Monday, April 15, 2019

Over Exuberant

Lauren joined me yesterday for a fast 10-mile ride on the rail trail with Q and Griffin. It was a warm, rainy day that was surprisingly comfortable - even in a sleeveless shirt. The weather was perfect for a faster paced ride because the rain/clouds helped keep the horses cooler in their halfway state of shedding that nasty winter coat in favor of cooler summer attire.

Griffin was more "up" than he'd been in weeks under saddle. He's always such a lazy thing this time of year as he sheds. As a result, I greet the days he's full of himself with open arms. It's infinitely more fun to ride a forward, willing partner! From the moment we left the property, he was in front of my leg, eager, and interested in the work at hand. I put him in front to lead, his favorite place.

I've heard yellow socks are in this year......

We trotted the first 4 miles, gradually increasing our speed as the horses warmed up. At the 4-mile mark, I pushed Grif up into our first canter set of the day. I couldn't help but smile as he moved out with ease, pleased with both his eagerness to move out. As he settled into the canter, ears forward and happy, he seemed to only get stronger. His cadence didn't change, but it did become more powerful as we traveled down the trail. It was a complete joy to ride.

I brought him back to a trot as we approached the spot on the trail he always spooks (sheds are real scary, y'all). I turned to check on Lauren and Q to see how the little mare handled the fast pace* after we'd slowed to a trot. Lauren noted that she seemed just fine! Breathing a little heavier than she does at a trot, but nothing crazy at all.

*Q is always the slowest to shed her winter coat and has had an exceptionally hard time with our early, warm spring this year. I finally bib clipped her last week when her shedding stalled out. The clip seems to have been just what she needed, and I'm so happy to see her tackling things with ease again.


At the 5-mile mark, we turned and headed back, Q in the lead and Grif following. Lauren rode the little mare expertly as she powered forward in her gorgeous 10+ mph trot. It's always such a joy for me to watch others ride that little horse. She's so very athletic and places each foot with such care. I swoon every time I watch her.

As we reached the first big ½-mile straightaway on our return, I told Lauren, "If you're comfortable pushing her into a canter, feel free!" And they were off like a shot!

What was a canter quickly became a lovely gallop. I smiled at my little mare striding forward with happy ears. But I was only able to enjoy this scene for a moment before Grif devolved into what I can only describe as something akin to an over-exuberant frat boy trying to impress all of his best buds.

See, Grif has always had Opinions about being the "last" horse. As a youngster on group trail rides, he would immediately crumble in a grunty/squealy fit of [the most polite] crow hopping. He isn't actively trying to unseat his rider, but he very much wants that person to be aware of his Feelings about being last. Put him into second from last position and he immediately quits his shenanigans.

Looking so innocent post-ride.

When Q struck off, it took mere seconds before Grif fell heavy onto the forehand and into the bridle in an effort to charge forward to keep up and pass Q. As she sped up, so did he, and his excitement over it all got the best of him.

Grif: ERMAHGERD! ZOOMIES! I'M GONNA WIN THIS RACE! THIS IS THE. BEST. *tosses in a small wiggly buck*
Me: *growling* GRIFFIN. STOP. THAT. RIGHT. NOW. *tries (and fails) to get him regain any semblance of balance and sit back on his hind end*
Grif: NEVER! I AM THE WORLD'S FASTEST AND GREATEST AND MOST AWESOME. HOLD MY BEER AND WATCH! *performs more small airs above the ground in complete excitement*
Grif: IT IS THE MOST FUN! HAVE I SHOWN YOU THIS ONE? *lunging twisting something* WASN'T THAT AWESOME?!
Grif: *throws in a particularly large (for him) buck*

Lauren slowed down at this point, a bit alarmed by my screeching. Grif, who did slow to a trot, took this moment to prance merrily in front of Q, where he continued to lead us down the trail like a little gentleman now that he was in his preferred leading position.


He really wasn't trying to unseat me. He was just so very excited about the whole situation. And as scared/angry as I was that I was about to possibly hit the turf at 20 mph because my horse simply could not even, I was equally amused by it all. He's such a freaking dork.

We had two more canter (truly canter and not gallop) sets before our cool down. Grif was lovely for everything - even when Q took the lead. Maybe my squawking stuck with him? I'd like to think so. lol

Both horses cooled out quickly on the last leg of the ride and were completely pulsed down by the time we pulled their saddles. We let them enjoy a few minutes of grazing in the barnyard before turning them back out with the herd... whence Grif galloped off to the herd as if he hadn't just tackled a fast 90 minute ride. Ridiculous boy.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Power of Praise

My late-winter into spring has afforded me with ride after wonderful ride on Q. From our first solo off-property ride in ages where Q tackled an easy 8 miles on the rail trail in 75 minutes with nary a spook (despite many oddities on the trail that day!), to circuit training rides on our home property (where she manages to hunker down and work for significant spurts of time without trying to bee-line back to her herd!), and several more rail trail rides with and without company - Q has absolutely excelled.

During and after each ride, I find myself grinning ear to ear. I'm just so freaking pleased with how the little mare is doing. Our relationship has reached a new level of understanding and improved communication.

As much as I give Q credit for all of this, I recognize that I've also done a lot of work to get to this point, and I'm proud of myself for that.

All smiles during a 10 mile ride with Q to celebrate closing on the land

See, until 2011 my experience with horses was relatively limited. I lessoned through my elementary and middle school years and transitioned to riding friends' horses (always on the trail) through high school and college. While I fit in a ton of time and miles riding, I seriously lacked substantial education/training beyond how to ride a horse in a relatively balanced manner at various speeds over all sorts of terrain.

The majority of horses I rode in my youth were chill, solid citizens, who really didn't need a lot of input from me in the way of verbal communication. Even when they were green horses, they were usually relaxed and easy to work with due to the nature of their environments and the easy-going people who interacted with them on the daily. Lucky for me in many ways, but also not so much because I didn't get to expand my understanding/education until later in life.

I was 17, Stan was 5. I loved dragging down and dead logs into a pile in the woods and then would simply
point-n-shoot Stan at them, give a cluck and a nudge with my heels and off we'd go!

Even with Stan, who was a green 4 year old when we met in my high school years, communication was almost entirely nonverbal. His quiet temperament lent itself well to this. We each provided input to one another about speed and direction as we explored and gallivanted over mountains in the middle of nowhere. While there were disagreements from time to time, we learned to trust one another on a level that I haven't yet found with another horse - and honestly may never again because the naive trust of a teenager isn't exactly easy to come by after a certain point in one's life!

When I finally got my first horse (Orion) in 2011, I carried on much the way I had with those early horses. I didn't talk much, if ever, to him. But later, as Griffin and then Q came into my life in 2012, my nonverbal methods weren't as successful as they had been. I had a Very Green horse and a Very Sensitive Mare in my life on an intimate level for the first time. Obviously, a lot had to change to find success.

Of all the things I have changed with regard to training and interacting with horses in these past 7 years (and I have learned so very much!), an increase in verbal communication has made the biggest difference. In particular, verbal praise.

20170709 Grif Dressage Tests-47
A listening ear on me for his "good boy" after our very first dressage test ever.

Griffin and Q absolutely thrive on spoken praise. "Good boy/girl" and "good job" are things I say all the time these days. And you know what? The tough training moments don't seem as tough as they once were now that I've unlocked this little tidbit. When my horses are uncertain about what the right answer is, I dole out praise as quickly and frequently as necessary. Their ears flick back to me and their bodies relax with each repetition.

Griffin's level of try is directly proportional to the amount of praise he receives. Q's level of relaxation and confidence is directly proportional to the amount of praise I give her. And I anticipate that the more confidence this mare builds, the more try she will offer me in the future.

I wish I had learned the power of praise and verbal communication earlier in my time with horses, but it is what it is. I'm grateful I've learned what I have and that I am implementing those lessons now. Beyond that, I am so very grateful for patient horses who haven't murdered me as I fumbled along in my journey.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Lean Spring

I've reached a point where my drafts outnumber my number of published posts for the year. I get so close to publishing a post, only to have something change that makes the post a moot point so I drop it in favor of another. It's a negative feedback loop that really doesn't benefit much and it's high time I pull myself out of it.

The high elevation areas of West Virginia have finally emerged into spring weather. It appears, for now, that we may even be skipping out on our typical big April snowstorm. There's still time, but it certainly isn't looking likely with the extended forecasts. Can't say I'm too upset.

Catching snowballs.

Winter, despite being mild all things considered, was hard on my horses. I've never been more excited for spring grass and the impending certainty of having complete control over their diets.

The hay at our boarding facility was of a dreadful quality this year. I've done what I can to mitigate, but to no great avail. Each horse is a solid 75lbs underweight this spring, though each has gained a considerable amount from my efforts!

This past weekend I took all three to the annual vaccine clinic. Each horse received a clean bill of health with a note that each needed 50-75lbs. Definitely not a surprise to hear!

Originally, I had hoped to take Q to No Frills later this month for our first competition since August 2016. Her conditioning has been going well and her body condition looks better by the week, though I will admit she's still a bit leaner than I've come to prefer. Ultimately, I decided that I'd see what the vet had to say at the clinic before making a decision on the ride.

While my vet agreed Q looked great fitness-wise, she didn't think that her weight was where it needed to be to tackle 55 miles in 2 weeks time. She said the 30 would be a better option. However, with a limited budget for horse competitions, I would rather reallocate the money toward a different 50 in the future. If I want to ride an LD distance, I can easily plan one on similar terrain on my own time.

So for now, I'll continue to pump Q (and the boys) full of as many calories as I can and maintain their fitness. Or, haha, in the case of Stanley, bring him back into some semblance of fitness!


Stan, who celebrated his 18th birthday Sunday, has had a very lovely winter of nothing more than a few toodling rides here and there. This suits him just perfectly, if you ask him! A life of grooming, feeding, and cuddles is his definition of Best Life. He's trying to make sure I don't forget this either by increasing his cuddles daily and doing his best to keep Grif and Q away from me so he gets All of the Love. It's sort of adorable. But sadly for Stanley, his life of bliss is about to disappear in favor of legging him back up to trail fitness. Definitely not a hard life.

Ribby with struggling topline = the state of all of my horses coming out of winter this year. Sigh.

Grif has been in light work most of the winter. I haven't been putting him under too much pressure since we don't have any competition goals in the near future. We're still going through the paces though and have been practicing a lot of dressage tests lately. I like that they help me to structure my rides better and he seems to appreciate me riding with so much purpose and direction (I don't blame him)!

Our biggest winter homework was to get him moving off my leg better. He's a lot better than he was a few months ago, though we certainly need more practice. Hopefully we get a lesson scheduled before barn building begins to get more feedback & homework.

As for barn construction, I closed on the land March 28th and am now in a waiting period until mid-late May when we're slated to break ground! It's both wonderful and horrible. Wonderful because it's nice to have this time to relax and not fuss over anything. Horrible because I'm eager and excited to bring the horses HOME, haha.

Bring me home. Put me in my fancy barn. Feed me the things. Make me pretty. -Q, probably
Soooo excited for a dry lot so her socks don't get so dreadfully mud stained next winter!

I do still need to submit my plans to the HOA architectural committee, and I hope to get this taken care of within a week's time. My HOA president assured me it wouldn't take the allotted 30 days to review it, so I'm not too stressed about it all. Once my husband finalizes the drawings, I'll have everything I need to submit. Though this is easier said than done because in some regards, Dave is being more nit-picky about the building than I am! Which makes me giggle a bit.

Currently, he's trying to decide how he wants the siding to be. Originally, we were going to go with a hardyplank-type material, but now he thinks he'd rather do white oak board and batten like our house so the structures can match. (Yes, we're very lucky to live in an area where white oak is so easy to come by!) I honestly don't give a damn what is selected as long as it looks nice! Fortunately, Dave's attention to detail guarantees it will look nice no matter what, so I don't have much to worry about.

King on his throne 

It's going to be a summer full of big changes in the best way. I'm eager for more warm days and nights into the future to facilitate these happenings. And I dunno, maybe also a summer of normal rainfall instead of another record breaking year? That would be nice. Fingers crossed!