Friday, April 23, 2010

Lola is improving!

Lola has been making steady progress. We really haven't had a step backward yet, and every day I've worked with her, she has gotten a little bit better (knock on wood).

She is a big pain in the rear to catch, however. Emma, my trusty mutt, helped me herd her into a back paddock, and from there she gave in to being caught easily. But she will not be easily caught on my back 2 acres. I resorted to giving her a treat after I caught her today, and hopefully, that will help me catch her the next time. The frustrating part is that all the other horses were habituated to coming in when called. But Lola is infecting the herd with her reluctance to be caught, and bringing in the herd is proving to be a challenge.

Once caught, we headed to the round pen. We did some light longeing and some round pen work, concentrating on speed transitions and maintaining gait. After some work, she was walking, trotting, and cantering, up and down through her speed transitions, easily and with little energy from me. What a difference! Just a few sessions ago, I was working like crazy to get her canter and maintain even her trot for one complete turn around the round pen. Now she is cued into me, and we are communicating more effectively. I made sure to be able to walk her around the round pen for a few revolutions.

Time for the trail, and I was looking forward to her first trail ride with me. She was just great, walking and trotting EXACTLY when I asked for it. I avoided the canter on the trail this time, just to ensure a successful trip, but she will be asked to canter on the trail next time. Her only reluctance was in leaving the barn initially, and she kept looking back. But once we were a good 100 yards from the barn, she settled in.

She's not butter yet, but at the pace she's learning, we should be right on track to finishing her out in a few months. Still lots to do, but I'm very encouraged by her steady progress.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lola is catching on...

Monday, I rode Woody. Just enjoyed some smooth cantering and the enjoyable ride of a super-broke horse.

Today, it was back on Lola. I did some ground work, longeing her and keeping pressure on her to get her to lope more easily. She did much better, and was going into the lope with less energy required. I then moved to the round pen and did some more. I then mounted her, and the lope was much easier. Success!

I still need a lot more round pen time with her, as she is not consistently turning in on both sides. And she's still stiff and needs flexing. But she's loping more freely, and that will be something to build on.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lola update, and rain...

Rain, rain, and rain. I am looking forward to sunshine and clear skies. But at least the rain has forced me to slow down and do some ground work with Lola.

Working with Lola is reminding me just how well trained my other horses are. Lola is very stiff, and it's going to be back to basics for her, working on flexing her neck and being more willing to back up. She's improving daily, but it needs a lot of repetition. I also worked on backing her up straight from the ground, as she has a tendency to move her hips over to the right when backing up. She's a smart girl, and has been catching on fast, without getting rattled.

I remembered that it took me a few months to get the excellent ground manners and flexion that I have in my other two mounts, Woody and Vaquero. Thank goodness I have this blog to review, and remind myself where I started with those geldings.

Lola is very predictable, in that whatever she can or can't do from the ground is EXACTLY what she can or can't do under saddle. Thus, I feel confident that my time spent doing ground work will really pay off.

The rain is a blessing in more ways than one. If the weather was better, I'd be blasting off on Lola, riding her too much and ignoring her holes. Thank you God, for sending me a slow down cue.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

First ride with Lola...

My "Hall of Fame" horses have always given me great first rides. Spirit (rest in peace) and Woody both gave me great first impressions: they moved out easily, were well broke, and didn't offer anything stupid.

I was really looking forward to my first ride on "Lola", Victoria's first horse. Overall, her ride was excellent, and she has a great chance of earning hall of fame status. What follows is a very critical review of her performance.

She entered the round pen without trepidation. We worked on flexing exercises, and it's apparent she hasn't had much work in the way of softening. She did not yield her head and flex her neck, but rather took the pressure on her face to mean she should turn her whole body. I could tell she was trying to look for the release, but not QUITE getting it. BUT, she never panicked, she never tried to get crazy, even though she was feeling pressure.

I then worked on sending her around the round pen. She walked easily, and went into a trot with just a little increased energy. Getting her to canter was another issue. I had to REALLY chase her and apply pressure to get her into a canter. And she wouldn't sustain the canter. A half trip around the round pen, and she would slip back to the trot. I attribute some of this reluctance to canter to being a little out of shape, and to having been ridden by kids. But this is an area that will need work, as I do expect my horses to canter easily. BUT, again she offered not a single buck, kick, or ANY sign of aggression towards me, even when I REALLY pressured her.

She looked in to me for cues, and I was able to change direction in her easily. Her "driveline" is a bit loose, however, so turning her was a little unpredictable. I think all this will improve with more round pen time.

It was time to mount. I sure appreciated her 14.3 HH height (confirmed with a good measure today); it made mounting a snap. She moved off a little sooner than I would like, and before I could get myself set in the saddle. But that's easily fixed with some practice.

We moved out at a walk, and it was a great walk. I could feel the spring in her rear legs, and she was really absorbing the movement, leaving me smooth in the saddle. I clucked her up to a trot, but I had to give her a little squeeze with my legs as an additional cue. Her slow trot is a little rough, but her fast trot covers some ground and I could definitely sit it.

Getting her to canter was another story, and just repeated what I experienced from the ground. I had to greatly increase my energy to get her into a canter and to maintain the canter. We worked in both directions, and she took the appropriate lead. Not knowing this horse, I was wondering how she might do with a little more pressure. She hadn't done anything stupid so far, so I figured I'd try. I gave her one in the flank with my quirt, and she was off to the races! After that, if I wanted the canter, I just had to show her the quirt.

Her canter is too fast and uncollected at present, but I feel confident that I can bring it down a notch and collect her a bit more. As long as the horse doesn't do anything stupid, I can work with 'em. And Lola just needs some refinement. The nice temperament is there.

After getting her into a good sweat, the party began. The neighbors came by to meet her. Victoria and Sofia took turns riding and being led on her. And my friend Winter and her daughter Sierra, came by to meet her. Winter took a turn on her and agreed with my assessment. What was amazing was that with all the different people around, she just took it all in stride. She seems very taken with children, and looks to them and lowers her head to receive affection from kids. Victoria was very happy with the calm walk she took on her.

Lola is going to have to be versatile to be a horse I will ride and that my daughters will ride, and I'm happy to report that she is "as advertised".

I think Lola is a diamond in the rough...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Victoria and Lola...

What a day! I'll try to do the day justice with a good literary description but, truly, you had to be there...

Yesterday evening, we prepared the truck and trailer for the journey to get Lola, a grade QH mare that is to be Victoria's first horse. We filled a traveling container with water, prepared the cooler for snacks, cleaned and lubed every hinge on the trailer, and gathered the necessary tack. Emma, the ever faithful mutt, was in everything, getting underfoot left and right. Until, where was Emma? We were convinced we were ready and wanted to head in for an early night and some rest, but could not locate Emma. She was nowhere, after being everywhere all evening. We circled the neighborhood, calling her name. We stopped people out for an evening stroll with our worried queries, but to no avail. We gave up well after dark, and retired for the evening convinced she had run off, distracted after deer or other dogs, and we would never see her again. My youngest, Sofia, was nearly inconsolable, crying for her Emma.

The alarm came quickly, sounding at 0600. I had awoken numerous times during the night thinking I was hearing Emma scratching at the door or barking for attention, but it was only wishful dreaming. I awoke Victoria, and after our personal preparations, I told her we would feed the horses together and then hit the road. She opened the tack room in the barn to get the feed, and out bounced Emma! She must have been doing her best to stay underfoot at the previous evening's feeding, and had been shut in the tack room. The tack room was a mess after being subjected to Emma's chewing overnight: feed bags were ripped open, objects were scattered everywhere; but Emma was OK! Victoria and I let out HUGE sighs of relief. Now we could focus on getting Lola without the worry for Emma that had plagued us all night and had threatened to rob our excitement in getting a new horse!

We hit the road, our moods lighter than air and with Emma safely tucked in her kennel after several hugs. We had 263 miles to cover. Let me explain: we were going to Uvalde to take possession of Lola, then drive back to Hondo and head due north through Bandera to Kerrville, where I would round on 6 patients, and then back to Bulverde to end the journey. We were on a mission!

The exchange for Lola went well, and I had Victoria prepare a bill of sale enroute and handle the transfer of money. The family selling Lola was very sweet, and it was a tender moment for them to say goodbye to their mare (known to them as "Liberty").
I exchanged their halter for ours, and asked Lola to load in our trailer. She hopped right in without a hitch, and she was in and loaded just like that! Yes! This trip was going EXACTLY as planned.

We started our trek back to Hondo, with Victoria's new horse in tow. We turned north and admired the beautiful wildflowers. We drove through Bandera, "Cowboy capitol of the World", and Victoria and I marveled at the charm and the number of motorcycles. We were just outside of Bandera on the north side, when I spied a sign that offered trucks an alternate route. Why did we need an alternate route north? We were here to enjoy the country and we were in a F-250 with a stock horse trailer. We weren't driving an 18 wheeler after all.

Has anyone driven HWY 16 between Bandera and Kerrville? It is the curviest, tiniest, most undulating stretch of road I have ever driven on outside of Mexico's mountain passes. Just when you thought it couldn't get tougher to negotiate, it got scarier. We took some turns at 5 MPH. The trailer was going right, then left, up then down, and I could only imagine that if Lola could get trailer-sick, she was there. I was feeling green myself, but my fear and focus driving this rig with my daughter and her new horse was taking all of my attention.

I joked with Victoria, "If we get a flat tire here, we are in BIG trouble". At last, the road straightened and we were through. Kerrville was in sight. We parked in the hospital parking lot and I collapsed in my seat from the strain. We were right on schedule.

While I donned my white coat, Victoria started to prepare her "picnic" in the back of the truck. She would stay with Lola while I did my rounds. But before we gave Lola some water and made sure she had survived the most serpentine road in Texas, Victoria said, "Dad, did you feel the trailer was lop-sided?" The right rear trailer tire was flat, the sidewall exploded but not yet in tatters. The heat from "snake road" must have been too much for the tire, and it had probably blown in the last few miles. No matter. I needed to do rounds and then look forward to a trailer tire change. I tried to put on my best face for Victoria, to show her how to laugh at adversity and tough luck, but inside I was dreading a hot, sticky tire change knowing that not every tire change goes well, and I was going to have to do this with a horse in the trailer.

I did my rounds, all patients mostly stable, but I wasn't overly chatty with the nursing staff. I wanted to get home with Lola and Victoria.

With Victoria's help, I did the tire change in 17 minutes (I like to time myself with tire changes). I had taken every precaution the evening before, and verified the pressure of the spare and I had all the equipment necessary to make things easier. Victoria remarked, "That wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be." I hope she learned something, and I hope she doesn't think they all go so well; the right tools and preparation and practice makes hard things look easy. Lola was awesome the entire time, and endured all the noise and grunts from my exertions without an issue. In fact, the entire trip, she didn't paw in the trailer ONCE.

After a lunch on the run, we headed home without any more issues. Lola unloaded calmly from the trailer and we allowed her to take in her surroundings. Victoria introduced her to the boys, my geldings, and they seemed as impressed with her looks as we were when we first met her.

It was an adventure that I hope Victoria will look back on fondly, and it delivered my oldest daughter her first horse, her first business transaction, a trip on new roads, a lesson in adversity, and culminated in a peaceful walk leading her new horse...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Good day for solo rides...

Started the day by getting up early and evaluating a possible horse purchase. It's a registered Spotted Saddle Horse. Beautiful tobiano paint markings. Rode OK, but purchase negotiations are ongoing. More later if successful.

Great day for a ride, clear skies and about 82 degrees. I went to the pasture and settled on riding the first horse I caught. Woody consented after a little evasiveness. We saddled up and I jumped on him "cold back". We walked and trotted right on out. No fuss or complaints from him. After he was a little warmed up, I used every open piece on the trail to canter him. As usual, he offered no complaints, and he responded to my cues to go directly into the canter from a walk or even a dead stop. I avoid trotting because of my back, and because I can on him. It's fun to go from stopped cold to a canter without a walking/trotting/bumpy start. It's 0-60 and then lift off!

We worked on cantering on each lead, left and right. Then we put in one trail in my neighborhood. Great fun.

I headed back to my front pasture, but stayed in saddle. I rode over to Vaquero and threw a halter and lead rope on him, and proceeded to "pony" Vaquero. I was thinking that by keeping Vaquero slightly behind Woody in some long circles and trips around the front pasture, it would simulate that Vaquero was actually DRIVING Woody, and might give him some confidence. Woody is top gelding, and Vaquero needs some confidence and to know he can trail ride alone. Similarly, Woody could stand to be driven around a little, since it rarely/never happens, and Woody can be a little bossy with me. It was also a great test of my horsemanship, since riding at a trot and canter while ponying another horse can really test your skill to hold it all together: speed control, your horses reins in one hand and a lead rope/tugging horse in the other. It felt great!

Armed with that confidence in both Vaquero and myself, it was time to hit the trail solo with Vaquero. We headed out; only he didn't want to go. He side passed and kept turning his head to see Woody. This was ridiculous. I spun him him hard for a circle or two, then let him relax. He needed to be worried about me, not leaving Woody. But I couldn't do too much, or then he could get terrified to leave with me and be convinced he was unsafe to leave Woody. I pushed him out again, and again he started a little dance. NO! I spun him hard the other way; and I mean I reached down and grabbed the rein on one side damn near his bit and brought his head around until he was spinning and I had full control. I was NOT going to let him buck or get out of this. But I was careful to make moving out easy and I gave him breaks to just relax with a loose rein. He let out a big sigh during the relax portion of our exercise, and I could feel him say, "Damn, I really thought I was going to get out of this one, but this guy is determined."

We headed out again, and despite a few look backs with longing and despair, there was no more foolishness. The further we got from the ranch, the more he looked forward. There were other horses to get his attention, and various other distractions. That, and his inbred to desire to move out, kept his feet moving and the distance from the ranch growing. I tried to use that move out desire to my advantage.

We met other riders on their horses taking advantage of the great weather. So after a while, I felt him relax and we enjoyed a nice brisk walk and a smooth paso corto for much of the ride. I actually felt him start to enjoy himself. In fact, I think he rode more smoothly during this solo ride than he has in quite a while. He got sweaty, but not the ridiculous sweaty he can get when he's nervous or anxious. This was an honest ride kind of sweat. We did two trails, and headed home. He picked up the pace, but was controllable headed home. I think I heard him call out to Woody, waiting indifferently in the pasture for his return, "I made it! I'm in one piece! Can you believe it?".

I turned him out with Woody, and both horses will enjoy the night air under the starts tonight in the front pasture. I will too, with my kids and some steaks I'm throwing on the grill as soon as I stop typing. Did I mention the kids had their first swim of 2010 in the pool while I was riding? It took me 2 weeks, but the pool is in swimming shape, but way too frigid for anything but pool crazy kids desperate for a swim...Enjoy the evening.