Wednesday, December 17, 2014

TOA: Making of the Horse


 

Making of the Horse

Last week, we talked about our babies.  This week, let's talk about our greenies.  Who trained your horse?  Is your ponykins still in the process of figuring out this whole monkey-on-my-back thing, did you send off for thirty or sixty or ninety days, or did you buy a horse with all the bells and whistles?  Who has helped your horse become what he or she is today?
As much as I wanted to do the first blog hop in this series, I know nothing about Q or Griffin's parents. Neither of them have papers. So now you know (if you didn't already). 
As far as their training? To that I can speak more eloquently. 

Q

Judging based on her teeth (hurrah for the 7 and 11 year hook), Q was 6 years old the year she came into my life. Originally, the cowboy trainer had told me she was 9, and her Coggins represented that, but my vet said it just wasn't possible. So her past doesn't have as large a gaping hole as I'd once imagined.

Rumor has it that the cowboy trainer was the one to spend a good bit of time working with her and starting her. Presuming she didn't end up in his care until she was at least 3 years old, most of her training past is likely with him. 

His training methods are modeled after Ray Hunt's, though from my observations, he has a heavier hand and mindset than Ray Hunt. He also over-used his flags with this little mare - something that attributed greatly to how her behaviors are today around anything flapping that is near her. If you've been reading for any length of time, you'll have gathered how reactive this little girl is! Thwopping flags in the manner I saw him do to her merely set her on edge and on high alert; full on flight mode. I'm not bashing flags as a training tool entirely, but as with any tool, it can be abused. As reactive as Q is, a flag tool for training would be best used as a visual cue only -and only if used with care in such a manner that was only enough to illicit a response, no over-gesticulating necessary! The auditory cues from a flag only cause a panicked flight response in this little girl.
Additionally, I observed that cowboy trainer wore long shank spurs. Q has a spur scar complete with white hair right where that cowboy's long legs would likely have met her barrel with a spur. I cannot know if the scar is from his training or not, but it is certainly plausible. It's on her right side, and she moves better to the left now, so presumably she was worked harder in that direction originally? Perhaps it was originally a sticky side for her so she was worked in excess to overcome that? She's a left-handed horse now, whether she was originally or not!

That formerly super-reactive little horse following firetrucks in a parade
According to cowboy trainer, she couldn't back before he worked with her. My first weekend with her she demonstrated exceptional skill at backing - and backing FAST. Her lateral work was pretty fair, too! It is reported that he worked cattle with her during her training, which comes at no surprise to me because that was a passion of his. 

Apparently, Q was so hot in his care that he'd have to take her on a hard, fast trail ride up the mountain before he could work with her on other skills. I'll never forget when his daughters saw me riding the little mare around my first night knowing her and remarked to me, "That's the *crazy* horse! She's riding the *crazy* horse bareback!" She's a reactive little Arabian, girls, not one of your daddy's Quarter horses! Even the line bred QH he had that were much hotter than your run of the mill QH paled in comparison to my little girl. Tis the nature of an Arabian, I suppose, especially an Arabian kept in company of so many mellow horses and trained by someone who doesn't appreciate the breed's unique* qualities. 

*Where "unique" is a euphemism for those qualities that only an Arabian-lover can appreciate/deal with ;-) Examples: teleportation, being hot, being spooky about Strange and Mysterious Nothings, etc.

And that about covers Q's training before me. 

Her journey with me is chronicled in full on this blog. But in a nutshell, I thrust her into many situations and she excelled in an exceptional manner. Her athleticism is paramount to any horse I've worked with before. While she often exhibits a Fear of Unusual (and Usual) Things, she's got a lot of heart and has really put forth a lot of effort and try for me over the past 2.5 years. Her personality has been hard to define as she is so easily influenced by her herd mates and their personalities - an added factor to training difficulties over the years, but we're marching onward, one step forward, two steps back at times. As things stand now, despite my difficulties with this horse, I still wouldn't trade her for another!

Griffin

All of Griffin's training has been done exclusively by moi and is chronicled fully on this blog. He came to me as a 1.5 year old who knew nothing more than how give to lead with a halter and get on a trailer.

Our first photo together. I miss that dark coat </3
I taught him to stand politely, have patience when tied, give to pressure on the halter in a situation more advanced than "walk with the human", lift his feet for hoof picking and later trimming, we learned together how to work in a round pen and move based on body language cues from one another, how to wear tack, how to lunge, how to tolerate a rider, and everything after. Every skill this horse possesses, I taught him - for better or worse.

Griffin was given to me "as a project" and he has been just that and so much more! While I dreamed of starting a horse from scratch, I never dreamed I would do that before I turned 25, nor that Griffin would be the horse. I'm so very fortunate that he *was* the horse though. Even in his youth he has been the most forgiving and understanding of teachers as I fuddled through this thing called Horse Training. He's taught me uncountable lessons and because of him I will be able to be a better trainer in the future for other horses I start. Starting a horse from scratch is not only the greatest feeling in the world, it is also resulting in an animal that I enjoy more than just about any other I've ever been around. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

IRL Training


Mel does In Real Life (IRL) training posts about once a month for her horse time and her running. I adore these posts because I very much enjoy the tedious tracking of all my training pursuits, too. It is very interesting to me to observe similar training by another. And now, I'm motivated to do one of my own that encompasses the past several months.

I love numbers and statistics as they relate to training pursuits. It is why I have always made an effort to track significant training rides. Whether or not I have a plan for my rides, I take great joy in reviewing the number stats on total mileage (from a single ride, a week, a month, a year), average speed, and my mile split times. The app I use calls out my splits after each mile; this allows me to learn what to expect from certain terrain, certain gaits, certain weather conditions, time spent correcting tack or boot issues, etc. I have a much better idea of distances and speeds as it relates to so many factors that play into a ride as a result. Awareness of distances and speeds as they relate and are impacted by environmental factors at hand is becoming more of an unconscious sixth sense for me now, which has endless benefits for future pursuits where I may not have a tracking device beyond a start time and end time.

I use the Endomondo app with great success to track my rides. Until November, I would only track my significant trail rides. Now, in an effort to accurately track nearly all of my riding time, I'm tracking everything - even the flat work and jumping work in the back field and short rides around the property.

I'm VERY close to my goal of completing 500 miles this year. Truthfully, I have very likely already ridden > 500 miles, but I didn't track a lot of small rides (1-3 miles) on Endomondo until November. All the same, the numbers game is fun motivation to get out there and ride, even if it is just for a short time! Every little bit counts, and the big picture at the end is really satisfying, even if it was built from many tiny pieces.


All rides tracked with Endomondo this year.





Since June - immediately after the OD - I've been tracking every, or nearly every, visit to the barn in a journal. I wanted to keep a log of how my mindset at the time of arriving at the barn might be affecting Q. I'd note my mindset, emotions, feelings, and also note her behaviors. I continued that for about 2 months, then Q and I became better at dealing with one another, so I ceased logging every tiny detail. Tracking mental and behavioral things between hormonal ladies is beneficial, I find. Haha.

Supplemental to tracking mental and behavioral things between us ladies, I also noted all training things with both horses. Type of exercise, duration, and distance/average pace when applicable.

From that journal, I can throw together another table of mileage per horse per month. If you're paying attention, you'll note that some of these mileages exceed the total mileage in the figure above. This is due to other people riding one of my horses without a GPS and without my accompaniment, however they were on a trail I knew the mileage of, so I was able to note the mileage.



Q did a 50 at the beginning of August (with Mike) and a 50 at the end of October (with me; no completion here, but she did travel that distance, so I'm counting it damnit). She received a full month off after the October ride, and while I did ride her for a quarter-mile bareback after that vacation (because I missed riding her!), her "mileage" for November is orange instead of blue because those were hikes in hand.

It is interesting to look at her mileage totals when you think about the races we did. Without the 50 in August, she'd be at 28.9 miles of training rides (that were tracked). She was ridden significantly more, though those rides were flat work and jumping.

The October mileage would only be 3.5 miles without the 50, but it is important to note that that 3.5 was our warm up ride the day prior to the 50! Q was ridden on two other occasions in October on the flat - cross training, no trail miles!




Griffin attempted an LD at the beginning of August, proved his mental instability, and then had time off where we did a lot of ground driving and work with the cart (none of those miles tracked) through the remainder of August and all of September. The cart work would have continued into October, except the wreck happened at the end of September.

Griffin was ridden a LOT during October. We also had a fair number of rides in September! From September through October though, I only tracked two brief trail rides. All of the other rides were flat work and cavaletti/jump work. These rides began with 10 to 15 minute sessions and through the course of 2 months they advanced into hour long sessions. By November, I'd resolved to track EVERY RIDE. He went on two ~6 mile rides, one ~7 mile ride, and one ~9 mile ride in addition to several smaller rides during November. We really had a slow, steady building of ride time and not the huge spike represented by the graph (4 additional rides in September and 6 additional rides in October). But I'm too lazy to type up my entire journal for this blog to fully detail each of those rides. #sorrynotsorry


It's been a pretty great riding year, even with all of the bumps and hurdles along the way!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

New Beginning

Last night I took Q on a walk/hike. For myself, I wanted to hike the 3 mile loop that goes onto the back road beyond the woods. For Q, I just wanted her to have time to spend with me that wasn't riding.

I used to do things like this with Griffin a lot fduring our first 6-8 months together. Q was already under saddle and well-along in her training, so I never took the time. While she and I had few to any issues for our first year or so together, I suspect that our issues with confidence/trust now stem from not taking the time to be slower before. And thus, I'm setting My Agenda and Hopes aside, to take many backward steps to do better by her.

And so, last night I hooked my 18' line to her halter and off we went!

My plan to hike the 3 mile loop was quickly thwarted by my lack of planning in regards to my footwear for the stream crossing. I wasn't wearing waterproof shoes and didn't favor having wet feet all evening. The crossing isn't even ankle deep at the area I wanted to traverse, but the current is *just* strong enough that I'd have ended up with pretty damp feet in the shoes I was wearing.

I tried for a time to build a large stepping platform with rocks at the most narrow part of the stream so that I could then leap across (for which Q stood quietly and patiently for), but ended up giving up on it.

We wandered down to the other crossing "just to see", but that one was even more of a no go!

A third area of the stream where there is a lot of unrest with the channel (it changes its shape every high flow) seemed that it might hold some potential, so we headed there next. I had a bit more luck here, but still, no cigar.

However, at this third crossing there is a VERY LARGE sycamore tree that fell years ago whose trunk is still intact that spans a large part of the channel. I'd say the diameter at breast height of this tree is probably (or was when it was standing) a solid 2½ to 3 feet! I clambered up onto the trunk to see about the landing on the far side. It was a bit messy, but by moving three other limbs that had washed against the trunk during a high flow event, it was much clearer. I asked Q to navigate the obstacle before her and join me on the far side.

As high stepping as this little mare can be, I half anticipated her to attempt stepping over. Q however, with nearly zero hesitation upon my request, sized it up, and launched herself high and far over the fallen tree. "No big deal," her expression seemed to read. She was very, very calm about the whole thing.

We meandered along the far side of the stream channel a bit, but with no clear crossing I chose to exit back up onto the land further upstream from where we had started. This placed us in a lower field section of the farm we rarely walk through where grass was still long, green and plentiful. I allowed Q to graze a few minutes before we walked through the field more.

A short grassy hill took us up into the apple orchard above. Q had been perky since entering the New-To-Her field, so I let her take her energy in front of me and tailed her up the short hill and continued to tail her through the orchard field a bit.

She was very looky and very alert through here. It was good to observe how she is from the ground in a New-To-Her situation. She was still forward, but she just needed to take time to look around and see everything.

We exited the orchard within a minute's time. This brought us onto the maintained yard near the garage apartment where I let her graze for a few minutes more.

Because the herd had gathered along the fenceline nearest to Q and I (about 250 feet away), I decided to ask her to continue our walk a bit more to see how she'd deal with me taking her near and then away from her friends again.

We headed up the driveway and onto the road, which took us closer and closer until we were alongside the fenceline where the other horses were. Griffin was the most upset of all the horses in the field at this moment, trotting and cantering to keep near to Q and I, whinnying all the while. Q, while observant, seemed unbothered. While looky, her body language read that she was very relaxed.

We walked up the nearby church driveway a bit more before turning around and heading back to the farm and calling it quits for the night (it was very dark by now). Although, Q got to graze one last time before being turned out with her friends.

I was pleased with how relaxed she was for our exploratory jaunt. We ended up only traversing a mile or so in ~30 minutes time. I think many more jaunts like this are in our future to supplement the ground driving!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Pew pew pew!

Those are the sounds of gunshots. ..or lasers. But really, gunshots.

Today is the first day of gun season for deer here in West Virginia. Schools have the whole week off because if they tried to make them come to school, so many wouldn't. Deer hunting is means for a week of Thanksgiving holiday here!

Due to the start of gun season, many were sighting in their rifles yesterday. Essentially, the farm sounded like a battlefield as folks on adjacent properties shot of a variety of guns.

I tried to ride Griffin, but he was a basketcase about the guns going off. It didn't help that the neighbors started shooting their pistols for fun at the beginning of our ride either. Pew pew pew. PewpewpewPEW. Crack crack crack crackcrackcrackcrack. Griffin's muscles contracted and never released; he was a ball of nerves. It also didn't help that I was riding with the bareback pad because my Achilles tendon is still pretty fuckered up from my last endurance ride and is only aggravated when riding with stirrups. No stirrup November Forever, for this girl until it's better.

Before our botched ride. So calm.
I tried to keep him calm and redirect him, but he just wouldn't come off it. Despite the fact that we'd heard many shots and still weren't dead, he was certain that the next noise he heard would certainly mean his demise.

He pitched 2 or 3 minor fits wanting to go back to the barn that I made him work through. We even galloped up a short stretch of hill twice, which in the past seems to settle him as he gets to explode in a controlled manner allowing him to re-right the gerbils in his head. It helped a tiny bit, but he was still tense.

He wanted to TROT and RUN home even though we were not far from the barn at ALL. As we crossed the stream on our way back, I gave him a little rein to see if he'd actually trot through the water as he tends to like to linger in streams and puddles. He took two trotting steps into the stream and then launched up the opposite bank, slamming into it and nearly throwing me over his head as he caught himself. I strangled out the noise of a dying antelope as I tried to stay on, which distracted him enough for me to regain my seat. I'd definitely had enough at that point; my decision to call it a day was further confirmed.

Back at the barn a good many minutes after our botched stream crossing, Griffin was breathing as if we'd just finished galloping he was so stressed. As I untacked him, I just let the bareback pad fall to the ground on his off side. In his state of panic, he jumped VIOLENTLY as it hit the ground. It hardly made a SOUND; I imagine it was the visual of it falling that alarmed him further. Sigh.

He's merited some spazzy days though, as he's been largely well-behaved of late. Especially for a 4 year old! The day before he did his first solo ride on the rail trail (sans horse buddies or cyclist friends). I'd had a big goal of 10-15 miles, and a small goal of 6 miles. We ended up getting in 9.25 miles (though I miscalculated while I was out there and thought I'd only be doing 8).

He was mostly excellent for the whole ride. Where Q likes to spook at the most minute of things (a purple flower amongst white flowers, a weird branch among other branches, a smooth, grey-bark tree amongst rough, brown-barked trees, etc.), Griffin spooks at buildings and other large things (a house, a shed, a barn, a doghouse, etc.). However, miraculously (not really), Griffin does not spook when he is headed in the "home" direction. If we're moving out and away from home, terror strikes him much more easily than if we're going back toward home. It really seems that I have both spectrums of spooking with my two horses!

And for future training reference for me to look back on, despite 4 times stopping and dismounting where I didn't pause the GPS (3 to mess with boots and 1 to be courteous to a very brightly dressed biker who was passing headed the opposite direction at the most narrow part of the trail) our average speed for the ride was 8.3 mph. Endomondo reads that Griffin has a very steady trot around 9.5-10.2 mph. Outstanding! Because I could hear Endomondo calling out my splits, I am not very surprised, but I must say that it certainly does not feel that fast at all! It's just his trot, not something I'm pushing or asking for.

On the Q side of things, all is well. Today marks the end of her month-long vacation.

Time off has been great for the two of us. She's seeking out my attention more and more the longer I ignore her (she's fed and brushed but nothing more). She whinnies at my car as it approaches some days, and will walk to meet me as I approach her in the field at least half the time now. She even trust me enough to let me approach her on foot in the field when she's lying down napping. (!!)

Dusty horse is dusty. And rotund. Very little to no piloerection of her coat on
this day to attribute to her body condition score; it was in the 60s!
She's not quite an "air fern", but she definitely needs to be in work to maintain
a healthy weight.
In our quest to reset trust in one another, I've decided I'm going to treat her like a new horse that just entered my life that I know very little about. We've done 3 short round penning liberty sessions where all I have tried to instill in her is that she should face me when I ask her to "whoa" and she should approach the center if I remain bowed. She'll approach me directly when cued if she's been traveling clockwise, but she tends to meander around me if she's been going counterclockwise. For whatever reason, she's currently aligning herself along my right side as she's deemed that to be "safe" and "good" and "correct". I suspect I may have accidentally reinforced it without being aware. I do plan to rectify this silly thing she's learned over our next few sessions; until then, I'll continue chuckling over her "heel" command she seems to have learned.

I plan to take her on some walks this week to compliment the round pen sessions. Around the property and perhaps even up and down the road (back road that only receives residential traffic). With my Achilles very against saddle riding right now, and hunting season going strong, it will be a perfect thing. We'll move into ground driving in a week or so, I'd imagine.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Go-Everywhere, Ride Camp Dog

By now, you're all familiar with my husky Kenai. He's my go-everywhere dog. Rock climbing, whitewater rafting, hiking, speed boats, road trips, trail rides, endurance ride camp, and even on the ski lift at the resort when I'm working ski patrol (he is the unofficial mascot). When my friend Chris and I traveled to Acadia Nat'l Park in 2010, Kenai accompanied us. He's also been to the outskirts of the Great Smoky Nat'l Park (dogs are not permitted within the park) for my Leave No Trace Master Educator and pack courses in 2012.

At every endurance ride I've done these past 2 years, he's been present and accounted for at each. And thus far, he has no transgressions to his name for his time spent in ride camp. He has never been "jailed" for being loose, or had a negative word spoken about his antics that I am aware of. I've worked hard with him to be a well-behaved dog, and it seems I've succeeded in some capacity.

I thought it might be helpful for other dog owners who haven't yet taken their dog to an endurance ride camp or other adventure to have a comprehensive list of skills/characteristics that help in having a well-behaved dog at endurance events or on nearly any other adventurous pursuit.

Patience

Observe Kenai in the lower left corner sleeping while the humans do things
High on the list of good traits for a well-behaved dog is patience. In ride camp more than anything, there is a lot of down time between exciting events. A dog with patience who is content to watch goings-on quietly, or take a nap, or entertain themselves in a quiet manner is priceless.

At rides this year, Kenai had Carlos to keep him company - they're best friends - while Saiph and I were out riding. At other rides, he's had Carlos and Mike. And at others still, he's on his own - it's just he and I. In these situations where we're solo, Kenai goes into the back of the horse trailer where I provide him with a flake of hay to create a bed, food, and water. He is content in the trailer until I either have arrived back in camp for a hold, or until the day is over and I return to camp for the finish (at rides with away holds).

At holds in-camp, or away holds that Kenai has accompanied someone else to, he is content to sit and observe everyone and everything going on around him. From sponging of horses, to feeding of horses and humans, to untacking and retacking and heading back out. He loves to receive an initial greeting from "his people" and then he will find an out-of-the-way place to observe us all as we bustle about. His patience in these times is such an amazing thing.

Manners on leash

Paramount to any dog's training regime is leash training and manners when on leash. A dog on leash shouldn't: pull excessively, feel that they're allowed to take off after prey items, or bark at approaching people or animals. And that's just the short list!

At most rides, it is a requirement to have your dog on leash at all times (except RBTR) - hell, in most places you're required to have dogs on leash period. Teaching manners on leash is critical to being able to have your dog in social settings.

While Kenai isn't as stellar on leash as he is off leash, he is still leaps and bounds ahead of many other dogs with his skill set. He knows to not rush off and pull you down, doesn't lunge after things, and he never loses it barking at dogs or people or horses or otherwise.

                                                 Manners off leash

A very happy off leash
dog following along
on a trail ride.
Let's face it though, we don't always keep our dogs on leash all the time, rules or not. For me, with such an active breed of dog, it's hard to give him the exercise he truly needs without letting him off leash! I need to be able to count on Kenai listening to me and behaving off leash as much or more than when he is on leash.

When off leash, I can trust that Kenai will return when I call (though perhaps not IMMEDIATELY), will not seek out trouble for himself or others, will greet people politely or move past them without bothering, won't chase off after prey items, will behave within a group of off-leash dogs, and will stay within my sight. It's definitely a task to reach that level of trust with a dog, but the time and effort put into working toward that kind of freedom is 110% worth it.

At our ride here in WV (RBTR), we don't have a leash requirement for dogs in ride camp. We request that they be contained while the ride is going on, but beyond that, it's a free for all! I know many reading this may totally and completely disagree with this, and you're entitled to your opinion. Not everyone at RBTR let's their dog off leash, and that is okay! For most of us however, we know we can trust our dogs' off leash manners and not worry about them. It's a great time for Kenai, as he's able to socialize and truly Be A Dog with other dogs. They gallivant, smell ALL THE THINGS, swim, and interact with folks.

Recall

I think this is one of the most important skills to teach and ingrain into a dog. And if I can teach my  Siberian husky to recall, anyone should be able to teach their dog to recall! Huskies are known far and wide for not listening and "running away". Kenai is living proof that it doesn't have to be that way!

It took a solid 18-24 months of training to reach a point where I could trust Kenai to recall well off leash, but the time and effort have served me well ever since. There are still moments where I experience something akin to PTSD when Kenai doesn't return *Immediately* and I panic a bit, however, this is just a part of his independent husky nature. He will return and he will return within a few minutes time at MOST - he just doesn't always return when my agenda dictates he should.

And yes!, I can prevent my dog from chasing off after a prey item with a verbal command. I no longer have to worry about him taking off after things he shouldn't, something that is very freeing.

The freedom gained from a dog who will recall well has lent itself to so many situations and has opened up a whole new world for Kenai! He is able to explore more and smell more off leash than he is on leash. When hiking, he will traverse forward, backward, and side to side to investigate the landscape and take everything in. He's able to travel 1.5x or greater the distance I'm hiking to do all of the investigating he desires. This lends itself to a nice, tired dog later - the best kind of dog! Additionally, Kenai is able to accompany me on trail rides, a favorite pastime.

Polite around horses

Cleaning up Griffin's mess while Griffin
nuzzles Kenai's back
This is absolutely critical in ride camp! No dog should ever rush, over-excited up to a horse barking and get in their space. It could cause the horse to spook or kick out and if someone is riding the horse, they could be injured.

The best way to train and prepare your dog to be polite around horses is to provide them with opportunities to be around horses. This isn't always easy, I recognize, but it is an important thing to try to do when you're able.

Kenai has been around horses since he was a pup. He's learned to keep his distance the hard way (he's been trampled once or twice), but it only took one time to really cement in his mind that these big hooved "dogs" aren't to be trifled with and one should keep their distance!

Nowadays, Kenai coexists happily with my horses and other horses. He's able to sense (for the most part) when a horse doesn't like dogs and he keeps a buffer between himself and that horse. My horses are okay enough with Kenai that they'll share their mashes with him! (Caution though, this does result in a dirty dog!)

Good in small, shared spaces

At ride camp, and in other situations, I've had to share my tent or car with Kenai through extended periods (typically sleep, but sometimes other times due to inclement weather).

While other traits listed already help with this skill, it is still worth noting that your dog should be okay with being confined to a small space with you without being a complete dingbat about it. Kenai's default behavior in a tent or my car is to find "his" corner and plop down to wait and rest.

Crate trained

Similar to the above, and certainly helpful with situations where you should be in a small, shared space with your dog, it is great to have a dog who knows the ins and outs of crate training! They know their space, know it's safe to be there, and helps provide a refuge from goings-on while also keeping them out of trouble.

Dogs evolved from wolves, which tend to utilize small spaces (similar to what a crate provides) for denning and whelping. As a result, your dog should have some instinct (however far back it may be!) to be content in a small area like a crate. My best advice is to start young with crate training! Set your dog up for success later in life.

Quiet

I think this trait/skill may not be important for some - and may be impossible for some dogs, but I hate a noisy, barking or whining dog! Encouraging your dog from a young age to be quiet while crated or on leash can be very important. It helps set them up to not be the bane of every one else's existence when you're in a closed-quarters situation like ride camp or a campground (or a shuttle bus that allows dogs like those on Mt. Desert Island where Acadia Nat'l Park is located).

It gives me peace of mind to know that when I leave Kenai in the horse trailer for hours on end while I'm riding that he isn't annoying the hell out of everyone in camp. In fact, most times when I fetch Kenai from the trailer (or the car if the weather was such to allow him to be comfortable in there all day [he gets the whole trunk area of my 4Runner; it's like another crate to him for half the year]) folks express their surprise that he was even in there! He remains so quiet. Impressive considering huskies really like to talk. ;-)

People-loving

Or perhaps, people-tolerant. Kenai doesn't love all people, but he is tolerant of all people. As a husky, he is a bit stand-offish in regards to many people, but once he has established a person as "okay", he will greet them.

To help Kenai be prepared for the unexpected (kids being grabby in particular), I've always done things to screw with him and keep him on his toes since he was a puppy. Randomly bopping him, pulling his hair, pushing him when he wasn't expecting it, making fast, unexpected moves, and being loud. It is beneficial and gives me peace of mind to know that my dog will be courteous and polite to people he interacts with. It is hard to predict what any one person - especially kids - will do around a new dog, so I'm happy I've taken the time to prepare my dog as best I'm able for these unexpected things.

: : : : :

It's taken a lot of time and dedication to work with Kenai to get him to the point where he is so behaved, but it has been beyond worth it. Kenai goes everywhere with me; I need to be able to count accompany my life will be expected to also conform to good behaviors. I share my life more intimately with my dog(s) than I do any other animal. I believe that my dog appreciates the added richness and adventure that is present in his life as a result of being a Go Everywhere dog.
on him to be polite and behave in the myriad of situations he's exposed to. All future dogs that

The list of traits/characteristics above is a definite plus in any Go Everywhere or Ride Camp dog. Ultimately though, you'll need to assess your dog as an individual and put him or her in situations that are best suited to them. Not every dog can be a Go Everywhere dog, and it is unfair to assume so or to put them in a position to fail and end up injured or punished for something they didn't understand from the beginning .I hope other dog owners are able to enjoy the level of trust I have with Kenai with a dog at some point in their life. It is a truly wonderful thing that makes adventures much more
                                                         entertaining and enjoyable.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Without a Saddle

Last Tuesday was a tough day mentally for me. I'd made a big decision on some life choices the day prior and was still mulling things over in my head.

From past experience, I've found this mulling process to be aided immensely by time spent with horses. And so that is what I did.

My goal upon arrival at the barn was to strike out on a trail ride with Griffin. I figured I would spend as long out on the trail as he could stand and see where it got us. Distance wasn't really a concern so much as TIME. I needed that time. And conveniently enough, the Universe was smiling upon my plans this day and had gifted me with blue skies and temperatures in the low 70s. Rare for a mid-November day in the heart of the mountains of West Virginia.

However, life being what it is, Griffin managed to rub a bit too hard against what wouldn't usually be construed as a "sharp" area of the stall door as he entered the stall to eat his mash and earned himself a nice superficial cut on his side. This superficial cut? RIGHT where the saddle pad/girth area is. Sigh.

I hung my head a little, sighed a lot, and trudged to the tack room to get my clippers, betadine, and a sterile gauze pad to clean it up. Griffin hardly batted an eye or flicked an ear at me while I cleaned the area up. If it had been anywhere else on his barrel (you know, not near the saddle area), I'd likely not done a damn thing to it. It was the kind of superficial cut that is scabbed over nicely within 24 hours and healed entirely in less than a week.

I looked across the barn aisle at Q in her stall and rolled the idea of just riding her around in my head for a moment. No, I decided, she's earned her time off and I told her she could have it. Besides, my head really can't handle the possibility of her spookiness on this day.

I set the saddle and pad on Griffin Just To See. Curses. The cut was RIGHT below the pad by about an inch. It would DEFINITELY be rubbed by the girth. I didn't really care to risk making the cut worse or inciting a pain response from my horse while riding as I don't care to hit the dirt as a result. (And it wouldn't be fair to him.) And so I trudged the saddle back into the tack room.

I stood for a moment in the tack room pondering the thought of simply just not riding. I could just go home and continue sitting on the couch doing nothing. Except that this day was some sort of serious gift from the Universe and I couldn't possibly waste it sitting on the couch! And so my eyes wandered slowly to my tack locker and the bareback pad within. Just maybe...

Sure enough, the thick pony pad coupled with the bareback pad sat no where near the cut on Griffin's side. Added bonus, the girth for the pad was set much more forward than it had been on the saddle and would not interfere with the cut at all! The only thing that would touch it would be my lower leg, and that touch would happen sparingly. Huzzah!

It was a fantastic ride. Kenai came, too.

I'd let Griffin pick up the pace for the ups, always going slow on the downs (because bareback), and it was a toss up what we did on the in betweens.

We'd flat out gallop on some of the ups, returning to a moseying walk immediately after with no fighting. Griffin was outstanding. It's not every horse you can let open up like that and trust to return to a calm walk immediately after.

After each gallop set, I'd ask Griffin to halt and wait so Kenai could catch up. Each time, Griffin was beyond behaved as he stood quietly waiting, sometimes turning to nuzzle my foot to let me know he understood why we were waiting. One time, when Kenai was taking an exceptionally long time to reappear, I even asked Griffin to backtrack to find him. This backtracking involved turning away from home (where we were returning), and despite it, Griffin struck off down the trail with eagerness and confidence, nonplussed about the change in direction from home. GOOD BOY. (Kenai found something that smelled good and had been tracking it, which caused the delay.)

After multiple times where Griffin proved he head his head screwed on very straight by exhibiting the above, I chose to just let him pick the pace through the ups and the in betweens. Downs would still be strictly walking, because bareback. He'd pick up a trot for a bit, then walk some, the canter for a bit, then walk some, then gallop, and then walk.

It took a bit of time for me to realize what he was doing, but for the fifth or six "speed up" moment since allowing Griffin to move out as he wanted, I realized he wasn't choosing his moments at random. He was timing them with my mental processes (which very likely were correlated in my muscles in the rest of my body). Right as I would lose focus on the present and start to dive deep into my head mulling things over, Griffin would pick up the pace so I would be pulled back into the present moment.

Upon realizing what he was doing, I couldn't help but smile and laugh. Such a good, sweet boy this horse is!

The two times we galloped on the way home I dropped my reins, spread my arms wide like a bird taking flight and just let the wind hit me full in the face as Griffin charged up the trail. It was a beautiful thing to be riding without a saddle and to be able to drop the reins for a full out gallop like that.

And that's how I ended up riding 7.5 miles without a saddle.

No stirrup November, amirite?



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Set Backs: Mental game

Yesterday I noted setbacks and alluded to some backward steps I've taken/am taking with Griffin and Q in regards to the Universe cutting me off at the pass and screaming, "Halt. You shall not pass," and slamming its staff down a la Gandalf in the mines of Moria.

Then, Gail commented and asked about those backward steps and I wrote this huge comment and realized, uh, I should just make this a post. So here we are! Or at least the first installment of posts on backwards steps, as there will be more, I'm sure, because the Universe is Highly Amused in watching me fall on my ass as I stumble through my Lessons Learned.

Mental pauses: Griffin

Both horses have exhibited signs of needing mental breaks this year. Griffin's was notably at RBTR where his first LD proved too much for his head to handle. Gross oversight on my part. Bad human. UnFortunately for me, the Universe wasted no great time in letting me know of my error so I would address it better. Gee, thanks, Universe. Problem noted.

So realizing Griffin would need more time for his head and need more exercises to develop his mental game, I started hypothesizing. But in true form, slow human was slow (and stubborn!!) about making changes. So then, Universe presented me with an awesome (not) day where Griffin lost his shit (he *was* rude, for the record, but he (and the Universe) needed to get the point across to me, obvi) and we had a huge argument (read: emergency dismount followed by Griffin rampaging around the farm to avoid me) for nigh on two hours by the time all was said and done and we were on good-ish terms again.

And so, finally getting the point (thanks, Universe), I back pedaled reeaaall fast. Our schedule proceeded as follows from that point:
  •  Ground sessions on the lunge to reinforce listening and reinforce the fact that pressure on his mouth/the bit is not a reason to pitch a shit fit. We were mostly over this and doing well, but as with all things, one step forward, two steps back. Side reins returned and Griffin's head was reset to the Good Place.
  • Double long-lining was introduced to supplement the lunging sessions. Griffin took to this like a champ. Bravo, little horse, bravo.
  • Ground driving was tackled in full. Harness was acquired as was cart. The race was on to do all the ground driving to best prepare him for when I might finally have the cart restored. Race resembled the Space race in that one side would race forward with leaps and bounds only to stall out long enough for the other side to steadily catch up and surpass the first side. (The restoration progress would jump and leap then stall out while Griffin's progress was slow, steady, and predictable.)
  • Ground driving continued.
  • Cart was finished and we began work with it. Hurrah! There were small setbacks with it, but I did a pretty good job jumping not two, but three steps back as things came up because I wanted him to be nice and calm and not, you know, wreck. We were doing well, I thought! His calm demeanor the majority of the time let me know that it really was going well.
  • But, and there is always a but, we still had a wreck. And I knew it wasn't my fault and it wasn't his fault and the same thing probably would have happened even if he'd been doing this for a longer period of time. It was just a freak thing. And the thing that stands out most about it that shocked me the most then and shocks me the most now is HOW FORTUNATE WE WERE. No injuries to living, breathing beings occurred. SO FORTUNATE. I don't fault him. I don't fault myself. It is what it is and it happened and we learned from it. But also, we were forced to break from driving because I would need to make repairs to the harness and the cart. That's okay. We needed to take that time - or at least I did!
  • The Universe seemed to be pleased with itself for that wreck and the pause it put on us driving. I'd been avoiding riding Griffin but was now lured back into riding. And Griffin was SO READY for riding again. He excelled ride after ride. (After ride, after ride, after ride.)
  • Rides began at 20-30 minutes and stayed there. They were also occurring 2-4 times a week.
  • Then by coincidence and mostly accident (the Universe again), we had a 60 minute session one day! And Griffin, as politely as he could (occasional head shaking in protest instead of the former crow-hop or bucking), let me know his patience was waning, and I listened. I heard it was best to stop on a good note or something with horses? Huh. Go figure. ;-)
  • After that surprise hour-long session, our sessions more frequently extended into the 45-60 minute range and that's where we are now - with exception of two trail rides with one other horse and one solo trail ride, all of which far exceeded an hour's time.

Overall, these backward steps aren't very drastic or surprising. They're mostly as a result of luck and karma and whatsuch. They were necessary and wonderful and while slow human was slow, and stubborn redhead was stubborn, I've reformed and seem to be reaping tiny rewards from this progress. And I have small, fluid future goals in mind, but I'm not sharing them just yet. =)

Mental pauses: Q

Now, more drastic, semi-surprising backward steps! These belong to the mareface.

Q's confidence on trail has spiraled downward since the herd dynamic was altered in August of 2013. The introduction of TWO very, very studdy geldings followed by two more mares (who behave just fine, but introduce more estrogen than previously existed) to the herd sent Q into a tizzy. Fortunately, the geldings have both moved on. With the departure of the first, Q began to get a little better. With the departure of the second, she improved a little more.

However, the damage had been done. She and I were in a wicked place in comparison to where we once had been. A bad pattern between us in regards to her spooks was present and definitely didn't help her path to improvement. Her confidence was shot. My trust in her was shot. And so we battled back and forth time and time again.

I'm SO hard on myself in regards to working with this horse. I'm also exceedingly stubborn in a whole new way with her in comparison to other horses I've worked with at length! I'm a redhead, ergo I'm prone to stubbornness and being fiesty, but when I'm paired with Q it's exceptionally noticeable!

I'm very aware of this, and despite all of my setbacks and frustrations with this horse, I CANNOT for the LIFE of me figure out why I am still SO DETERMINED to make things work with her (and I mean work on a general scale here, not a specific discipline of riding)? My day dreaming often wanders to wonder Just What It Is about this mare that leaves me so stubbornly pursuing her? Is it because she rejects me like a middle school boy that leaves me trying SO hard for her affections and to get her to work with me as a team? In part. Maybe. Is it the pure challenge? In part. Maybe. Is it the knowledge that she'd likely end up at slaughter if I quit on her (because who would put up with her shit? I'm excessively tolerable of her shenanigans and my horse friends (mostly non-Arab) are continually impressed that I march onward with her)? In part. Maybe.

There is Just Something About Her that keeps me hooked. And even though I can't peg it on the head, I also can't shake the line that draws me to her. I have a feeling it's the Universe again. I think the Universe has a sense of humor and really likes to test me and watch me struggle as I slowly figure things out. I mean, hell, I'd laugh at me, too, if I could watch my struggles from afar. I bet it is quite comical! But seriously, there must be some Larger Purpose to my draw to this horse, because with other horses that pulled some of her crap I quit REAL fast and never looked back.

So...because I'm no fool (HAHAHA), and I'm picking up what the Universe is laying down, I started to pick up on Q's mental issues at the same time I was noting Griffin's. And, because I'm no fool (HAHA), I started hypothesizing things to help remedy Q's confidence and mental blocks before she and I had to dance our way through another cart-wreck incident of our own.

She's better about spooking that she was, but gah, it's still so much worse than it was for the first year and a half of our time together. And thus:

  • Q is getting a whole month off post-FV. This ends on the 24th of this month. 
  • Then for another month, or more, we will do ground driving (we've done it at random before, so I know she knows how). I'm setting the bar at a minimum of 20 sessions. These sessions will start around the *familiar* farm, and then into the back field, and then into the woods on the trails. I want to get her out there LEADING AND ALONE (no horse buddies) and see how spooky she is without me riding. We're going to get our confidence back (well, she's going to get her confidence back and I'm going to build my trust in her to not dump me so often back...because WE USED TO BE GREAT).
  • I'll gauge where she is after at least 20 sessions. We'll then either do more, or add riding back.
  • We'll also add more dressage work into our lives once her vacation from riding is over. She needs to get off the f*cking forehand. I'm sick of it and it's my fault she's there so often because I haven't done much to encourage correction. 
  • And then, we're going to spend more time walking on the trails than we did before. We'll rocket up the steeps, and relax on the flats and downs. She rarely if EVER spooks on an good incline because she's focused on the increased work and her job. 
  • Setting her up for success by only moving out on the ups initially should hopefully correlate to slowly moving out more on the flats and downs where she currently lacks confidence. We'll gain confidence doing the things that keep her calm, then extrapolate the good into her trouble areas as time goes on.
We'll see where this plan gets us by spring. I like this plan and am very, very cautiously optimistic that it will help us. You heard me, Universe, I'm very cautiously optimistic and guarding my rear end against another stumble where I land on my ass! My ride plans next year are tentative and fluid, and - as with Griffin's future goals - I'll share the goals I have for Q at a later time.

Universe, I see what you've done here. It's pretty good work. Sorry I was so slow and stubborn to catch on. I'm hard headed like that, you know, being a redhead and all. But I'm trying to learn from my mistakes! Truly. All the same, I'm sure I'll land on my ass again soon enough. I'll try to do it with a little more grace though.  ;-)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Set Backs

(Two posts in one day, what is this strange voodoo?!)

Aarene at Haiku Farm wrote a great post recently that was just what I needed to read in regards to mental calendars with horses.

I nodded along with the whole post, and smiled as she noted her own lessons learned.

The whole thing was right on line with my own thoughts lately for my two and my plans for the future. These plans involve some serious backward steps that are happening or will be happening through the coming months. I will share these things as time allows in coming posts.

My comment to Aarene's post is below. In addition to my initial rambling, she asked three questions which I have italicized:

As a lover of lists and a chronic planner of all things, horses continually humble me. I WILL DO THIS! I declare. YOU WILL PRESS PAUSE! The horses echo. I may one day learn and stop this cycle, but that time is far in the future, I fear. Though there is hope; I am getting better about having very broad, fluid plans. This is helping a great amount so far.

What events and situations move you and your horse off-calendar? - Mental break-downs from both parties have been large culprits this year. I am forced to take steps backwards and be more creative in my methodology to battle mental hurdles and break them down into small steps. Hard realization to reach, but critical for any hope at success. Physical break downs the year prior helped prevent mental break downs for a time, but because my ways did not change greatly enough, the time has come that I must learn from my errors. Thanks, Universe.

Is it easy to re-form your goals? - It is easy when I have accepted the fact that I was the reason for the errors. Acceptance is everything for me. Once I can admit my short-comings, the path forward becomes much clearer and I become very excited about backing up and re-starting. I like a challenge, I just don't like being humbled so often. (Who does? It's a hard lesson to learn, IMHO, and those who can tackle it with grace are those I admire the most.) However, I'm learning, and that is so, so valuable. I'm not apt to make the same mistake more than once!

What helps you? - What helps is the community of horse folks who are ever supporting of my efforts. Who bolster me when I'm down. The drive and passion I have for my horses coupled with my desire to do right by them spurs me ever forward...and reins me in with a wicked one rein stop every time I get too excited and big for my britches! Reading posts like this one and seeing the success of your journey helps immensely.

Thank you (again) so much for this post. It is something I needed to read right now as I'm struggling mentally with my own demons.

All In A Week

It seems my blog life has been relegated to these photo posts for a bit. I'll craft up better content soon.















1. Cannibalistic chickens - they were all eating an egg one of them laid that burst open....  2. Griffin instigating play-fights. I finally drove up in the middle of a huge one - it's no wonder he's in such good shape, he really books it around that field!  3. Begging for attention.  4. So, it's been snowing here. Winter is here.  5. <3 Thanks guys.  6. The greatest Asian Market I've been to yet! Will definitely be returning when I'm back in the area.  7. Fish to veggie ratio in the *cheap!* sushi from that market was superb. Definitely #winning.  8. Kenai LOVING our 6.5 mile ride the other day!  9. We love each other!  10. We hate each other.  11. The cats have claimed this dog bed. Apparently that position is comfortable?  12. Innocent? He's fully in his role of "couch dog" here. I have decided to permit this behavior after 4.5 years. *sigh*

Thursday, November 6, 2014

All In A Week















1. Work never tasted so good.  2. The russets of late autumn are in full swing.  3. Dog nuzzles.  4. Pumpkin Reserve @ 6.9%  5. Blankets for the first time this year for a 48 hour period of freezing rain (they do not have shelter).  6. Fiona and Shrek for Halloween.  7. A properly soiled horse.  8. Griffin led a 6.7 mile trail ride like a boss.  9. A wonderful new book.  10. Ralphie, our office iguana, was a doucher the other day during a conference call as he proceeded to knock EVERYTHING POSSIBLE off ALL of my shelves.  11. Night riding on the grey horse; two big spooks at Kenai in a bush, but I'll give those to him. I almost came unseated each time! Fortunately, Q has me trained.  12. You will do my bidding, human!  13. Atticus on July 2013 vs. November 2014 - he is in the SAME cage.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Transformation Tuesday

July 10 on top. October 30 on bottom. And yes, his mane is in a sorry in-between state right now. That one section just REFUSES to stand up though. Hay feeders being what they are and all...


Monday, November 3, 2014

Thankful

After handling a horse that wasn't my own yesterday for a brief minute, I realized how thankful I am to have horses that:
  • Have ground manners
  • Lead politely
  • Stand when tied
  • Are polite about being tacked up (both saddle and bridle)
  • Are respectful about my space
  • Know how to lunge
  • Know verbal commands
  • Stand for mounting (at least 85% of the time anyway, haha)
  • Stand for dismounting
  • Listen to leg aids
  • Listen to seat aids
  • Are not demanding/manic about feeding time
  • Are very polite for the handling of their feet and trimming
  • Are polite about taking oral supplements/medications/electrolytes
  • Aren't dicks for the vet
  • Load/unload from the trailer with minimal issue
  • Have a "whoa" button installed
  • Transition nicely between gaits (up and down)
  • Are relatively game for many bizarre things I request of them

It has taken a lot of time to get these critters to be so well behaved, but wow. So worth it. So thankful.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Okay, I'm Ready To Share

A month ago I had a post all ready to share with y'all about what I'd been doing with Griffin since his first LD attempt where his greenie brain emerged in a whole new way at the beginning of August. Because if you didn't notice, he kind of dropped out of the picture for a long time there.

Here's what that post entailed --

: : : : :

So I've been holding back on sharing this bit of news with social media for well over a month. I wanted to work through the training, restore the cart, and get him going before I whispered a word to social media about it.

Let's back up - last year I got a bug up my butt to drive Griffin. I floundered around the internet for a time researching it, did some of the ground driving work with him, searched for tack, gawked at the cost, and then ultimately got caught up in Q's training and forgot about driving altogether for awhile. Occasionally, I'd peruse equipment again, but the cost of it always threw me off.

And then Mike entered the picture and riding two horses was a lot easier so Griffin's work US began anew in January. (I really struggle to ride BOTH horses on the same trails all the time. It's one thing to go out and do a workout with one of them, but to have to do double that? Gah. I don't like seeing the same thing again and again and again. With Mike's butt to borrow, riding both of them and getting workouts in became SO much easier.) With advances in riding, I forgot about the driving for awhile more.

As summer dragged on and riding both horses fell almost solely back into my hands (and my butt) due to Mike's work schedule, I began to dream again about driving Griffin for cross training. (And Griffin was chosen instead of Q because Q and a cart...HAHAHAHAHA. That's a fun joke. Spooky horse who hates things near her hiney with a cart...HAHA.) I had a new idea as far as pursuing equipment went that might lead me to a cheaper route, one I could afford.

Finding the Harness

I queried Alison for help with what to look for and found some equipment for a reasonable price on Craigslist. I then sent photos of these leads to my neighbors to verify as I knew they'd been involved in driving their Belgian mules once upon a time. Well, lo and behold, they fired back a response along the lines of, "Looks good, but don't buy anything yet. We have a light horse harness you can borrow that will probably work for Griffin. Come out and we'll check it out this week."

*ding ding ding* We have a winner.

I went out to see this harness the week following Griffin's failed first go at an LD. We found all of the pieces to it, I cleaned it up, and hustled out to the barn to fit it to the grey horse. Definitely would work!

Finding the Cart

The cart and I. I was excited.
Around the same week the harness was locked in, I found a cart option on Craigslist - I actually found several within 4 hours driving distance, but this one was the closest and it was the cheapest. I forwarded it along to my neighbors to glean their opinion of it.

They thought it definitely had potential, but noted we'd need to see it in person. The best time for them to go was the weekend I'd planned to be visiting Nicole and Carlos though, so it was decided that they would go and look anyway, and if it was good, they'd bring it home.

My neighbor texted me while I was standing in the barn post-ride with Nicole on one of the days of my visit to say that it was in great shape beyond needing a new paint job and tires, so they got it! Sweet!

She also told me the following story about it: 

The guy who owned it used to drive it around with a friend ages ago, but it had mostly been hanging in his barn for 35 years gathering dust - hence wanting to sell it. The gentleman is in his early 70s now, hospice care was at his home as his wife was dying (sadface). He's an old Italian guy though, and apparently looked absolutely AMAZING for his age. 

He asked about what they wanted to do with the cart when they agreed they'd take it. My neighbors noted that they were picking it up for a friend, a girl named Liz. Well, upon hearing my name the old guy teared up. It turns out, the friend he used to drive the cart all over with was named Liz. He and she drove it all over town back in the day. When her father passed, she gave it to this Italian gentleman to remember she and her father. He was so thrilled to be passing it along to another young lady named Liz. 

And so, the cart became mine. I'll attribute it to kismet.

It truly did need new tires and paint, but those were simple and easy. One trip to WalMart led to having tires that Mike put on for me, and one trip to Sherwin Williams afforded the necessary primer and paint. Now all that was left was prepping the damn thing for painting! Fortunately, Mike is quite the handy man and has had oodles of painting gigs, so he had everything I needed to prep and strip the cart for painting.

And so I prepped and stripped and chipped and sanded on and off for a week or so. And right when I was ready to paint, super humid weather settled in for a week or more. Not good for painting! And so I waited for a week or more, and then was finally able to paint the cart over a 3 day period of good weather with the help of a friend towards the end.

Training

From the moment I realized I wanted to do this for REAL this time, I started pursuing training ideas and methods re: ground driving.

Fortunately, Andrea and O had just begun their journey into driving, so I had her blog to spur my idea train.

Additionally, Griffin's newly surfaced issues US lent themselves to pursuing more ground
driving-type activities in an attempt to resolve the problems. More fate playing a hand at this driving thing? Mayhaps.

And so we did double long lining, which Griffin excelled at and took with stride as if he'd been doing it all his life. And then we did ground driving, something we'd pursued in the past, but hadn't touched in ages. And Griffin excelled at that too, remaining completely unbothered with whatever I requested. He demonstrated some small issues with halting and remaining so, but with one solid day's session focused on Halt Means Halt, we had it.

The day Mike replaced the tires on the cart (Sept. 1), we took the cart to the barn to be absolutely certain it would fit with everything (horse, harness, etc.) prior to further work prepping it to paint. I'd made no plans to actually drive Griffin that day, but hey, you give a mouse a cookie....

Leading and watching him for any sign of stress or concern. He was totally fine!
I walked him all around the cart for a time for him to see it and sniff it. Then Mike pulled the cart around and Griffin and I walked with him, behind him, in front of him, and around him as he did so. And then Mike held Griffin and talked to him as I hooked the cart up.

Mike and I were totally more concerned about the whole thing than Griffin was at this point. He was all, "Guyssss, what's the big deal?"

And so, with everything seemingly fitted appropriately, we backed Griffin up with the cart attached so we could turn to walk around the barnyard (because hooking him up so we could just attain forward movement first thing wasn't really in our brains). We proceeded to lead him around the barnyard pulling the cart, talking to him telling him how good he was, which led to me driving him from the ground behind the cart while Mike led him, which led to Mike taking a more passive leading role while I drove from behind, which led to me getting in the cart with Mike in an active leading role, which led to me driving with Mike in a passive leading role, which finally led to me just driving him with Mike walking alongside - no lead rope attached.

No helmet, but So Totally Unplanned.
Griffin was totally unperturbed by the entire thing. His ears swiveled taking everything in, but he never took a false step. Mike even had a moment to step away from his walk-alongside role to snap some photos!

A very exciting teaser for me as I would continue to focus on prepping and painting the cart for another several weeks!

And then last week, I finally got the cart out to the barn to stay. (An epic journey that involved me driving Mike's big truck (a standard) all on my own (I've never drove a standard in that capacity ever!), and to top it off, getting the cart loaded and unloaded from the truck ON MY OWN.)

I still have a few things to tweak with the shaft horns on the cart, but they aren't the kind of thing that limits our use of it too much. I am still able to spend time hooking Griffin up to the cart, leading him with the cart, ground driving him from behind the cart, and even sitting in the cart and driving.

It depends on the day and how he's acting as to what we do. I'm trying to be slow and give him opportunities to succeed, y'know? I have loose plans when I arrive each day, but nothing in stone. I try to go with the flow and how Griffin is acting/feeling.

It's so incredibly fun though! I can't wait to share more as we proceed with our journey. I have these picturesque scenes in my mind of driving down the one lane country roads that few cars are ever on along the river with fall foliage in its peak. It's far-reaching, I know, but it's a really awesome picture in my head, and a really fun goal to slowly work towards.




: : : : :

I was so ready to share and so excited to share. I even went so far as to share photos about him driving to Facebook! But I wanted to wait for just a few more sessions so I could give even more updates and provide more  photos for y'all. 

But then something really horrible happened.

A cart wreck.

On September 29 I went out to drive Griffin around sans cart first, and then had plans to hook the cart up and just lead him around with it. 

You see, he'd been kind of wiggy lately about things and I didn't want him to have to think too much on things that night. I just wanted him to focus on walking around with me while having the cart hooked up. I figured if it went really well, maybe I'd continue the ground driving I started the night with but while walking behind the cart. 

Best laid plans, eh?

To rehash what happened exactly, I'm going to share what I wrote to Hannah from The Longest Format. She was [un]fortunate enough to have dropped me a check-in message on Facebook the morning after. I was finally coming out of the shock of the whole thing enough that I spewed the following to her --

: : : : :

Last night was really bad and it's still weighing on me though and I'm not sure when I'll be able to write about it or anything.

The whole month has been kind of off. I don't know what it is. It's no one thing. I just feel like I have no direction - especially with the horses. I'm proceeding with endurance with Q because it makes sense. And it's pretty good, really. The whole chronic scratches thing was really trying, but we're moving on and that is really good. We had a really thrilling ride Sunday that gave me hope and really put me in a great place mentally - better place than I'd been all month.

Then last night I went out and finally finished the cart I've been using with my driving pursuits with Griffin. (The restoration process has been slow and there were some very minor things I had left to complete for it to truly be *done*.) 

And after some premptive driving around sans cart, I hooked it up. He was so good - as usual. I had a goal to lead him around with it on and then drive from the ground behind the cart - no more. He'd had some sticky spots the last time we drove and I just wanted to give him some positive experiences to deal with, y'know?

But then as I led him around the side of the barn with the cart I turned to look at him as he walked right behind my shoulder and noticed a second before it happened that he was too close to the barn and the cart would probably clip it....it did.

The sound and the jarring of the cart scared him - as it would most horses. And he TOOK OFF. I just dodged out of the way, helpless. I watched him and the cart careening around the barnyard in terror. He went around the other side and out of sight while I realized I may need to find cover and I made moves to slip in the back door of the barn. As I was doing so he reappeared.....sans cart....still scared...pieces of harness flapping everywhere.

I knew he wouldn't calm down immediately, so I let him run the fenceline where the other horses were while I walked to the far side of the barn to see what had become of the cart and the rest of the harness.

The arm of one of the shafts was snapped in two. The pieces of harness that weren't on Griffin were attached to the cart in various places.

Griffin had calmed down in the moments it took me to get a visual of the cart. I walked to him, murmuring things softly. Telling him it was okay and it wasn't his fault. I managed to undo the rest of the harness while he stood shaking. I led him to the barn and tied him to stand while I went back to gather the cart pieces and harness pieces.

He was resting one hind foot when I got back to him, significantly calmer, too. I made him move out on a circle in both directions to double check for any injury, fearful. He was fine.

Everything is okay. And I can probably fix the cart and the harness - though it will take a lot more time.

It was the raw force of the incident though. It was terrifying. And now I have this horrible fear in my gut unlike anything I've experienced in a long time and I'm not sure what I'm going to do about it.

 : : : : :

And so. Here we are. A month after I sent that message. A month and a day after the wreck. 
     
And I'm ready to share it with you guys. 

So there it is.

Obviously, Griffin is okay. Obviously, I've moved forward with him in the interim and had some really great rides.

And the harness still isn't completely fixed - but it's in progress. And the cart is still lying at the barn in pieces - but the men have devised multiple plans to fix it and promise they will do it as soon as I give the word. And Griffin walks around and by the cart without fear or apprehension. 

But he will eventually have to wear the harness again; we'll confront his potential demons with that then. And when potential demons have been conquered, we'll confront the next set of demons that may come with the cart. And it may be long and slow, but we'll get through it. 

Sure, I don't have to introduce him back to any of it. But I was having such fun with it! And he really seemed to be, too! So we'll take things slow, and we'll see how it goes. And we may never drive outside of a fenced area due to fears, but that's okay. We were having fun with what we were doing and I'd like to get that back if possible.

Please be kind in the comments. This has been a really huge hurdle for me to work through mentally. I wanted to write it all up in a concise place though. I wanted to share for those on Facebook who knew we were driving but never saw another mention of it after a month's time. I wanted the few who knew how hard it was for me, those I reached out to, to see that things are getting better and brighter.

Just another hiccup in this journey. Just another hiccup. We're moving on.