Calmness on the ground and in the barn - Significantly improved. She is so much better 99% of the time now. Added bonus of receiving grain every time I bring her in has the added effect of her meeting me part way in the field now, too! The below video accents how calm she is when we work inside these days. Its a total non-issue now. She's so relaxed that I actually have to actively pursue asking her to power up for our sessions!
Dressage exercises to continue work on suppleness and equality to the left and right - Kind of fell off the wagon with this one. However, there was video evidencethis month of when we did work.
Lateral work - Also fell off the wagon with this one. Will continue to pursue.
Continued work with side reins - Success. She's getting much better!Video evidence is here.
Increasing her attention on me when doing at liberty/lunge work - Success! There is still much to be desired, but she is improving a lot. She's never going to be like Griffin is, but I have faith that she will settle into her own unique way of going at liberty that works for us both. Time spent working with her in this way is further evidence that not all methods work for all horses.
And, a bonus for those days I'm bored of complete structure: some experimentation with bareback/bridless - I've had three short rides on Q bareback and bridleless in the round pen. I've used a neck rope each time, but this seems to be more of a crutch for me than her. She is so responsive to requests given through my seat and legs. Its SO fun! I'll try to get a video later in January.
Continued work with side reins - Success!He is such a pro. Its so much fun to watch his increased skill with this. Video evidence.
Walk & trot consistency under saddle - Not a success,but not a fail. I just didn't get out to the barn as much as I'd hoped to pursue this much. Will continue in the future.
Walk/trot poles both during lunging and under saddle - Total flop. Didn't do this once. Will continue to pursue.
Prepping Meadows 1 for opening the following day. We had to pad out and place barrels on all manmade objects along the trail.
Walking my big red dog Clifford - otherwise known as skiing a pad down to mark trail.
Solo lift rides = gooning selfies
The pad I had to carry up the lift. Its situated in front of me. You can see my skis beneath. Carrying this thing was awkward to say the least!
Buttttt I got it on the lift just fine!
Riding up the very rarely open C-Lift. A-Lift is closed to my right.
Typical for a pretty day on top of the mountain. Sitting outside instead of in our bump shack. This was toward the end of the day when we were rallying on top in preparation for close when we need all hands on deck. We strive to always keep a minimum of 2 patrollers at the top at all times to be able to run sleds to accidents.
K lives on a neighboring property to where I keep my horses. As a result, she's essentially got horses in her backyard, though none of her own. A young (13) horse-lover with no outlet, she gave all of the horses names of her own since she didn't know their real names, and often fed them carrots and apples from the fence line that shared a property edge with her home.
Her parents began questing for her to receive lessons last year. They'd asked another of my friends, but her schedule was busier than my own. Their request died off with the onslaught of holidays and other activities that exist in life.
By the following summer though (August of this year), they were interested again in pursuing the option of getting lessons for K. K's mom, L, works with my neighbor who runs a Friesian sporthorse breeding program. My neighbor, J, had just received one of her sporthorse mares back from a former buyer who was going through a rough time. The mare had extensive training and would be great for a beginner to learn on. J asked me to come see what I thought of the mare and meet K and L to see if I would be a good match to teach K the beginnings of horseback riding.
Everything went swimmingly. K and L and I all got along well, I rode and assessed the mare and was very pleased with her. K would have the option to receive lessons on that mare at J's or on Q at my barn.
Things became very tricky with scheduling, however, and it was well over a month before we found a time in everyone's schedules to give a lesson. K is as busy or busier than I was at her age, her mom has a job that involves 12 and 24 hour shifts, I have my chaotic life that you're all familiar with.
The few days we did find to schedule in the beginning were rained out! We just couldn't catch a break!
Finally, frustrated about cancellations due to weather, the dwindling daylight that comes with autumn, and difficulties with scheduling, we opted to just do lessons on Q since it was so close to their house. (My apartment and J's are about 15 minutes away from where I keep my horses/where K and L live.)
Despite having never ridden a horse in a capacity beyond a pony ride in her life, it was obvious during the first lesson that K was a born natural rider. She has a beautifully balanced seat that immediately put my drills to test her balance in the saddle to shame.
The biggest things we've been focusing on through our sporadically scheduled lessons over the past few months have been keeping her hands quiet, her eyes up, and her heels down. As a dancer most of her life, pointing her toes up and heels down is very unnatural and uncomfortable for her right now! the other two points will improve with extended time in the saddle.
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K also has a great understanding of how to interact with horses on the ground. I have to instruct only a little before she's demonstrating concepts to me in a proper and safe way. Due to bouts with scratches the past two years, Q isn't always perfect about letting someone pick out her feet because she's associated so much bad with having them handled in a certain way. (I have very different cues with her to let her know I'm just wanting to pick her feet or trim them and not smother them with salves and cremes to treat the ouchy scratches.) As a result, I taught K the importance of picking out hooves with Griffin. She picked up what I remember to be a kind of tricky practice as a kid, very quickly. And Griffin was a doll about it.
K's asked me a few times in most recent lessons, "Will I ever be able to ride Griffin?" To which I smile because of her interest, and only respond, "I hope so, but it may be awhile! He's an unpredictable youngster right now and I'd hate to see you hit the ground because of his antics!"
Fortunately, she and Q have developed a quiet understanding. They had a rough beginning (unsteady, sloppy beginners hands with Q's sensitive mouth led to a very angry Q-mare), but once I swapped out a bit and bridle for the halter-bridle I tied, things have gone swimmingly. Walking, trotting, circles, reverse, backing. Really beautiful work between the two of them. A relaxed and attentive Q-mare, and a very happy, smiling 13 year old.
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It was with excitement that I received a text from K's mom, L, at the beginning of December which read: "SHHHH! BIG SURPRISE! We want to get K a horse for Christmas! Do you think you could help us find one? Call me later."
And with that, a flurry of searching began. The budget I was given to work with didn't allow for much wiggle room and concerned me greatly. L wanted to "get lucky" as I had with Q and Griffin, I cautioned that I'd only "gotten lucky" with them because I'd put hours and hours (and months and soon years(!)) of work into them). All of my immediate options I had in mind for a horse fell through. J's searching turned up nothing, as well.
Then, as a last ditch effort, I searched the WV Tack & Trade Facebook group for horses. NOT my first choice, obviously. People in this group routinely advertise in false and idiotic ways. While some of the animals are really flip-worthy for someone with training capabilities, finding a horse that would be patient and tolerant of a beginner isn't simple to do - especially with the budget I had to work with!
But there was one. "11 yo, registered APHA gelding. 15.3 hands, well broke. suitable to be finished in any area. Very soft and easy to ride."
While not a horse I'd chose for myself, he didn't appear to have any glaring faults from the few photos provided. So far, seemed like a potential option (and our only option!) for a horse for K.
I was going to be out of town for my primary job during the week and out of town every weekend with my second job, so I passed the contact info, ad, and photos along to J to pursue.
J's very accustomed to the wheeling and dealing associated with buying horses from her breeding facility. She's also got a good eye for obvious flaws both physically and behaviorally from having the facility she has. She and I have been a perfect team in this endeavor!
J and L were able to get out to see the horse a few weekends ago. He's got a foundation of Clinton Anderson-based training. J said he had a really kind eye and was pretty well behaved the whole time. His only issue that she noted was shuffling back and forth as his rider mounted. I told her that issue would be fairly simple to resolve. I was still a bit nervous about the whole thing since I hadn't gone myself to see the horse and look for other potential problems he may pose for a beginner rider, but I put trust in J and L and their observations. I gave them my two cents on what they'd provided me to work with and left the ultimate decision with L.
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The gentleman selling the horse ended up dropping him off for free later the next week. This startled me and scared me a little (I have such little trust in people!), but I tried to just assume he really didn't want to feed another mouth through winter.
It was another 2 days before I could get to the barn to assess the horse. When I arrived, I found a very sassy Q-mare chasing his painted ass around to keep him away from "her" friends. She's never been so adamantly against another boy before. I had to laugh.
The paint, "Gunner" for now, wouldn't let me near him. Great, I thought, issue number 1, doesn't want to be caught. Ugh. So I left him and took my two up to the barn to play with for a few hours with my friend Barbara who was visiting my horses for the first time. We played around for awhile, me showing her how I've trained them (methods new to her as she's been so disconnected from horses in recent years as she's traveled the world pursuing her passion for various ethnic music and dance).
Once Barbara left to attend to other errands, I tried again at catching Gunner. After a short 10 minutes of advance and retreat, pressure on pressure off, avoiding direct eye contact and talking softly, he and I came to an understanding and he finally let me approach and halter him. Perfect timing because L had showed up.
I began my silent assessment of Gunner immediately after haltering him. He led well, not up on top of me, nicely behind in his "box" as Mel would say ;-). If I stopped and asked him to back off me, he did. Going through the gate he yielded his hindquarters around so I could close it after him. He was a little snorty about the tractor and random equipment in odd places due to winter maintenance activities, but nothing that caused me alarm.
I tied him in the barn and L and I groomed him awhile. He was very polite about his space vs. our space the whole time. Gunner hardly flicked an ear when we put a step stool beside him to stand on to groom his back as K will have to do since he is so much taller than her (she's probably only 5' or 5'1"). Good boy! I was really pleased with this.
I had brought the electric clippers to re-clip and touch up Q's legs for scratches prevention, so I took the time to see how Gunner would respond to those, as well. He was VERY alarmed at first. Not a happy camper. With 5 minutes of patience and treats though, we had him accepting them. I was even able to clip a small bridle path on him. GOOD BOY.
Overall, I give him an A+ on his ground manners. Great disposition on the ground for a beginner to work around. I did forget to mess much with his feet other than noting that they're in pretty good condition, though will need a maintenance trim soon.
L left after the grooming session to go home and take care of a sick K. :-(
I took Gunner into the round pen after she left to see how much of this "Clinton Anderson" he knew. This is where things started to change with his behavior. I smacked the ground with the end of the lunge whip and gestured for him to move out in a counter clockwise direction. He balked violently in surprise and fear, and rushed to the gate where he considered trying to jump out. I backed off, redirected my body language, and with some effort got him to move out and in a clockwise direction.
His trot was strung out and frantic. The whites of his eyes showed as he watched me closely in fear of what I might do next. Other than gesturing to keep him moving past the gate he wanted to halt at, I softened all of my language to try to calm him.
It greatly saddened me to come across yet another (Q being the first) horse who's first cowboy trainer took what they'd "learned" from a natural horsemanship practitioner and used it in a manner to scare the horse into submission. I think Gunner will bounce back from this better than Q because his demeanor is different, but all the same, I don't like seeing this. Its exactly why training methods like that get a bad rap. I use pieces of that training, but my horses have NEVER been scared into things (obvious from videos). But I'll step away from my soapbox before I rant further...
At liberty/round pen work, I give him a B-. He tried; he never offered any rude behaviors in the slightest, just fear. And his issues are directly due to human error from what I can observe so far. With time, patience, dedication, and some love, he'll come right around, I'm sure of it!
My buddy from patrol who's been riding horses since before he could walk was in town and showed up shortly into me working Gunner in the round pen. I asked a little more of Gunner in order to end on a good note, and then unceremoniously tossed Mike onto this horse I'd barely known to test ride him on a short trail ride with Q and I. (Sorry, Mike. Haha. I wouldn't have done this if I hadn't been privy to a myriad of crazy horse stories from him earlier in the week.)
Under saddle Gunner was initially startled, but settled very quickly. He wasn't a huge fan of the ported bit I'd offered him, but he didn't do much more than chew and lip it a little bit. Mike was calm, has a phenomenal seat, and Gunner settled considerably under his guidance. He was still forward and a little prancy, but nothing crazy. He had just been uprooted a few days ago and thrust into a new life. So, all things considered, it was pretty good.
He crossed water with minimal issue, was vocal toward the other horses (who were also being spastic in the field and calling out to us the whole time), and he never broke higher than a trot - even when provided an opportunity to do so.
Mike kept him relatively calm, all things considered, and noted that Gunner didn't really have any glaring bad habits other than just being a little "up" because of the other horses. Not a perfect scenario, but definitely not bad! I'm pretty confident that with some time in this new home with his own person he's going to settle down just fine.
Before dismounting, Mike made Gunner settle and stand still for 15 seconds or so without moving an inch. Gunner was focused on the horses galloping around the field (maniacs, I tell you!), but he did stand. Good boy.
I give Gunner a B under saddle. He had a lot of try, but he was very distracted and I don't think it would have been a positive experience for an inexperienced rider. I do, however, firmly believe that with time in his new home, time with his new owner, dedication on her part, guidance from mine, and patience on the part of everyone, that he's going to be just fine for her. Mike did do a couple silly things for me while riding to see Gunner's response (primarily flopping around with his hands as if he were a beginner since this will be one of K's major issues), and he didn't care at all about those things.
Gunner isn't the absolute perfect scenario right out of the gate, but all things considered, I'm pretty pleased with the kind of horse we ended up with through this rapid process of finding something suitable.
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On Christmas Eve, I was released from work 3 hours early. This gave me time to head out to the barn to bring in my guys and feed them and blanket them (Hello 12 degrees with 15-20mph winds! Also, my two have bib clips through the winter because of the work I have them in and lack of time to help them cool out after dark...) AND to bring Gunner in to prep him for K.
Griffin saw me drive up and took no time to leave the round bale across the field and come to the gate to be let in for his food. Q and Gunner I had to fetch for myself.
Mud puppy. OMG. Gunner's a mud puppy. In the worst way! I feared the worst as I fetched him from the field.
Despite his dirty appearance though, I was impressed that he let me catch him with no chase. Good boy. And then, despite being led in alongside a mare who was having NONE of him, he was sweet as could be. Q was doing her best bitchy mare face, and that gelding, bless his heart, just plodded along behind her keeping what distance he could. Good man, good man.
Once in the barn with grain in front of all three horses, I brushed and brushed and brushed. And choked on the dust. And then I said screw it, and I gave Gunner a very brief bath of sorts with some cold-ass water to get off the awful wet mud he'd recently rolled in. It was a huge improvement, but still not awesome.
I'd planned to braid his tail with ribbons and do his mane in hunter braids. He would have none of the mane braiding. He wasn't rude at all about it though. He let me stand on the step stool (tall ass horse!) and braid, but if I pulled tight in any way on the braid he'd lower his head slowly, steadily, to sneak away from me. If I stepped back from him to grab more bands, he'd take that time to rub, rub, rub on those already in. I decided it probably wasn't a good idea to take the time to put them in at that point and just opted for the tail braid with ribbon.
My horses had been inside this whole time, they ate their grain and then patiently watched and waited as I fussed with Gunner. I did this on purpose because 1.) its good for them to have to stand in this manner and 2.) it allowed them to dry off from the snow that had melted on them enough that I could put their blankets on for the night. I tossed their blankets on, secured them, and turned them out.
Cue Gunner spazzing. He was super unhappy to be all alone! L messaged me then, to say she was leaving work to head to get her hubby and K to bring her over for the big surprise. I messaged back to say I'd stick around as long as I could (I had a previous commitment to be at my folks' house) to keep Gunner calm.
I ran out to the field to fetch Griffin again and bring him in to help keep Gunner calm while we waited. It seemed that I would indeed be able to be present for the surprise after all! With Griffin's presence, Gunner settled down immediately.
I began the waiting game.
I knew J was coming, too, and I saw her car pull up as I was sweeping the tack room (because cleaning is good for when you're nervous!) and went out to greet her only to find L and her hubby and K were all there, too! Oh!!
I called a quick greeting and muttered something about the weather. J called out that she was here to check on Eli (the Friesian sporthorse...rude horse from previous post...) for his owner (J bred Eli years and years ago). She also said that she was going to watch K's "lesson", the ruse her parents had put in place to surprise her with Gunner.
I headed back into the barn and then....well, here, I'll just let you see for yourselves.
And the view from J's phone:
K was so in shock. And so happy. So blissfully happy.
I hung around for a bit to watch her with him, to take photos with my phone, and to help her a little as she played with him as her dad directed. He was following her happily around the ring and stopping when she stopped, going when she was going, but he was stopping a bit too close to her. Almost running into her.
I really had to book it to my folks' place, but I took a moment to demonstrate that she needed to be more firm with her request, loud with her body language, and if he didn't listen needed to back him up.
Its hard to be "mean" to an animal you want to love you - it took me a month to crack down on Griffin when I got him - but good glory is it beyond worth it! You gain more trust and built a FAR better relationship with them for it! SO worth it. And, aside from that trust and that relationship we all strive for, you gain a very respectful horse who is less likely to bowl you over in a bad situation (absolutely KEY when you're around an animal so much bigger than yourself)!
This surprise made my Christmas. It was amazing to be a part of it. I'm thankful, I'm happy for K, and I'm excited for what the future will bring for her.
I hope you've all enjoyed following along with this little Christmas surprise as much as I have enjoyed being a part of it.
Merry Christmas to each of you and your animals. I hope your holidays are bright and wish you the best of all the winter wishes!
I'd like to take this post to share my experience with - and love for - my ski patrol job. My experiences and duties are unique to my mountain and the east coast, but you'll find many similarities to other mountains and resorts across the country and other regions. The comeraderie and dedication this group contains is present everywhere.
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(Ignore my finger to the left) Gooning with the drill on our way up the lift
I love my second job. I love the job duties, I love the mountain, but most of all I love all of the people I work with. They're hard-working, driven, and fun-loving. It is a really great dynamic to be around so much.
Our days start with boot-up around 7:30a. We're on the lift and headed up the mountain by 8a. This gives us an hour to assess all of the trails to determine what should be opened and what shouldn't; what man-made objects need marked, padded, protected, or moved; what conditions are like for individual slopes; what signage needs to be placed around the mountain on trails and at lifts; determining whether or not the snow cats may be out grooming out man-made snow that was blown over night; and what weather conditions are expected to be so we can further predict things we'll need to do throughout the day.
Morning sweep to check trail markings and protection.
The mountain opens by 9a. The lifts are open for ski schoolers, courtesy patrollers, and the general public.
Depending on the day, we may have further "farm" work to do once the mountain is open. If they've blown a lot of snow and groomed it out on a trail that we haven't opened yet but will soon be able to open, we head out to mark obstacles with bamboo poles, build pop-fence as guardrails along steep edges, pad out any poles or snow guns, and put up necessary signage. Its sometimes strenuous work (i.e.; digging out pop-fence that has been buried in man-made snow is TOUGH - add a snow gun that is actively blowing snow on you while you're doing this and it becomes a whole new realm!), but its totally worth it.
We all have radios on us at all times while we're on the mountain working. The radios connect us to what is going on no matter where we are on the mountain. If something needs done (farm work, helping out a customer, responding to an accident) we're able to respond in a quick, timely manner.
Ages of folks on our patrol range from 18 to folks in their 70s. Many
are medical professionals in their "other" life off-mountain. There is SO much experience in so many different realms. There is always information to glean from one another as we spend time together. The wealth of information available for me to learn is incredible.
A lot of days, we spend time honing our rescue skills in some manner or another.We practice ways to sling, swath, splint, and package injuries we may be presented with. We discuss hypothetical scenarios and what you would do "if this happened". We discuss differences in old and new ways to do things. We practice methods that, while improved upon in recent years, are still valuable to know "just in case" a crazy situation occurs.
Honing skill with a new tool
We share new ideas and methods for potentially improving our efficiency in a big situation. We discuss, we bicker, we expound upon a myriad of potential methods for any given situation. And, of course, we goof off some. But the beauty of the type of person that ends up in this position is that despite our innate ability to be silly, with a few key words over a radio transmission everyone flows into action, fulfilling critical roles that need to be filled like a well-oiled machine.
We spend a lot of time working on our ski skills. Its one of my favorite aspects of patrol - free skiing lessons! I'm always working on something and gaining instruction from some of the best available. Its not always easy, it often makes me sore, but damn is it worth it! Its worth it on a personal level because my abilities grow with each passing day on the mountain, but its also worth it for work. When a call comes across the radio about an incident you need to get to QUICKLY, you can get yourself there in a quick, efficient, safe manner because of the skills you've been bestowed with.
Lounging in the sun at the top of the mountain on a pretty day; ready to fly into action at a moment's notice.
In addition to ski skills, we work a lot on our skills with a toboggan (sled) because on our mountain we take injured folks to the aid room in a sled not via snowmobile or some other method (once at the aid room further transport is arranged if the case warrants it). We've got specific ski skills we utilize for when you're in the handles of the toboggan. Its absolutely critical to learn, practice, and hone these skills often. Getting someone off the mountain quickly and efficiently is CRUCIAL.
Every year we take time to train new, interested folks to do all of the above. Their time with us begins in the summer months pursuing the required Outdoor Emergency Care Technician training, a 180 hour program that is similar to Basic EMT training. The candidates spend every other weekend from August to December learning and practicing skills and concepts. If they pass the test (written and practical) in December, they spend another several months on the mountain with us every weekend honing their ski and toboggan skills in conjunction with their first aid and rescue skills.
One of the most enjoyable perks to the job, aside from everything mentioned above, is first and last run on the mountain each day. Days I get to spend watching the sun rise and set on this mountain are some of my favorites. Canaan Valley is a beautiful location.
If you think you'd like to join Nat'l Ski Patrol, look into what options may be around you. Its an incredible group of people wherever you go. The start of it is a time commitment, but the end result is more than worth it. You'll meet some of the most amazing people you've ever come across, challenge yourself in ways you'd never dreamed, overcome things you never thought you would, and have the time of your life.
I've met a lot of new folks via blogging in the last few months. I'm enjoying catching up on the high points in your lives through posts like these that are beginning to crop up with the end of the year. I hope you enjoy catching up on my old pursuits, too!
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Starting the day the right way on the mountain with the National Anthem
Blankenting during the continual wet or sub-30 degree-all-day-cold days this year since both horses have slight clip jobs. Tail clamping and shivering is happening by ALL horses in the field on the days when its cold, windy, and rains all day.
December: December has become a whirlwind of activity for me. I'm back to working 7 days a week between my ski patrol job and my biologist position. I've gone on multiple 5-7 day stints without seeing the horses due to the intensity of winter that set in so quickly + being busy with jobs. I did celebrate 3 years of blogging. Both Q and Griffin are making progress with work in side reins though. I did get out in the frigid cold to do a 15 mile training ride with a friend and her daughter on their horses. But mostly its been snow and skiing and accepting that its okay to take a bit of a break.