Tuesday, September 28, 2010

spa day

I tried to ride today, I really did. I tacked up and headed for the arena. I thought that since it was half in the shade it wouldn't be too bad. I was wrong. 100 degrees in July doesn't bother me as much, but 100 degrees at the end of September is brutal. It has been so mild, we're just not used to it. Did some half-hearted walking and trotting, backed through an L of poles, picked up a canter both directions...about 20 minutes, I was done. Major wasn't too thrilled to be out there either.

Since it was nice and warm, but the wash rack is in the shade, I thought a full bath was on order. We have the little show on Sunday, and while we're not doing showmanship, looks count  and Major hasn't had a real bath all summer. He likes being at the wash rack, it is often where he gets his beet pulp snack (because he makes a disgusting mess and it can be hosed off), but believed he was cruelly tricked when he just got a bath! He has stopped snorting at the streams of water by his feet (never the actual water on him, but the water running down toward the drain on the black mats), and now just stands quietly, what a nice improvement!

Soap and rinse and even mane and tail conditioner. He looked a bit pitiful, his tail is pretty scraggly anyway, and with the mane all wet he wasn't exactly a picture of a beautiful arab. He didn't care, and neither did I. And he did manage to get his snack when the bath was all done...and managed to get it all over his face and both front legs. I expect he'll need some serious grooming by Sunday, but at least the bath part is done!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

last day of summer

I was planning on riding alone yesterday evening, but two friends joined me and it was great. I was hoping for a nice quiet ride, where Major would listen and we'd both just have a nice time. It turned out even better than that. Meeting up with Christie and Cheryl we headed out into the forest. The trails are dusty and everything is dry this time of year, but the air was pleasant and all the horses seemed to be enjoying themselves. We trotted in the beginning, even in the back not much fight from Major, and then I showed them how to find a different trail. It is rutted and nasty in parts, so we walked mostly, but still lots of fun. Got to the big overlook and enjoyed the view. Sometimes Cheryl is nervous about what her horse can do, but the steep, loose rock, gravel hillside was no problem for Dune. We knew it all along.

Major is quite competitive, walking quickly and trying to sneak into the lead, but I just keep pulling him back and choosing where he goes. He isn't rushing up on the horses like before, and stayed far enough behind to actually watch where he was going and not trip over his own feet. A nice quiet ride to end the summer. I know Fall is a beautiful season, but I truly hate it. It gets darker every day, just signaling the start of cold dark days of winter. I also know we're lucky to live in California, but I can still complain!

For now I'll enjoy the weather. I have a lesson tonight to practice for the upcoming horse show, and we need lots of practice!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

a week off

Back from camping for the week, I just had to get out and ride. I will admit when out hiking last week in the beautiful old-growth forests in Redwood National Park I frequently thought about how awesome it would be to trot a horse along the amazing, quiet primeval forest. The ground is so soft from millennium of plants and leaves, it almost bounces. I'd look at a trail rising steadily in front of me and think what a nice canter place that was. Unfortunately no horses are allowed on most of the trails, but it was almost as fun imagining it.

The barn manager reported that Major had been full of it all week: not being ridden means he runs his pasture mates around! I just wanted to get out on the trail, so saddled up and walked up the road. He seemed fine, not jumpy or silly, and off we went. I think we were both happy to be out. I love looking through perked ears as we take a trail turnoff, "Where are we going now?" Major seems to say.

Out to the lake. This time of year it just draws me in. The water is reflecting the sky, green grass to eat and no one out there. I didn't see another trail user the entire ride, and just two kayakers on the lake. Heading out we walked and trotted, and when I asked for a canter in one long, clear stretch it was so nice and controlled. His slow canter is slower than the fast trot, but so much nicer to ride. He was really being quite good. A tiny bit of spookiness (more than usual) that I think is just silliness from not being out.

The grass was so tempting, and our ride was so nice, I stopped and let him eat many times. At one stop I noticed he'd tweaked his boot off center, and since we were on the sandy trail I just took them off. I put them on later with no issues.

grass at the perfect height!
Coming home started the pulling contest, but even that was ok. Just something we're working on. I wasn't going to let much ruin my day, so when he got silly, I just waited, and circled or backed or reversed trail. We walked all the hills he wanted to trot, and had to stand by the scary water trough at the staging area (just that one trough, no idea why!).

Back home in time for a bath and an appointment with the trimmer. As much as I'd like to learn myself, it is sure a lot of work! Since Major has been wearing the boots his feet hadn't worn as much, and the trimmer actually had more work to do on the rock-hard feet. With trimming every four weeks Major's feet seem to get better and better. Plenty of heel, but still working on his contractedness. Most things I've read have said it just comes with time. Starting to have enough heel to support the back of the hoof will help with that.

A good horse day. I often think the simplest day (even the challenges) with horses are better than most any other adventure.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

three happy horses

Three happy horses were standing in the water, and we three owners were realizing how lucky we are. To have three nice horses and the time to ride them. To have these awesome trails right in our backyards. To have perfect weather with a breeze blowing off the lake. And to have great friends to ride with!

It was going to be a ride with just Christie and Friday, but Cheryl and Dune were able to join us, and we all had fun. No ride is without it’s interesting moments (scary log-octopuses trying to get Friday, Dune deciding the small mud patch was good to jump and buck over, Major running up on everyone when in the back) but all issues were dealt with (riding past the scary octopus, getting some correction about bucking, getting held back until he figured out he wasn’t going anywhere faster).

My favorite part was standing in the lake. We went to get the horses a drink, they all walked right up (even with scary waves) and we stood there, horses having a drink, talking like old friends do on trail rides. Major went in deeper so he could do his scuba-horse impression and we all just enjoyed our time together.

I think rides like this make me doubt ever being a really serious endurance competitor. It was nice to not have a plan, to just ride at a speed and distance we all wanted to do, to take time to eat grass and stand in the lake. I like that Major is in such good shape that we was barely sweating, and that we did almost every type of trail obstacle you could think of (mud, sticks, sand, water, rocks, granite slabs, ditches, logs, geese, airplanes, helicopter, runners, riders). These are good trail horses, and that is an accomplishment.

building up speed

I love the canal trail. It parallels Folsom Lake, is nice and sandy with great water access. The water laps the edges, the footing is great, beautiful views, with intersting historical significance (being an 1850s canal that once carried the river water to the Folsom Powerhouse, long before the lake exisited).

Major loves it too. Maybe a little too much. My plan on Saturday was to ride the upper Pioneer trail, so I booted up and got ready to go. My plans changed when I came across the lost runners running from Auburn to Granite Bay. I redirected them, and I know that we all can use the trail, but it is easier to move off and let them have the access than dodging runners and slowing them (or us) down.

So Canal trail it was. I think the minute Major felt the nice sand (even though booted), the flat open trail, he was wanting to go. I worked on just trotting, trying to keep it at a trot I could post (below 10mph) and slowing for the rocks and granite slabs that punctuate the trail. It worked...sometimes. I can read him pretty well, but he can still sneak that canter in with almost no warning, or just enough for me to start slowing him down. We had a few pretty good discussions, and I just pull him back from the canter and continue trotting. A few discussions ended in circling till his feet stopped moving.

I like that he is not running off with me, he is just having so much fun and wanting to go even faster. I don’t like that he is forgetting I’m up there and not listening to my aids. Work in progress.

Since I’d had other plans for a longer ride, when I finished part of the canal (and Major was still wanting to go) I was thinking of doing more miles, more training. Then I stopped and reevaluated: I’m not training for anything. I just had a good, safe ride on a happy horse. Going home and giving him a nice bath and some grazing time sounded like a good plan as well. So we did.

P.S. Newly adjusted boots stayed on the whole ride! Through sand and rocks with no rubbing, just took getting them adjusted correctly.

Friday, September 10, 2010

mini trail trials

At lesson on Thursday evening we practiced for an upcoming show. The show has the usual classes, and a trail class in the arena. It also has a trail trial out in the large pasture. It was great to practice out there! They have obstacles set up, and the instructor explained what was expected at each obstacle, had us go through them to practice, and then another time to judge and tell us the points she would have given us. Major walked knee-deep through the mucky pond (a little hesitation at first) and stepped over the fallen log just fine. We need to make sure to maintain our impulsion. A lot of that was Major being so ok with everything that I wasn't asking for much, but now I know what is expected and can work on that.

The hardest was probably the log L back-through. It is a standard L back-through, with an additional turn at the end, and big logs making up the sides. I haven't practiced any of this in so long, but we do a lot of backing up on the trail, and we were able to go through calmly and slowly, which is better than racing through and banging into something. I was proud of Major for listening in a strange environment. The next obstacle was trotting over small logs unevenly spaced, no one had much problem with that. After that the downhill/uphill backup, where you back down a small gully and back up the other side. We got a bit crooked, Major wanted to see where we were going, but if I put some leg on he did fine. This I'll practice, there is a perfect place on the trail to work this obstacle.

A wooden bridge comes next. Major didn't quite see the point since there was no water, no bushes, no reason not to just go around! But he did fine and walked up on the bridge, stopped and stood for a minute, and walked calmly off. I don't think he'd ever make a jumper, even in the pasture when he's just walking around he'll go around the logs and rocks, he is just thinking about why should he need to do more than he has to!

We were done for the lesson, and went and reworked the obstacles. There was also a fun obstacle that I dismounted and tried: a large box. That is just to put their feet on, and it is like getting in a trailer, so Major just stepped right up. He did want to continue, so I halted him (with his two front feet up) and then backed him down. It was great to see how unconcerned he was, and so many of the other horses did great as well. If they're all competing against me and Major we'll certainly be up for a challenge!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

a ride with gps confusion

Went on a really nice ride in the forest with friends Mandy (person) and Zoe (horse). Both horses were very well behaved, Major wore his newly-fitted boots with no problems. It was fun to stay in the forest, there are so many trails, and we took one of the outside trails. It is a trail I always forget about, but also I tend to take it the "wrong" direction and end up going down through nasty ruts. Mandy knows the trails there the best of anyone I know, and she took us on that trail the good way, so you go up the ruts, much easier!

four ears taking in the view
It was nice to have no destination or plan, just be out riding and having fun with our horses. We stopped and talked a lot, which is fun for us and a good training tool for the horses. We did a couple good trots where I asked Mandy to be in front, and for Major to deal with it. He doesn't pull much at first, but creeps closer and closer, then I have to pull him back (repeat, repeat, repeat...). Zoe was trotting at a nice, sustainable pace, Major just thinks faster is better.

At one point Mandy did ask if we could canter up a small incline, she wanted to find out Zoe's mindset. It was unexpected, but I asked Major....he thought that was a great idea! We had a bit of a discussion to slow down, but Zoe behaved herself, so at least one horse got the gold star on that exercise.

We never were lost, but when we got back and compared GPS (we both have different smartphones with different software), there was much confusion! Mine said 5.7 miles, Mandy's 7.0 miles. That is too much difference and quite annoying. We both like to measure our rides, and I really keep track, but if it is that incorrect?! I suggested (only partly in jest) that we take out a friend who has a GPS watch and I take my hand-help as well as both of the phones and do a GPS challenge. When the maps of both rides are overlapped in Google earth they almost completely match. Technology can be so fun and frustrating. Just like horses I guess!

saddle and boot fitting

I had been interested in trying out a Freeform saddle, and had been scanning the used classifieds. I found one locally, and the very generous owner let me borrow it for the day to see if it would fit. I had sat in one at Horse Expo, but that doesn't tell you much. This was the standard Freeform, 17 inch seat, small knee rolls. I loved how light it was, so easy to lift up on the horse. I had a borrowed mohair girth, and it was a bit hard to tighten (I'm used to some elastic). I used my Haf pad, and at first didn't play with any padding, I wanted to see how it fit from the ground and without anything special. It seems pretty tight on his withers, but I pulled the pad up into the gullet, and I know not to expect clearance like in a standard treed saddle.

I didn't play much with the stirrup adjustment, just placed it where it looked like it would work, and got on. Very comfortable from the start! With the single flap there is nice contact, and the built-up seat has a really nice twist. I felt secure right away, but did notice it was almost resting on his withers. I rode around, did some trotting and cantering, he moved nicely and you could really feel your horse underneath you. I did just enough to work up a small sweat, and took off the saddle to look at the sweat pattern. It looked quite even, with a dry spine (the most important part), though there were dry spots behind the wither (which would need padding). I tried the saddle father back than usual, to see if that would help the clearance, but when sitting on him there was just too much pressure. I tried the treeless string test (run a string with a knot through the gullet, if it slides freely you have spine clearance) and the string got hung-up in the front.

So I certainly like the saddle, but I think the cutback (unfortunately) would be the way to go. I was very grateful to the saddle's owner for loaning it to me, and met a very cool endurance rider in the process, so in the end it was good. I won't be getting a saddle anytime soon, and still really like my Solstice, but it is fun to try what is out there.

Then it was time for boot fitting! Tiny tools and super-strong velcro, but Major was pretty patient while we constantly asked for his feet, make him stand, asked again, etc. The boots took a bit of playing with, the cables really needed to be loosened, I think I was loosing boots because the heel support was falling too low. When I adjust them higher on his heels they do migrate down a bit (just his conformation) but not like they did before. I didn't have to tighten the velcro so much in the front, and didn't feel or see any twisting. Time will tell!

Thursday, September 2, 2010


I started Major on a week of psyllium. I have done this before, but slacked off, and it is not hard to do and certainly doesn't hurt anything. Last year I heard a vet speak about the whole subject, and (from what I remember) there weren't a lot of serious studies about the effectiveness, but he gives it to his horses and has experiences with it helping.

Major thinks it's delicious! I just added it to his regular supplements, which he'll eat but not usually completely finish. This time he's licking the pan clean, and making a full mess of himself (and wanting to share with me).

After eating it yesterday he was just standing tied, where he is good but just feels the need to get into everything. I forgot to move the saddle rack, which he proceeded to knock over, hitting my supplies carrier, making a racket, and he didn't even bat an eye. I had to catch the innocent look on his face. This is the face he makes when he tried to eat my friend's trailer or pulls off other horses fly masks. I think he knows I can't be mad at this face. So I just picked up the rack, put away my tools and let him graze. He has me well trained.