Friday, October 14, 2011

Concepcion Trail Ride Part 2...

Joey and me...Here I'm texting and riding a horse.

I'm not trying to be coy with the reader by breaking up this post in two parts. It's been busy at work, and haven't had time to finish this story!

When last I left you, I was preparing to ride Joey, my 4 year old grullo gelding, in a 13 mile trail ride with a LOT of other horses. How did he handle it all?

He was a champ. He loaded well, with only slight encouragement needed. He was understandably anxious during tack up, but so was every other horse. Even my trusty mount Woody was lifting his head in excitement. There were all manner of new horses around, calling to every horse, and the vibe was strong with nervous energy.

I mounted, and I could feel his energy. I spent time flexing him from the saddle, and making him yield hindquarters often and vigorously. I could feel him connect up. We also did a little longeing. It helped him to go ahead and release the energy he was carrying.

I felt good. But the hardest part of this trail ride is the start. Horses buck, sidepass, crow hop, kick, bite, and do all kinds of general nastiness until they get some miles under their feet. The riders are all bunched up, and the spacing is terrible. Herd mates get lost in the shuffle, inciting panic in the little herds that have just joined to become a large herd of chaos.
You could tell Joey was not immune to the excitement, but he stayed steady under saddle, and we had no ill events.

The rest of the ride was a dream. Once we had some spacing, I was able to walk, trot, and do some nice sidepassing on the trail at a trot. I received THREE compliments on his looks! He never acted up. My only complaint is that his short stride made it hard to keep up with the longer striding horses at the walk. But we just did walk/trot to keep up.

He was a fabulous water drinker at the halfway point, guzzling up gallons of water. He has always been a good water drinker, and I felt like a proud Papa watching my boy drink water eagerly, while other riders were reduced to saying"Well, you can lead 'em to water, but you can't make 'em drink".

He maintained good effort in the last part of the ride, but you could tell he wasn't as fresh as he was at the beginning. He stumbled some, and I know it was because he was dragging his feet. But his good attitude prevailed.

It was a hell of a first trail ride for this young horse. I'm VERY proud of him. I've ridden him some since our return, and he has been steady, and he and I are connecting on every level. I can't wait for more adventures.

Getting down to stretch my legs.

Talk about a challenge! Look at all the riders!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Concepcion Trail Ride Part 1...

Well, it was that time of year again...The time of year where I saddle up and travel to Concepcion, TX for the Fiesta Del Rancho and its accompanying trail ride. But as in the past, there is always important prep work to complete.

I had to lay off the horses for a few weeks due to a busy work schedule. That left Joey un-ridden for 3 weeks. I had started back to ground work, but there's just no substitute for saddle time.

I had a group of riders over, about 14 total, on a Sunday, a week before the Concepcion Trail Ride. I jumped on Joey cold back. We walked around some of the arriving horses and riders, and then suddenly, after being on him about 10 minutes and while doing nothing more than walking, he went into a bucking fit. He threw about 10 bucks in a row. I rode him through it, and then worked yielding his hindquarters and getting his focus back on me. I had kind of anticipated this was coming, because he was unfocused from the second I pulled him from his stall. I attribute it to nervous energy. And while we survived the trail ride that day, it was clear we were not in sync.

I used the rest of the week to ride him. For the first few rides after the bucking fit, he would throw some bucks in the round pen or while longeing. Gradually, by the 3rd or 4th ride of the week, all the buck seemed to have left him, and he was buck free.

I had a thought that I had been leaning on the bit while asking him to canter, out of my own fear that he would buck. I took to riding him in a bosal to break me of the habit, and I tried to "grow a pair" and just accept what happened. I also committed to a quirt, since he tends to be a little lazy. Well, the results were great. Without me in his mouth, and with a little encouragement from the quirt, we had some good buck free rides and some good sustained canters in the round pen. Truth is, he rode as well or better with the bosal as with the bit.

Now I was ready for the Concepcion Trail Ride. This is a ride with plenty of challenges. There is the haul over there, and yes, I did have a trailer tire blowout on the way down that resulted in a 25 minute tire change. Not my best time, but the tire wrapped around the axle and I had to work it free. It also means an overnight stay in a new environment for the horses. And it's a trail ride with about a hundred other horses. Throw in some VERY loud music being blasted from following cars and wagons in the procession and you get the set up. It is a problem rich environment. And I'm doing this on a 4 year old horse that earlier in the week, decided to try out for the rodeo as a bucking bronc.....

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Rough Ride on Joey

This post will be staccato style, forget the grammar...

Hustled to get a ride in on Joey tonight. Headed to my friend's place to ride in her good arena.

No problems trailer loading. Joey was very distracted though. Looking at other horses, ears everywhere but on me. Walk and trot no problem, but he was not "connected". I dismounted and longed for respect, but I could tell I still didn't have him all the way.

He was cantering well, but on his favorite lead, the left. I wanted to get his head in a good place, and so we cantered a bunch going left, but rather non-aggressively. Then I tried the right. He was reluctant to take the right lead again. I worked on half passes and side passes at the walk and trot. I wanted him really yielding, because then it's easier to start him in the correct lead. I watched a Craig Cameron episode on this very topic on Monday, and he really promoted this. He also reminded me that we should always tell our horse which lead we want when going into the canter. In other words, don't just canter off without a plan for which lead to be in.

I finally got him in a right lead, and we cantered. I goosed him a little bit to keep him from slowing to the trot, and he bucked. It was no small buck. If he had followed the first with a second and third, I'd have been off his back, because I was out of position after the first buck. I slowed him down with a one rein stop and IMMEDIATELY yielded his hindquarters in both directions, HARD and FAST. Then I cantered him off again. A few more laps, and he pulled another one, but this time I was ready and had a decent grasp of my night latch. It seems my leg asking him to keep up speed was the trigger, and going to the right was harder for him to do than the left.

OK all the bleeding hearts out there. I can hear it already. "Maybe he's hurt and you need to stop riding him so hard". Baloney. Look, I asked my vet how I should handle possible lameness issues. He said that mild degrees of lameness are hard to diagnose. He suggested I keep riding until the limb, part of limb, whatever is hurting, becomes more obvious and persists, and THEN bring him in.

I know Joey has an issue with taking the right lead. I also know I've been working on strengthening it. Today, thus far in this ride, he's been distracted and disconnected. I did NOT round pen him prior to riding, and I am definitely making him work. Unless he shows me some obvious lameness, I'm riding him through this.

I kept cantering him to left and right, with a good grasp of the night latch. I let my leg move him around while cantering, and while I could tell he didn't like it, I didn't care. He needs to be turning and yielding to my leg if I have any hope of good steering while at the canter. You have to control the hind end and the ribcage to have any hope of good circles. Without it, the horse will just push through your head direction and you'll be cantering without control. I did NOT have spurs on, and I was barely touching him, He was being over reactive and needed desensitization.

He quit bucking. I then made him yield front and rear, and when he was slow about it, I used my rein end to pop him where I was already applying pressure with my leg anyway. I got a VERY good response after that. He softened, and I could tell I had his full attention after that.

Look, I don't want a rodeo anymore than anyone else. But I'm not going to reward this behavior that I feel represents willful disobedience. He did much better after an attitude adjustment. Joey is a young horse. I feel he was looking around at the other horses for a herd and leadership. I didn't come down on him hard initially, but eventually, that's what it took. I knew the risks when I took on a youngster.

Like the Aaron Ralston show sings at the beginning of every show..Did you come to ride or did you come to hide?

I came to ride. I can't wait for the next ride, because I'm thinking what this horse needs now is some good hard riding for some extended canter sessions. And I plan on delivering.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Random Thoughts About the Canter

I'd like to preface this writing by reminding everyone that I am no horse expert. BUT, I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night, so...

I am now going to espouse my opinions, based on observation. Specifically, I want to address the issue of a horse's cantering, or rather their willingness or reluctance to do so.

Have you ever considered this test? What would your horse do if you caught him from the pasture or stall, picked his hooves and tacked him up, mounted him, and then proceeded to canter the horse away from the barn? This is without any warm up, absolutely "cold back" riding.

Now I'm sure some of you are starting to shudder at the mere thought of trying this test with your horse. And I'm not suggesting you try it. But I'd be interested to hear your response. And I'll tell you what each of my horses would do below.

My 17 year old gelding, Woody, would canter off easily. He might get high-headed for a bit, but there would be no tail swishing, no cow kicks, and no bucking. I consider this the gold standard. This horse is truly good and broke. He side passes both directions, trailer loads and unloads without difficulty, leads well and will trot while led, yields his hindquarters, will cross over his front legs, stops with my seat, rides collected, neck reins, and rides best in a curb bit. He picks up his feet for picking like no horse I've ever seen. His only fault is that he can get high-headed until reminded to flex at the poll, and he has no cow in him. But by every measure, he is a completely broke horse. He has NEVER in the time I have owned him, bucked, cow kicked, or reared when asked to do anything. Enough said.

Now for the another end of the spectrum, my newly acquired, 4 year old gelding Joey. He is a good horse. But if I were to canter him off cold backed, and I hadn't worked him in several days, I would be grabbing for my night latch just in case he might buck. He's not a bad horse, but he isn't completely broke. He might buck, he might not. But I don't have the confidence in him that I do in Woody. Joey is only fair (but getting better) at trailer loading. But I can't say that I've successfully loaded him in every kind of trailer. He picks up his feet well, without any tail swishing. He side passes well. But he still has trouble with lead departures and he tends to lift his head when changing gaits. In other words, he has great potential, but he still has a lot to learn, and therefore I don't consider him completely broke.

My other two horses are in the middle of the spectrum, but closer to truly broke.

My point is that too often I hear people making excuses for why their horse cow kicks going into the canter. Or a horse that bucks when asked to canter. Or is reluctant to canter. I'll bet you good money that those same horses don't do a LOT of things well. It would be a rare horse that can do everything that my horse Woody can do AND still cow kicks or bucks going into the canter. To me, showing tail swishing, cow kicking, bucking going into the canter, are all just signs of willful disobedience (assuming always that health issues have been eliminated).

Now don't get me wrong; it's not that I think the horse that shows reluctance to canter is a "bad" horse. In the case of my horse Joey, he's just young. He sometimes goes too long between riding, and he has to have the "fresh" worked off him before he performs at his best and gets "right in his head" and submits to my leadership. But I do NOT imagine for one second that he isn't a potentially dangerous horse, or that he is safe as my bed at home and a truly broke horse. He is NOT.

And just because a horse is older does NOT mean they are truly broke. Older horses can be as dangerous as young ones. But I DO think even the best of young horses cannot be considered truly broke until they have some age and miles on them. It's just that they don't have enough experience. A 4 year old that shows great temperament MIGHT be a future Woody, but I can't say that at 4 years of age. Too much can still go wrong, there are too many new experiences that might overwhelm a younger horse.

So if your horse can't do all the things that Woody can do, if you can't jump on your horse cold back and canter away from the barn, then stop fooling yourself that you have a dead broke, safe as your bed at home horse. What you have is a horse that is still dangerous, and needs your work and attention.

So what are you going to do to make your horse super broke? Do you even care if your horse does the occasional cow kick or buck going into the canter? Have you given up on cantering because you fear what will come next? Have you become satisfied with walking and trotting only?

Like I warned at the beginning of this post, I am not a horse expert. But I am stating firmly, in my opinion, unless your horse canters without any expression of reluctance, you have work to do with your horse.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Better Adventures With a 4 Year Old

What a difference a day makes.

I read up a little on how to train a horse to pony, now that I realized that a horse does indeed have to be trained to pony, and it's not some inborn skill.

This is the article that came up on a google search.

I encourage you to read it and then come back to this post...

Are you back? Did you find it as intimidating as I did? I mean, I'm supposed to handle my horse, handle my split reins, handle a lead line, and control another horse with a stick in my hand. How many hands does this guy think humans have anyway? And should I be whistling Waltzing Matilda at the same time? That Aussie is nuts!

I trailered Woody and Joey over to my friend's place this morning. I gathered all the tools described in the article, and made ready in the arena. First, I longed Joey to get him listening and focused. Check.

Then I tried to just walk Joey in the manner Clinton Anderson described. I did NOT like the lead line across Woody's chest. I imagined that if Joey balked, there would be a rope burn across Woody's chest and a sizeable vet bill. I was not going to do that. I wanted to be able to get out of trouble immediately if needed. No sense in turning this training session into a wreck.

Well, I got it figured out after a bit. Left hand held the reins and the lead line. Right hand held the training stick, the nice long variety. Woody is an experienced horse that neck reins well. I positioned Joey's head at my right foot while mounted. We started walking. I could then reach back and tap Joey on the hind end if he showed any signs of slowing or balking. IT WORKS!

In fact, Joey even got going too fast and I had to check him with the lead line to keep his head where I wanted it. But getting him to trot and walk lively was no longer an issue.

In retrospect, I wish I had started out this way, because it might be a problem that Joey learned a couple of times that he could get away from me. He still has a tendency to back up when pressured, and that's something that a more experienced horse will not do. If I had started this training correctly, he would never have experienced that release for the wrong action. But overall, I was very pleased with our progress.

I also trotted him from the ground with me jogging ahead, and he was moving more freely. He still wants to act like he doesn't want to move with me, however. But a few taps with the training stick and some longeing to free up his "stuck feet", corrected that quickly.

Both horses got a well-deserved hosing down and some extra alfalfa for their efforts. It proved to be a big step in the right direction. I think I just caught myself whistling a few bars of "Waltzing Matilda".

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Adventures With a 4 Year Old

I had the brilliant idea of exercising two horses today. Why not use Woody to pony Joey? What could go wrong? Horses naturally pony, don't they?

Wrong. Bad idea. So I get another adventure out of it.

I trailer to a friend's place, with a nice arena. I had the place to myself. Which also meant if I got hurt, no one would be there to call EMS. Alex's injury was fresh on my mind.

I used Woody, my steady Eddie. I ponied Joey to the arena and we walked around. So far so good.

I increased to a trot. Not so good. Joey stopped, would not go forward, and the lead rope had no choice but to leave my hand, quickly. He immediately started eating grass when free of my grasp. Great...Now he's been rewarded for getting loose. This is going to have to be undone. The lesson is going badly.

I dismount. Woody stays ground tied. Thank God at least I have one steady horse during this adventure. I pick up Joey's lead line and start him longeing. Like hell I'm letting him think he can escape me and eat grass!

I try again. Walking is fine. I put Woody in a trot, and Joey doesn't keep up. Despite a half dally, Joey's strength and mass is easily able to escape my grasp. More grass eating until I can catch up with him from the ground. This is not going to work. Think! More longeing for respect. Get his feet moving. He's good and sweaty now.

I start walking on ground with him on lead line; then I jog. He shows resistance. IMMEDIATE longeing! Jog him out as he's trotting from the longeing. Now, it's working. He's trotting behind me. More work transitioning from walk to trot as I lead him. I'm not in shape for this. I won't be able to do this for long.

Mount up again and try again. Maybe he's getting the idea that the release is to move forward. Better results. He's trotting while ponied. But he stops after a bit, and he's almost escaped me. But I'm circling now with Woody when I feel him start to balk.

Another dismount and more longeing for respect. But I'm getting steamed, probably not a good thing. I leave him tied. He paws and tries to reach grass, but I've tied him well, so he's just going to have to stand there.

Ride Woody and work on lead departures and cantering. Need some relief from this 4 year old. Woody is a dream.

Try again with Joey, and slightly more success. OK. End on a good note. Walks back ponied to trailer, where he loads VERY well. The longeing has helped, I suppose.

Arrive home. Leave Woody saddled and tied. Take Joey to round pen and work on trot and canter, since he hadn't cantered today up to this point. He transitions very well. Not even a cow kick. Again, the longeing for respect has worked to take a lot of the fresh off. Make Joey do more right leads than left. He has to be corrected for wanting to take the left lead when circling right a few times, but mostly picks up the right lead well. Stays in gait very well. Again, that's the longeing, I think, paying off. Working off my verbal cues. No change in energy really required. He is remembering.

Good join up. Work on walk and trot from ground as I lead him back to barn. He's still a little slow to pick this up.

Shower, then bed. I'll try again tomorrow. Lots to think about tonight. Already googling how to train a horse to pony. Have new ideas from Clinton Anderson. I think I'll have more success tomorrow.

4 year old horses...they really have a lot to teach me.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friend's Accident On a Horse.

This has been a hard one to write. A few of you may remember that I rode at a place in Blanco, TX recently. During that ride, I rode with a friend, Alex. He had recently purchased a beautiful, palomino mare. The story was this: 6 year old mare, neglected recently by being underfed, allegedly well trained, good temperament, etc. The fellow he bought the horse from was willing to accept payments for the horse, bring Alex along in his riding, and help to put weight on the horse. I had no role in this purchase except to support my friend.

Well, when I took Lola to ride with Alex in Blanco, Tx, I had the chance to meet and ride this palomino mare. She was a good sized horse, a little thin, but solidly built and big boned. You could tell she was going to get huge with the right feed. You could also tell she was nervous, braced, and too much horse for Alex. She was high-headed and reluctant to canter. And Alex didn't know enough tricks to get her soft. With the help of the local cowboy, he was escalating his aids to get her to canter: leg kicks, clucking, yelling, screaming, cussing, and smacking her on the hind end with the rein end. She was, of course, only getting harder and harder to canter and requiring more and more stimuli. I could see a real rodeo about to happen. Thankfully, the local cowboy had to run off, and so this left the arena to Alex and me. To this point, I had been riding mostly on one end of the arena keeping my thoughts to myself and focusing on Lola.

But now, I joined Alex in riding, and I encouraged him to ride next to Lola and me. As I thought she would, his mare cantered more easily when she was asked to canter and follow Lola and me. The palomino mare was obviously feeling scared, wanting for leadership, and trying to figure out how to get away from the stimuli she'd been receiving without really understanding. She was really not in a place to ride independently from Lola, and Lola was distracting her from working.

Alex offered me a ride on his mare, and I reluctantly accepted. I don't like riding in saddles other than my own, and I was really wishing for a night latch with this new horse. I mounted well enough, noting that she was a tall horse and it was a long way down. I never really got the stirrups the way I wanted them. And when I tried to flex her from the saddle, she was just one big muscle and braced tight. This was no way to ride a horse. I did some hindquarter yields, and this got her thinking, which was better than braced. I did a little more flexing, and was making small progress with letting her realize that I was going to be offering a "release" quickly. But by this point, she was already too braced and wired to really get soft in just a few minutes, so I didn't do much more than walk and trot. I don't even remember if I asked for the canter much. It was clearly a disaster waiting to happen, and I didn't feel like getting bucked. I surrendered her back to Alex, and we finished the ride in the arena without challenging his horse much more.

I'm a big believer in: ask, tell, promise. In fact, I don't usually ask more than twice for something from my horse. If I move my arms forward and start walking from the saddle, that's me asking my horse. If the horse doesn't move forward, then I'll tell the horse to move with more forward hands and more energy from my seat. If the horse still isn't responding, heaven help that horse, because I will use everything in my arsenal to get that horse moving forward and I will not stop. And if I have to get on the ground and move the horse around for safety reasons, I will make that horse wish I had never dismounted. I never beat the horse, but I do make the horse work until I see signs of submission and softening and UNDERSTANDING.

If I've done my ground work, I shouldn't have to do much work from the saddle. What I saw in Alex's mare was that she needed ground work, tons of it. There was no submission, she had not accepted human leadership, and she was too darn dangerous to ride, in my opinion. I estimated 5 good round pen sessions and 10 more with longe work and lots of yielding. And my first rides with her would be in a riding round pen with less distractions. Only then, once she was moving freely into a canter at the FIRST ask, would I bring her out into the arena. I don't know where she came from, or what form of neglect she had received other than under-feeding, but there was a lot to learn about this horse before I would have felt comfortable with her.

But we survived that ride, and chalked it up to an adventure, and I got busy with work.

Alex went back to ride her about 10 days later. He took his family with him, and mounted her to ride in the arena. He asked her to canter, and she quickly started bucking. He was thrown, landed hard, and immediately had no function of any of his limbs. He was airlifted to a local hospital, where it was determined he suffered a C7 and T1 verterbral body fracture with some subdural bleeding. He recovered limb function about an hour after the fall, but will require a fusion surgery in the near future. He is looking to sell his horse back, and has been advised by his physicians to never ride a horse again.

I consider Alex to be a very lucky man. I went to the hospital a few hours after the event, and I can tell you he did not look pretty. The community has been praying for him, and I hope he makes a full recovery.

I, in no way, blame the horse. She might make a fine mount one day, for the right person. But she will need a skilled rider and some time.

It's just the same old story of a young horse with an inexperienced rider.

I felt really badly for a while that I didn't do more to keep Alex off that horse, but I've forgiven myself and reminded myself that I can't rescue a grown man. But I do think I'd do some things differently if I had to do it all over again. I'd probably be much more outspoken about my concerns. But short of that, I don't know what could have been done.

I hope this writing helps someone...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Joey's Work in Progress

I've had a few more rides on Joey. There have been highs, and lows.

Behavior: He continues to show a little bit of interest in mares, my mare Lola in particular. Hard to say if he's acting like a stallion or just a co-dependent horse. Lola is much the same way towards him. I think they have a crazy, co-dependent thing going on at the moment. Yuck.

Under saddle: He is becoming VERY responsive to subtle cues. Wonderfully voice trained for gaits, and stopping very nicely with just seat cues. Between my seat and my legs, I feel like I'm hardly in his mouth at all. It's a very cool feeling. And it keeps him tuned in to me. I just love riding this way, and like that he is a horse with whom I can do this.

He is having great difficulty taking the right lead. He wants to take the left lead, no matter how much I position and cue him for the right lead. He was not this unbalanced pre-surgery. As a reminder, his retained testicle was on the right side. I'm wondering if this has anything to do with his reluctance to take the right lead?

He will take the right lead in the round pen, with me off his back. But he does start with the left lead, and then does a flying lead change to the right when I pressure him. Might be he just needs to build up the right side, both physically AND mentally.

He is also a little shy about offering me his right side. So of course, I make him give it to me, gently.

I also saddle my horses starting from the right. I swing the saddle on him from the right side, let down my cinches, and THEN walk to the left to complete the process. It's a trick I learned along the way that reduces one trip around the horse. Most people throw the saddle up from the left, walk around to the right to let down the cinches, and then walk BACK to the left to complete the process. Doesn't make any sense once you try it my way, in my opinion.

He was a slight freak about me swinging up the saddle from the right side when I first got him, but he accepts it all now. And I like to think it's a good way to "build up" his right side to accept sensory data readily. I also will occasionally mount from the right. Although that feels as weird to me as it does the horse!

Trailer loading: Much better, but still wants to ride backwards in the stock trailer. In the slant load, he won't have a choice. But I haven't decided if I'll get serious about changing this or not, because I would probably want to ride backwards in a stock trailer too.

Round penning: He is always a little hot for the first 5 minutes or so, with lots of bucks and a big show when asked to do anything. He'll tear around the round pen for several laps to get the fresh off. Once he settles in, he does very well and responds nicely. But that fresh attitude at the start has become a pattern for him. I attribute it to the paddock he is confined to most of the day. I think if I could give him the larger turn out that the other horses enjoy, he'd be less fresh, because he would have been walking around all day.

Overall, he is as good from the ground as my paso fino, and that's saying a lot because my paso fino Vaquero has excellent ground manners.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A ride on Joey

Even though I knew Joey was not in great shape, I needed to make some time for him. And I was itching to ride him, so I loaded him up and headed down the road to a friend's place to ride.

My friend's place has a big round pen in which to ride. I've never measured it, but it's at least 60 feet, maybe more. It's not a great round pen to train your horse from the ground, but it's a nice one to ride in, because the large size makes it less taxing on the horse.

She also has a nice sized arena, with good footing and solid rails. It's a good place to work on cantering circles, and lead departures.

Joey loaded better than he has been, and was pretty quiet on arrival. I was on the look out for any mares, especially ones in heat. We rode in the round pen after a brief longe session. He offered no buck, no foolishness, and was just a little lazy to go into the canter.

We moved over to the arena, and worked on the basics. He did well, but the rust showed initially. He also showed me his conditioning has gone to heck. He cantered better, but he was huffing and puffing quickly. I didn't push it. We focused mainly on transitions from the walk to trot and back down. I want him moving immediately and slowing immediately when I change my energy. He picked it up pretty quickly.

Overall, a good ride. I think I'll be riding over there more frequently. It offers good training facilities, and plenty of distractions and variety. I think that will be good for him and keep him challenged.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Ride in Blanco,TX on Lola

While I am very interested in getting Joey back in shape and riding, I do have 3 other horses that need riding, and I have some updates where they are concerned.

I am strongly considering entering an endurance ride to take place on October 1, 2011. I have yet to decide which horse to use, however. Woody, my grade horse of unclear background that I'm pretty sure is an Azteca, has great endurance and is super-broke, but has a rougher trot than I care to ride for miles on end. Vaquero, my paso fino with tons of brio, has a smoother gait and more motor to cover miles, but can be tough to calm down, and I worry he won't get his pulse down fast enough to complete a 25 miler. So I have stepped up riding them both on alternate occasions, and will probably make up my mind as they progress. I plan on riding one and ponying the other when I can't find friends to help me ride them.

Vaquero after a recent bath.


Woodrow "Woody" and his amazing chest girth

Woody from the other side showing off his mane.

Yesterday, by buddy Alex told me about a place up the road in Blanco, TX, run by a cowboy. He said they had some cutting horse training going on over there, so I thought it worth a look-see. The cowboy's name was Dick, was about 6 foot 5 inches tall, and was quite a colorful character. He did have those ropes that run a flag back and forth, and he told me I could bring Joey over there for a few months, and get him used to tracking that flag. Apparently, that's part of cutting training.

Dick proceeded to give me a few tips for riding Lola, all of which were appropriate, and things I knew, but had gotten sloppy about. He reminded me to NOT lower my hands, keep them up. Give reining cues from a more up the neck position, etc.

Lola rode well, and we worked on correct lead departures, always a challenge for her. She is very left lead dominant. She would barely take the right lead EVER when I first got her. Even at liberty in the field, I don't recall ever seeing her in the right lead. But after some work, I've been getting her in the right lead more often. We were riding in a nice big arena, with good footing, and so we worked on cantering in circles and for long stretches. She did very well.

After one terrible stop, all my fault, we worked on her stops too. Dick saw my terrible stop, where she stopped quickly on her front end and with me jammed into the saddle horn, and he quickly went about correcting my behavior. Of course, I had NOT given her time to stop. I had just been riding and then slammed on the brakes. After his not so subtle reminder, I took care to lead the stop with my seat, energy, and only last and gently, did I add the reins. Her stops were much better, and I didn't impale myself on the saddle horn. Why is it always my damn fault when I'm riding the horse? Why couldn't it just ONCE be the horse's fault?

The country was beautiful, Texas Hill Country gorgeous. Lola did well, and it was a lot of fun to be riding in a new place. I hope to go back more often, and hope to add more stories from this place to my storybook of horse adventures.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Surgery for Joey

Hmm...can I eat these shavings?

His home away from home.

Joey underwent surgical correction for his cryptorchidism at the Texas A&M Vet School on July 12th, 2011, under the direction of Dr. Peter Rakestraw. He underwent laparoscopic evaluation on both sides, and the retained testicle was found on the right side, intra-abdominal position, and very high. It was well proximal to the inguinal ring, and was never a testicle that had descended and then "sucked back up". This testicle had never descended and was never going to descend.

There were no complications. In fact, the only tough part of the experience was the shock of seeing the large area of skin that had to be shaved and prepped. It is easy to see from these pics, that grullo colored horses are truly "black duns".

This is the right side, where the testicle was removed

They explored the left side as well, to confirm there was no testicular tissue on that side.

He has been recovering well. I removed the sutures on July 24th, 2011. He never experienced any drainage from any of the incision sites. That was a big concern of mine, given the flies this time of year, but it proved to be a non-issue.

He is cleared to return to work 2 weeks post-op, which is today, July 26th, 2011, and I'll start him in the round pen and bring him back into shape with ground work for 7-10 days.

He needs some more time to grow his hair back, but it's progressing well. His latest pics are below.

You can just see some peach fuzz coming in...

Can't wait to get him all shiny again.

His behavior has slowly been improving. He's always been a good horse, but very easily distracted by mares. Since I've had him back, he has progressively been less attentive to my mare. Lola. I've only seen 1-2 erections in the last 2 weeks, where that had been 1-2 an hour before the surgery! He seems more submissive as well. I guess the real test will start as I put him back to work, and increase his exposure to mares and other geldings.

Through all of this, the persons (2nd owners of the horse) I bought the horse from have been helpful and paid for the entire cost of the surgery. I appreciate their willingness to do the right thing. As we all know, this isn't always the case in the horse world.

Why did Joey even have to endure this surgery? Well, it started with an unscrupulous veterinarian who was willing to perform a partial castration on a horse. Clearly, only the left testicle was ever present, and was removed. More ethical vets will not proceed with castration if they only palpate one testicle. They inform the owner that to PROPERLY geld the stud, a more extensive surgery will be needed, and they will not perform a partial castration. The surgery to remove the retained testicle is then performed at a later date, when BOTH testicles can be definitively removed at the same time.

When the unethical vet performed a partial castration, the owner then had the responsibility to disclose this condition to potential buyers, or correct it.

I can tell you with certainty that the vet who performed the castration does not follow ethical practices, because he admitted it to me. I called him, and he told me "If there is only one testicle, and the owner wants me to remove it, then I remove it". He then went on to tell me that he tells the owner that the horse only had one testicle to remove. When I asked if he had records to document that he disclosed this, he told me he had no records of the procedure. Keep in mind, this "gelding" was performed 2 years ago. I spoke with 3 other vets who told me it a requirement to keep records for far longer than that.

So we know the vet had no problem with performing a partial castration. But I'll never know if he told the owner about the condition.

I asked the original owner/breeder if she remembers the procedure. She stated she was out of town when the procedure was performed, that the vet was not her usual vet, and that she was not told the horse only had one descended testicle.

In any event, the horse was sold as a gelding at the age of 2. Seeing as he was young, and kept mostly around other geldings, and has a naturally good disposition, he never was reported as acting "studdy". The 2nd owners sold him to me as a gelding at age 4, and I firmly believe they never knew about his cryptorchidism. At my place, he was exposed to new geldings, and a mare in heat, and his "stud" behavior became quickly apparent to me. Chemical testing revealed his elevated testosterone levels.

A few people in this horse's case did NOT do the right thing. This could have truly been a disaster for me, the horse, or some other poor unfortunate to encounter a "gelding" who was not truly a gelding. I mean, who thinks that their gelding isn't a gelding? I thank God that I'm a physician, and fairly distrustful of newly purchased horses, or I may have never questioned Joey's behavior or pursued the testing needed to make his diagnosis.

And I also thank The Jones's (sellers of Joey and 2nd owners), for not leaving me hanging through this experience and for paying for Joey's surgery. I know his condition was not their fault, but they did the right thing anyway, and that's good karma, and I know it will bring them blessings in the future.

Yet another lesson in the wonderful world of horses!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cryptorchidism rears its ugly head...

Thus far, I have posted only great things about Joey. He has been a nice horse. He has shown steady improvement in all areas. I was really hoping he was going to be all that I had hoped he would be.

EXCEPT for a few things. The first time I turned him out with the rest of my herd, which included a mare and two geldings at the time, he charged at every horse in the herd, acted very possessive of the mare, and bit all the other geldings to hell. He reared on his back legs and was very aggressive in rearing to paw at my alpha gelding. I had never seen the alpha gelding have to respond that vigorously to get another gelding in line. And I watched the whole thing; Joey initiated the aggression, no question. That entire episode lasted about 15 minutes tops, before I caught the horses up and separated everyone.

After that, Joey stayed in the back paddock for a week, to allow him to interact with the other horses in a more safe manner. Later, I tried to turn him out with another colt gelding that joined my herd. They had an acre to themselves. I had to stop that experiment after just a day or two, because the other colt gelding was getting severely bitten by Joey.

So except for a few brief periods of time, Joey has been by himself, either in an acre turnout area, or in a large paddock. He just never seemed to get along with the rest of the herd.

A few weeks ago, my mare Lola came into heat. She was very brazen in her attempts to get Joey's attention. And he returned her attention. It was very difficult to walk him anywhere near her while she was in heat, because he would tug on the lead line and whinny loudly to her. At one point, I had him in a stall next to her for all of 5 minutes before I had to pull him out and move him away from her because he was acting as if he would tear the stall down to get to her. He was on his rear legs, and looked ready to mount her.

The neighboring mares came into heat about the same time as Lola, and while the other geldings just acted normally, Joey would whinny loudly and pay gobs of attention to the mares.

I took Joey to a roping practice, to work the steers in the chute from one end of the arena to the other. Joey worked well, until he spotted a mare, and then he dropped a full erection and began to whinny loudly to her. He was easily distracted and couldn't keep his mind on the cows when she was around.

Also, I had noticed that Joey drops and achieves a full erection often. Just about every time he's handled as a matter of fact.

Through it all, Joey has been easy to work with while riding and in the round pen, as long as a mare isn't anywhere too close and not in heat. But bring a mare too close by, and he will shift all attention to her, and ignore me completely, until she moves off and I get him to focus on me.

This behavior concerned me enough to ask my vet about it. He didn't hesitate in telling me he thought we should check Joey's testosterone levels. So at the recent vet check, we did that, in addition to pulling wolf teeth and floating his teeth.

The results are definitive, and we did use HCG to stimulate and checked levels 1 and 2 hours post HCG. Joey has cryptorchidism. His testosterone levels were CLEARLY abnormally high for a "gelding".

Joey is a great horse, but his behavior towards other geldings and mares is now explained by the effects of testosterone, and the fact that he is not a true gelding.

I am in talks with the breeder that owned Joey at the time of his "castration" and with the person from whom I bought the horse. I hope we can all work this out. Joey needs corrective surgery. Deep palpation and inspection while sedated for the teeth floating revealed no testicles, so the testicle or two that he retains, is higher than can be felt, and he will need surgery to remove it (them).

I am really sad about this whole thing. I think Joey is neat little horse. But for what I paid for him, and for what I want, he isn't going to work out. He will need a surgery estimated to cost $1,000 and a 6-10 week recovery period. That takes him out of the summer fun and training I had hoped to do with him. And there is no assurance that the surgery will correct his aggressive behavior, particularly at this late age. I am hopeful for him, however, and beyond correcting his behavior, I want to him to have the surgery to remove the intra-abdominal testicles(s) that are at high risk of developing cancer.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Evening ride with full moon

Too hot to do anything until about 8pm tonight, but then we had the full moon to light the way.

My oldest daughter V joined James and I in a ride in the front pasture. Both my daughters are enrolled in a horse camp for the week. They are riding horses bareback, and both have been walking and trotting. My oldest V, especially needed this camp. She has previously ridden in poor balance and without confidence. But the camp seems to be doing wonders for her, because she had much better posture on Lola this evening. She even commented how much easier it felt to ride in the saddle versus bareback, which is exactly what I had hoped she would experience.

I rode the grullo, Joey, and James rode his colt Big Mack. He and I worked on transitions, with lots of walk, trot, and canter. I really opened up Joey and let him run this evening, and he showed me good stamina and a motor. I just love transitioning him from the canter to the trot, because his trot is so smooth, it isn't a rough transition. I sometimes can't even tell when he has broken into the trot. He is almost as smooth as my paso fino; I'm not kidding.

V had a challenge with Lola, because Lola is in heat. She was acting quite the hussy, which was a big distraction to the grullo. But James and I showed V how to yield Lola's hindquarters with her leg, and V thought that was the cooolest thing. That helped to keep Lola focused and it helped V to feel confident. Lola has remembered what James had been drilling into her with all his rides on her over the last several weeks, and V really appreciated Lola's responsiveness.

All told, we had about 2 hours of horse time and bonding. I can't wait to see how my daughters progress in this horse camp. V is doing another week later this month. My hopes are high, but I'm trying to be low key about it and just let things happen. That's a real challenge for me!

Monday, June 6, 2011

It just gets better and better...

What a mug!

Where to begin?

Today I received Joey's (the grullo) papers. I knew his genealogy already, but these were the official papers. It listed the previous owners, and his breeder. I googled her name, and gave her a call. And I heard stories of his life as a foal.

The breeder is Helen Cox with Chance Cutting Horses. She remembered Joey right away, and told me to kick my feet up while she told me stories about Joey. He was always a calm, cool temperament kind of horse. She told me he was one of those horses she hated to let go, because he was that good. He would follow her around while she did chores, picking up her tools and trailing after her like a dog. He was always easy to catch. He was not imprinted, but she did handle him a lot as a foal. He was not a big bucking horse with his first rides, and barely offered resistance. He earned the scar on his right hind end rushing through a gate. That cut earned him a trip to the vet in Fredericksburg, and sutures. That explains the scar!

Looking gangly in this the low headset.

He was gelded at about 1.5 years. He comes from a lot of cutting blood, with proven money earners. Joey was a very smart foal and learned quickly. His sire is 15.1 HH and his dam is 14.1 HH. She told me that many offspring of the sire grow late, and she advised that Joey would probably grow until he is about 6 years old. That's a good thing, because I'd actually like to see him a little taller. He's a stout 14.1 HH at present.

It turns out Chance Cutting Horses, where Joey's sire and dam still reside, and where they train cutting horses, is only 60 miles from my house! I was invited to come out and see what they have to offer, and I intend to take them up on that. How cool would it be to see Joey's sire and dam, and maybe put joey through his training paces with his breeder?

It was a really neat conversation, capped off with some pics of Joey as a youngster, some of which are included in this post. You can see his sire and dam at the website of Chance Cutting horses. His sire is HOLI CHRISTMAS QUI and his dam is HICK BAR N GRULLO.

So I was definitely fired up to ride him today. James had his horse "Big Mack" back from training, and so we saddled up and hit the front pasture. We cantered circles, trotted all over, worked on stops and one rein stops, and yielding hindquarters. Joey did great, and it was the most I've cantered him in one session. We cantered enough for my abdominal muscles to start cramping.

On the way back to the barn, I rocked him back on his back end, and used the free end of my mecate reins to encourage him to step lively, and put him into a 360 degree spin. It was smooth and nicely controlled, a nice crossing of his front legs, just what I've always wanted to be able to do on a horse. And the best part is that James saw it and can serve as my witness. I was actually dizzy after the spin. It was awesome!

Joey is the 7th horse I've purchased in my lifetime. I've been trying to step up my horsemanship along the way, to be able to appreciate a really good horse when he came along. So far, Joey has fit the bill. It's pretty apparent that the only limit to Joey is going to be me. I am looking forward to the challenge.

The end

Voice command in round pen...

I am not prone to teaching "tricks" to my horses. But I do find myself vocalizing for gaits, as it seems to remind me to use a different rhythm in each gait. For example, I think 1-2-3-4 for the walk. I think 1-2 1-2 for the trot. And I think 123 123 for the canter. And I try to ride with that rhythm and ASK for that tempo while round penning.

I also say "WAALK" at the same time I ask for a walk in the round pen. I say "tRRROT" for the trot. And finally, I say "canTER" for the lope. "Woah" is reserved for stopping. Everything I say is accompanied with the appropriate change in energy and position relative to the drive line, to achieve the desired gait, followed by a release of pressure once the horse is in the appropriate gait. Make sense?

And while I don't think I want my horse responding to just my voice, it does seem to help us both figure out which gait I am asking for. It helps to lead to consistency, in my opinion. Also, I'm not incessantly kissing to my horse for more energy. I just repeat my voice command. And it is more readily apparent to me if I am asking more than once for a gait when I vocalize the gait I'm after, instead of realizing after the fact that I've been kissing for the canter for 3 revolutions around the round pen! I want my horse to go into the gait I've asked for the FIRST time I ask for it, not the 4th or 5th time.

Well, the grullo has really picked up on this. Yesterday, I was too pooped to ride, after mucking stalls and spending 2 hours on the tractor spreading manure. But I did want to work a horse, so I round penned the grullo. He is round penning MUCH better, and yesterday was his best effort ever. And he was going into gait on my voice. We did a lot of gait transitions: walk, trot,canter, trot, walk, canter, etc. He is maintaining his gait much better and with a good tempo. Afterward, we did some longeing, and he is yielding hindquarters better. Overall, he is showing REMARKABLE progress. Truly, he is one of my "quicker" horses.

Friday, June 3, 2011

3 more rides on the grullo

I've worked with the grullo about three more time since last post. He's round penning much better. I have control of all 3 gaits now, and he is MOSTLY connected to my energy in the round pen. I'm beginning to be able to read him, and can sense when he's a little "fresh" and might benefit from a round pen session before the ride. Today was one of those days, and he threw a few cow kicks in the round pen, but settled in after that. And we had no mischief while I was mounted and we were cantering.

I think he still needs time and practice to balance me while we canter and trot. He's such a little guy, that he really has to focus to carry me without losing his balance. I'm doing my best to stay centered, but he's a little "loose" anyway, and he struggles. That's my perception anyway.

I continue to flex him to keep him soft in the face. He is longeing MUCH better, yielding hindquarters for changes in direction and not quite as dramatic in his direction changes. He does fight the halter pressure a bit, and can try to run out of the trotting circle while longeing. I keep giving him little corrections to encourage him to keep looking inside while circling and to stay in an arc.

Rode in front pasture and worked on transitions: walk, trot, and canter. He's still needing reminders to stay straight, and can move like a drunken sailor. I try to keep my shoulders back and just look at a target off in the distance and let my hands and legs do the rest to keep him moving in a straight line towards our target. I can report improvement in this area, but not mastery.

He wolfs his food like no other horse I've ever seen. I put rocks in his grain bin to slow him down today, and that worked. Until he figured out how to just pick up the rocks and remove them from his bin. I'm going to have to start feeding him from a hay bag, because he's finishing his ration of hay in half the time as the other horses.

He's a very quick study. Show him twice, and he's got it. He really "searches" for the answer. Good boy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

4th Ride with the Colt

Yesterday was just a trail ride kind of day. I saddled the colt, and jumped on cold back. We warmed up in the front pasture, and then headed to the trails, with James riding Lola for company.

We did one of our easier, traditional trails first. And along the way, the grullo freaked a little with some big landscape rocks. You know, the ones that are big to prevent cars from driving on the grass. I guess he suspected there was something lurking around them, because he startled in place, and then was slow to approach them. I HAD been asking him to walk right between them...what was I thinking, huh? But he is a very curious horse, and so he approached and then sniffed and kind of licked the rock. Then he snorted and was quickly over his fear. We then proceeded to weave in and out of these rocks without further difficulty.

We encountered trash cans and trash bags billowing in the wind along the trail, and he encountered each new thing with curiosity rather than fear, and I gave him all the time in the world to check these things out and satisfy himself. Once he had completed his investigation, the object held no further fear for him.

We walked and trotted a lot on this trip. There was no cantering. I was encouraging him to walk faster. He has a wonderfully smooth trot, and I alternated between sitting his trot and posting his trot. Posting his trot is easy and requires very little effort. He is improving daily and moving in a straight line and maintaining his speed.

He kept his head a little higher this ride, due to all the interesting things there were to see. This allowed me to give him some bit pressure and remind him to lower his head to the pressure. He responded well. I didn't do more than ask for it down and then release immediately. Later, I'll ask for longer and longer stretches of vertical flexion from him, but this was a ride designed to get him excited about trail riding, and not a strict training/punishing ride. We did practice our one rein stops and there was plenty of lateral flexion exercises as well to remind him to stay soft.

I'm out of the saddle for the next 2 days, but hopefully he'll get some more riding time on Friday and the weekend.

We seem to be making progress daily.

Monday, May 23, 2011

3rd ride with grullo colt

James was back in town tonight, and it gave me the chance to show him the colt.

I caught the grullo from front pasture. Love how this horse is always walking to me to be caught. No chasing him all over the place.

Tacked him up. I think I finally have his tack figured out. 30 inch cinch is doing the trick. He's a little guy.

Longed him as a warm up. Made him yield hindquarters and square up for direction changes. Quick round pen work just to keep him loose. Giving me the canter more easily.

Rode him in round pen. Trotting and cantering with less fuss, more subtle cues.

James got on him and put him through some paces. Had him spinning! Nice work on his back end. Spins weren't fast, but they were there.

Finished with some nice walk and trot time in front pasture. Had him side passing with energy.

He needs more work at his stop and backing up, but he is doing a little better every day. Sweet riding.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

2nd ride on the grullo...

The view from the grullo. My friend Alex on Woody in front.

I caught a break with work this evening, and was able to work with the grullo. I didn't have all the time in the world, so this was going to be a saddle up and ride evening.

He is still dancing during saddle up, so this will need some work. I think I'll sack him out with the saddle pad and just go back to basics.

We warmed up in the round pen. He was poking along with his slow walk. He trotted easily. But he was giving me all kinds of grief about maintaining his trot. And he was resistant to go into canter and stay in canter. I was squeezing with thighs, then calves, and finally heel, but I was getting no response. I even reached back to swat him with my hand, but he would not canter. Finally, I gave him some kicks (with the right leg for the left lead), and I got a response. He gave me 2-3 bucks. I rode them out, and promptly got him trotting again. I don't blame him for bucking. I was kicking him pretty good. But it was all I could do to get him moving. I had exhausted all my other leg aids. At that point, maybe a crop would have helped.

After a few times around, I dismounted and round penned him from the ground, asking for and getting, the canter. I did this in both directions. Then I mounted again and tried for the canter again.

I got the canter more readily, but he has this habit of dropping his head that is a little disconcerting. But I do NOT accept that he cannot read my cues and that he can't canter more readily. With more time, he should be able to read my cues and move out.

We then went to the front pasture and rode around and finally hit a trail. I cantered him a bit in an open spot, but it was still too much work to get it from him.

I'll keep at this. I know he can get it, and was already improving by ride's end. I even rode him some more at the canter in the round pen when we got back from the trail. I do NOT want this to be a sticking point. He and I have many things to work on, but moving out and cantering needs to be second nature. I will not have a horse that won't canter.

I think the lack of ground work after a week off led to some of the problem. But he's sound again, so the work will begin in earnest this week.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Running sliding stop

Not much time to ride this weekend due to work constraints. But I did move the grullo to the front pasture to let him stretch his legs and so I could see him move. He seemed perfectly fine while walking and trotting, and immediately trotted over to investigate the mare next door and across the fence. He couldn't get into too much trouble, though, because the fence is sturdy and the top is an electric hot wire.

In the evening, after my work day was done, I went to fetch him from the pasture to bring him to his stall for the evening. On my way, the mare next door was brought in by her owners for feeding. This worked up the grullo, who proceeded to run full speed along the fence line. And this is where it got fun. He ran at full out and then stopped on his hind end mere feet before the fence in a sliding stop! He did this twice. It was an impressive sight.

After this display, he calmly walked over to me, and I haltered him with no fuss.

But this is why I bought this horse; this is what I was hoping for. He has athleticism that my other horses don't possess. If he can do that stop at will, it will be my challenge to get that same stop from him under saddle.

Oh, and I think he's over his soreness from earlier this week. If I can get done early tomorrow, there might be some work for him in the evening.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Such a great temperament...

The grullo gelding seemed to be moving better yesterday. Still a slight limp, but barely noticeable. That means he has been steadily improving.

I groomed him, and I have to tell you, it was quite an experience. This young horse will just stand there and fall asleep with grooming. I rubbed his ears, inside and out, stuck my fingers up his nose, groomed his mane, sprayed fly spray all over him, and he just got sleepy and almost dozed off.

Later, while standing next to me in halter, he came over to me and just gently nuzzled his entire face into my armpit. I mean, I had him in a headlock, and he seemed to enjoy it, just standing there with droopy eyes. And yet, if I ask him to move a little, he'll do that too.

I have been picking his hooves daily, and he has improved every day. He is second only to Woody in how well he gives me his hooves. With Woody, I can practically lift his rear hooves to my chest. Woody is that soft and flexible, and he's 17 years old. The grullo is almost that good.

I can't wait for this guy to get healthy so I can work with him again. At this point, I suspect the kicks to the chest that he took from Lola resulted in muscle bruising, and he's slowly recovering from that. At least, I hope that's what it was. I've gone over his joints every day, and there is no swelling I can find. I can't really find any point tenderness either, but I do suspect it's his right front that is the issue, based on how he's moving.

Due to lack of horse work to do, James and I cut down the dead oak tree in front of the barn to occupy our time. That was enough adventure for us, trust me, and a story in itself...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Trail ride.

Grullo appeared to be moving better today. I even thought of riding him, until he took 3 steps in the round pen, and it was apparent he is still hurting. I'm going to give him several days, but if no improvement, then he's going to the vet.

I left him tied again today while we headed out on a trail ride. Can never hurt to leave a horse hanging for a while.

Before we left, I tried my gaited saddle on the grullo again. I'm happy to report that it fits him better than I thought. With the right pad, the shorter skirt just fits him. His shoulders look free, and his hips are not running into the skirt. Looks like this will be the saddle he gets ridden in until I figure things out. The skirt on this saddle is 24.5". The most this little guy could probably take is 25". I swear, this gaited saddle has come in very handy. The wider shoulder area means more freedom, and since the tree has the front end of a paso, but the rear of a QH, most QH's ride very well in this saddle.

James rode Lola, I rode the paso, and my friend Alex rode Woody. It was a great ride, and we found a mostly undeveloped hill in the neighborhood to climb. By hill, I mean a big, steep hill. It was a blast, and it broke up the routine for the horses. We cantered plenty, and the horses really did well.

The grullo was happy to see us return, but he didn't look worried at being left. There's that good attitude again.

I'm frustrated the the grullo isn't getting all this great riding time, but I'll just have to wait on him. For now, enjoy the pics.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Grullo update

I do not have good news...I introduced the grullo to the herd this morning, after he had been stalled next to them all night. It did not go well. He started running the mare immediately, took several of her kicks to his chest, bit the paso fino gelding, and reared to fight Woody while they both reared and pawed at each other. All this in about 10 minutes. I got him locked away in the back paddock after that, but they were still trying to fight across the fence.

I returned this afternoon to find the grullo limping in the back paddock. I found no cuts, no joint swelling. I only hope he's just bruised up. He'll be staying in the back paddock until further time has passed.

I did pick all 4 hooves. Better today.

I officially measured his height, and he's 14.1HH. Shorter than what I wanted and what was described, but I'll have to live with it. If he's an agile horse, I'll live with it. And maybe he'll put on a little more still; he's only 4.

He is definitely short backed. I tried on every saddle I own, including my gaited saddle with the shortest skirt and the round skirt. That one fit him the best, but still had some issues. He is not going to ride well in a standard saddle. He will need to have his shoulders and hips free, and a short, rounded skirt is the only way to do that. Unfortunately, I'm all out of extra money to fit this horse at this time. Plus, I was hoping to one day rope on him, so he's going to need a short, round skirt in a roping saddle. Good luck on that.

I left the grullo tied and rode the paso fino today while James rode Lola. She is doing very well, by the way.

Frustrating day. New horse is too injured to ride after fights that were all his doing, shorter than advertised, and hard to saddle fit. I hope he makes up for it all when he's working cows.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

New Horse!

Took ownership of a 2007, AQHA gelding, grullo morning of May 15, 2011. I have been wanting a younger, more athletic horse, and this guy seemed to fit the bill.

He has the mousy brown color of the grullo. And in order to be a grullo, he has to have some dun characteristics.

Definition: Grullo is a color of horses in the dun family, characterized by tan-gray or mouse-colored hairs on the body, often with shoulder and dorsal stripes and black barring on the lower legs. In this coloration each individual hair is mouse-colored, unlike a roan which is composed of a mixture of dark and light hairs. There are several shades of grullo, informally referred to with a variety of terms including black dun, blue dun, slate grullo, silver grullo, silver dun, or lobo dun.

I especially like the bronze metallic sheen he has at the right angle. He is well put together, and well muscled. He has just about ALL of the dun characteristics.

Here are some first impressions:

He traveled well. Some of my horses are weak in the knees after a 4 hour haul. He looked fresh. Maybe it's the new slant load trailer; it HAS to be more comfortable than my old open stock trailer. But he landed with plenty of pep. He is nice and slow to back out of trailer, feeling for the drop VERY carefully. I'd MUCH rather have that than a horse that bolts out and gets one or both of us hurt. I let him take his time, and didn't rush him in any way.

He didn't get all "high headed" the way many horses do when first arriving at a new place. Not a whinny from him. He just seemed starved for the hay and water I offered him. He walked around a back paddock I placed him in, and sniffed at manure piles. So far so good.

I left him for a few hours to acclimate while I did some mowing on the tractor. I got back to him, and he walked up to me to be caught. THAT was a nice change from my other horses. Only Woody, my 17 year old finished horse, ever walks up that readily. Stayed still for halter.

He gave me his front feet readily. A little tentative with the rear. But I pick my horses often, and I really ask them to give me their hind foot fully, so most horses start to get easy after a month or so with me. If not, I use ropes to "soften" their give. But I think time and slow, careful handling will get him better. I was careful to PLACE his feet down, rather than just drop them. That way they learn to place their hooves, and there's less chance they will get shy with their hooves OR step on me!

Good hard hooves. A little bulge in the rears. We'll see what my farrier says. He's never been shod.

He led to the round pen well. I didn't have to drag him, nor did he charge out in front.

Flexed well from ground. Nice give. B+ grade for flexing.

He longed well. He has definitely done this before. Good changes of direction. I didn't push him to, but he made a few good turns on his back end anyway. Small reminders needed to get him to yield hindquarters and face me. Controlled energy. Everything at a trot, which is about all I want when in that tight of a circle so as not to overstress joints cantering in a tight circle. Grade of B.

Round penning was interesting. He was reluctant to canter for long stretches. I had to really keep my energy up. I thought this would be easier, but he may be a lower energy horse that needs a little extra cue to keep up his energy. Took the correct lead every time but once, and then quickly did a flying lead change to correct. His canter needs to come easier. Turns were a mixture of inside and outside. Eventually, I will want only inside turns, but this was more about seeing where he is before getting goal oriented with my training. I quit a little earlier than I usually do, before there were obvious signs of submission, but he just stopped and then walked entire length of round pen to join up with me. I really liked the last part, especially when he doesn't even know me and I had just sent him going. He was really looking for human leadership. Round penning is a hole for him, but nothing I can't deal with.
I'd grade him a C+.

He was doing so well, I decided to ride him. This is more than I had planned for him on his first day, but it was apparent that he was well started and he should be able to tolerate a ride. He stood still tied for saddling. No dancing around. Good. Grade B.

He is short-backed. My usual saddle is neither long nor short skirted, but when I positioned the saddle where I though it should fit him and keep his shoulders free, I was well into his hind end with the skirt edges. I really like a saddle to leave the shoulders and hind end free, and so this may be an issue. I have a short skirted gaited saddle that I will try on him next. He has good withers and held the saddle well. He is trim and lean, and I had to punch new holes for the rear cinch and breast collar. He's really a little thing. I taped his height and he is along the lines of 14.1. He was described as 14.3, but he is well short of that. I will re-measure him with James's help, but I don't think he's going to measure more than 14.2. This is shorter than I wanted.

I started in the round pen. He took the bridle decently; using a myler snaffle. He stood still for mounting. As soon as I mounted, he flexed to the right. On his own! Hilarious. He has obviously been taught to flex a lot from the saddle. Nothing wrong with that, as that was pretty much my plan anyway, but I appreciated the eagerness. He flexes very well from the saddle, and understood the one rein stop. We did a bunch of those. He walked well, but a little slow. I had to encourage him more than I like to for the trot and canter. He needs to be a little more tuned into my seat. I noticed this on my first ride with him pre-purchase as well. Getting him to canter required WAY too much energy on my part. A little quirt or crop might help with that. But he was also reluctant to canter in the round pen without a lot of energy from me, so he was being consistent, so that means I can correct the issue on the ground, without having to do it from the saddle, and leave my saddle time to be subtle. I don't want to "deaden" him with exaggerated cues to canter from the saddle....make sense? I want him changing speeds with subtle shifts in my energy.

He was very under control while riding. Never felt loose. Decent stop and back up. His previous owner has been working hard at collection, and the horse definitely knew to drop his head with slight bit pressure. He rounded his back nicely. He tends to over exaggerate to escape the bit, though, and his head gets very low. That's OK for now, but I'm going to be working on framing him a little better with his head in the proper position as we go along. Again, this was just a feel out ride, not very goal oriented.

We were feeling good, and I wanted to ride, so I decided to chance it and do a trail ride. He side-passed beautifully from the saddle, and stood still for me to open the gate out of the round pen. And we were out!

We met the herd in the front pasture, and I let him see my other 3 horses from across the fence. He was cool, but excited. No stupid behavior on any horse's part. Good. We hit the easiest trail in my neighborhood. We met people, dogs, other horses on the way, and he took it all in stride.

He does need some work walking in a straight line. He was walking like he had at least 2-3 beers. I've felt lots of young horses do this, and I'll just need to do some concentrated work walking directly to this fence post and that, to show him how to walk in a straight line. This is just a matter of time and practice.

He has a VERY slow walk on the trail. We alternated walking and trotting. I will work on getting a faster walk out of him, because this plodding walk is not going to work for me. We did try a few rollbacks along a fence from the trot. He gave me about 2 out of 6 great rollbacks. The other 4 were marginal. But his previous owner kind of warned me that his rollbacks weren't complete. I think I could have gotten better out of him, but this ride was just all about feeling him out. I didn't push the issue.

Overall, my riding experience was a C+ with him. He needs a faster walk, straight direction, and should require less energy to change gaits. But he was a steady mount and there was no foolishness. That's a great temperament that I can build on.

I was very pleased with him overall. He has holes, and now I know where they are, but so far, I haven't seen anything I can't handle.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lily update...

Well, I've been bitten by a horse bug, so I am close to purchasing a 4 year old registered QH in grullo color. Sale is pending a vet check, so I'll write more later. But it means I won't really have the room or time for Lily, so Breathe is coming to get her later today.

BUT, I did ride her yesterday and wanted to sum up her report from her brief camp with me.

Pre-camp summary from owner: Lily is described as a performance mare, 17 years old, with little work in the last several months, who has become anxious and hyper-reactive. She has never flexed her neck well from the ground. Round pens well with inside turns, slow to join up. Recently started to refuse being bridled with bit.

Training day 1: Horse refused to be bridled with bit. Popped lead rope during attempt, very dangerous move as I was fully engaged with horse. I never like a horse to behave in that exaggerated a manner while I am anywhere near the horse, and in this case, I was not forcing the bit, and I was literally next to and touching the horse with much of my body.

Horse was moved to the round pen, where she was VERY anxious, cantered out of control, sweating profusely, and had very little control to trainer's body language. Join up was minimal at best, even after about 20 minutes and with frequent changes in direction. Horse did not respond to moving in front of her driveline while round penning. All direction changes had to be done with exaggerated body cues.

Did not understand flexing exercises. Wanted to spin in place instead of remaining still for neck flexion. Ended session with small success at just getting her to stand still and give me her head for neck flexion with halter and lead at about 25% of full flexion.

Longed with too much energy. Wanted to canter despite quiet body language asking for trot. Did not square up well, hindquarters drifting. Fairly dangerous exercise with her energy level this high.

Training Day 2: Round pen exercises again. Still very little control, and too fast canter for the minimal stimulation the trainer was giving. Still, some improvement in getting her to trot AND canter. Good at inside turns, but there is no "submission" to her inside turns; she is just well practiced at turning that way. Join up still after 20+ minutes, but stays hooked on decently. Very distracted with stimuli outside the round pen.

Flexing better today. Still wanted to spin in place, but "remembered" from day before, and took less time to achieve still body position. Flexion at 50% of full flexion. Need to emphasize quick, obvious release to build on her neck flexion.

Longed with less energy, which is good. Not pushing her to work off her back end when changing directions to avoid over-stimulating, but eventually turns on her back end would be the goal.

Training Day 3: Left her tied for about 90 minutes.

Training Day 4: Caught her and brought her into barn. Nervous and anxious. My oldest daughter noticed "she isn't breathing". My daughter is correct; Lily is only taking shallow breaths. Had myself and my 2 daughters brush her all over to give her "hands on her body" desensitization while taking loud, deep breaths. Lily relaxed and started breathing.

Saddled with minimal fuss, but had to remind her to stand still with praise.

Round penned better. Still too hyper-reactive and not respectful of getting in front of her driveline, but less anxious. Not as sweaty. Better join up, walking towards me about 6 steps at join up.

Flexed better. "Remembered" to stay still with medium-gentle effort. Very responsive to praise and touch. Lots of try in her. Achieved 100% flexion after some time. Not consistent, but much improved.

No longeing today.

Rode her in bosal. Decently still on standing still for mounting. She bent her head to readily accept and place her head in bosal. Walked and trotted well. Good stop and back up with minimal effort.

I attempted flexing from saddle with bosal. At first, mad spinning in place. I was careful to keep legs off her. Got dizzy. When she stopped, I released. After several mionutes, she was flexing 100% to my boot while standing still on both sides. Repeated this exercise many times during ride.

Summary: Lily is an older performance mare with a lot of try and quick feet. She needs a job, and to be ridden consistently. She responds well to praise, and is a quick learner.

Currently, I grade her round penning at a C-. She needs to be relaxed, able to be controlled in to all gaits, including the walk. Needs to be joined to trainer and respect moves in front of the driveline.

I grade her longeing at a C+. She has too much energy and needs to work off her back end more with turns.

Her flexing went from an F to a C+. This was her most improved area, considering her owner said she had never flexed before.

I would also consider doing desensitization work to "sack her out". Also, remember to breathe deeply around her to ease her anxiety.

I estimate 3-4 months to bring her grades into A range, but I see no reason why she could not achieve this.

I also think Lily is best served to be a primary mount. The lack of work likely leaves her anxious and she becomes very undone. If she were ridden consistently and often, I think she still has many useful years of service. Her "try" is very good for a horse her age.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I'm going to use this space to document my work with Lily, a registered quarter horse mare about 17 years old that belongs to my friend Breathe.

Lily is a horse that I have known for some time, maybe about 4 years. I've seen her around, and I rode her once. She is a high powered mare with a lot of "go". She hasn't been ridden much, so Breathe asked me to see what I could do with her.

I attempted to ride her on Sunday afternoon, to join a riding party leaving my house, but she was very much out of control, and I elected to work her on the ground first. That day I tried to ride her, she was very anxious during saddling. She would not give me her hind legs. She was just a nervous wreck. When I went to bit her, she kept her mouth closed and CLAMPED SHUT. I've never seen an older horse do this to this extreme. I tried to use my usual technique to bit her, right hand between her ears and over her head, neck slightly bent, left hand guiding the bit in, but she would not budge her mouth open. And then suddenly, she popped her head back, and popped the lead rope! That was it for me. If I hadn't been using proper technique, she would have broken my jaw for sure.

I abandoned trying to ride her and took her to the round pen. She was a nervous wreck. I just let her run and run. I wasn't prompting her to canter, she was just off to the races. That session, I just let her get used to the round pen. It took a long time for her to even attempt to join up, and we had a few unsuccessful stops where she did NOT join up. She did make inside turns, but they were just well-trained automatic turns. There was no submission in them.

I tried flexing her, and she is stiff and braced. She also didn't know how to flex, and my cues for flexing caused her to spin in place. No biggie, most horses do that at first. After a bit, I got her to understand that flexing means just her neck, and not her whole body. But the flex I did get was very small. I'll build from that.

A second round pen session on Monday was much the same, but maybe slightly better. I longed her both sessions too, and she did decently, but still hyper-reactive.

I think she's a 4 month project, honestly. But I may only have room for her for a few weeks. I'll see what I can get done with her.