Life Lessons

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Abby, Princess and Arianna, all watching the lessons intently.

In the horse world, probably like any sport, you grow your friends and “family” around those people you spend most of your time, in this case, those at your barn. At most training barns, the skill levels of the students match the various divisions in-which they compete. So, starting at the Leadline and walk/trot levels to the high jumpers, the little kids watch and learn from the older riders.

We will celebrate 13 years in Texas this month. Lauren has, in essence, grown up here. And she has grown up wanting to emulate other riders she has seen. In the early years at Whipple Tree, it was Chelsie and Kirsten, that she eagerly watched. Lauren did her first Texas show doing walk-trot on Mickey. She has come along way as well, jumping her way to 3’6″ division. But it has just been like a long, twisting road. One day you are not trotting along and the next day winning over the big fences. There is a lot of times you feel you are not getting anywhere at all. Now, it is starting low again on Feather and moving her along. We do not often stop and think about the progress she has made.

Yesterday, instead of making the long drive up to Dev’s in the heat we agreed to meet at Caroline’s Compound. Several riders who keep their horses at home (instead of a boarding barn) trailered
in with their horses. Dev set us up in a schedule, so that he could have time to work with each rider
Individually. Lauren had a good ride on Feather. She schooled 3’9″ and 4 foot fences for the first time.

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While Lauren and Feather were working in the ring, another trailer pulled in. A rider, Alex, that we had last seen ride at least three or four years ago was next in the ring with her new horse. Now 13, she had ridden at the barn with us when she was just a youngster. It was great to see her and her dad. Alex stood and watched Lauren and Feather work through the jumps. I asked Alex what she thought of Lauren’s new horse. Alex said Feather was nice but it is what she said next that made our day. “Lauren was my idol when we all used to ride together!”

Certainly, no one had told Lauren that before! But it is how kids grow, develop and mature, through positive role models. Lauren and I were both very pleased to hear Alex say such a nice thing. I hope Lauren always did the right things. But I guess that’s part of learning as well. Nothing is perfect and sometimes things are harder than they look.

Like most sports, a lot of lessons are learned, in and out of the arena. I bet there are young ones that will look up to this next group of riders as Alex did Lauren. It made for a pretty special day.

Learning

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In this apparently odd photo, where Lauren rides the pony and Jordyn takes the show horse for spin, each rider is getting the horse they need and vice versa. Pixie, the German Riding pony is young and green. I have been riding her the last ten days working on fundamentals like working off my leg, turning, halting and standing quietly. We are trying to be very specific with our messages to the pony so she learns exactly what a slight pull on the right rein and other directives mean. While she wouldn’t have been bad for Jordyn, she did not need the mixed up signals of a young rider.

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Lauren got her first really good trot tonight with the pony starting to reach into the bit and extend herself. Lauren told me I had done a good job, but she does not like this stage of horse training (call it the toddler days) where the horse sometimes is brilliant and cute but more often in need of correction and boundaries.

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Jordyn is heading to horse day camp in ten days. She said it will be the best week of her life! Gee, not playing to any high expectations here! She came to practice with Feather. Her saddle looked itty-bitty up on the stout grey mare.

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I was really thrilled at how well Jo did with Feather. Or I was thrilled Feather, just a year into training, listened and was quiet for Jo. It was a pretty big moment for me to see Jo navigating the ring on her own.

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So yay for girls on horseback and a nice (if not hot!) evening at the farm.

Heat Blasting

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Summer, which officially arrived on June 21st, has really been blasting its rays on us the last week.  It has been a hot, humid week with nothing but 100 degree temperatures on the horizon for the Fourth of July holiday.  We have been blessed to have had a pretty mild spring.  Normal temps for south Texas in late spring usually include many over 90 degrees days, and I guess they did this year as well but a couple of factors made it feel cooler for me.

1)   There was a more even distribution of rain and sun.  In the six summers since we have lived in Wharton, we have had the worst rain, the worst drought, hurricanes and brutal heat waves.  This year is my best year yet for growing my plants.  I think it was all in the balance of water and temperature.

2)  We spent ten days in Maui.  The average night-time temp is about 65 degrees.  The high is 80.  That made me forget the blow torch heat of Texas.  I walk out to feed horses at 4:00 am and it is still 80 degrees.  In the coolest part of the day (just before dawn) it is already to the Maui high temperature.  Oh, wait, I have not mentioned the humidity.  Somehow, a tropical island has less humidity than south Texas.  I wouldn’t have believed it but it is true.

So, both of those factors, a cooler year thus far, and a get the hell out of Texas for Maui trip stifled my ability to absorb and deal with the summer heat.

Our little farm is affected in all kinds of ways.  There are simple things like the water troughs  need to be filled more often, both because more water is being siphoned off by the horses but more is evaporating as well.  Then there is Bruno.  Always looking for something to do to entertain himself on these slow summer days, he has taken to inserting his giant head in hard rubber trough and banging it back and forth until the water spills out or the whole trough turns over.  Not content to just make that muddy mess, he has now started taking enormous bites out of the rubber trough.  I don’t really see any of the rubber lying around the trough, so I must assume he has swallowed it.  Yes, a new metal trough is on order at the feedstore!

The dogs have a big bucket in the back yard we fill each day in the summer.  By mid-afternoon, nothing but bathtub warm water remains in the bucket.  We lost our giant tree in the storms of last year so shade is at a premium in the yard.  I have found one little corner of the porch that stays in the shade through the late afternoon.  I have placed the dog bucket there.  Still, each afternoon requires a gallon or so of icy water dumped into the bucket to make it drinkable.

All the animalls have slowed down, except maybe Bruno, who does not seem to be daunted by the heat.  Even young Kona is satisfied to chase his ball shorter distances and stay under the shade of the barn.

Lauren has lessons with Dev this weekend and offered to be there by 6:00 am to start the lesson.  Dev countered with 9:00 am so that won’t really make a difference.  We will be well into the temperature climb by  then.

Guess the summer has fully launched in Texas.  My memories of cool breezes and gentle waves on the shores are getting more distant.  It is going to be one hot Foruth of July.

Getting in the swing of things

This last week, I successfully got back in the saddle. I managed to actually get in five rides, two on Mickey and three on Pixie. That’s almost like a real rider! Now, I didn’t ride hard, there was no galloping down the line but I worked a lot of remedial stuff with Pixie which used more arm and leg muscle than simply riding along.

On Mickey, I pretty much just enjoyed the ride. Especially on the day of trail ride with Kona. We did not canter off into the sunset because I wanted to be sure my young dog stayed with us. While Mickey has had a relatively successful career as a jumper, he can do a smooth impression of a western pony as well.  He and I actually won  a trail class once at a Sienna Stable’s show.  Seriously-blue ribbon and the whole deal.  Anyway, we jogged along (Mickey actually, not me) over a few miles of hay road with Kona keeping pace.  I was walking a little more carefully the next morning, so know I used muscles I had not tapped in a while.

Although, I haven’t mentioned it much here, I was a competitive swimmer starting about age six all the way through school. Swimming is one sport, with all my aches and pains, that allows me to get exercise without stressing my joints. In Maui, I got in the pool and ocean and floated around some. One afternoon, we got a little competitive but my shoulder was not up for an all out swim relay.  Shoulder excuse aside, Blake and Amber were swimming well enough that I do not know if I could have beat them if I was 100%.  Now, that was depressing.  I used to always win at swim races.

I went to the pool today and did lap swim.  The doctor has released me to swim but the full rotation of freestyle is not to be yet.  I did okay with breast and backstroke though.  I did about 25 minutes which I felt was a good start.

One of my favorite bloggers reported he has lost 20 pounds.  Gee, maybe if I keep riding and swimming and not go get Dairy Queen ice cream each evening with Lauren, I might actually drop some pounds as well.  In the meantime, it is terrific to be feeling well enough to get back to the things I enjoy.  It is great to be back in the swing of things again!

New adventures – Kona hits the trails

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Looking out from my saddle through Mickey’s ears to see Kona on his first trail ride.

I have been left to my own devices this weekend. There has been a lot of activity at the farm on the weekends for almost a month now. First, we had a horse show, then the tragic weekend of baling hay and Ally’s broken arm, then off to Maui. Lauren headed out with Blake to go ‘mudding’ which I believe involves ATVs, alcohol and mud.

I had plenty to do. Scores of wash to catch up on, barn chores, gardening, house work, and a long visit with my mom were all on the list. Momma looked great with the new shirt I brought her from Hawaii along with earrings and a necklace! She even commented on how peaceful the place was which I do not think she has ever said. Upon Lauren’s recommendation, I had gotten her a caramel frappuccino from McDonalds and she was in heaven.

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After a much needed trip to Wal-Mart where almost $300 immediately slipped through my fingers re-filling the frig, the dog/cat food containers, water and other ‘gee, it’s crazy hot’ items, I finally had a few minutes for me. I wished I had someone to ride with-we had planned to take Bruno and Pixie to Caroline’s tonight before Lauren ditched me. I love to trail ride. Lauren loves the arena. So, today after over ten weeks absence, I decided to head out to the wide, open spaces behind my little farm. Ideally, one should not ride alone. Ideally, a lot of things should happen, but you deal with it.

For the first time as well, I decided to take poodle Kona as well. And what horse should ride? That took about one minute to decide. Mickey, of course, the only one I really trust out. I had on my usual shorts, tee shirt, boots and as a nod to safety (and Diane Wilson) my helmet.

Kona was a little unsure at first. ‘Really, you want me to run behind that mean horse?’ ‘Yes, Kona, come on!’. Mickey can be a kicker, but thankfully Kona was wise enough to stay out of his reach. It has been since riding in Florida with my wolfhound and Tippy that my dogs and horses have gotten along for trail rides. Pretty cool for me!

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Kona with my barn and homestead across the sea of green.

It wasn’t a long ride, but it was a great ride! It was also my fourth ride of the week which is pretty exciting as well. I am getting stronger, leaner ( when it is blow torch hot, you get lean fast ), and I am eyeing the big Bruno guy. Wonder what it would feel like to ride him? Lauren should not leave me alone, just saying….

Week’s End

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Puppy Girl is being the queen of the kennel on a hot, lazy Friday night. She pretty much represented how I felt too-I just wanted to go lay down on a big, fluffy cushion. I would have even been okay with being in a cage so long as I could shut the door and sleep awhile. Oh, such are the dreams of an every day worker!

Since arriving home from Hawaii, Sunday morning after a sleepless all night flight, it was immediately back to work both at the farm and the office. Monday I took my first ride after ten weeks on Mickey. Tuesday, I started working the Pixie pony. Thursday, after deciding the long Texas afternoons were too hot for the horses to be out without shade, we came up with the brilliant idea that I would get up earlier than 4:00 am. That way, while it was still cool (or at least not as hot) I could feed the horses, but also wait until they finished eating, (about 45 minutes) and then let them out in the pasture.

Why wouldn’t I pick the week I was already fighting a five hour time change to move the start of my day even more ridiculously backwards? On Thursday, I wasn’t really sure how long the extra chores would take, so I got up about 3:30 am. It would have been 10:30 at night, just time to get to bed in Maui. I got the dogs, horses, cats fed. I showered, did my hair, got dressed for work and drove my car over to the barn to let the horses out. I glanced at the clock in the car and had to do a double take!

It was 4:31 am!!!! No non-critical life support person should be awake or headed to work at this time! Oh my goodness! I was so mixed up I didn’t know if I was coming or going. I got to work in record time, no traffic at this time, Houston commuters take note. I got to work to find that in an attempt to conserve energy, I had no electricity until 6:00 am. I took my laptop and worked by one of the few lights that was activated. By 10 am, I needed lunch and a nap.

Thursday night, I was back on Pixie and dragging bad. Problem is by evening, I think it is afternoon in Hawaii and get my second wind. I managed my time a little better this morning and only got to work 15 minutes before the lights came on! At work, I am working on annual budgets, so you can just imagine how well that is going. This afternoon was physical therapy and my favorite type of session where they force your joint as far as it can go in every conceivable direction to see how much progress you are making. First, I was in tears. Second, I cannot be arrested and handcuffed right now. My arm will not go behind my back. I will be sure to express that to the officer when I am arrested. Or I could just not be arrested, that would work too.

Tonight I worked lil Pix while Lauren rode Bruno. I know it will be good for both of them to continue to be on a regular training schedule. But for me, I feel like I made it through my first week of boot camp. Move over Puppy Girl, I am ready to share the cushion and end this week!

Back in the saddle again ( not a Bruno story)

Even though Bruno is in this story, I am not riding him. He is too big, too strong and too unpredictable for me to launch my return to riding on him. I just might be launched and that is not what I need right now (or ever)!

Lauren has been on vacation. Prior to vacation, we had just gotten the Pixie pony. Bruno had been cleared by the vet to be ridden but he had not held up well and we had backed off. Lauren was working Feather but not really anyone else. Having three young horses in training is a push for anyone.  It is lonely to be here and ride by yourself. Progress with a horse takes repetition and repetition takes time.

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From shoulder surgery of ten weeks ago, I had yet to be allowed to ride. Seeing the surgeon today I asked if I could start riding again. He said, “are you going to do it anyway?” “Yes”, I answered. “Then be careful”, he muttered. I took that as a full release to ride.

Pixie is the German Riding pony that came from our Florida friends. She is four and while “backed” as we call it she is certainly not completely trained. I did not pay for a well-trained pony, I paid for a prospect. I am much better than Lauren at starting the youngsters.  Lauren is thrilled I am taking over the pony’s initial training.

Pixie only had a few rides under her belt and I had not ridden since March. I was anticipating some trouble. I had watched Lauren ride the pony and noted she would pull her head up high to avoid the bit. Since she arrived we have also extracted two teeth and worked on the others. I hoped that would help with her mouth issues as well.

Now let’s not talk about my riding ensemble with my shorts and boots. It was way over 95 degrees and I was not riding in pants. Pixie fought me some, but with consistent cues I had turning, stopping, walking and trotting well. My left arm has been in a sling the better part of the last ten weeks. It felt like someone took my strong old arm and left me with one made of putty. The bicep and tricep muscles were the worst. But my tough forearm gained from years of hauling hay and feed was weak as well.

I was very gratified by the quick and easy responses I got from the pony. She will be a nice one. She was very quiet even though Bruno was doing his best to be disruptive from the paddock. I am thrilled to be back up in my saddle even if it is the western one for now. I love having a goal and horse to work on. I am very thankful my old body parts continue to hang in there for me.

Lauren and I riding together in the early evenings is wonderful as well.  It is always better to have someone to ride with and me on a horse does much more good than me hanging with the poodle.

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Lauren and Bruno made their second ride tonight as well. He is muscling up and covered with dapples. He is listening, working and learning. Lauren had some flowing trots and canters with a lot of nice, even cadence. We want to get Bruno and Pixie out to some new arenas to prepare them for showing. Please let me know if your place could be stop on roadshow training circuit. We would love to get out and ride with some of you!

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