Another Windy Day

chasing a life in the high desert

Archive for the category “Desert Life”

Like a Roller Coaster

That’s the stage we’re in, Zeke and I. The roller coaster stage. We go up, we go down, and all of it is pretty thrilling.

We’re still just working on putting on the miles, riding as often as we can just to develop experience. Of course my schedule is not ideal, sometimes I have gaps of two days or more between riding days, but I try to avoid that. Highlights from this week include Saturday and Wednesday; low points, probably Tuesday.

Saturday was a nice workout in the wood arena, and our first time working through “changes”. By that I mean something was different – some big plastic barrels had been moved and were lying on their sides outside one end of the arena. So when Zeke went past, he could just glimpse these strange creatures between the rails of the arena, and he wanted no part of going anywhere near them. So our job that day was to continue working despite the distraction, and little by little, moving closer and closer to the dreaded barrels until they were no longer scary. That worked out just fine, we conquered that fear, then for fun we walked down to the dressage court to cool out.

Cristina was taking a dressage lesson that day, and we watched her working through Training Level Test 1 for a little while. During a break for her, Zeke and I decided to try it too! It was the first time we ever trotted and cantered outside of an arena, and we did very well except for a tendency to drift out on corners (no railing to guide him through the turns!). As far as the test went, we did okay – we had a few mistakes but of course the point of the exercise, for me, was to see how well we’d do with up and down transitions at specific points in the arena. We had to trot from one letter to another, then pick up canter before another letter, then make a circle of a specific size, then drop back to trot or walk by a certain point. It was really fun, and Zeke did a great job with those transitions. Cindy said he looked very light and his gaits were nice, which is great for our first time through.

So Saturday was a high point, then I couldn’t ride again until Tuesday night. And man what a mess that was! I’ve decided now that if I’m going to skip more than one day, I need to allow him to have some turn-out time before riding. What happened that day was I took him to the round pen for warm up, to get the fresh out of him. I should, by now, have realized that he’s too smart for that. He barely moved in that round pen, trudging along like he didn’t have a spark of excess energy, so I stopped and took him right up to the wood arena to ride.

Big mistake. He was obviously faking in the round pen, not showing any effort because he knows there’s nowhere to go! In the arena, he took off like a shot, first trotting away with me and then just running off. I had to grab the rein all the way down by his bit to get him turned into a circle to make him stop. So…back to the round pen we went, this time with a whip so I could make him run.

And he did, this time showing me he was so full of energy that it was a long time before he wanted to stop. When he was finally all sweaty and puffing, I got back on in the round pen and rode a little while. It wasn’t any fun.

Wednesday I turned him out for 20 minutes before I got on, and he played a bit, but  mainly I think it just gave him some mental free time, time to stretch and just not be in his stall. Then I got on, and we had a wonderful ride! We worked on spiraling circles, coming off my leg, turns on the hindquarters and forehand, and making different size circles even at the canter. When we got done, we walked out of the wood arena, and for the first time went into the big pasture arena. I rode at the walk all over the pasture, we went under the cowboy shower framework, and even over the bridge! We also opened and closed the mailbox, and walked through the back-through. His backing is getting pretty good, but not easy enough yet to add change of direction during the back-up.

So then today was another nice day, we rode in the wood arena and started to work a bit more on canter. Cindy said it’s time to start being tougher on leads – up until now I’ve just been happy that if I asked for canter he responded. He gets his leads correctly about 75% of the time, with the left lead more often being the problem one. So from now on I’ll be working on asking for a canter departure with a bit more of an exaggerated push of the hind end – pushing the hip to the inside while I ask with the outside leg. If he takes the wrong lead we’ll be stopping more quickly to fix it, rather than just ignoring as long as he’s cantering. 

And soon enough we need to get out on the trails – there just wasn’t time this week, bit it’ll be happening soon! I guess you could say we’re moving along at a nice pace. And it’s definitely fun!

Rides on Hooves and Wheels

Another busy week, but Zeke and I managed to get a few rides in. Right now it’s a lot of the same – we’re working on giving to pressure, both from legs and hands. We’re getting use to riding with others in the arena. And we’re pushing through those times when Zeke thinks he should be done, or he’s bored, or he just doesn’t wanna! He’s learning that he still has to behave and pay attention, even if there’s nothing exciting going on. I will say his canter is amazing – soft and smooth and steady. Love it!

The only extra thing we did this week was after our Tuesday night ride. Cindy had the trailer there because she had taken her horse Rick to the vet’s earlier, so after our ride I walked Zeke up on it, as I’m prone to do anytime I see a stray trailer. He loads perfectly – but this time I shut him in, and Cindy let me take him for a ride around the block! Fun for both of us because I don’t have much experience driving a rig, and Zeke has never ridden in a trailer other than being rounded up and run onto one!

We both did very well. I didn’t hit the curbs, and Zeke rode very quietly. When I went to get him off I could feel some tension – he was just about shaking, but that’s to be expected. He backed out like a gentleman and seemed no worse for wear. 

Looking forward to more saddle time this coming week!

A Nice Day

Today was a really nice day. Earlier in the week, since my last weekend, we had everything from high heat to strong winds, but the last 2 days have been perfect, and Zeke and I finally got to take advantage.

Due to some changes in my work schedule and feeding schedule, I wasn’t able to ride at all this week, until Friday. For the first time since we started riding, Zeke had 7 days in a row just hanging out in his stall doing nothing. I know he’s smart, but I wondered if he’d forget all the good we accomplished on our last ride.

I shouldn’t have worried. I gave him a short turnout, then we saddled up and did a short lunge, then off we went. Not only did Zeke not forget, he actually improved in his responses! It was almost as though we both forgot to be awkward with our riding and just went out and did it. And today, Saturday, was even better! Today I rode for a short time in the wood arena alone, then Vickie came in to ride Slim with us. Zeke alternated between working and just being a chair while I worked with Vickie, and we had a great ride.

After the arena, we all took a few laps around the pens. I think a short trail ride is in order very soon! All in all, I spent just under two hours on Zeke’s back today – the longest he’s ever been out at one time. He did great, and I’m extremely thrilled with my boy!

Back To The Future

Sometimes in order to move forward, you have to go backwards to the last thing you did really well, get solid again, and move on. Of course, that advice was for me this week, not for Zeke! Zeke kept on doing what he does, but because I I wasn’t effective at really applying my aids to correct him, we went back to the last place I felt really solid – the small roundpen.

So we worked in there for a day, with me remembering to use my legs and spurs when Zeke was just blowing me off. Allowing him to ignore my leg because I simply didn’t want to pop him one led to him doing it more and more – of course! So in the small roundpen, I popped him with the spur when he needed it. And because he responded without jumping out of his skin, it gave me confidence to move on.

So we made it through my weekend with some good progress – by today, Thursday, we were riding in the wood arena with confidence. Zeke is using the entire arena, from the rails to the center, and behaving nicely. Our canter has improved so that I don’t have to keep clucking and kicking to make it around – he needs a little reminder in the corner but otherwise he goes forward. We started a little leg yield work today, now that he’s moving off my leg without so much effort.

It’s funny how it didn’t take much to go either way. It only took a ride or two of me being whimpy for him to take advantage, and it only took two rides to convince him that there are consequences to not responding when I ask for something. Hopefully we are back on track now for next week!

After today’s work, Zeke got turned out with Frisk, and they were terribly boring. So we added Wyatt to the party, to kick up a little dust!

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There’s a full set of these fun photos on my Flickr page, at http://www.flickr.com/photos/deserttrailrider/sets/72157630130273652/with/7373308604/

The Things Fear Can Do

The point, for me, of doing this blog has been to show the ‘average’ person what it is like to adopt and train a mustang. Not everyone is a highly skilled and experienced horse trainer, though if you’re lucky you can have one nearby to help you during the sticky times! But many of us out here have some experience, lots of desire, limited time, jobs, families, what-have-you. I always wondered if it was possible for an ‘average’ busy horseperson to make this work. And I think it it is – but not everything is a fairy-tale. Sometimes we have to deal with our fear, so I decided not to leave that part out of this blog.

Ezekiel and I ended last week really ready to step up and move on to bigger and better things. Really – Zeke has become so bored in the roundpen that he barely puts forth any effort at all to move forward! After all, if there’s no where to go, why be in a hurry to get there? We still go there first for a short warm-up and so I can canter in the smaller space, but then we head up to the wood arena.

Up there, Zeke is engaged, he’s bright, he steps more quickly and looks around. He watches the other horses in the arena with us. He watches…well, so many things that he forgets I’m there! So when he sees someone standing on the ground and decides he should avoid them by bending his body away from them, turning his head to them to see what they might do, and totally blowing off his rider (me), something needs to be done. 

I am trying like crazy to remember to always use my leg, not the reins, to keep his body moving in the direction I’ve asked him to go. If he bulges and drifts to the right, I need to pop him with that right leg to send him back straight. But the truth is, even if I whack him hard, he’s starting to ignore me. So Cindy suggested it’s time to try a little spur or crop, to get him to be responsive to my cues. It’s like a kid who learns that his parent will tell him to go to bed six times before he really has to go – why listen the first time if you have five more chances? With a little stronger aid, he should get the point more quickly, and realize there are consequences. That’s how you teach him to respond correctly the first time.

So today we tried out a little spur, because in the past I have taken the end of my reins and given him a slap when he didn’t listen to my leg – and his response was to leap out of his skin! I thought a spur might work better than a crop to wake him up without ‘upsetting’ him. Yes, I’ve begun to worry about upsetting him. That’s a bad sign.

Zeke’s been so good, and we’re doing so well, that I’m falling back into that ‘don’t rock the boat’ attitude. If I don’t push him, we’ll never have a bad incident. Of course, we’ll never accomplish anything either! So I donned my tiny spurs, and down to the roundpen we went to gauge his reaction to them.

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It wasn’t pretty. We bopped along slowly as normal, and then I asked him to turn and move off my leg. He ignored me, so I popped him a little harder (let’s face it, I was afraid to get him with the spur, so I gave him another chance!). When he blew me off, I took that tiny spur and gave him a poke. Wee! He turned real fast then! He also jumped forward and kicked out with both hind legs, then proceeded to try to run off while I held him to a small circle until he relaxed. Then we continued on with our work, and wonder of wonders, he did well! He even cantered around the roundpen several times without my having to flap my legs and kiss at him over and over. So we moved up to the wood arena.

As soon as we got there, I realized Cindy was working a young horse in the small roundpen next to us. For the work she was doing, it was necessary for her to crack the lunge whip. Often. So we ended up in yet another tizzy.

I can’t blame Zeke for this, because up until I got on, I had asked him to MOVE every time he heard the whip. I also asked him to pay attention to the person standing in the center of the arena, which explains why he avoids people standing around. There’s no reason to think that once you’ve trained these behaviors, the horse will just know you don’t want him to respond to them anymore, because you’re on his back. It’s the rider’s job to convince him of that fact, and today I fell way short!

I have to admit I just wanted to leave that arena as soon as we got there. I knew I shouldn’t, so I tried to keep riding, but every crack of the whip sent Zeke to a bolt that I had to pull him around into a little circle to stop. My job was to let him see that he didn’t have to listen or fear anything that was happening outside of our little bubble, that any reaction he had would just be ended and our work resumed. Instead, I let that fear creep into my head. What if I can’t stop him? What if he keeps running, all the way back to his herd in Ridgecrest? What if he bucks all the way around the arena? Basically, what if I lose control and get hurt?

Well, that’s why we’re in an arena. He can only go so far. He’s never offered to buck, and if I stick to my guns and start working him and keeping his brain focused on what I ask, I should be able to keep control. But…

Yeah, it was a tough day for me. I had to keep going, because Cindy heard me say I wanted to leave and she brought up the point that he would never learn not to leave, and to listen to me and ignore the world if we didn’t start now. So I spent more time than I’d like to snatching at my reins, leaning forward and riding like a scared child, basically.

Luckily, these little mustangs are pretty forgiving. We worked through it, and I finally relaxed, and today we did our first canter in the wood arena. And I’m determined to go back tomorrow and do a better job of being the fearless leader, so he can become my fearless steed.

Coming Home, Meeting Friends, Getting Out

All sorts of fun this week! Zeke had his two days off, then Tuesday afternoon we did a short review ride, which went very well and let me know it’s time to get out of the small roundpen! We can’t do much in there, and since he’s behaving well, and has learned some about steering, it’s time for bigger places to ride.

That Tuesday night was also a “Welcome Home” night. I have been planning to adopt a desert tortoise for some time. His name derives from his rehab number when he came in to work, 2010-62. So he is “62”, and he has a large bladder stone that keeps him a bit compromised and prone to respiratory infections. I wanted to give him a nice home, instead of having him live in the dark, cement cage at the hospital, so have been trying to put it all together for the last few months. 62 finally came home Tuesday night, and he’ll stay here until his bladder surgery later this year. I think he’s enjoying his new home.

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Wednesday found Ezekiel and I working out in the big rounpen – a fun ride with walk, trot, canter, and finally a chance to really do some steering. This pen is 60′, instead of the 40′ one we’d been in, so we could criss-cross around and make some progress. After our ride, we again walked around the outside, even stopping at the wood arena to let people walk up to us and talk and pat Zeke. In the afternoon, Zeke had a playdate – I turned him out in the big arena with Wyatt, Cindy’s mustang makeover horse from 2011. They had a great time together!

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A little game of chase ensued, followed by rough-housing!

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And so we arrive at today, Thursday. A really great day! We started in the large roundpen, working our turns and canter, and this time Helen was nice enough to snap some pictures for us!

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Then for the first time, we went up to the wood arena to ride! Our first time in the arena riding, and also our first time riding with others. Cindy was in there on Sprout, giving a lesson to Joe, who rode Hannah, Cindy’s 2012 mustang makeover horse. Joe is the proud new owner of Hannah, and they are doing a great job learning together. Zeke took it all in stride, nothing at all seems to make him tense!

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Our big thing today was to keep riding longer than we ever have – until now our normal workouts were about 20 minutes or so. Today we rode at least an hour! In the wood arena we walked and trotted only, canter will come when we’re sure of our steering. I tried to keep him off the rail – this was our chance to work on going where the rider asks, and staying straight until asked to go another way. Zeke did as well as could be expected for a first day!

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At first in the large space I really had to kick hard with my legs to encourage him to turn and follow his nose when I asked for a bend or change of direction, but the longer we rode the better he got! I was able to use my hands a lot less, and just use pressure from a leg to turn him, instead of kicking!

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After our arena ride, we went out around the pens with Cindy and Joe – our first mini group ride! I really love the mustang attitude – if it’s not worth fussing over, we won’t waste the energy. He’s just willing and happy!

I Love A Parade

I’m sure there’s a whole history behind why Yucca Valley, California celebrates Memorial Day weekend by holding a yearly “Grubstakes Day”, but I don’t know what it is. I’m just glad they like to have a parade through town that day, and this year the Yucca Valley Equestrian Center rode in it once again.

Tempted as I was to take Zeke, he’s a few rides short of ready! No, today I rode my wonderful 8 year old horse, a “paint that ain’t”, GS Sundown Slim. Slim and I rode in the parade last year, it was our first one, and he did great. So this year I could completely relax and just enjoy the ride with a good solid mount.

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We had a great time riding through town with friends, and even stopped along the route so kids could come up and pet the horses. Slim was fabulous – he is the first horse I ever trained from the ground up (Zeke will be the second!), and I always say he’s the best horse I’ve ever ridden. I hope to get Zeke trained to share all of Slim’s good points, but avoid some of the beginner mistakes I made that first time. So Zeke should be a superstar when he’s finished!

Today was Zeke’s seventh ride in the roundpen. We did rides four and five on Thursday, and snuck ride six in yesterday before the big winds started. All the rides went well, although the fourth one was a little bit of an argument.

Usually on the third ride a horse thinks he has it all wired, and tries to do things his own way. For Zeke that was ride four instead. We got out there and he just said “no” to everything – didn’t want to turn, didn’t want to go, didn’t want to stand still for me to get on. But in the end it all went well, because I kept going past the point where he wanted to quit, and got him to understand that sometimes things aren’t under his control! And he still needs to behave, and he did.

Today I rode after the parade with Cindy watching, and we had two firsts. We loped, or cantered, for the first time today! He was great to the right, a little slow to get started on the left and had trouble with that lead, but at this stage, who cares? The idea was just “go”, and he did. And I can’t wait until we’re more practiced and can get out and really ride, because his canter is SMOOTH. He has really nice gaits, I got lucky on that one!

Our other big news is that when we were done, Cindy opened the roundpen and we rode out. We took a walk by ourselves around the pens, and Zeke did a great job. The next two days we will be off due to my work schedule, but I can’t wait to get back to it on Tuesday!

All in all, a really great day to end my vacation with.

First Ride!

Yes, it finally happened, the first ride. And it was great! But first things first, I spent the weekend at the Extreme Mustang Makeover in Norco. Cindy and her horse Hannah ended the competition in 9th place, which is a great achievement in itself, but many attendees (both public and officials) stopped by after to let her know they felt her performances should have placed her much higher. She really showed the versatility of the mustang breed in her Freestyle performance, by riding dressage, then jumping, then chasing a cow – all in her dressage saddle and shadbelly! I took tons of photos, you can find them in several sections at my photo site in the Horse Images section: http://www.flickr.com/photos/deserttrailrider/collections/

And then, on Monday afternoon, 5/21/12, Zeke and I ventured out for our first ride. I had taken him out that morning to ground drive, and he did a great job driving all through the big pasture, over obstacles, and around the ranch. When we returned in the afternoon, Zeke’s many fans turned out to watch him go! Cristina, Claire, Cindy B., Jan, Alyce and Ryan, and Kristen and Nathan all came to watch, and of course Cindy was on hand to make sure I did everything correctly! Claire got some pictures as we got ready and rode.

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We went to the small round pen – Cindy said use the large one if I think I will have good control, the small one if I wasn’t sure. I thought I would have good control – but I knew I’d feel like I didn’t for our first few rides, so we picked small to boost my confidence! We headed out there and did a short lunging session, then I climbed on the railings and laid over his back, as usual. Then I just slid my leg over and sat, and he stood still like a perfect gentleman.

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Then I asked him to go forward by using the verbal commands he knows from all our ground work, and a light squeeze of my leg. And he stood still like a perfect young horse on his first ride! Heheh – he didn’t get it, of course, and he showed he was the type of horse to stand still when confused, rather than run off in terror – which was OK by me! So we began with me turning his head to the rail, using my legs as he came out of the turn to encourage him forward. I did this many times to ‘unstick’ his feet, and he did always move, though he never really got ‘forward’ from that.

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At that point, Cindy stepped into the pen and stood in the middle, then encouraged him forward as I asked. He understood someone in the center asking him, so off he went!

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This is pretty typical of a first ride. It takes a little time to transfer the cues the horse has learned from the ground to someone on his back, and Zeke and I did very well. We walked and trotted, turned into the rail a couple times, and practiced a few stops. The main mistakes were mine – once I just plain forgot he was a baby, and I gave him a hard kick because he’d stopped going forward. When he then lurched ahead I snatched my reins back a bit, but Cindy reminded me not to do that and I fixed it quickly! At this stage of the game, the object is ‘go forward’. If I ask for forward, I should never punish for the speed at which he replies! All that finesse comes later, right now, it’s pretty much forward, stop, turn.

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The end of a great first day! Our workouts for the first few days will be short, 10 – 15 minutes, then slowly increase. The goal in the beginning is to have each experience be positive for us both. Once we’ve established the riding basics, we will go for longer sessions – and inevitably, we will have an argument. But by then our basics should be good enough for any argument to be short-lived and resolvable!

Tuesday, day 2 riding was just as good. This time Cindy started off in the arena with me, encouraging Zeke forward and we rode along. Eventually she stepped out – and sure enough, Zeke stopped going! I tried turning and tapping him through, but he still wasn’t sure, so Cindy stepped back in and clucked. After a few minutes she left again, and this time we kept going! We were able to stop, go, and turn without anyone in the center directing him. He was beginning to understand the cues as I gave them from his back.

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So today, ride 3, I went out to the round pen alone. Cindy was riding in the wood arena right next door, but it was just the two of us in the roundpen. We lunged, I got on, and…we went! We walked and trotted by ourselves, Zeke understanding and responding correctly to everything I asked of him. We started making some small circles today at the walk and trot, and changing direction through the center of the pen. He did really well, though he has a tendency to stall when asked to trot through a turn. By the time we ended our session, he was trotting through with just a bit of hesitation left.

Tomorrow and Friday we plan to do two rides each day, to really get us off to a good start before I go back to work on Sunday. On Saturday I will be in a parade with my horse Slim, so Zeke will get his ride after that! Then it’s two days off, Sunday and Monday, then right back into a daily ride schedule! I’m looking forward to it!

Teeth and Makeovers

So, why no post this past week, you may be asking? Well…not much to tell, at least where Zeke is concerned.

We didn’t get to work much at all, due to my work schedule. Then I ended up spending one of my days off having what was left of a tooth pulled. Yeah, stay away from Milk Duds, is all I can say! Pulled my crown off with part of what was left of my tooth. The dentist said it couldn’t be saved, so out it went. Too bad they don’t give you some kind of credit for returning the crown, those things are expensive!

Anyhow, what did go on with Zeke? He had a fun turnout day, which he really enjoyed, and one work day of ground driving that ended in an argument. I asked him to go past some stacked white blocks, he said no, and fighting ensued. When he grudgingly went past them – both ways – without trying to run or tangle up the lines, we did a last trip around the arena and called it a day.

Good news, though – his registration papers with the American Mustang and Burro Association (http://www.ambainc.net/) came in, and he is officially registered now as “Ezekiel”. We didn’t have to add any qualifiers or anything, though I had put “Clover Mountain Ezekiel” as the back-up, since that’s where he’s from. But he has a nice certificate now, and should we ever decide to show in any discipline, he can earn points.

This weekend is the Extreme Mustang Makeover in Norco, CA, and Cindy will be competing with her Makeover horse, Hannah. It will be great fun, and I’m looking forward to what Cindy, and the other trainers will do. It is amazing what a mustang can learn in a short time. Info for the Norco event is here: http://extrememustangmakeover.com/emmcalifornia.php

So with that busy schedule ahead, I will leave you with a picture of Zeke partying during his turnout, and hopefully NEXT week there will be big updates!

What’s Happening Next

Despite having less time to work with Zeke over the past week, we really did get a lot accomplished. I also came to the decision that I would not be taking my first ride on Zeke until the end of the month – not because he’s not ready, but because I have too many more weeks of little time coming up. He’s going to need some consistency at the beginning, and I want to wait until I can give him that.

On May 18th and 19th, the Yucca Valley Equestrian Center crew will be headed down to Norco to watch Cindy compete in the Extreme Mustang Makeover. I plan to be there to watch the events, cheer on Cindy and her Makeover horse Hannah, and take photos to complete this year’s Makeover chronical. You can see what Cindy’s been up to at our website, http://yuccavalleyequestriancenter.com. The week following the Makeover will be me and Zeke’s first week of riding!

This week we did more ground driving, in the roundpen and then in the wood arena. On Thursday I felt he was doing so well in the arena that I opened the gate and drove him out! We drove around the barn and back to the grooming area, and though he was reluctant to enter without me going in front, we did manage to drive through the barn, too! Cristina took some photos for us.

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Zeke doesn’t have trouble with getting the ropes tangled – only I do!

After our workout, Zeke got his yearly vaccinations, and he was very brave.

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On Friday evening, he was still showing a little bit of reaction to the vaccine. Nothing big, he was just slower-moving than normal. Rather than do a whole big workout, I saddled him with a ‘real’ saddle, and just took him for a quick lunge in it. The saddle we’ve been using is tiny and very light-weight, made of cordura material instead of leather. Now that I know he’s fine with wearing the saddle, and not prone to throwing himself over on his back when he doesn’t get his way, it was time to try out the full-sized leather saddle. Despite the weight difference, he didn’t mind his new gear.

After that short work, we spent some time with me sitting and climbing on him, then called it a good week.

 

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