of foxtrot, baby - a gait I'm getting very fond of - then .15 miles at a fast walk, then a final .15 miles of foxtrot at 7.4 mph. Then I dismounted, took off her bridle, loosened her girth, and hand-walked her home for the last half mile. She didn't sweat too hard, and she was lightly blowing but not out of breath.

Feet:

Dixie's getting trimmed early next week, and I had the time and inclination to take pictures today, so these are my December '09 "before" pictures. I saw some very interesting things, and I really welcome any comments or hypotheses about them. Here's the whole set. It contains more views than what I'm linking here, so click over if you want to take a closer look.

Front feet, side view. Right is clubby, left is long-toed. This is the posture she usually stands in, and I suspect it contributes to the growth pattern.
Closer view, side

Right front solar. Pretty balanced, clefts are a little deep because the heels are a little long. White line could be tighter in the quarters.
Right front solar

Edit: Lythia noticed I got these pictures wrong

Here's the left front solar. The Weird Thing is kind of subtle in this picture. Bars look kind of long here, but maybe that's retained sole? This is the right front again!
Left front solar

Edit: Here's the left front, with the weird wear pattern and long bars.
Left front Weird View!
Left front asymmetrical

Her toe is totally worn asymmetrically! And it's worn on the OUTSIDE, not the lateral side! Here's my guess: she paddles. But does she paddle with the left foot only? Because the right toe is worn pretty evenly. Also of note: the bars really do look long in this picture.

Here's one more picture of her left front. This is from ground level, looking toward the back - I don't have a clue what the Latin would be.
Left front

Weird stuff I see here: The whole medial wall looks weird. Something's off about the line of the wall. There's some ridges on the medial wall, but her coronet band at the medial quarter isn't "pushed up" like I'd expect to see. If you look through the hay, you can clearly see how the lateral tip of the toe is worn more than the medial tip of the toe. This is SO WEIRD to me!

I'll point this all out to the trimmer next week, but I'd love to hear yall's thoughts on it. How do you think this should be addressed? What's going on here?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Exceptional!

I just had the best ride ever on my totally awesome mare! She's coming into heat, which makes it even more surprising - but we did it!

Did the mines, with the detour behind the pueblo house - 4.58 miles in 1:29. We had a very slow start! Once we got down in the canyon and turned the Magic Corner for home, I started really working on half-halts. I knew she wouldn't want to pay attention to me, so I didn't ask for any lateral stuff or let her speed up - she'd have really checked out mentally. Just move out, then slow down and collect up, then stretch back out and repeat. When we got up to the better footing, we picked up the pace. She'd speed up and slow down from the softest lightest cues from me. It was so cool! Felt like we were dancing, or like I was holding her hand.

I will say that it wasn't any kind of relaxed ground-covering trot. She'd go faster or slower, but she wasn't sure what gait she wanted so she kept bouncing between a trot, a rack, and a canter. Oh well - nothing's perfect, and it didn't spoil my ride at all.

I was going to meet S when she got home and go back out for another mile, but I just couldn't. Dixie had done so well, and I really wanted to end on a good note. I fed her an apple, cooled her off, and let her go back to dozing in the pasture.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Two years of the world's best dog

Today's Dixie's day off, and mine too. My back still hurts a bit from the Invisible Swordsman bolting thing and I feel kinda crappy. Took a long nap today so hopefully I'll be fine tomorrow. I looked back through my archives (dear god, I've been writing this thing for a long time!) and I thought last year's post deserved another look.

Cersei's been in my life for exactly two years. Here's the story of how I got her, and here's a hot-off-the-iPhone current picture. Still looks pretty cute when she sleeps, but she definitely doesn't fit on my lap anymore! Here's to about 15 more, little yellow dog. :D

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Brrrr!

I got cold today. S and I were going to meet up at 3 and go do the Mines and get back before it got too terribly dark. I planned to wear my very warm but very cumbersome Carhartt coveralls, so I didn't wear any leggings under my jeans. Leggings + jeans + coveralls is 0 degree wear, not 30 degree wear!

When I got out there and tacked up Dixie, I realized it wasn't very cold at all yet. If I'd put on my coveralls, I'd have gotten pretty sweaty before the sun went down. I decided I'd rather freeze for 20 minutes than roast for an hour.

We did the standard full-length Mines trail, no extras. I am all confused, though, because the GPS said it was 4.35 miles. Every other time I've ridden the full Mines it's been right at 4 miles. It is a mystery! Anyway, 4.35 in 1:37, average of 2.7 mph. I wanted to get her back without any neck sweat - just a slow relaxing ride.

We took two of the dogs - S's young one Oscar and my Cersei. They did the butt-tuck high-speed run in a huge circle around the horses, nonstop, for THREE MILES. Cersei is sacked out on the couch now - a tired dog is a happy dog!

I kept gently working the reins and easing out the length, and I got Dixie to stretch out and keep her contact with me. It was pretty cool! :)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Quickie

Had a short fast(er) ride today. We meandered around a couple of the shorter trails. I decided to learn from the Failed Experiment and just call the first hesitant part of our ride the warmup. ;)

Lap One, the warmup, was 1.03 miles in a whopping 28 minutes. Lap Two, which included a bit of very steep hill work, was 1.07 in 14 minutes. Lap Three, a short mixed twisty-and-straight trail, was 1.24 miles in 17 minutes. Not counting the warmup, that's about 4.2 mph; counting the warmup it's still 3.3 mph.

Tomorrow is the full moon, so I am going to wear all my clothes and go out with S. ~C and I are planning on doing a longer ride Friday, and I want to give Dixie one day totally off this week. That means either Wednesday or Thursday I'll do a normal ride - maybe the short scenic trail plus the Mines. The other day she'll get off.

I need to buy fruit for my faithful steed. I am out of apples and tangerines! Time to go to Costco.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Invisible swordsman!

Today we did the Mines, backwards, plus some extra wandering in the desert. It was 5.18 miles in 1:43, average 3.0 mph.

We meandered off at our usual pitiful pace, but Dixie picked up her speed pretty fast headed down the wide canyon trails. Everything was going pretty smoothly til we rounded a corner and encountered the Invisible Swordsman. I don't know what else it could've been - I sure couldn't see anything there, and Cersei couldn't see anything either. But Dixie was sure a monster was lurking. She did that Horse Helicopter Thing. You know what I'm talking about - the horse starts snorting with that extra WHRRR noise and helicoptering her head up and down to get a better look at the monster. I just sat there and talked quietly to her til she decided the danger was past, and we continued down the trail.

She was pretty nervous after that brush with death, so I rode extra calm and things went well. We made it to the furthest out point and turned onto the canyon that would take us home and proceeded up it. Then the Invisible Swordsman struck again! (Or more likely, Cersei broke a branch behind us.) Dixie lost her shit and bolted up this narrow canyon. On the first stride, I hollered "Dixie!" in exasperation. On the second stride, I reached forward and grabbed the left rein as far up as possible. On the third, I briefly considered how one-rein-stopping her was a Very Bad Idea, but how letting her run was An Even Worse One. I pulled her head left, up the canyon slope onto a pile of boulders and tree branches, and she stopped instantly. What an awesome mare!

We continued toward home, but she was even spazzier and I kinda lost the trail and ended up at the top of a sand slope, surrounded on all sides by nasty rocky footing. My only choice was to turn around and head back down the slope, but Dixie felt very stupid. Like, she was going to either plunge down the slope on her forehand or she was going to bolt down the slope and kill us both. I got off and walked her for almost a mile, and she gradually calmed down more and more. We detoured down a wash til I found a mounting block - a juniper that was probably 500 years old and hadn't ever grown more than 24" high. I stood on the scraggly stump and she lined up perfectly by it!

We did a little more exploring on the way home. I found a mountain we can climb next time. That sounds kinda silly, because everywhere you look there's mountains, but some of them are too steep for me to comfortably ride back down and most of them are too rocky. I'm not worried about Dixie's feet as much as I am about her slipping! :( But this one looks doable.

The three of us shared a tangerine when we got back safely.

Lazy holiday!

I'm not merely neglecting my blog, I'm neglecting all of my friends' blogs and my horse and the kitchen too.

Thursday we had a private Thanksgiving feast. I thought it was partially really nice, not having to go anywhere or get dressed up, and partially really lonely, for the exact same reasons. My husband loved it - he can't really relax if he's got Something To Do coming up, so holidays are usually very tense for him. (Me? I can sleep on anybody's couch if I'm full and there's football on!)

We didn't do turkey. I have actually never cooked a turkey! Ever! They're so big, and so inherently bland. The biggest bird I've ever cooked was a goose for Christmas a couple years ago. I'd be willing to try a wild turkey, or maybe a small free-range heirloom bird, but not a grocery store turkey. That's because turkey is vastly inferior to the traditional alternative, HAM. I made a brown-sugar ham, mashed potatoes, ham gravy, green beans, and rolls - all homemade, of course. I meant to take a picture but by the time the last few pieces came together I'd forgotten all about it.

After stuffing myself, I promptly fell asleep on the couch listening to the ballgame. Ahhh, now that's Thanksgiving.

Friday's weather was overly dramatic. It was in the 50s when I headed out to see Dixie at noon, but there was snow coming in by 4. WTF? ~C trailered out with Diego to ride with us, which was totally cool for everybody concerned. Diego got to see scary new things, and C got to see my nice trails, and Dixie got a buddy, and I got good conversation. Cersei got to scare the pants off poor Diego, too - SIGH.

I had an internal timer going - I wanted to get back with the horses in time for them to cool down and dry off completely before the wind really picked up, and for me to get down the mountain and headed home before the snow started. I figured we'd have plenty of time to do the Mines slowly, and we actually did. Unfortunately I (accidentally) turned off the GPS at 1.61 miles, but we did about 3.5 miles in maybe 1:20.

Diego started out doing that Arab Tigger thing, and Dixie wasn't exactly modeling calmness either. I think she suspects she can't outrun him. My theory is that Dixie likes having other horses around because you don't have to run faster than the bear, just faster than your friends. Anyway, Diego was pretty bouncy so C led him til his tail went down, then rode, then walked, etc. He's doing that green horse thing where he's much, much happier if his human is in front being the bold leader, rather than up on his back. I have walked more miles than I (redneck that I am) care to admit in front of my own silly mare!

Dixie really thought we should run home when we turned the "magic corner." I had to get up in her mouth more than I like, but she didn't actually even break to a trot and I didn't have to circle or yell or get frustrated and get off - she listened! Once I got her attention, it was just miles of constant half-halts, which is tiresome to ride but effective. It was very good for both of us - we both like to go fast, but she is not in TWH race training.

I forget that other people don't ride with small yellow dogs on a constant guard circle. Cersei popped up behind Diego in a canyon at one point and the poor fellow jumped straight up in the air and bucked once. Luckily C was leading him, and to his great credit he settled right back down. I made sure to keep Cersei on point after that!

It was a very good ride. We live an annoying distance apart - it takes about 45 minutes for C to trailer up to Spanish Springs - but hopefully we'll keep riding together once a week or so!

Everything went perfectly according to my timer - we got the horses cooled off before the wind got too bad, and I got home right as it started to snow. I took some pictures of the Overly Dramatic Weather from the grocery store parking lot on the way home - these are like an unstitched panorama.

Looking west:
Dramatic lighting at Smith's

South:
Dramatic clouds at Smith's

Southeast (with bonus seagull!):
More dramatic clouds

A snow cloud ate Peavine! Our apartment is at the very base of the peak you can barely see.
Invisible mountain


It snowed an inch that afternoon, then NOTHING. Graham and I were all excited because the weather swore up and down we'd get 1-3" overnight. We got nothing!

Yesterday was very lazy. I read two books and ate a lot of tangerines. Today I'm getting back in the saddle!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Failed experiment

I tried something that didn't work out today. But I looked at it as a scientific experiment, and failure is just as valuable as success.

Stats: Mines without the Mines, 4.12 mi in 1:21, average 3.0 mph, max 10.2 mph. I don't think I've ever explained the whole Mines trail, and it's important to the story. We walk down the road for almost a half mile, then head off on a singletrack sandy trail, through the sagebrush and over some small hills, for about 3/4 mile. Then we go down a very short but very steep slope into a canyon, head out for another half mile, then turn back towards home up another canyon. The canyons are wide enough for two horses abreast, with moderate to deep sand footing. The canyon gradually becomes jeep trails, the same sandy footing, and we pop back out at the end of the road a half mile from home.

Dixie has gotten so much braver, but she's still very slow for the first mile or two headed out. She'll walk forward, kind of hesitantly, for a couple hundred yards, then she has to stop and stare. After she stares for a bit and maybe sighs, she'll go forward again... for another hundred yards. This goes on for a mile or two, no more, when she somehow becomes resigned to her fate and snaps into get-r-done mode and we chug down the trail.

It seems to me that everybody who's really successful at endurance (or CTR, foxhunting, eventing, or even dressage) talks about having a horse who loves its work. In outdoorsy sports, that a means "let's go see what's down that trail" attitude, not an "oh jesus I think that rabbit's looking at me" attitude. Nobody ever acts like maybe their horse just wants to stay home, so I'm hoping we all gloss over those days when the horse would rather stand in the pasture and fart. So I'm operating on the assumption that as Dixie gets fitter and gets more and more successful (i.e. not scary) rides under her belt, she'll start looking forward to our work.

And it's not like she's really resistant, anyway. After I tack Dixie up, I unclip the lead rope from her halter and stand on the tailgate of my truck, and she walks over so I can mount. She just has to be encouraged to head out and face the trail. Not forced or bullied, just gently encouraged. Same in the arena - she's perfectly happy to let me climb on her back and then let's just stand here ok?

Anyway. She's very stop and go in the early part of a ride. She's not extremely nervous anymore - when she stops, her head stays pretty low and she's still breathing normally. Usually, I let her stand until she flicks an ear back at me, then I ask her to walk forward again. Today, I decided to try to push her to keep walking forward.

We pushed on (I felt like I was nagging, which I really don't like to do) through the sagebrushy part of the trail. When we got to the scary dropoff into the canyon, she STOPPED. She wasn't tired, just nervous. It felt like she was really getting panicky. It took 20 minutes of me just sitting and her just looking around before she decided we were ok to proceed. I never got off or let her turn towards home, and she never got really upset - she just needed to stand. And pushing her til she mentally HAD to stop ended up being slower than letting her pause on her own. Experiment failed!

Eventually, Dixie relaxed and we headed on, quite peacefully. She wasn't particularly excitable coming home - we did a bit of trot/rack/canter on the straight jeep trails, and she didn't try to bolt on me. She did cross-fire on me at one point. We were cantering past a tree, and she spooked at it, jumped sideways, and came back down on the wrong lead or feet or whatever. I asked her to slow down, and she dropped back to a rack.

So today's question: Did your horse always love her job? Did he or she eventually grow into it? I think she's still improving, so I'm not too worried, but I do wish she loved heading out on the trail as much as I do!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Foxtrot!

Dixie totally foxtrotted today! I think it's official, she's offered me every gait possible now. My horse rules!

Rode with S Saturday and Sunday. We did 6.5 miles, roughly, both days. We explored a little bit - Saturday we went up the side of the canyon, but we ended up on private property so we turned around. Sunday she showed me a different bigger mine off the main mines trail.

Today I wanted to do a slightly shorter ride at a faster pace, so we went down the wide sand trails to the point where they enter the mine canyon. Then we turned around and came back up the deep sand at a nice fast walk, then when we got to better footing I let her canter. We ended up doing three walk/canter sets, about .5 miles walking and .2 miles cantering each time. By the last set she was getting tired, so I asked for a trot, and she trotted a bit then broke into a foxtrot. It's quite nice! I hope she decides she'd rather foxtrot than dressage trot, but we'll see.

I was quite pleased with Dixie. She rated her speed for me! No fights! And she only spooked twice on the way out - those devilish jackrabbits.

Cersei and I are both really tired, and I'm pretty sure Dixie is too. I might take tomorrow off.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eclectic

Today's post will have even less of a unifying theme than normal.

I didn't ride this morning. I got up at 7, to go ride at 8 after Dixie had finished her breakfast, but the wind was already howling. The weather said sustained winds of 40 and gusts up to 65, and I believe it. I was going to study a bit, but I ended up studying with my eyes closed under a warm blanket, if you know what I mean.

I headed into town shortly before noon to get a haircut and do the grocery shopping. The wind was amazing! On the highway, I hit three tumbleweeds and one fairly large chunk of wood, and barely dodged a big piece of hard plastic and a flappy loose sheet of tin. While I was stopped around town, I started recording some videos to try and show yall what it was like. (I have wide ranging tastes in music - you are forewarned.)

You can't take a picture of the wind, not under any normal circumstances. But you CAN take video of large metal poles swaying in the wind, so here's the Dancing Poles at Plumb and Kietzke.

Crazy wind in Reno, NV from Funder on Vimeo.




When I went to get gas at Costco, the wind wasn't howling quite as badly but the storm clouds were coming down the mountain. The trees are whipping, but the whole truck is shaking too.

More crazy wind in Reno from Funder on Vimeo.




When I got out of Costco, it was sort of slush-raining. As I climbed out of the valley back to our home on the mountain, it turned into snow. Please remember that I was born and raised in Mississippi, where it NEVER snows. Any snow at all is cause for panic, school and work closures, and lots of celebration by kids. Our grocery stores sell out of milk and bread. Little old ladies publicly implore Jesus to save us from the white death. Little kids run outside to make 12" snowmen, everybody slides off the road into the ditch, and rednecks do donuts in the empty parking lots. I am fully aware that other parts of the country get so much snow that they're just jaded about the whole thing, but I am not. I get as excited as a little kid when the white stuff appears!

SNOOOOOOW! from Funder on Vimeo.




Cersei, on the other hand, doesn't approve of water falling from the sky. She loves to snuffle snow and wallow in mud puddles, but she doesn't like feeling the snowflakes or raindrops falling on her back. She's kind of torn between snuffling the snow and running back home to get away from the flakes! (I actually talk in this one - a rare video indeed. I probably sound like you think I sound.)

Cersei is not so sure she likes snow from Funder on Vimeo.




And now for the horse stuff. Dixie needed a cooler to help her dry off, but I wasn't sure if I should get fleece or wool. Plus, those things are really expensive, and I can't turn her out in a blanket! The weather here fluctuates too much (see above), and one of the other horses in the field is a master at undressing his friends. So I decided I'd only blanket her to dry her off after rides, and something homemade would do - at least for now. So I bought 2 yards of soft, fairly absorbent fleece and one of those horribly ugly grey wool "emergency blankets." I clicker-introduced her to the fleece, made some markings, and brought the fabric home. I sewed some velcro to the neck and belly of each piece of fabric, and I have homemade coolers.

Would you like to see Dixie's fleece? I thought you would! Here is a rather long video of me and my obviously colorblind horse. This is the fitting, where I just tossed it on her and marked it - tomorrow I will see how well it velcros on.

Dixie must be colorblind from Funder on Vimeo.



I really think everybody should do a bare minimum of clicker training with their horse. It's like teaching a horse a one-rein stop - it doesn't take very long, and you don't have to c/t every interaction, but it's there if you ever need it again. I showed her that fabric, asked "touch it," and she got a treat. You can see she's not too sure about it the first couple times I wave it around, but she clearly knows that standing still will get more Frosted Mini-Wheats. And she was totally unconcerned - after I turned off the camera, I kept fiddling with it and it flapped wildly in the wind and she did. not. care. one. bit. What a good girl! C/T is a really easy way to make Scary Horse Eating Things seem like Good Things Where Food Appears, and it complements classic training quite well.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Putting the "slow" in long slow rides

Oh man, today was Scary Day Part 2. We did 2.09 in 50 minutes - lots of stopping!

It's trash day in the neighborhood, so we have to very carefully make our way around those sneaky trash cans sitting at the end of each driveway. I encourage her to investigate them and I praise her mightily when she does! But each new driveway has a new trash can, and horses just don't generalize well. Stop, all bug-eyed, and stare. Approach the monster can in full imitation Arab mode, stepping very lightly with an arched neck. Slooowly stretch that neck out and sniff the monster can. Relax almost completely, because it's obviously not a monster, just a trash can. Move 50 yards to the next monster can.

When we left the road, she changed to looking for monsters in the scrub. Lots of slamming on the brakes and staring around. I eased her through it until she started slamming on the brakes without her head up - that's when she's gone from really afraid to "I wonder if we can just go home now?" Sorry, Dixie, we cannot just go home now.

We'd just worked through all that and started to pick up some real forward movement when ZOMG monsters! Actually, it was the neighbors, on two horses, so she calmed down real quick and let me talk to them for almost 15 minutes. Then they rode off in one direction and we headed off in the other - look, a training opportunity! She got "frozen" and wouldn't move for a while, but she wasn't trying to turn and run, so I'll call it improvement.

Then we racked almost all the way home. She is getting fitter!

I am getting the Garmin figured out. It's not very intuitive. I told it I'm riding a bike, so at least it displays my speed as MPH and doesn't auto-pause when we stop!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Confused

I do not understand the weather here. From the venerable National Weather Service:

Friday: A chance of rain between 10am and 4pm, then snow likely, possibly mixed with rain. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 61. Very windy, with a south wind 20 to 25 mph increasing to between 35 and 40 mph. Winds could gust as high as 55 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%.

Do you see what I see?
Friday: A chance of rain between 10am and 4pm, then snow likely, possibly mixed with rain. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 61.

So. The low on Thursday night will be 38 (above freezing, for my metric friends). Then Friday, after 10 am, it will snow and/or rain, and it will get up to 61 (which is sleeveless-vest weather, even if you're a thin-blooded Southerner). How can it snow when it's above freezing and headed up to 61?

Who knows. I should try to ride before 10am, I suppose, before the driving slush knocks me off my horse and I die of hypothermia in tee-shirt weather.

Ambushed by Satan's Minions

Yay, I used the Forerunner today! It works ok, except it wants to tell me my pace in minutes per mile instead of miles per hour. I think there's a way to change that, but I haven't tried yet. Also, the damn thing auto-pauses if we stop moving. That's cool in some circumstances, but I think it's more honest to let our time standing still drag down our total pace.

Her best head-nodding let's-go-somewhere forward walk was about 14 minutes/mile, and her fast rack or medium trot is 7 minutes/mile. I think that's about 4.2 mph and 8.5 mph, respectively. We did the whole Mines (4 miles) in exactly 1:01... plus the untimed pauses.

The biggest pause was when the demons appeared. We were chugging on towards home, in the canyon, when we came around a corner and HOLY SHIT DEER. Only 50' ahead, halfway up the canyon wall, were a big mule doe and a lovely 6 point buck. Dixie froze, head as high as it would possibly go, and started shaking. The doe looked at us and the buck didn't even climb to his feet. Dixie started slooowly backing away and I asked her to stand, so she did. Everybody kept staring at everybody else, except for Cersei, who hadn't figured out why we stopped. After a couple minutes, I said "Shoo!" The deer stared at me. I said, louder, "Bang bang!" The deer were unfazed. Then Cersei (bless her heart) realized what the horse and I had been looking at and let out an enormous bark. The buck leapt to his feet and he and the doe headed over the hill.

Dixie was still terrified, and it took a lot of very gentle coaxing to convince her to keep going. But she did, and she stayed in the gait I asked her to be in! Almost all walk, a little trot, and a little rack.

Yall might remember that Dixie doesn't usually like to be brushed. I spent a long time trying different brushes, techniques, ways of approaching her, and I finally gave up. I must brush the dirt off before I ride, so she must stand still for it - sorry, kiddo. When we got back today, my poor hairy yak was pretty sweaty, so I rubbed her down really well with a towel and walked her dry. And you know what? She loved it! Stuck her nose out and waggled her lips around, making happy horse faces. Yay! Then when I turned her back out she absolutely wallowed in the dust and got back up as a rare brown-and-bay paint. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Clinton Anderson review

I really wanted to go ride today, to try out the Forerunner, but I thought Dixie deserved a rest day. We don't actually go very fast yet, but she still needs down time. I really don't want to injure her! So today's post is a brief yet rambling review of the Clinton Anderson gaited horse DVDs.

He works with two horses, a lazy stiff pacey black mare and a hot bolting palomino mare. The owner of both is a Fearless Teenager - she demonstrated the palomino bolting when she drops the reins, and she was more annoyed than anything else. I often wish I was a fearless teenager! The black mare needs constant kicking to go forward at all, and she paces pretty bad. They're flat shod, but she rides in the usual long-shank curb bits.

I watched the first couple sessions with the lazy black mare and all the sessions with the hot palomino. I haven't seen any other Clinton Anderson stuff (other than the demo at the show), but he says he treats gaited horses exactly like trotting horses. The videos are filmed a week apart for 4 weeks. He gets some respect from the ground, then mounts up and teaches them NOT to take off when he drops the reins. Then he does a lot of "suppling," every single ride - he wants the horse to yank its head around and touch his boot when he picks up the rein.

This is the first point where I was like "well I am not going to do this and I'm not so sure it's a good idea." I don't want a horse that snaps her head to my boot when I touch a rein - I want a horse who will eventually touch my boot if I keep asking her to bend. And he drills this suppling exercise HUNDREDS of times a ride, after doing it hundreds of times from the ground, every single ride. I don't think this is a good idea for a couple of reasons - I do not want an unthinking automaton horse with a conditioned response like that, and I am not sure that's a physiologically good way to stretch your horse.

After all the suppling, he teaches the horses the one-rein stop, then "cruise control." Cruise control means (obviously) "don't break gait." It's sensible enough, and follows standard training procedures. 1-2-3, ask very softly, then more forcefully, then whap the horse with the end of the lead rope til you get the speed you want. As long as the horse is in the gait you want, leave it alone. ORS if it speeds up, 1-2-3 if it slows down.

Here's where Clinton Anderson differs from most gaited horse people: He does NOT care if the horse trots or canters. He says that in his experience they'll gait once they get strong and/or supple enough, so he just rides out the trot and canter as they appear. In the last videos, the horses are definitely doing a four-beat moderately fast gait - not real running walks or even fast racks, but a walk at a nice trail speed. Maybe 5-7 mph.

He did some other drills - turn on the haunches and turn on the forehand - but again, they're very Western-ish reining style moves, not the dressage-ish stuff I am going for. I honestly didn't pay all that much attention. Again, I don't want my horse to do a reining spin when I pick up a rein and put my leg on! And again, he drills and drills the horse on the moves. I thought reining people thought there's only a certain number of spins in a horse's hocks and you shouldn't waste them?

Anyway, I'm glad I borrowed and watched the DVDs. I wouldn't be thrilled if I'd bought them, but I don't think I'm the target audience anyway. They'd be very good if you were scared of your horse - "here is exactly what to do to stay safe and get a rideable horse." And it's nice to see someone ride a gaited horse WITHOUT hauling back on a huge curb bit.

There's other clinicians I'd really like to see / work with - Howe They Walk, Liz Graves, or (warning: TERRIBLE site ahead!) Walkin' On Ranch, just to name some of the gaited clincians. There's plenty of "normal" horse trainers I'd like to work with too, of course. I don't feel like I wasted my time with the CA videos, but I don't think I'd go to one of his clinics either.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Many miles

Big update!

Saturday S and I did the Palomino Valley ride.
Distance: 9.53 miles
Elapsed Time: 3:54:24
Avg Speed: 2.4 mph
Avg Pace: 24' 35" per mile
Min Altitude: 4,928 ft
Max Altitude: 5,702 ft

The good thing was that Dixie was completely comfortable walking over the roughest rocky part of the ride.

The bad thing: she was never really mentally with me the whole ride - she led ok for the first half of the ride, then rode along Summer up and down the mountain, but she wouldn't ever give me her attention. I got frustrated and started trying to get her to pay attention to me when we were about 1.5 miles from home - asking her to circle and change speeds. She got more and more frantic as Summer got further ahead of us, and I ended up getting off and leading her for a while. She was so mentally checked out that she wouldn't even drop her head and look at me when I was in front of her, and I was so frustrated and angry. I walked for a half mile or so, til we'd both calmed down, then got back on and rode her home.

It's just one more challenge for us to work on. She does fine alone, and she does fine if she's leading other horses, but she gets totally unglued when another horse passes her. This will never work for endurance, or for any sport other than "leading QHs on very slow trail rides," so we'll deal with it.

Sunday I did not want to deal with it. I rode with three other people, and I let Dixie lead. This was the Canyon Ride, and I am quite impressed that the iPhone didn't lose satellite signal down in there. I forgot to turn the tracker on when we left, so it's maybe .4 miles longer than it says:
Distance: 5.56 miles
Elapsed Time: 2:02:13
Avg Speed: 2.7 mph
Avg Pace: 21' 58" per mile
Min Altitude: 4,804 ft
Max Altitude: 5,513 ft



I am always on the lookout for new places to ride. When I zoom in on the sat map, it looks like there's a jeep trail / horse path leading up out of the canyon about halfway along the trail - just south of where the trail changes from N-S to NE-SW. I will have to remember to bring the iPhone next time we ride, so we can pull up a map and look for that maybe-trail in the right spot.

Anyway, my horse was superb on Saturday. I have been really concentrating on halting with my seat before I pick up the reins, and it was showing - she halted so softly, often just from my seat, and waited pretty patiently for the other horses to catch up. (No, she has no problem at all leaving other horses behind; she just doesn't want to be the one getting left!)

Today I really meant to give her a light day, just a little schooling, but it didn't really work out that way.
Distance: 5.81 miles
Elapsed Time: 2:01:57
Avg Speed: 2.9 mph
Max Speed: 10.4 mph

We worked on being forward about going out, and coming home without rushing. There's one particular spot where she loves to rush home, for no reason that I can see, so we worked there for quite a while. I am extremely amused at this picture.



She eventually quit blowing me off and walked nicely around that corner and we got to go home. But as we got back, S had just gotten home and I decided to do a tiny ride with her. Tiny, hahahha. We were out for another 1:15, and the sun was behind the mountains and it was FREEZING by the time we got back. I rode Dixie just at the edge of her comfort level, right at the point where she and Summer got nervous about being so far apart. I kept her paying attention to me - wandering through the sagebrush, halting softly, backing softly. She did well, but it'll take more time, I know.

When I got home, the charging cradle for my Forerunner had arrived. I'm reading the manual and watching MNF. I just can't keep using the iPhone GPS for all my rides - today's 2 hour ride sucked over half my battery, and Saturday's 4 hour ride took 95% of the battery. It looks like the Forerunner will give me the same info, plus I can overlay my track onto Google Earth and get screenshots - it's just a crappier interface.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Things are clicking into place

I have read a lot about horses in the three years I've owned them - just about everything online, all the horse training books in all the libraries I've lived near, books my friends have mailed me. The thing I never read, that I wish I had read, was some kind of reassurance that eventually things start to click into place. Apparently, they do!

Today Dixie and I did the Mines. The SCARY Mines, down in a canyon where a bear could eat us, going past the mineshafts that clearly have demons lurking in them. She was fantastic! Not perfectly loose and relaxed, but not so antsy she made me nervous and I made her more nervous. I watch her head mainly, and her head was held juuuust below the point where she's really nervous.

Another thing that's paying off - when I think she's nervous, I ask her to stop. When she's nervous, she sometimes even stops on her own. Then we just stand there, facing the scary unknown, until I sigh - and then she will sigh, and her head will drop a bit, and I'll ask her to walk forward, and she will. My horse RULES.

Here's today's results:
Name: Track 006
Date: Nov 13, 2009 3:13 pm
Distance: 4.45 miles
Elapsed Time: 1:17:32
Avg Speed: 3.4 mph
Max Speed: 8.4 mph
Avg Pace: 17' 26" per mile
Min Altitude: 4,766 ft
Max Altitude: 5,377 ft

Notice that this trail is a bit steeper - we went up a bit, then down about 500', then climbed gradually back up to about 5,100'. With the altitude, and the "new scary all alone" factor, I'm pretty happy with 3.4 mph. And this time I am pretty sure 8.4 mph was our true max speed - I managed to grab the phone while she was trotting up a straight jeep trail, and it said 8.4, and it felt about that fast. Again, she surprised me with her walk, hitting 5 mph a couple of times.

The most horrible thing we encountered was a flock of Terror Birds when we were almost home. We were rockin' on up the last straight jeep trail at a very nice forward trot when the Terror Birds (probably some kind of jays) started plotting her dismemberment (squawking at each other) and circling around to hamstring her (flying out of the junipers away from us). She almost lost her cool, but I got her to stop and stare til the birds finished squawking and moving away from us.

Here's our map. Hope y'all had lovely days with your horses too!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stupid big lick people

Yall probably already read Shame in the Horse Show Ring, so you've probably already seen the latest post. That's why I don't show. That's what Dixie went through before I got her. In fact, that's exactly how she acted when I got her.

Watch a couple of the videos at the Waterfall Farms Colt Preview. That is all those horses know to do - go forward, as fast as possible, and turn before they run into the arena wall. I promise you, they're hot as hell and completely ignorant. And they're BABIES! Conventional redneck wisdom says to break out TWHs when they're 18 months old, maybe 24 if they're slow growers.

Show Walkers have such horrible lives, but they're such sweet horses through it all. It breaks my heart. And I know those padded colts look like the gangliest clunkiest things in the world, but they really CAN be good using horses. So:

1) Don't support those fuckheads who breed and show padded horses (unless you really fall in love with one)
2) Don't think all gaited horses move and act like those poor babies.

That is today's Gaited Horse PSA. Dixie had the day off, so that's about all I've got.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Movie night!

Today I was totally fed up with waiting for the Garmin charging station (even though it's been a reasonable amount of time and it's not actually late yet) so I took the iPhone GPS thingie with me. The iPhone GPS is really quite nice, lots of features and maps and stuff, but it's substandard because if you lose cell reception, you lose the GPS function. And it eats battery like MAD. And I have to take my attention off my horse and reach down to my bag and pull it out, then unlock it, then look at it, then not drop it, relock it, and put it back in the bag. Ugh.

But here's our stats for today:
Name: Track 005
Date: Nov 11, 2009 11:34 am
Distance: 3.49 miles
Elapsed Time: 59:05.7
Avg Speed: 3.5 mph
Max Speed: 10.2 mph
Avg Pace: 16' 55" per mile
Min Altitude: 5,179 ft
Max Altitude: 5,470 ft


I don't think the 10.2 MPH is accurate! What was interesting, though - I checked several times when Dixie was walking forward quite briskly, but still loose and supple. The kind of walk she usually does when we're leading a pack of horses toward home, what I have been calling her normal walk. It's 4.7 mph!

Here's a map of where we went - the scenic trail (over the mountain) then the pueblo trail.


Then C sent me something interesting she saw on a mailing list about gaited endurance horses, and it mentioned Clinton Anderson. S had loaned me the CA gaited horse dvds, so it seemed like the universe wants me to watch them already. I just started, and it seems like I have in fact been doing it right. CA says to take them out of the curb bits, trim their feet naturally, get them bending with a snaffle, and then let them trot and canter to figure it all out. Hmmm. I HAVE REDISCOVERED THE WHEEL, YET AGAIN!

(fake edit: Dammit, I had a clever title picked out. Then I forgot to work the title joke into the body of my post. Then I forgot what the joke was even going to BE! I have the attention span of a butterfly.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Slow day

We did pretty much the same as yesterday - I rode Dixie alone for an hour, then met up with S and rode for another hour. Today I noted my time on part of the ride - we did 1.87 in an easy 35 minutes, which is about 3.2 mph. I didn't let her really open up on the straight stretches, either. Where we cantered yesterday, I kept her to a nice flat walk and a trot today.

I appear to have remembered how to post. Whew - yesterday I was lurching all over the place, but today I got my sea legs back. Nothing really exciting to report. I mainly wanted to get down my MPH on that short trail for posterity. :)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Flying!

Oh hey, I haven't posted in half a week. If I don't write it down as soon as it happens, I forget to blog.

Thursday was an off day. Friday I had lunch with ~C down in south Reno, and it was a perfectly nice day - sunny, a few big pretty clouds, not too windy, about 60 degrees. So I headed north to ride Dixie, and either the wind came in with a vengeance or it was just locally windy up there. We boldly headed out together in 20 mph winds with gusts of about 35. Not as impressive as WHP's Wind but plenty windy for Miss Ox-Head. She was a total brat headed out, and I actually took pity on her when we got to the end of the road. We gracefully turned around and I gave the tiniest squeeze to indicate that she could walk home now, and that evil cow exploded and tried to bolt home. That just made me mad, so we careened through the sagebrush turning tight circles having a big fight. When she finally realized I was totally serious and I was not going to let her run home, she walked quite nicely back to the corner. Then we turned right instead of left, and I made her go up two hilltops. At a brisk walk, no less! Then she had to walk nicely back home. I think we turned for home three or four times before she quit trying to explode. Every time she'd start to tense up, ready to set her head and bolt home, I'd spin her around and we'd go further away. Finally, we turned for home and she kept her ears on me and her neck loose, and we walked very calmly home.

Saturday I had to go shopping so I didn't ride. I did stop at the REI garage sale, and I picked up a Garmin Forerunner 205 for $35. It needs a charging station, which I've ordered, but even so it was a steal! I may never know Dixie's heart rate, but I will soon know our distance, time, and MPH on our trips. That'll help a lot.

Sunday we all did a quick ride down to the Mines, and Dixie was quite well behaved. Better than some of the other horses, honestly. Then we humans headed over to the Clinton Anderson thingie, and S won the door prize! She now has one of each of his DVDs, and that man has put out like 30 DVDs. She is going to loan me the 6-disk gaited horse DVD, so we'll see what he has to say. Otherwise, he was really entertaining and I picked up a few new ways to think about things, but nothing earthshattering.

There's outliers like Nevzorov and those horse-tripping Mexican cowboys and Alexandra Kurland*, but most everybody else is saying the same thing in different ways. Pressure the horse til you get the desired behavior, then release instantly. Take breaks so the poor thing can calm down. Don't get tense. Clinton Anderson isn't saying anything new - he says the same stuff, in his own words, in an entertaining way. And that's good; the more different ways of pressure/release I see, the better I will get.

Today I did a double ride - Dixie and Cersei and I headed part way down the mines trail, then we cut over some hills, then we came back up the end of the mines trail. She got nervous and rushed when we cut across the hill, but we got calmed down again before we got back on the trail. Then, since she seemed so soft, I let her go home as fast as she wanted. We racked up part of the trail, trotted up another part, and cantered on the shoulder of the road. Her canter feels like flying! I hope I can start adding speed work back in - I hope she doesn't blow up on me and want to run everywhere now.

Anyway, we cantered up part of the road, then I had her slow to a walk part of the way, then I let her trot a hundred yards, then we walked back home through our sagebrush obstacle course. Doing all those unpredictable serpentines around the bushes in the lot next to S's is really helpful for both of us. I have to pay attention and ask nicely, and she usually chooses to listen and cooperate.

I timed things just right, and S had just gotten home when we got back. She saddled Summer and we headed out for another short ride, down the scenic trail. Dixie did quite well for her second trip out. The second trip was all slow, so she was dry and cool by the time we got back.

I think it's going to snow this week. Yuck.

*Yall do realize I'm not comparing Mexican horse-trippers to clicker trainers, right? Just that those three are the farthest extremes of working with horses - all pressure from one, and no pressure from the two?