Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Thoughts on stuff and things (Or, how idiots like me can succeed with the horse)

I'm fixing up this trailer I got with the SO the other day, and I'm all freaked out about using the angle grinder (as a child I was afraid of sparklers too...don't judge).  I am not a fan of sparks.

So as I'm holding this thing gingerly in my work-gloved hands trying to psych myself up for it, a thought occurs to me:

"Megan, literally complete idiots use this thing without issues."

So I took a deep breath, got on the damned horse (figuratively) and used the damn angle grinder, sparks and all.  I did forget to breathe DURING the actual grinding in the beginning...but I got better at it.

Anyway...Sometimes I feel the same about horses.

I feel like "training" horses has become this big mysterious thing that one certain "horse whisperers" can do.  Like there wasn't a time when tons of people trained their own horses.  With varying results.  But still.  No NH needed.

The only thing I really see in common with these lower-end trainer people (and I'm not talking about the top-of-their-sport people), very generally, is that they are reasonably intelligent and observant and consistent about what they do.  They have a little sense about how horses learn and they use it to their advantage.

Of course, complete idiots also train horses and do a reasonably good job for the same reasons (I might be in this category.  What do I know, anyway?).

Rules for angle grinders:

1.  Make sure your equipment is hooked up right.  We don't want one of those disks sailing off  who-knows-where at 11,000 rpms.

2.  Don't try to jump in there and touch metal without getting the damn thing running first.  This results in unpredictable and dangerous behavior on the part of the angle grinder.

3.  Be sensitive and consistent for best results.

4.  Know when to stop.

Sound familiar?  Complete idiots can do this stuff.  You can do it!  Get out there and work your angle-grinder/horse.


Today I'm thinking about green.

Well, I mean, it IS Spring now, so there's plenty of green around :)

But specifically, I'm thinking about green horses.

Everyone has their own definition of what green is.  I guess I'd define "green" as a horse that doesn't respond predictably or consistently to simple cues (ie, stop, back, turn, W/T/C, etc). 

As I've talked about before, I think "trained" and "broke" are different things.

I still maintain from 2012 that horses with limited training can be "broke".  These are the easy ones.  The usual phrase we use for these non-reactive, easy-going horses is "born broke".  They just seem to be confident in their survival abilities and inherently trust their handler.  They may have some baby moments, but they're pretty reliable.

Horses with tons of training are sometimes never broke horses.  They may be perfectly schooled to cues and execute them with the arena...but they just aren't ever as reliable.  With extreme examples, you take them out on the trail, and they absolutely fall apart.  Going to a new place may trigger a meltdown. 

Of course--the best kind of horse is both trained and broke!  I call these "finished horses".  They could do their job upside-down and blindfolded.  They might not even need you up there.  But anyway, that may be beside the point a little...

Thinking back before I got Chevy, I was afraid of green horses.

I had ridden a lot of difficult horses (of course I didn't know that at the time; it was just normal for me then).

They were all trained (some were fairly young).  Most were broke even if they were unrefined (as are most school horses--how refined can you be with kids constantly pulling and thumping you at the wrong times?).

But I had never ridden a green horse.  Not until I was in college.  I leased a sorrel mare briefly out at a huge facility on the outskirts of Eugene when I rode with the UO Equestrian Team.  My roommate and I would head out there after classes in the dark of winter in her old gold diesel Mercedes.  This night it was her time to ride.  I stood in the middle of the warm up pen, watching her and eying the other horses as they went around.

After a few minutes, a middle-aged lady rode up to me on a bug-eyed paint.

"You want to ride?"  She said.

"Ummm...Sure."  I looked at her shaggy sorrel and white colt.

"He's just 3 and he's green, but he's good.  Just needs more saddle time.  Looks at everything but he's alright.  Just get on and ride him around for me."

Ooooooh boy!  I swung up.  He was a looky-loo.  But he was good.  Just as she said.  Trucked my hiney around that pen at a fast even walk, head all over the place...but his steps were sure and rhythmic.

So this is a green horse, I thought.  That was about it.  Really.  I made sure to stay out of his way, watched my heels, calves and hands, and he was great.

[The only other thing I took away from the ride was:  This is the first truly comfortable western saddle (SIDENOTE:  I was English-only in those days) I HAVE EVER BEEN IN.  I also remember it had a wonderful, cushy natural sheepskin over the seat.  Heaven.]

It may have been the first time a little seed was planted in my head that green didn't necessarily mean...dangerous.

So maybe green is too broad a term:  On the one hand, a crazy horse backed unsuccessfully several times, who bucks and snarls at his green.  And a baby hunter at his first green.  Hmmm.

I'd categorize that shaggy paint as green but with a broke attitude.  He may not have responded predictably to all my cues--had I given him any--but his affect was willing, flexible and non-reactive.

"As long as a horse has a good stop I don't care how green it is."  is a phrase I heard recently.

I guess my problem with that is expecting that a green horse HAS any kind of real reliability.  I'm not sure a horse with a sure-fire stop can really be considered green any more.  I guess it all has to do with that definition thing again.

I think a general acceptable definition of green is:  "A horse (or rider) at the beginning of his training."

I've already defined my thoughts on the horse above.

In my opinion...a  green rider anywhere from someone brand-new to horses to someone who knows how to tack up the horse appropriately, and can ride the walk and trot.  Green riders lack balance and may frequently clutch at the reins, horn or front of the saddle or use their legs for balance.  A green rider may fall off spooky horses frequently because they lack the ability to sense when a spook is imminent. 

I don't think you really get out of green rider status until you're able to cue and ride the walk, trot, canter and halt effectively, understand the gaits, can lengthen and shorten them without verbally cuing the horse...and know which leg the canter originates from on the horse!  Ha ha!  Seriously though.  You gotta have some in-depth knowledge of how the horse works.   You begin to graduate into Intermediate status when you are able to give the horse subtle cues...and understand why you're giving the cues, in what order for what outcome.  You start to figure out how to cue best for the response you want.  You should be able to feel your correct diagonals and canter leads without looking.  You begin to develop the sensitivity you expect from the horse.

There are shades of green, of course.

Tiny, at about 4 rides, is definitely a green horse, even though she's quickly closing in on 5 years old (eeek!  Where has the time gone?).  She is easy to handle on the ground but just starting her under saddle career.  I'm really excited about her because I'm responsible for all her training so far.  And so good.  I'm sure we'll run into stickies later. :)

Chevelle on the other hand, is no longer green, but in the "trained" category.  Her responses are dialed in and she responds to them in a predictable manner.  Even though she is sensitive, I'm confident if other Intermediate/Advanced riders rode her, they'd have a good ride.  She is not suitable for green riders.  I'd say she's still at the lower levels of her training though, and that's all my fault.  But she is solid on W/T/C, knows some complex aids and certainly knows her leads.  She listens to her rider and only requires rare support.  But she doesn't do flying changes and isn't highly schooled (especially lately, with all our time off).  She is certainly nowhere near "finished".

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this.  I guess it just all comes down to expectations.  I don't know that I'd ever expect a green horse to be able to stop consistently--just like I wouldn't expect a green rider to cue the stop effectively.  That doesn't mean they can't--or won't--or that is isn't reasonable for a specific horse or rider...I just don't know if it's really fair, in general.

I think a lot of success is really just setting the horse up to succeed. 

And I guess I also feel like the stop is one of those simply elegant things to teach, that requires a lot of subtlety and timing to get right and communicate right.  The stop is a beautiful thing.  I've written about it so many times because when you have a horse that really stops, it is so super cool.  I think the only way you can really get there is to have a horse that wants to stop.  The stop is their happy place.

What do you think?  Do you know green horses with a great, consistent stop, in the arena and out on the trail?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Catching up

I've spent some time catching up on blogs I used to read...before I abandoned the Chevelle Chronicles for two years.

I was very saddened to learn of the passing of one prominent equine personality--the gal's only horse and the reason for her blog.  I found myself in tears several times reading through how everything unfolded for her and for him.

I often think if I hadn't already had Chevy when I had to put Ben down, I probably would have been out of the horse world for a long time.  My whole life would have been different.  There is just no way to be prepared for the reality of that sort of loss.

But I DID have Chev, and even though I couldn't bring myself to come down to the barn for a couple of days after he died (wonderful barn owner stepped up for horse care during that time) desire to see her and take care of her got me into my car.

She kept me going.  She got me out of the house, she got me back in the saddle, and she was there for me in her not-at-all-anthropomorphized horse way.  She had known him more of her life than not when he passed, and I have to think, although in a much healthier way than I, she was missing him, too.

So when I was done reading, I got up, put on my coat, went out the door and fed them their dinner, and gave each a good, deep groom, dropping sheets of blond and brown hair to the ground, respectively.  It's another Spring already this year, and they are 9 and 4.  I thanked them for being around and carrying me, I gave them extra scratches, and I reminded myself to take more time to be thankful for each day.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

When we're nice

I love sensitive people.  I love people who are concerned about the people around them.  They tend to be compassionate and quick to help.  They also tend to be terribly self-conscious.

I love sensitive people because they are generally also sensitive HORSE people.

I'm one of them.  So this is stuff I struggle with too.

It's taken me a long time to realize that being as clear as possible with rules is the way to forge a good, solid partnership with your animal.  (This works best with dogs and horses.  Cats are in their own category.)

A problem that comes up often is:  "Will my horse think I'm being mean if I discipline him?"

The short answer is, no.  The long answer is, No, not if you do it as part of a cause and effect relationship.

The way animals (and people, for that matter) get neurotic is by not knowing what is expected of them.

#1:  If your horse goes to bite you and you hit him hard in the face, will it make him headshy?  No.

#2:  If your horse shakes his head because he got a fly in his ear and you hit him in the face because you're scared of his headtossing, will it make him headshy?  Maybe.  Given enough time, yes.

I think in order for animals to learn, they have to have some kind of intentional act that puts the rest into play.  In the examples above, only #1 had horse acting a certain way with intention TOWARDS a human.  Therefore, the horse brain can understand this type of cause and effect. 

In #2, horse is doing something unrelated to human that human perceives (incorrectly) as threatening and gets whacked, producing a nervous horse.  There was no distinct cause and effect in his mind in relation to a person for what happened to him, because he thought he was just minding his own business getting a fly out of his ear, and out of nowhere a hand shows up and hits him in the face, poor guy.

I still hear a lot of horse people say that you never discipline a horse for misbehaving by hitting them in the face because it will produce a headshy horse.  I think this is a misunderstanding of discipline.  I say, uncertainty will produce an uncertain horse. 

Have I whacked my horses in the face?  Yes.  Only for things that were part of this direct cause and effect scenario.  Are they headshy at all?  Not even a little.

I always loved how horses tend to mirror the neuroses of their owners.  I've stated many times before that I am a nervous person.  By nature, I worry about everything.  I am hypersensitive.  I rarely relax.

Despite this, my horses are pretty calm and cool.  And I owe it all to following a strict set of cause-and-effect rules.  They know what's expected of them, so they can relax.  

If something is disturbing them, I let them look.  Their feet can't move, but they can look.  If something is disturbing them, I don't make a big deal out of it.  I don't like, take them over there and walk them around said disturbing thing for half an hour, examining it from all angles so that they "understand" it won't hurt them.

My horses understand it won't hurt them because I'm not making a big deal out of it. 

I don't really see the point to that kind of "desensitization" or whatever people call it.

Oh good, they learned if they flip over something they'll get to spend the next half hour delicately sniffing it and sneaking blades of grass.

That's not really the kind of training I'm looking for.

I have been known to say, "Chill out" and "Be cool" regularly to my horses.

I do expect them to use their brains.

I do expect them to reasonably evaluate the situation and evaluate my response to the situation and come to their own conclusions.

Ready to rock.

Ride #2 on Tiny was in the corral.  We were just doing a bit of walking, halting, and backing up, with some changes of direction thrown in there.

I was just chilling on her back, staying neutral when I felt her tense up.  Her head flew up, her ears pricked straight ahead and she locked on something far down the driveway.

I had a brief moment of "Uh oh" followed closely by, "Well, let's see what she does."

A large orange cat popped out from behind some railroad ties and headed our direction.

Large orange cat turned out to be a lovely fox.

Tiny watched with interest as it crossed the driveway fifty feet away and went trotting up the hill.

We went back to our regularly scheduled programming.

As always, take all this with a grain of salt and work it out for yourself.  I know enough to know I don't know much.

I know I can't wait to ride on of these slides!

Where we stand

Slow day up here--several blog entries in a day!  I need to get back on the wagon, here.  I'm hoping connecting with you horseblog folk will give me some motivation to get going again.

Current state of affairs:

Chevelle: My baby is now a strapping almost 10-year-old--how the heck did that happen?  She hasn't been ridden more than two dozen times in the last 3 years.  We moved back from Wyo...she was still having hoof issues after some previous bad farrier work (I was still transitioning her to barefoot), then we moved barns to a place that wasn't well set up for riding at all (tiny arena, whole barn was on 2 acres, crazy crazy BO, NEVER AGAIN), and Chev HATED it.  She lost a ton of weight, I freaked out, and moved them again into full care at a wonderful barn.  She picked up the weight, was happy and looked awesome, but again, there was only a tiny indoor arena to ride in...and it just didn't happen.

Fast forward to 8 months ago...We moved again, this time up to the lovely Columbia Gorge!  And for the first time ever, I have the girls on the property--5 acres, a old two stall barn with paddocks, and an acre and a half pasture.  It's been awesome having them home...but AGAIN, the riding isn't really happening.

She also had a disastrous two trims with a "barefoot trimmer" who nearly crippled her right after we moved up here, 6 weeks apart.  That's another story for another time...but I took over their hoof care 4 months ago.  So far...mostly good.  There was a lot of damage to undo.  But I think she'll be good to ride this summer.

Tiny: My little blonde punkin, how the time has FLOWN!  The itty bitty practically unhandled 18-month-old is now a sweet, anyone-can-handle 4-year-old.  She loves people, she loves grooming, and is just a pleasure to be around.  She's the opposite of Chev in so many ways (Chev the cat vs Teeny the golden retriever).  She's one of those "born broke" horses who just wants to please you.

She was late to develop physically, and only has about 4 rides on her at this point.  I have done all of her handling and riding up until now.  I last got on her in October for a ride around the yard.  She is fast to pick up on things and has good information retention.  She's got power steering built in--I really didn't need to teach that.  She stops, she backs, she goes, she turns.  She'll be "seriously" started this summer, and I'm really, really looking forward to it.

 Me & Bitty Boo, ride #4


I've only ridden Chevy a couple of times since moving up here, and I have some observations:

1.  I am absolutely getting more chickenshit the longer I go without riding consistently.

2.  My horse is A LOT more broke than I give her credit for.

So, that's good and bad.  Chev is a huge, powerful, bigmotor kinda gal.  When I get up on her I can just feel it rippling under me.  It would only take the slightest whisper and she would be off like a shot.  So she is ridden with a whisper.  I taught her this.

I remember back in her 3 year old year, and her 4 year old year--the year I actually got serious about riding her--she was so LAZY.  I remember feeling like I was going to pass out at her first show after 2 minutes of the extended trot.  I tired of that real fast.  I liked riding whisper horses.  Her pluginess frustrated me.  I didn't want a sticky slow horse that dumped on the forehand.  This was MY horse to get going, and I was going to make her into the best of all the parts of the lesson horses I'd ridden over the years.  I was determined.

It worked, maybe a little too well.  That's not to say she doesn't have things she struggles with, both conformationally and trainer-wise (mostly the second one--she's been stuck with ME for years, after all!), but...for the most part, I have a very willing, very forward when asked, very solid riding partner.  Even though she's still green in a lot of ways (and yes, I still ride her in the same plain loose ring snaffle I started her in), all the basics are there and SHE REMEMBERS THEM.  Even after only being ridden a handful of times in the last 2 years, she stopped on a dime, backed hard and on cue and planted her feet as soon as I put my rein hand down to her neck, and spun as well as she could in a pasture.  She also still has the Western Pleasure trot built in and will happily travel that way, head down, for as long as I ask.  I hadn't asked her for any of these maneuvers in at least half a year.  She's got it.

And now I learn there's a big ol' riding arena with a roundpen and a large turnaround for horse trailers just across town--and for a $50/year membership you can go and ride as you please.

So maybe I'll finally get back into it again after all!  YIP!

A rare sight around here!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

And in other news:

I have my art business up and running again.  Thanks to some unpleasantness with an ex-art school stalker, I had to open up a new website. New name.  I called it Bad Star Gallery.  Want to know why?  Well, I guess you'll just have to follow the link to FAQs to find out...

Check it out! --->    BAD★STAR Gallery

I'm excited about getting back into the swing of things.  I had some health-related setbacks, a move and a long winter...but I'm up and running and about to start my third commission in a month.  I hope the trend continues.  If you have a special equine in your life and want a portrait--I'd be honored!  I'm happy to give you a quick quote.  I can work with about any budget.  The thing that makes me happy is getting quality custom artwork back into people's homes.

Here are the last two portraits I've done.

Nacho--a memorial portrait for a very sweet, very well loved Chihuahua down in Oceanside, CA:

The Great Ignacio.  Graphite on Bristol Plate, 9" x 12". 2015

And a portrait of a lovely mare, commissioned for her daughter in college as a momento:

 Grey Mare.  Graphite on Bristol Plate, 9" x 12". 2015

These are both relatively "quick" drawings (vs. the 80 hour Sparkafide drawing of Wyoming fame).  The one just started is of a friend's baby girl...wish me luck!

Something happened to me the other day

that has NEVER happened before.

I went in a tack shop and didn't see anything I wanted.

Granted, it WAS Coastal--but still--not a single thing.

My tack collection has reached a zenith where I have good quality equipment in about every area I would need it.  It's taken me 10 years...but, I'm pretty happy with the gear I have now.

I have a lovely HDR Rivella jump saddle and Exselle show bridle with two sets of nice reins, one extra long, and a beautiful merino sheepskin show pad (you know, in case I ever decide to ride that way again);

The Jim Taylor reiner;

My small shop El Dorado training saddle that I like & that fits Chevy;

A nice little Lazy L by Larry Coats barrel saddle hardly used from 2007;

Two complete, nice leather loose ring snaffle bridles that girls go in, each with awesome weighted Buckaroo Leather split reins, one pair 1", other pair 1/2" (turns out good quality reins are one of my "things");

A Martin sidepull (which I never use);

A gorgeous black Guitron kangaroo bosal and mane hair mecates;

Two good wool pads, one Reinsman, one Classic Equine, and one Pro Choice pad;

About 10 nice snaffles I never use, and all kinds of other misc tack of somewhat lesser quality than above (but still nice).

I hardly ever sell good quality things--because I could, in most cases, never afford to replace them.  But, I guess it's time to sell some stuff.  I need the money.  First on the chopping block:  The JT reiner.  Phooo.

Horses are horses--treat 'em that way.

I just read a heartbreaking article about the death of 2012 Arabian Horse Breeder of the Year Sue Eves.

I don't usually comment on things that I don't have the full backstory on, but this article REALLY struck me. This long-time equestrian was literally "kicked to death" by one of her own horses. From the article: "Marinaccio [a friend of the deceased] said Eves would not have blamed the horses for her death.

"It's just something horses do," Marinaccio said. "She teaches you that right away. "Horses just do things. I got bitten one time. That's something horses do. They don't do it maliciously. They just do it. She would never, ever blame the horse." "

Oh HELL no. Yes, they absolutely CAN and WILL bite/kick/etc maliciously! They will not call you in the hospital after they put you there to say they're sorry! This is why I am so anal retentive about my horses knowing I'M at the top of the food chain--not them. They know I could eat them at any time...but I choose not to. Today. (Adapted from the brilliant Mugwump--because she can say it so much more eloquently than I!)

Part of me just doesn't understand how this could happen--assuming I'm making factual assumptions, of course.  I understand HOW it happened.  But I don't understand how this could happen.  As an experienced horsewoman...surely she understood discipline is necessary?...

I remember one day before we moved to Wyoming, my parents came to visit me at the barn.  Chev was a huge 4 year old dragging me all over the place and I had to get pretty hard on her.  I could tell from her facial expression that my Ma was pained watching my poor pony get whacked with a lead rope.  I, however, at 1/10th her size, did not feel bad.  It's important that she "respects" me (side note: Gosh, do I hate that term!  Talk about overused phrases in the horse world).  I'm not unfair--I only strongly enforce when she's ignoring my polite requests.  I'd much rather do everything with a light touch on the leadrope, but that's up to her.

I've now spent over 20 years of my life around horses.  I'll always be indebted to the trainers and instructors who have helped me along the way.  I took 10+ years of bimonthly or weekly lessons (and if I could afford them, I'd sure as heck take 10 years more!).  I've spent a lot of time watching horses interacting with each other, with people and under saddle.  I read EVERYTHING.  I tried to take it all with a grain of salt.  I know I don't know anything.  But I DO know it's important to be the top spot in the pecking order when it comes to animals that could seriously injure or kill you without even trying.

Horses can and will literally kill you. Horses are not people. Treat them like horses.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Holy.  Moly.

It's time to start this 'ere blog up again.

We've been cooling our heels for the last two years through several moves (some horse only, the last, all of us).  The past two years have been long and sad, occasionally light and happy.  All the emotions I needed in a whole lifetime.  My thyroid rebelled big time this time and tried to kill me.  Half my hair fell out.  My very dear childhood friend, one of my two best friends, died unexpectedly in September 2013.  And my beautiful 7 year old indoor only rescue kitty who I'd had for 5 wonderful years crashed and burned with unexplainable acute kidney failure, and a week of intensive care and IV fluids at the hospital couldn't fix him.  Then my remaining kitty ("The Golden Child") went into what appeared to be deep depression and almost died also.  We couldn't find anything medically wrong with her, but she kept going downhill.  There was a lot about those years I just wanted to forget.

But I'm starting again.  The horses, the kitty and I now live in the lovely Columbia Gorge on a little piece of land with an old farm house, a shop and a two stall barn.  There have been challenges, but we're all here. 

The thing I've never been very good at is just being content with this moment.  The sun is out, the horses are swatting flies, the kitty is in a square of sun.  We're doing okay.  We're doing okay.