Try, try again

Some lessons are awesome. They start productively and continue to gain ground as jumps are raised or difficulty of lines is increased. Some lessons, like yesterday for Lauren start a little frustrating and end much the same.

For those of us on the south side of Devereaux Sport Horses, it is at least 60 miles to his barn. He has been driving down to us (Have Trainer will Travel) in the southern district to do lessons here the last few weeks. He is off to the AQHA show in OKC this week and running on borrowed time. He asked Lauren to be at the his place (90 miles from us) at 7 am yesterday. We moved things around, I got up earlier than usual and Feather was loaded (God Bless Her!) by 5 am.

Dev’s plan was to work Feather through a grid of jumps that helps teach her how to work through the various demands of a jump course. Adjustability is one of the greatest assets a jumper can have-to be able to speed up and gain ground when able and then to slow down and set up for a difficult line of jumps. Feather is a good, natural jumper but has been only working over fences a little more than a year. When we challenge her with new combinations of jumps, new heights, sharper turns or ask for more speed, she has to be confident that she can do all of those things. Oh, and so does her rider!

Feather showing a good bascule over this ascending oxer (lower in the front, higher in the back).

Feather showing a good bascule over this ascending oxer (lower in the front, higher in the back).

Local riding.com talks about the importance of a good bascule. An important concept in jumping is the bascule-it is the way the horse uses his body to clear big fences. A horse with a good bascule is a horse with an extremely round jump, while a horse with a poor bascule may jump flat with his head in the air and his back hollow.

The hollow backs that typically accompany a horse with little or no bascule to his jump tend to prevent the horse from lifting his forearms very high, preventing the tucking motion his front legs need to jump clear. Go watch a training level or itty-bitty jumper class. You will see a lot of flat, fast horses, but when the fences are raised these horse cannot continue their winning speeds.

This will ultimately prevent the horse (unless extremely skillful and strong) from jumping higher and wider. The horse must learn to use their body.  Good bascule is an important trait for all jumping horses, as it helps them to be more athletic over a jump and thus jump higher.

Good training can help to develop a horse’s bascule to its fullest potential, but overall trainers are limited in how much they can train a bascule into a horse. Feather has an instinctive bascule. Grid work, the type Lauren was doing with Feather, is usually most helpful in developing your horses bascule. Certain jump types tend to favor a good bascule, most notably the ascending oxer (like shown above).

Feather was attempting to do what she was asked but was having problems with the tight grid she was trying to jump.  In what is called an in and out, literally jumping one jump, landing and immediately jumping another, it was hard for her to land and be ready to jump again.

I think confounding this issue for Lauren was that her other horse, Mickey, was the KING of the in and outs.  It was his favorite combination, his favorite type of jumps in any course.  He is small.  He is handy. It was easier for him (with his size) to get in and out of small space than a bigger horse. Lauren could always count on a good grid or good in and out from Mick.

There were three jumps in the grid, going up in height as they progressed. It is almost a necessity to be straight into the first two jumps to make the last jump. Feather was not jumping straight. Lauren landed the second jump and pulled Feather out before the third jump. It was a bad spot to be in, and Lauren made a decision to keep the horse safe. However, it was not a good plan because she just taught Feather to run out on a jump.

So, they tried again. And again. It was frustrating both in the heat and after the early start (4 am) to a long day. Feather feeds confidence from her rider. Lauren was not confident at all that Feather would jump. Finally, Dev got on Feather and proceeded through the grid without issue. “Confidence”-he told Lauren. I am thinking Lauren had some other response in mind. Lauren got back in the saddle and successfully (confidently) rode Feather correctly through the grid.

At the end of the lesson, it was more ‘thank God, it is over’ instead of ‘that was an awesome experience!’. Lauren and Feather have homework to set up the grid at home and try again.

It will be an important aspect of this young horse’s training that she learns to accept direction and change in courses. It will be something they try again and try again, until one day we may say “Feather loves the in and outs!”

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If you want to see Mickey show how the ‘in and out’ is done, go to this you tube link. This was USEF Zone 7 finals a couple of years ago. Count the jumps as she jumps them. Watch for jumps 5 and 6. You will see Mickey jump, land, jump faultlessly. He was the man!

Pedicure and a bath

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Pixie, all shiney and clean after her bath.

I had everything ready for the farrier last night; a bucket of water for him to use to form the cast, the mats swept clean, hosed down and dried, Bruno’s bell boot off, his hoof clean and Bruno, himself, worn out from a day in the hot sun. I was working so hard I never noticed my phone. There was a message that tomorrow morning would be better. Oh, well! When your farrier is making an over one hundred mile round trip for the third time in less than three weeks, you go with grateful, no matter when he shows up.

Bright and early this morning, with Lauren and Feather already seriously at work in the arena, Roland pulled in. He had been here with the vet just two weeks ago. They had hatched a plan to use a heartbar shoe with a pad between the hoof and shoe but then…there’s more, they used cast material (like on a broken arm) to wrap around Bruno’s hoof. The idea was to drive the hoofing nails into the cast instead of the fragile hoof wall. Dr. Criner gave it three weeks. Much to my horror, it lasted only ten days. But while it was on Bruno was 99% sound for the first time in 277 days (to be exact-that’s when he had surgery)! It was pretty amazing to see him go so well.

New plan today!! Shoe him with a straight bar shoe, add the equi-Pak (it reminds me of silicone putty you use to caulk a bathroom) to create some padding and then cast the hoof. We hoped it would last a little longer. Since Bruno needed his other feet done, Roland trimmed them all. Making it another first, as this was the first time since we have owned him he is being set with working feet! It is get over the surgery and move on, big guy, time. The long toes so many of you have commented about are gone.

He has a great pedicure, new shoes and I pray we have a Horse who is completely ready, willing and able to return to work! Do you have any idea my excitement when we actually jump this horse, this horse upon so many dreams we have built-all without EVER seeing him jump even once. I know I may be in for a big let down…but I so think he can do it!

After Bruno’s pedicure, I dragged lil Pixie out of the pasture for a bath. We have not paid enough attention to this one since she arrived from Florida. I washed and conditioned her long, beautiful tail. I scrubbed her body and legs. I was rewarded with pretty, silky pony!

Now, I am headed in to clean up from my day of pedicures and baths. Thanks for riding along! I see some trot poles and small Xes for these two soon. It’s going to be fun!!

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His newly casted hoof, next to his untrimmed, too long toe on the other foot

Whirlwind days-a Bruno, Joey and a bunch of other stories

It is budget time at my job, number crunching angst that we endure once a year. I have had my Excel program crash, lost all my files and started over again. Then I got a call from Lauren that Bruno had lost his casted, padded, newly minted shoe and he was lame again. The vet had said it would only go about four weeks but this was only ten days. All I kept thinking was I can’t afford to go through this whole process every ten days.

I also knew my Houston based farrier would not want to make yet another trip across country to see Bruno. I didn’t know what to do.

Meanwhile, over at Caroline’s, Joey was getting new expensive shoes with pads and heartbars, not unlike Bruno, but Joey needed four. All of Joey’s soles had been cut too short and he was unbearably lame all around. Two days after the new shoes, I got the report he had trotted and even tried a little canter. Joey was feeling much better.

By Friday, I had gotten Roland scheduled to come re-cast the hoof. Bruno was actually getting around okay (or better than I would have expected) on his bare foot. He had been almost 99% sound earlier in the week, for the first time in a long time, but was only slightly off without the shoe. It seemed to speak of hope that one day this would be better.

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Friday, I had decided it was time for four year-old pony, Pixie, to have her first outing. Thursday night, the recently broke pony was giving me a hard time. But after some work with me, Lauren got a pretty good canter from her for the first time without trying to buck and dodge instead of canter. We were to take Feather for a lesson with Dev at a nice facility in Richmond. I took the day off, Lauren cleaned up my English saddle. I dusted off my boots, found some breeches and was set.

We realized we had never even tried to load the pony before. We got a successful practice run Thursday night. Friday, we were off early with both my Florida horses loading competently. Pixie was pretty amazing. Very green, been no where, barely broke, we walked around the covered arena filled with jumps, horses going every which way, giant dressage mirrors reflecting in the corners, and the pony just walked on. She is well-bred from quiet German lines, RSPI, and it showed.

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Dev said if her canter (we did not try the canter) matches her trot she should pin well in the pony hunters. If you are looking for an all-star show pony, keep your eye on this one. That’s if we let her go!

Feather had a good lesson, jumping the 3’6″ courses at an easy five feet. No hesitation, no worries today, but Lauren had come armed with spurs and crop, George Morris would have been proud!
It is fun for us to have these lessons and an opportunity to catch with our ‘keep their horses at home group’, the Kresta’s, the Chambers, Caroline and Arianna. We added Shelby and her massive jumper to the group as well!

I rushed home to finish off some work files and get my mom to the retina specialist. Macular degeneration is quickly now claiming my mother’s sight. There is not really anything to do.

It was hay day. Time for gathering the bales from the field once again. We did not ask Ally this time as she is still healing the broken arm from the last time. Our riding buddies showed up and we made fast work of gathering 60 bales. We went off to the Mexican restaurant and then called that a good day!

Trotting

Lauren on Mick and tiny Jordyn on her Snowboy.

Lauren on Mick and tiny Jordyn on her Snowboy-2008.

Five year-old granddaughter, Jordyn, spent a week at Miss Dianne’s horse summer camp. While there she overcame her fear of trotting (probably instilled in her by pushing her too far, too fast, on horses that were too much). See a common theme here? Jordyn, like most intelligent beings, resists fear. I know there are the adrenaline freaks out there who no matter their age, love to be scared, but most of us do not enjoy the feeling of being out of control in a situation.

Jordyn has spent a lot of time at the farm but the most consistent, regular time was when she was 18 months to two years of age. Ally had just started back to work, was going to college and needed some child care help. Jordyn came a couple of days a week and spent the night for several months. There was lots of time to get on the pony. Snowboy was still here then (and he will be back one day soon) and Jordyn loved nothing better than that pony. We could saddle up Snow, throw Jordyn up and Snowboy would reliably trudge around the arena behind Mickey for as long as Jordyn wanted to ride and she never wanted to get off.

She trotted then in her little saddle on her white pony. Not a lot but enough. Fall turned into winter, my workload increased, Lauren was in school and Jordyn started regular day care.

Snowney went off to Uncle Dev’s (as Jo calls him), really Lauren’s trainer. He has been used as a lesson pony there for a few years now.

Jordyn would sporadically come and ride but we never had the consistent days like we did before. When we tried to push her on to doing something other than just walking, invariably our show horses or young ponies would not provide the stable mount that was needed. They were either completely reluctant to do anything or hyper-sensitive to being asked for more speed. Jordyn got a bumpy, scary ride. She wanted off the horse now and no more trotting-ever!

We made a real attempt at regular lessons in this last year but new babies, shoulder surgery and broken arms got in the way of our best intentions.

I thought horse camp might be just the catalyst that Jo needed to push her to the next step in riding but riding a small pony and getting on a big horse are two different deals (I am resisting the urge to say animals, here!).  I did not know how she would do when she had to sit, trot, steer and hold the horse back simultaneously.

Jordyn was anxious to come show us what she had learned at camp. She had been down to the house a few times since camp but rainy weather had kept us off the horses.  Finally, the time had come to see Jordyn trot.

The best I had to offer for her to ride in my barn was Mickey. The semi-retired jumper living a life of ease, he has not been worked consistently at all in the last months. Mickey can be very nice to ride. I would put beginner adults on him and expect he would behave. But Mickey can assess a situation pretty readily. Horses can read their rider. And Mickey is certainly a pro at taking advantage of any situation. A 45 pound child would be no match for him if he decide to buck, take-off or act up. How re-assuring that was!

Still, Feather at six, was the next choice and I had no idea what she would do if asked to trot by a little bug on her back. Most likely she would be lazy but if she did trot, it wouldn’t be near as easy to ride as Mickey. I flat ruled out Bruno (for obvious reasons, like Jordyn might die) and Kid (he would walk great, any faster he would be difficult to control or could just seize up and take his final breath from the exertion). Pixie is still in the evil pony stage of life. Pretty reliable for me at the walk and trot but handy with a duck of her head or a quick buck. Yeah, it had to be Mickey.

While Ally was at physical therapy, still re-habbing the broken arm, Jordyn, Lauren, baby Kendyll and I (shadowed by Kona and Lula) headed to the barn while the heat index still tipped over a 100 degrees.  Mickey was saddled and bridled.  Jordyn got on her helmet and half-chaps.  It was time!

Mickey walked around the ring, wanting to head back to the gate but Jo was doing pretty well keeping him on the rail at a walk.  Lauren confided in me that she had ridden the tar out of Mickey earlier in the day and had been greeted with some bucks.  Now, Mickey was just being stubborn.

I watched Mickey, watching his ears twitch and his tail switch.  I was afraid he was a kettle waiting to boil over.  I did not want to see Mickey take off and dump Jordyn to the ground.  I could be assured that Jordyn would be done with this whole trotting at Granny’s farm thing if she took a hard fall.  Who could blame her?

So, I decided to let Jo trot first on the lunge line where I could handle Mickey’s stopping and going.  She could focus on learning to accept the motion of the trot, gain confidence in her seat and start learning to post.  Keeping control of Mickey would be in my hands instead of hers.

I clipped on the lunge line, told Jo to say ‘trot’ when she was ready and off we went.  Mickey started off in his old-fashioned western jog (the perfect confidence builder).  Jordyn excitedly yelled at Lauren to watch her trot.  And she did, around and around, pushing her little heels down and shoulders straight.

Lauren and I exchanged spots, she on the line and me with the baby.  Jordyn trotted some more, absolutely delighted to be accomplishing what she had said she would do.  We sweated in the hot sun, waiting for Ally to get back from PT.  We didn’t want to go in before she got to see Mickey and Jo in action.

Finally, about the time Mickey was past sweating and starting to foam a little from actually working, and the two black dogs were dying of heat exhaustion, Ally pulled in. Jordyn’s mom was thrilled with Jo’s riding.   She quickly videoed Jo and Mickey so she could share the accomplishment with Jordyn’s dad later.

I now have a trotting granddaughter!  It was a big day for her and no doubt one she will be building on readily in the future.  Mickey, I hope your brief retirement was sweet, because there is a new little girl who is going to want a lot of rides!

Jo trotting around and around!

Jo trotting around and around!

Control Cat

photo[2]I have worked very hard to keep my home life separated from my work life. Only a handful of people from work know about my blog (my alter-ego) or all the animals at my farm. One thing I had been worried about was people thinking I was a good receptacle for their unwanted pets.

Those of you that read regularly know I have a variety of cats that live at the farm. I love cats but my old Dobermans did not and we did not have cats when we first moved here over six years ago. But wild, feral cats found us. I have neutered what I can catch. I have lost many to the highway, the wild dogs, coyotes and other dangers. My population was down to about seven cats this summer.

Enter my office mate with a cat problem. She told me she had a mother kitty and two kittens in her backyard and that her dogs, a Shih Tzu and an Aussie were afraid of them. I didn’t really believe her. I just thought she wanted to dump them and did not want to have to go to the shelter. I made her promise to pay half of the neutering cost and we agreed I would take them on Fourth of July weekend.

Of course it was hot. She was off work for the holiday. She told me she had captured the momma and babies at feeding time and would bring them to me in a crate when I was ready to leave for the day.

First thing I noticed when I saw the cats was that the two kittens were calicoes, which meant they were females. And they were at least three months old (I had been imagining little kittens). Momma was all white with a little tiger coloring on her ear and tail. No one was happy.

My plan was to put them in my tack room and hope for the best. I figured my boss cat, Alice, would run them out, but they would have the barn and under the tack room for safety. There is always food and water at the barn and on the front porch of the house. Alice is one of my oldest cats, neutered early, she stays around the barn with her male cousins JP and Matt (the cat).

I let the momma out, named her Meg, and proceeded to get to know her. She was very sweet to me, allowing me to pet her and hold her. The kittens were not touchable. I was surprised the next morning to go out to feed and find Meg and the kids waiting for me in the tack-room. Alice and friends were circling the barn, waiting for food. I thought that was interesting. I wouldn’t have thought Alice would go along with that but who knows?

That night, I learned why Alice was not in the tack-room. If she or any of the cats, approached the doorway, Meg turned into a hissing, yowling, scratching fool, especially for a petite white cat. And I quickly learned her control over the tack-room ownership extended past just the neutered cats. The cat I hate, big, ol tom cat, Harry Potter, sauntered up to the tack-room to get some breakfast and Meg went all Ninja on him. I haven’t seen him back for a meal since, choosing instead to dine on the front porch of the house.

Likewise, the poodle got a lesson in cat dynamics when he bounded up into the cat corner. I believe his nose was a little bloody upon retreat. In fact, little Meg has now owned the tack-room for almost a month. The only outsider she allows in is Lula, the Dachshund. Perhaps Meg doesn’t even count her as a dog. I do not know.

When I realized this tiny ball of fur really was serious about her control over the tack-room was when my old horse Kid, moseying around the paddock, stuck his big head into watch Lauren make feed as he has done a thousand times over the last several years. He casually pushed his nose in the door and Meg launched on his face like a heat sensing missile. Poor Kid spun around on his 31 year-old legs and has not come back to the tack room since.

I definitely owe my co-worker an apology. This cat is afraid of no predator. I can see why her dogs were afraid. I have come to love the Sputnik myself. Just let her know you are coming before you enter Mission Control-Cat style.

RESCUING-JOEY

Joey in February before he was rescued again.

Joey in February before he was rescued again.

Recently, I had a nice write-up from a colleague at work that was used as a kind of get to know the employee piece. The colleague had asked me about my horses, dogs and cats and written about my work with both a specific horse rescue and rescue in general. I feel like the end result of the “In the Spotlight” made me look a little more altruistic than I actually am.

I have never undertaken a horse from a rescue, friend or otherwise, that I did not think I could profit from in some way. I am not really talking about money here as I don’t think I have ever sold a true rescue horse. But I did think about if they would make a great horse for me, a show horse for my daughter or a good ride for my grandbabies. I hoped to get a horse that I could not otherwise afford, if it didn’t have the particular issue that was sending it to the rescue. I had to believe I could ‘fix’ whatever the issue was.

Let me be frank-there is not a single horse or dog (for that matter) that I have “rescued” or recommended for someone else to “rescue” that was not CLEARLY a deal, a good animal in a bad situation. The horse rescue was besieged with horses, especially in the economically bad times, quality horses that had fallen on hard times. People could not afford to pay over $500 a month to board a horse. Horses got dumped to the rescue to get out from under the economic pain. Of course, during those times some were in horrible situations, like Joey or Snowboy ended up, but many were great horses who just needed another chance.  Maybe I should be a better person, but the truly hopeless cases or crazy dogs have not come into my home.

I think Rescues do outstanding work. But I hate the people who take on ‘rescue’ animals to be do-gooders, to be more superior to us that might ‘buy’ our dogs or horses. Those that end up with too many animals to care for, whatever their original intentions were. I had someone scoff at my breeder bought poodle this weekend and tell me they would have gotten theirs from a rescue. I am glad for them and hope it works out. I have had wonderful rescue dogs, I have owned and cared for more good dogs from rescues than most people will ever own in a lifetime. But for me, now, this breeder poodle was what I wanted and needed. That is okay, too!

In the end, where ever they have come from, the problem is what if you cannot fix the problem your animal is having, be it lameness, aggressive behavior, destructive behavior or other health issues?

In the off-the-track thoroughbred (OTTB) world, things are even harder. These horses are bred to race. Regardless of their success on the track (or lack thereof) at some point, say age five, they need new homes. Many of these horses are not sound, and may never be. What about those? I have taken in Bruno. I have spent a ridiculous amount of money on him. I do not know if he will ever be sound. What will I do then? I cannot, I will not, turn him over to someone if he is unsound. He is so big that he is just a dream come true for a slaughterhouse ending. I owe him more than that.

Caroline and I got Joey as a rescue. Joey’s return to wellness and health is chronicled here. (You can find all the Joey pictures and updates under the “A Joey Story” category). As time went on, it became clear that Joey was not a horse that would fit for Caroline’s young daughters or herself.  In an effort to find him the best place for his temperament and abilities, Joey was given by Caroline to a respectable horse professional. In turn, he was given away again.

And just because of this blog, Joey’s new rescue owner found Caroline and myself. Joey, with whom Caroline had celebrated every pound of weight gain, every day as sound, was returned home to Caroline last night, not as thin as before, but close. Getting off the trailer he could barely walk. I do not know that this big, beautiful horse will ever walk soundly again. I praise his ‘rescue’ owner because at least she knew she had more than she could deal with. She found us and got Joey home again.

Joey arriving back in Houston last night, once again skin and bones.

Joey arriving back in Houston last night, once again skin and bones.

Horses like Joey and Bruno, the big OTTBs, are so tough. It costs hundreds of dollars a month just to keep them minimally fed. Their shoeing is tricky. They need high dollar meds and fancy shoes. And then what if it still does not matter, what if they are still lame?

I do not have a magic answer or a divine plan.  Lauren loves Bruno probably more than any horse ever.  I do not have the funds to care for this horse for the rest of his life if he is not a working part of the farm.  I know many of you have faced similar, horrible decisions with your OTTBs.

Today I applaud those that are willing to care for these animals, cats, dogs, horses, whatever, and give them a chance for a good life.  I applaud the rescues that every day do work I could not.  That both Joey and Bruno will get weight on, adequate vet, shoeing and other care is a given.  What will happen down the road if they do not recover from their ailments is not.  Caroline and I are both single mothers, with too much heart, and too little money.  I wish we could trust the world to take care of these horses when our resources run out.  But we cannot.

Another Saturday-a Bruno Story

Last Saturday, we spent the whole day waiting, working, trying and praying to find some new way to get Bruno moving soundly. We x- rayed, created impressions of his footfall, crafted casts and forged a new shoe.

It has been raining off and on since then. Maybe God’s little way of making Bruno have to stay in close quarters and let his hoof adjust to all the work we did on it. It was frustrating, but perhaps just what he needed.

Yesterday, we took off early to head to Houston to the dog show. My little VW was packed with two car seats with Kendyll and Jordyn, and Kona sitting (or standing) in the middle. We always enjoy going to the show,seeing all the dogs and I was excited this year to bring Kona to try out some basic agility they had set up. I got to visit with a lot of dog lovers and the girls had a good time.

We dropped Kendyll and Jo at their other grandparents. It was mid-afternoon by the time we were back.

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We decided to let Kid and Bruno out in the nearly dry front pasture. Normally, they do not go out here as the fence isn’t as good, it has weeds, and some rocks, but Bruno needed to get out. We followed Dr. Criner’s advice and gave Bruno a shot of Ace. The idea was to slow him down a bit so he would not pound so hard on his hoof. We gave the shot and waited for it to take effect. It was also a humid, 95 degrees with full afternoon sun. I thought that might take a toll on him as well.

But, no! Bruno came blazing out of the gate like the elite thoroughbred he is. Showing astounding ability to turn, cut and slide to a stop (all of which we could have done without) it brought huge smiles to our faces to see him be able to move so well. I know there are many days ahead, and lots of ups and downs but today was a good day. And I will joyfully remember where we are today versus a week ago. Sounds like it is another big thank you to Dr. Criner and Roland for work well done.

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Even months of stall rest, cannot keep this boy from having natural muscles in his butt.

Now, forgive me for my weedy pasture, the rain has kept us from mowing, but watch my boy trot and gallop.  It is not perfect, but we are making strides toward getting better.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ljq2CWNUs6g

Remind me of this day, when we take two steps back again as I know we will, but maybe, one day, Lauren will harness this horse’s natural athletic ability into something in the show ring.  I can’t wait!

Also, I have gone back and re-categorized all the Bruno Stories-under the clever name, A Bruno Story, so if you ever want to go visit his history in order you can click on the front page of the blog and read his stories in order.  What a time we have had!!

As always, thank you for riding along!  I love hearing from you all with your support, great suggestions, and just to know you care!