Another Windy Day

chasing a life in the high desert

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

New Shoes

Well, okay, new feet anyhow! Zeke got his very first hoof trim this week. But first things first.

On Wednesday morning, Zeke went through his routine perfectly. He lunged with his head tied, and he found the balance quickly and held his head correctly without fighting. He also ground drove wonderfully, turning in both directions and moving forward in a relaxed way. So we decided to go up to the wood arena and drive in a bigger space, without the rail to guide us.

As with everything else we’ve done, it went really nicely…for a while. We worked at one end of the arena, getting comfortable in the new space, then we started working our way up the railing to the other end. Zeke did well, but after a while he started getting testy, like he wanted to stop. I turned him to the right, his least favorite direction, and suddenly he had a fit. He refused to go, and when I chased him with the rope behind, he went backwards, not forwards, and promptly got tangled in the ropes. He then proceeded to spin around until I had no rope left to hold, and I was forced to let him go.

He ran like a maniac, dragging his ropes, so I picked up the lunge whip and encouraged him to keep going when he tried to rest. If he was going to run free, I was at least going to make it look like it was my idea! When I let him stop, he let me catch him, and we went straight back to work. 

Going right, he tried the trick again, but this time I got him – I was able to move him forward and keep his head tipped right so that he couldn’t back up on me. But then it happened again, and he won again, turning the rope so tight I had nothing to hold. So this time after getting caught, we went back to the roundpen.

Once there, I drove him to the right for another 15 minutes or so, and every time he tried to duck out I forced him forward. We ended that session when he no longer fussed, he got sponged, and stood tied while I rode my horse Slim. Then he got to go home in disgrace. 😦

That afternoon I got him out again, and tied his head to the right, as a reminder that if the bit is pulled right, he must follow his nose! He did fine with that, so we drove again. Again, no problem, so we went back to the wood arena.

This time everything went just fine. Zeke didn’t offer to pull away and run off, and we were able to work all around the arena, and through and between barrels and blocks. A much better afternoon!

Then Thursday was the big day for Zeke: Hoof trim time! Josh Dittmer showed up around 2 with his truck, and I led Zeke into the barn. Josh was really patient with Zeke, patting him and getting to know him a bit before going to work. 

And Zeke did great with it all!

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It turned out he had some great little hooves under there, Josh said they were in good shape despite the overdue trim. He made a little display of the clippings for me:

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I think he’s about 2 inches shorter now!

Today, Friday, we had time for another short workout in the roundpen, but the arena was being used so we never got to go back there. Even though he was good the last time we were in there, it would be really scary if I tried to drive him while people rode, especially if he got loose again! 

So instead, he stood tied while I helped Cindy feed, and then we got the pink and yellow chick flag of spring out for the walk home. Cristina was on hand to snap a few pictures for us.

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It IS NOT for eating!

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Zeke says: Could you PLEASE pay attention?!

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I also measured him today with the leveling stick – he is a solid 14.1 hands!

The next few days my work schedule won’t allow me any time for a real workout, so we’ll be back at it Tuesday. The plan is for more driving in the arena, and then outside the arena. I’m going to try to ride after that – scheduling has become tough, but I need to have at least five days in a row once I start to ride, for things to sink in. We’ll get there!

Wildlife (or Wild life!)

Tonight after work I turned Zeke out in the wood arena for the first time. He had a great time, finally getting to take off and do what he wanted. He ran quite a bit, sniffed horse poop a lot, and chewed on the wooden cavalettis until I made him move on. I have still never seen him actually roll – he lays down in his pen, but I don’t know if he gets the idea of rolling yet. But he did have a good time.

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On my way home, I got really lucky. There’s a house on one of the corners near where I live that’s empty. It used to have someone living in it, there was always a bunch of junk in the yard and they had one of those big metal storage containers sitting on a cement pad. Then one day a couple years ago, it was all gone – the people, the mess, and the container. Just the house and cement pad left. A couple days after it emptied out, I was driving past and saw what I thought was a horrible thing – it looked as though the people had left their little dogs behind! I saw what I thought were chihuahuas on the cement pad, so I stopped to get a better look.

It was a kit fox! A kit fox, and her babies, hanging out in the evening light on the cement. I watched a minute and saw them disappear underneath the pad eventually. It was adorable.

I saw them in the early mornings and evenings after that day, until about the middle of summer. Once I drove by at night, and saw the little eyes reflected back that told me they were venturing further from home. Then one day they were gone.

Last spring, they returned. Mom and a new litter – I checked for them every time I went by, wishing I had a camera with a decent zoom. Well – this year I got one! As I drove home tonight, I peeked into the yard, and there they were, what looked like an adult pair. So I drove to the stop sign on the corner, stopped, and got out my camera. Then I cruised slowly around the corner on the shoulder of the road, the passenger window rolled down. Luckily no one else was around – I didn’t want to be a traffic hazard but mainly I always double-check for people before I linger in front of them. I don’t want people who would mess with them to see them there.

It turns out the whole family was out – mom, dad, and three babies! I never even saw the third one until I downloaded my pictures, and the second one was mainly a pair of ears. Anyhow, see for yourself:

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If you’d like to see them larger, check out my Flickr site. Here’s the link to the foxes [ http://www.flickr.com/photos/deserttrailrider/sets/72157629530204870/ ], but I have tons of pictures there, from the zoo where I work to other animal and horse photos. Of course, there’s a bunch more of Zeke’s turnout too! [ http://www.flickr.com/photos/deserttrailrider ].

The Good, The Bad, The Fabulous

It was a week of all of the above. Zeke continues to learn very quickly, but he continues to test his limits a lot, too. But all in all, he’s doing fabulously.

We are still ground driving in the big roundpen, this week I put some sports boots on him on Wednesday, which he totally ignored. Some horses make a big deal shaking their feet, but he was cool with them.

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What he is not cool with is the whole “pulling on the reins to go a way I don’t want to go” thing. He is still not quite a believer, as Cindy would say. He’s improving, for sure; this week we were able to turn figure eights through the center of the roundpen and increase and decrease the circumference of our circle. But every time it gets to a point where he just doesn’t wanna do it, he fights. His go-to move is the front feet – kicking out and this week, even rearing up a little. On Wednesday he insisted on turning the opposite way I asked, reared up and got the rope around his hind legs, and actually fell back on his butt for a second! Sadly for him, I was still holding the reins, so when he got up he still had to go the way I asked, but first he had to find a way out of the tangled ropes he made! Luckily he’s smart enough to do that, and after we got settled, we could relax again while I played around climbing all over him.

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We also took a walk up in the wooden arena for the first time, and encountered many new toys (none of which, sadly, turned out to be for eating). He is definitely curious about new things, rather than afraid, which is great!

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After our Wednesday workout, Zeke has his very first rinse off! He was quite suspicious – not of the hose, or the noise it made, but he wanted to be sure I wasn’t washing him down with acid. He leaned as far from the spray as possible, but when his skin didn’t dissolve, he thought it wasn’t so bad after all.

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Thursday’s workout found Zeke packing a new friend along:

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You may not believe me, but I hung this raincoat over the rail as I saddled Zeke, so he’d get used to seeing it. Then I placed it on the saddle, buttoning the top button over the horn so it wouldn’t slip. I went to get his bridle, and when I got back, the raincoat was hanging over the railing again. Seriously. He is smart. I decided I’d better tie it on while he worked!

We spent a good long time ground driving, while Zeke looked for new ways to be rid of my influence. He did the rear again. He started anticipating that if I drove through the center, he was going to be asked to turn the other way. So he just started turning on his own – which meant I had to start driving him through without turning, so he’d learn to wait. I appreciate his intelligence, but he’s supposed to wait to be asked! Once he headed right for a white block I set in the arena to drive around, and when I didn’t turn him he hopped up, all four feet off the ground! Unfortunately his raincoat friend didn’t stay with him there, and he had to deal with it hitting the ground. But he handled it all, and all in all had a great day.

After roundpen, he got to have his feet handled by one of our riders, Art. He needed some practice letting guys pick up his feet, because next week is going to be his first hoof trim!

After hoof practice, we walked into and out of stalls and tack rooms in the barn, and since he followed me so willingly, we walked on down to Helen’s trailer, too. And you know what? He followed me right in, and backed out when asked, like he’d been doing it all his life. In fact, he did it better than a lot of horses who have been doing it all their lives! Considering the only time he’s been in a trailer he’s been rounded up and run in, I was quite impressed!

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So a pretty big week for me and Zeke (that rhymed!)

I think another week of driving is appropriate before actual riding – he needs to truly believe that I am right in any situation, and he should unquestioningly follow my direction, not rear, not get frustrated, not run off, and not make his own choices. And that’s a lot to ask of anyone! So we’ll see how he does for the next week while I drive him both in and out of the pen – we do have to start driving around the ranch once I can trust him to listen to me and not run. Then we’ll make some plans for his first 5 days of riding.

Oh – and I was not a finalist in the writing contest. What can you do, right?

Distractions

Not everything goes as planned, but with horses, you do learn to focus on what’s in front of you and nothing else. It’s actually a great thing, to be absorbed. To get wrapped up in exactly what you’re doing exactly when you’re doing it, and not get distracted by what happened somewhere else, what could happen later, or what you wish would happen anytime. Horses are amazingly helpful at creating that state of mind.

I’ve been distracted all day. I entered a story I wrote (and I mean a 120,000 word novel, not a little story) in a literary agent’s writing contest a month ago. The judges have been reading and considering and narrowing the field – but not telling the participants who’s been weeded out. Today was supposed to be the announcement – who made the final round before the winner is chosen. I have been checking that website all day, reading the teasing updates she’s been leaving to torture the 404 contest entrants. She STILL hasn’t listed the finalists. It’s not that I expect to be one, out of so many entrants, but then, I kinda do, you know?

Anyway, I left work obsessing over this contest, and headed to the barn. Yesterday it poured rain, so Zeke didn’t get a follow-up to his ground driving, so I thought today I’d ‘squeeze’ it in. But not everything goes as planned.

Blame it on the cool weather, or anything you want, but the truth is Zeke just wasn’t with me today. He was really…distracted. He spooked while leading, he looked around while being groomed – who knows. I took him to the big roundpen to try ground driving there. Luckily I also brought the lunge rope to warm him up first, because he ran like a maniac.

After the rain we had, the dressage court next to us got a nice tractoring, so the dirt was all swirled up and nice and dark and fresh. I think that was what he was using for an excuse, since he kept running faster away from it and hesitating going towards it. Since ground dirt is always going to happen, I couldn’t accept that excuse, and we lunged a lot longer than I had planned. I started to get a little stressed, because it was my plan to ground drive, not lunge! I didn’t want to be here all night long!

But I knew what to do. As with any good instructor or trainer, I could hear Cindy’s voice in my head, even though she wasn’t there. Is he paying attention to you or just looking around? Is he working well? If not, get his attention, make him work!

So I concentrated on what I was seeing in front of me – I stopped worrying about my ‘plan’. If he went faster in one spot than another, I made him keep the same faster pace all the way round. If he offered to slow down I relaxed my posture and let him, but if he sped up again I pushed him to keep moving. And just like magic, he was suddenly there. His head tipped in towards me, his pace slowed – you could see him focus. It didn’t even take all night! So I decided to do the driving after all.

I hooked him up, and as I started driving in the big pen, he started the same worried running around again. I pulled on those reins to slow him, and he ran through me – and again, the voice in my head kicked in. What was the point of standing there hauling on his face and NOT being able to slow him? Did I want to teach him it was OK to plow through my hand? No. So again I gave up my plan. I dropped the ground drive reins, and went back to lunging until he relaxed, which he did fairly quickly. Then I told him he was good and picked up the reins again.

And you know, it worked. Was he as pokey and relaxed and easy as he was the other day? No – this was definitely a new day. But even though he seemed a bit more wound up, he listened to my cues. He turned when I asked him, he stopped when I asked him (without hauling on the reins, thank you!). When we were done, he stood like a quiet gentleman, like he always does,waiting for time to go back to his pen. All in all, it was a good learning day.

I’m glad I took that time to work Zeke. I was completely focused on him and what he needed, and we made progress. So now I guess I’ll go back to waiting, because the finalists for the writing contest have not been announced yet…

Ground Driving

Zeke and I spent most of this week reviewing lunging and tying his head around so he learns to follow his nose – all in preparation for what we started today. Ground Driving! Here’s a picture of the head tying, so you can get an idea what that’s about:

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With the above, I would tie his head to one side, then ask him to move with a cluck or a snap of the lunge whip. When he tried to move, he’d feel the pull of the reins on his bit, asking him to go to one side. As long as he gave in to the pull, it wouldn’t keep pulling – so by doing this to each side of his body, he teaches himself the correct way to respond to a rein being pulled sideways. That’s important, of course, because when you’re riding him, you want him to know that a pull to the side means ‘turn’ – not “jerk you head, have a fit, and run away from it” – which is often a first response! But he learned this very well over the week.

Yesterday after his session, I pulled out a flag. It was very windy, and the flag rippled and crackled in the wind. I wanted him to get used to the noise, but of course when I held it up all he wanted to know was whether he could eat it! He had no fear, so I walked him back to his pen with the flag held over our heads, sometimes letting it drag on his rump. He didn’t care, but a lot of the domestic horses we walked past got startled!

So that bring us to today. Today I attached the ground driving rope to Zeke. It’s a very long rope that clips to his bit on one side, runs through a ring at the side of the saddle, and loops back to attach the same way of the other side. The purpose it to lunge the horse, but hold the long rope and start using your hands the same way you would from his back – you can pull back gently on the reins when you ask him to stop, and pull one rein to ask him to turn. By lunging at all gaits and asking for frequent stops and turns, your horse gets more prepared for signals from a real rider!

We moved back to the small round pen for his first day, because it’s easier to maintain control in a small space. Cindy suggested that I connect the reins then ask him to move and ‘drag’ them, before I took hold. That way when the rope jiggled across his butt or touched his hind legs, he could figure it out without me trying to hang on. It was good advice, but in the end unnecessary, because Zeke never kicked or fussed about the rope dragging around him! I was proud of his patience.

So then I took the reins, and we started working at all the gaits, with me asking him with the same “whoa” I’ve been using to ask him to stop, then right after I say the word, I applied pressure to both reins to signal the stop. Whenever I wanted to turn, I’d shorten the outside rein and loosen the inside one, so he could follow it to the new direction. He got ‘stuck’ once or twice, not wanting to turn then deciding it was the only way out of his situation (good for him!), but for the most part, he got the idea and was very responsive!

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...and whoa…

He was such a good boy, and Cindy once again reminded me that I was going to be in trouble if I don’t stay on my toes, because he is very smart!

After his workout, Zeke stood tied for a while, and got a grooming. And I decided that since he’s wearing a bridle consistently now, he should have a little bridlepath. That’s the portion of the horse’s mane directly behind the ears, where the bridle sits. It’s commonly shaved flat, to make pulling the bridle and halter on and off easier, without getting all tangled up in hair. Of course, I didn’t want to wreck his gorgeous thick mane, so I just made a small path. And he stood for the noisy clippers as though they’d always been used on him! He wasn’t worried a bit.

The Big Time

Yep, Zeke hit the big time this week! Not only have we walked all over the ranch without any fussing or trying to run, we have started holding our lunging sessions down in the big roundpen!

On Tuesday afternoon as I was tacking Zeke up, Kristen came by and said hi with her 2 year old son, Nathan. Well, Nathan knows where the ‘Little Red Wagon’ hides between the tack rooms, and he got it out and started dragging it around. It makes a serious metallic rattling noise as it rolls along, so of course Zeke was scared and distracted by it. So…we borrowed it from Nathan and walked it up to Zeke.

He did OK with it, not sure what the point of it was and still suspicious – then Kristen came up and placed a handful of fresh alfalfa into it! I untied Zeke, and as Kristen pulled the wagon, we followed. When he got curious, we stopped, and he found the hay.

So long, troubled times, I see food in this thing!

He never worried about it again, and when I walked him back to his stall at the end of our day, I pulled it alongside us, just for reinforcement. He didn’t mind, except that the boring old thing had no food left in it.

On Wednesday: The big roundpen is easily twice the size of the one we’ve been working in, and it’s located in the front of the ranch. So Zeke gets to watch cars pull in and out, and see other horses being ridden in the arena up the slope from us or right next door in the dressage court. He was curious about those distractions, but not obsessed with them.

For our first session in that pen, Zeke got excited at all the room – he trotted quickly and when I asked for canter he took off running! Normally I have to remind him to continue moving at the gait he’s in until asked to stop; today he cantered several times around without hesitation! Of course once he realized that first canter wasn’t the end, he was a little sorry – he tired himself out! But he worked very well the rest of the time, even with his reins tied tighter than they have been before, and even with Frisk and Suzette coming to work in the dressage court.

After lunging, I repeated my ‘climb on the railing and lay over you’ routine, and added some ‘side saddle’ sitting today. Zeke didn’t mind it a bit, even the flapping of the stirrups.

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On our way back to the grooming area – oh! I forgot to mention he’s getting groomed and saddled in the normal tacking up area, no longer in an enclosed pen! Just like a big boy…anyhow, on our way back we took a walk through the barn for the first time. He had no reaction to walking on cement, but the shift from light to darker did make him pause for a second. But just a little pause, then he walked through like a champ. We went through a couple times, stopping to peek into the office once, and then into the grain room – his favorite part, it seemed, as he tried to eat an empty paper grain bag at the side of the doorway!

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Lastly, we walked up to Suzette’s trailer. When he showed no fear over it, Cindy opened one of the doors – this was a look, but don’t try to load event. All he was supposed to do was handle looking inside without running away. In typical Zeke fashion, he took it in stride, then noticed the wood shavings on the floor and asked his perpetual question, “Is this for eating?” he tried a mouthful, as well as trying out the metal covering over the tire. When neither proved to be delicious, we went on home.

Today was the biggest test for Zeke so far because it involved having to do something he didn’t want to do. He’s a big ‘fooler’ – whatever you ask of him, he does it quickly, easily, and very well. His attitude then becomes, “See, I’m smart, I’m doing well, tell me I’m good and let’s go on.” It seems great, until you ask him to work a minute longer than he thinks he should. Then he pouts, strikes out with his front leg, shakes his head, whatever it takes to try to get out of work. Being generally passive myself, I tend to take the attitude of “He’s doing so well, better stop now while it’s all good.” And that’s why I have Cindy to watch me! If he doesn’t get challenged enough, you never get to see his real reactions.

So today, after his roundpen work, I tied his head to the side for the first time. The idea is to take both reins, tie them to the girth on one side until his neck is bent, then ask him to walk. All he can do is go in a circle – that’s the point. He ‘teaches himself’ to follow his nose, and to give to the pressure of the reins. If you’re uncomfortable moving forward, figure out what’s causing pressure and how to make it stop. By giving to pressure and following his nose around the circle, he is teaching himself how to respond to someone pulling the reins sideways to ask him to turn.

He did really well circling around and not fussing – for a little while. Then he stopped. When I asked him to keep circling, he pitched a fit, first pawing at the reins and then taking off down the side of the roundpen, head bent to the side and all! And THAT is why we do this – I wouldn’t have wanted that to be my first ride, me saying “let’s turn”, and him just plain running off with me!

So I worked him on that side until he stopped fussing, then turned him around and tied his head the other way. He was even more defiant going to the right – maybe he’s ‘left-footed’! We worked that side until he was circling nicely and consistently, then we ended our day. I walked him around and through the barn, stopping to visit with people along the way.

He is doing so well, I think my long range plan of when I will be able to get on him may be too long-range! It’s going to be sooner than I thought when I first brought him home, but we do still have work to do. Once he’s comfortable with all the rein-tying configurations, it’ll be ground driving. But it’s all coming along nicely!

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