Friday, December 31, 2010

last ride of the year

I should have known when I got to the ranch and Major was kicking up his heels running around the pasture. It was only 35 degrees, but he must like it. But he came to the gate, and we got ready to go. But he was in a mood.

Major seemed to be auditioning for a part in "Spaceballs the Movie," the part of Major Asshole. To the non-nerds, yes, that an actual character in the awesome Mel Brooks movie. But back to the ride.

I thought I'd check out the trail to Rattlesnake Bar, which we hadn't done since summer. Heading out down the road he was a bit silly, but settled and was great for about 3 miles. Then we saw other horses. And turned around for home...and his brain fell out. Jigging silliness, I tried all the tricks in my repertoire, nothing worked. So we went home the long way, but even the additional 4 miles didn't help. This ride also has lots more elevation, so we climbed 1000 feet and descended 800 feet. No matter.

So back home we worked in the arena. Trot, circles, cantering, cantering circles. And when I asked for whoa, just with my voice, he slams on the brakes like a cowhorse. sigh...

Not the last ride of the year that I hoped for, but I was just happy to be out, in the sun, on my horse. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Neither wind, nor rain, nor hail...

"Neither wind, nor rain, nor hail, nor gloom of clouds, stays this rider from the swift completion of her appointed trails." -apologies to Herodotus, 503 B.C

The ride started out clear, and I thought last night the news said a break in the storm...very wrong. Walking up the road the rain started, pretty heavy. The clouds looked dark, but I was determined to ride. Major had a spring in his step, perked ears and seemed just as determined. Then the hail started.

At first I thought the rain was just coming down harder, but then little white balls are bouncing off of Major's mane, and the road was turning white. We were out in the open, no trees for shelter, so we just kept trotting. Luckily it didn't last long, but enough to get my unwise choice of summer-weight breeches soaked, wet socks and gloves. I thought once we were on the trail and moving I'd warm up.

Except the usually well-drained sand trail was mostly a creek. It makes sense that after a big storm like last night the water flows to the lake...on the most convenient path. At one point there was a waterfall going off the trail. So instead if a nice trotting ride we slogged through puddles.

The large puddles Major thinks are fun, the deeper the better. He sniffs and takes a lick (would hopefully drink if thirsty) out of all of them, and at one also did his scuba routine where he dunks his head over his eyes into the water. And that time he grabbed a small log/branch underwater, and picked it up. I had to remind him he is not a dog.

The rest of the muddy puddles he'd rather avoid, but we worked on walking through them. We did get a little trotting in, though my cold legs made for some awkward posting. Coming home through the forest was sloppy, and I was glad to be home in one piece. Back at the barn the sky was a brilliant blue with puffy clouds...guess I should have waited a couple hours.

But we both enjoyed the adventure. And I brought home my very wet saddle for a good cleaning and conditioning...

Horse cookies

I love to bake. But I certainly don't need more cookies to eat! And it was raining and yucky yesterday, so I found myself making horse treats.

First was the horse "popcorn" ball. A hard treat that you hang to make your horse's face all sticky and gross. But Major loves them. They involve making a candy-like sugar mixture and stirring in grain, etc. I used beet pulp, some oatmeal and corn meal. FYI: don't turn your back on the sugar mixture even for the time it takes to dig out the mini bundt will be cleaning your stove of burning sugar lava and setting off your smoke alarms.

The next was basic cookies. Molasses, water, salt, beet pulp, oatmeal and some sweet feed. Mix until disgusting looking and spoon into mini muffin pans. Cook until the house smells like a feed processing facility.

Major will pretty much eat any treat (but not mints of any kind). He only gets one of the cookies each time, so even though they're sugary it seems ok. I still like that they're not store bought and no preservatives.

Next time I am going to try a low-sugar treat with pumpkin in it. But I may wait till I can open some windows.

Monday, December 27, 2010


I had a nice holiday post but it somehow disappeared into some internet space-time continuum. You can never say it the same as the first time...

It boils down to good friends, good horses, trails, and the new year. Too simplistic? I was able to ride Christmas eve, then again a couple days later. Nice quiet rides, where I figured out what to work on next (passing and being passed at speed). Family was nice at the holiday, but it was also nice to be back home, a bit more quiet, and to have some time off.

My previous barn always had a New Year's day ride. I hope to continue the tradition, to ride/walk/hang out with my horse. After staying up late the night before, getting out to the barn isn't the easiest, but it is a great way to usher in the horsey new year.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Major's view

"I heard my Mom's car drive up, and I looked over the fence to find her. She brings me good things to eat. I was in my house, but had been playing on the hill before all the rain came. I don't like to get wet. She brought me a carrot, just one! Then we went to eat my snack...but there was no snack! I wanted to walk over to the snack area, even if it was wet, but she made me keep walking. I tried to walk really slow and show her where we were supposed to go, but we had to walk down the driveway. I was getting wet. I wasn't in my pen. I didn't want to go. I walked really slow and looked behind me too. But she made me.

We walked down the road, I was wet, my head was wet, my Mom laughed at my crabby face. And said "blah, blah, blah, Major." then I tried some grass. It was good. Then some more, and we walked down to where there was some really extra delicious stuff. And I got to eat a whole bunch, mmmm, nom, nom, nom, I crunched grass so fast my mouth couldn't get enough! and then it was ok that I was wet. It had been my idea all along!

I wanted to keep eating grass all day, but Mom made me go back. But then my snack was ready! Mmmm, I love this snack. I eat it every day and still it is good. Today it was warm and mushy, my favorite way! I like to share some with Mom too, but she just stands far away till I am done.

It was still wet, and my new idea was to go stand inside again. This time I got to do what I wanted, and my dinner was already there! Wet days aren't so bad..."

Friday, December 17, 2010


Typically there are the usual: deer, quail, Canada geese. Today I got to see something special.

tiny bad photo of bald eagle!
One last clear day! I thought yesterday was the last, and wasn't really prepared to ride, but I rushed out of work and saddled up Major. He was looking forward to going out, maybe he was sensing the impending week of rain, and we trotted up the road. He loves the lake trail, and I let him move out. The lake is at least 5-6 feet lower than Sunday from the water releases, so muddy shoreline was more apparent. At one point I was admiring the view and saw a speck of dark on a rock in the lake. With a white head. I thought it was one funky duck, but as I looked closer he was much larger. I realized it was a bald eagle! I've never seen one at the lake (or anywhere else either). I also realized how far away he was, and that he was huge! I tried taking a photo, but camera phone has no real zoom, one time I wished I carried a real camera. I know the bald eagles overwinter in Cache Creek, but that is a ways from here. Maybe he was just passing through and saw some tasty fish.

I've seen a golden eagle before (who was huge and gorgeous and spooked the pony I was riding who then dumped me) but I'd love to see more bald eagles. I'll have to keep an eye out. The rest of the ride was good, Major wanted to move out sometimes a bit too much, but was rateable most of the time. Almost home we had to cross a muddy (but safe) area. We crossed and coming towards us on the trail was a gorgeous coyote. Full bushy coat and tail, finding some good hunting in the field it looked like. Major and I have no worries of coyotes, and the coyote passed up and went to the muddy area, clearly not wanting to get his legs that dirty (4-6 inches deep of water and mud).

I was so glad I'd decided to ride out, to have one more day before the storms. One more day, one more ride, I think that is what most of us hope for.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

slip and fall

I knew the trails were slippery. And so I carefully headed out, down the road to an easier access. Through the gate, down to the tiny creek. Major started down the bank, put his head down to check the water...and whoa! Not sure how I stayed on as his back legs slid underneath him, he caught himself from falling and lunged out of the creek. He'd gotten pretty muddy, and I jumped off to make sure all was OK. Walked around a bit, everything seemed fine, so found a spot to remount and continued on. I'd just planned a forest walk, and that was all we did. It was a nice quiet hour or walking and a tiny amount trotting (after the first 10 minutes of scary!). The trails are so pretty and going green right now, Major keeps wanting to stop for a snack!

There was a recent good post by Karen Chaton about riding in mud, with some good hints and ideas, and there will certainly be a lot of practice in the months to come. Maybe 6 inches of rain in the next week, they're letting water out of Folsom Lake in expectation of the deluge, oh holiday joy...

Monday, December 13, 2010

something clicked...

Something clicked today. I don't know if was a product of the extra groundwork and listening exercises, or if Major just wanted to move and was willing to listen so he could do so...I didn't really care why. But after a few miles of occasional unresponsiveness (mainly consisting of breaking into canter when expected to trot) I got a very nice trotting ride of about 9 miles, along the lake in the nicely drained sandy footing. The forest trails had been pretty slick with mud, so we took those slow in the beginning, but the lake was great.

(I'd been reading some great blogs about riding in the snow, cantering horse along snowy paths, it all sounded so beautiful. But after yesterday, where it was 65 degrees in December with startling blue skies, I'll stick with my weather, though visiting the snow would be fun).

There were quite a few riders out, Major doesn't seem that interested and leaves them no problem. I also think part of our successful ride was that I finally felt a good posting rhythm...his fast trot is just so damn fast and I don't want to 2-point the entire time. The trot I managed to get him to stick with is a notch down from the fast version, GPS clocked it at about 11.5 mph. He seems willing to keep this up for quite a while, but I was glad to get about 10 minutes straight of that, then some more in the 7-9 mph range (but was fighting him to stay that speed).

We did one 6-mile loop, and he still wanted to go, so I added on some more. I don't want to be a weekend warrior, but last weekend was the last big (although slow) ride. I'd love to do more long rides, but during the week I can truly only ride in the arena or up the road a bit. With some holiday time coming up I'm looking forward to more rides like today!

When we got home he was a sweaty mess (even though he was cooled off). At first I was just going to sponge him off, but with the weather so nice he got hosed off...then put out in the arena. I sat on a barrel and got to watch my pretty horse rolling no less than 3 times, including grinding his face into the sand, and thoroughly enjoying himself. He'd roll, flipping entirely over, then trot a bit, roll some more. Happy and not seemingly tired from our excursion. When he seemed satisfied with his messiness, he sauntered over to me to share some dirt (and get a carrot).

Good pony. Good day.

Friday, December 10, 2010

the wreath incident

I had a message on my phone the other day from a friend at the barn. Major got in trouble...but it was so funny she had to call and tell me. She was taking a decorative wreath to her horse's paddock. To get there you have to walk through Major's pasture. He came trotting up, and she thought he wanted to be pet (he's sometimes a bit of a pest "what are you doing, huh, huh??). Instead he zeroed in on that wreath...and grabbed hold! She politely asked him to let go...and he insisted on pulling harder and trying to run off with it! She pictured him running amok through the pasture, wreath flying, scaring the other horses and having a grand time of it. So she insisted he let go and he did, I'm sure a bit dejected that his fun was over.

I think I'll get him his own wreath, or some such playtoy. Might be a good holiday photo shoot!

rainy benefits

Rain all week, dark after work, I don't see many benefits. But Major does! The best part of his day comes when we go for a walk through the arena. I turn him loose, and immediately he makes a beeline for the closest barrel. On top of each barrel is about a 1/2 inch of what must be the most delicious, fun water ever discovered. First it is swished around on top, then it must be slurped, then licked up. After that the barrel is grabbed by the edge and tipped so any remaining water falls to the ground. The barrel is usually tipped so as it falls it falls towards Major...who doesn't care at all. Then the barrel gets kicked around a few times, before it is abandoned for the next amazing barrel and water discovery. One time last week he played, tipped the barrel over, and tipped it right back up into position! If he could do that more often, but instead I pick up the barrels later.

I love watching him doing this: he is obviously having fun, and he'll look up at me "see what I did!," wander over to check on what I'm doing, wander over to another barrel, repeat.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

a fable

The internet is an amazing trove of information. I was looking for one thing, and was caught up in reading interesting aesop's fables. This one I particularly liked, by French writer Jean De La Fontaine. There are differing translations, but all are interesting. I read the ones with horses...most of the time the horse beats the wolf but the horse is also dumber/more self-involved than the donkey. 

From the beginning of time Horses were not born for Men. 
Once Man was quite satisfied eating acorn,
Donkey, Horse and Mule dwelt in the forest; 
And one saw not, as in this century, 
So many saddles and  various packs, 
Nor such fittings for warfare, 
Many poste-chaises, legion of coaches; 
Likewise one did not witness  
So much feasting and numerous parties. 
One day, a Horse had an argument   
With a Stag capable of great speed, 
Chased it all about and failing utterly, 
Sought help from Man, begged for support. 
The Man rigged him with bit and rein, leapt on his back, 
Gave him no repose until 
The Stag was caught and lost his life; 
This done, the Horse gave thanks 
To Man his benefactor saying; I am grateful,  
Farewell, I'm going back to the wilderness. 
- Nay, said the Man; our dwelling is more suitable:
I clearly see how useful you might be. 
Stay with me you'll be treated well 
And to your belly in a bed of straw.
Alas, what good is fine food 
When one has lost freedom? 
The Horse perceived his foolishness; 
But it was too late: already his stable 
Was ready and  built so very well. 
He died there while pulling on his rope! 
Wiser had he forgiven a petty offense. 
Whatever pleasure vengeance may bring, 
It is too costly, when bought at the expense 
Of what is gone, all the rest is naught.
Never seek revenge for it may be your undoing

It makes me a little sad, but I know most of our horses are treated very well. But the first line of this piece just pulls at my heart: From the beginning of time, Horses were not born for Men. I keep going back to this idea, so it must be important to me: horses give us such gifts...

all is quiet

It has been a nice quiet couple of weeks. I have really enjoyed just spending time with my horse. He is quickly groomed and then we do a little work in the arena, then go eat some grass on a meandering walk. He is no longer favoring his leg when hand-walking or on the lunge, so we did a short little ride yesterday, it was nice to see the forest, how green it is getting, to feel the very brisk air. He seemed happy and ready to go...especially heading for home. It is dark way too early, it was 4:30 when I was coming back the road, and I put his blanket on in the dark.

I think it has been good to take a little break, it will be like this much of the winter anyway. A nice quiet break from monitoring and charting and expectations. I am hoping to do some very casual rides with friends, to get Major relaxed and walking along with other horses, so he is not expecting fast rides all the I guess I do have expectations!

It is cold and clear right now, I know Major likes to stand in the corner of his paddock where the sun hits first. When he is turned out after breakfast he'll have a good roll and spend the day with his friends. I'll arrive this afternoon, and he looks up when he hears my car. Deciding on whether to come to my whistle is a day-to-day decision, but he comes eventually, and we'll go in search of the sweet new grasses...

Monday, November 22, 2010


I admit I like orange. And it looks good on my horse. But I may have gone too far. Major's friends are probably making fun of how his mother dresses him.

My barn manager calls it his "Cal Trans vest."

This last storm has been very wet and cold (for Northern California). Temperatures are expected in the high 20s, low 30s for Wednesday. I'll keep his blanket on, it is just a waterproof sheet, for the extra warmth. He doesn't have much of a winter coat, though last year he was OK. But last year he had a friend to stand with, now he is in an individual pen at night. I know it is probably more about my concerns, but he also got a nice warm beet pulp mash last night, and slurped it right up.

The turnout is quite hilly, and Major has been climbing the hill and among the rocks like a goat lately. Now it is really slippery, and last night he seems a bit gimpy in his hock/stifle area. I am hoping he just tweaked it while playing around, there is no heat or swelling, so I'll give him a few days to rest and keep an eye on it. I know he hates being cooped up, but we're expecting two more days of rain then freezing. We did go for a handwalk last night, where we had to work on his manners.

Or maybe he was getting back at me for the orange pajamas.

Monday, November 15, 2010

two rides, very different

75 degrees in November, perfect weather. I had been gone for a few days and needed to get outside, though I did just hand-walk Major one day, I was too tired from traveling to do much else. Saturday I went to the stable, expecting to ride alone, but managed to bum a ride (I was invited of course) with some friends. It was a very quiet ride, all walk, tiny bits of trotting, and really good for Major. He hadn't been out in a group, even a mini-group (three of us) for awhile, and Major certainly didn't like it. He wanted to be in front, he wanted to of course he got to do none of those things. He thought everyone walked too slow, that the other way was home, and every other bratty thing. Eventually when he figured out that jigging behind the other very patient, good horse wasn't getting him anywhere he settled down, like a child sulking. We all eventually did lead and follow, trade places, etc. While it wasn't my typical ride, I actually know I need to do much more riding with others before I even think of an endurance ride with all those horses!

Yesterday I knew Major needed to get out and stretch his legs. I was actually more stiff from our walking ride than I am when we really move, so I thought he might be the same. We just did a quick ride, lots of hills and working on just trotting. Heading home I did see a bobcat bound across the trail, that was a treat. A large buck chased a small doe around, it certainly is the season. And I picked ticks off my horse, yuck!

Sunday, November 7, 2010


There are days when everything just clicks. The week had been a series of challenging rides, two steps forward, five steps back (or would that be two trots forward, five blowing-through-aids ahead?).

I decided since I was heading for an out-of-town conference for a week that Major and I needed to get out and have fun, safely of course. I was going to do a short forest ride, but the weather was so spectacular I wanted to see the lake. As we started off we walked and trotted, and I asked for the canter, and asked to slow, without any fits or fighting. Better already!

As we touched the sand we both felt it: electric. The wind was blowing enough to ruffle the lake and his mane, there was no one around, so I asked for the canter along the shore. It is sandy intermixed with rocks and turns, so this isn't a full-out gallop, but should be a nice canter. Major is a bit quicker than I prefer, and although a bit nervous (I know I have to work through this), off we went. I was smiling so much my teeth were dry, he was listening, we were covering ground, it was perfect.

We came around a bend and encountered a large horse-eating rock (that we've seen many many times). Major did a small spook to the side at a canter, I managed to stay on, heart in throat, but all was well! (A recent great post by Haiku Farm's Fiddle didn't cover horse-eating rocks). Going home we mostly trotted, the upper trail isn't safe for much else. In one rutted place closer to home he tried to canter, and while strong I was able to pull him back. We were having such a great time that a mile from home I pulled him up and just got off. He was very surprised, it was not the place where that usually happens, "We've got a while to go Mom," he seemed to question. But I loosened his girth and took out his bit, we walked and jogged home, ending on a good note.

A very good ride, I think because of compromises on both our parts. Major needs to work on listening, and learning that my suggestions are for our own safety. I need to remember that he has proven himself to be surefooted and (mostly) sane, and that going at speed doesn't need to be so scary. His nice canter is slower than his fast trot, but I feel so much more secure during the trot. We both have lots to work on, but this ride one piece clicked into place.

Monday, November 1, 2010

just wait a day

The saying "If you don't like the weather in California, just wait a day." That certainly proved itself today: yesterday was wet, overcast and misty, today was crystal clear and warm: a perfect Halloween. Started out to ride in tshirt, long sleeve and vest. Left to ride in just a tshirt. It was close to 80 degrees as we headed out on the trail. We started off following a new-to-Major trail, and found that the power company had cleared a long section of it (below power lines). That left a long nice stretch to canter, with Major and I both just enjoying the feel of the clean air, the smooth footing, the path ahead.

I had thought about another good long ride today, but partway through changed my mind. I was enjoying myself, Major was happy, it was a beautiful warm day to sit in the sun. So after we made it to dead-car point (people somehow manage to get cars all the way out here, then trash them, just lovely) and inspiration point (with it's beautiful oak tree) we headed home. Major was really sweating in the unexpected warmth (and just where does all that winter fur come from, I swear it just pops up). We had one bit of disagreement coming home, where we went back and forth about five times because Major just couldn't contain himself to a trot and kept breaking into canter. Still we both had a nice ride, and we got home where he got hosed off (sponge bath was just not going to do it) and a good messy roll in the wet sandy arena.

I let my my now dirty, sandy horse back into the pasture, where instead of trotting off he hung out with me back to the gate, then stayed around while I talked with some friends. I feel privileged when they make that choice, to be with a person, that I am part of his herd.

another rainy day

Went hiking with Major and SO. It was barely raining, just mist, but Major thought it was quite enough, and he was getting wet and should be back at the barn. Once reminded that being dragged is not the nice way to walk along the trails we had a nice three mile walk in the woods. Last year Major would have been running over anyone in his way, but he walked nicely, a bit confused when I was walking behind and SO was leading, "What are you doing back there Mom?"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

after rain trails

After the rain the trails come alive. It hasn't rained since May, and we had a downpour on Sunday. Already the bracken fern are springing from between rocks, tiny grass is pushing between dead weeds and the smell of the dust has that damp, dead-but-coming-alive smell. I know that sounds weird, but hopefully forest people will understand. The yellow fall leaves now fall on a bright-green moss rock.

With trails like this I went on a nice walk with a friend. We meandered around, helping her with her bearings in the forest, no destination, trotted up a wide trail and took a quick turn onto a small path, winding up a hill, horses trotting along. Major was good, though he doesn't settle much, still hoping I'll ask for more miles, faster, farther...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween tales

Some bloggers have written some fun (and scary) Halloween tales. Check out Living in a ZooEndurance Granny and Haiku Farm's great scary posts. I don't have a good haunting story, but has anyone else found a severed head?!

Ha! Yes, I found a severed head last week, right in the middle of the trail. A trail I often take, but it pretty far out in the forest, and I somehow looked down at the right time and saw this lovely head. I had to jump off and stuff him in my saddle bag. Did I bring the spirits upon me by doing so? I don't know, but he is currently installed on a post near our wash rack. My barn owner thinks I'm nuts.

She however proceeded to tell me something she once found in the same forest: a prosthetic leg! She wondered how someone with a prosthetic leg hiked out there in the first place...and how did he hike out? Maybe he is still there, searching the forest for his lost leg...or at least we can think that when our horse spooks at nothing!

Happy (almost) Halloween!

moving right along

First a semi-digression: On Saturday when I was out with Major I kept a little song in my head...not a classic or some song everyone will know, but something equally important: a song from The Muppet Movie. The song "Moving Right Along" just makes me smile, is completely ridiculous, and has some great lyrics for riding. Watch out for the fork in the trail...and anything a frog and bear can sing is just about my style...

A storm was coming in, the wind was up and Major wanted out of his paddock. I wanted a good safe ride, so choose the forest where I thought it would be less windy. It was actually calm and nice, so did end up out on the water as well. On the way out we mostly trotted, and he was listening really well. It is no nice when he is staying at a single pace, instead of pulling him back from silliness all the time. We headed for the lake, and did the first four miles at almost 8mph. Some of that is on dirt trail with rocks, the rest is sand. The sand is great to work in, not too deep, almost like a nice arena, and great on his feet. We also worked on whoa and some short canter work.

We were heading south and could see the storm clouds ahead. The lake was so still and gray, I didn't see anyone else out except a few fishermen. I decided not to push it too far, I didn't want to end up riding in a downpour. Heading home had a few more challenges, especially once we passed the spot where Major "thought" we were going home. I took the long way home, along the lake shore, and he was much better as listening. The problem with the lake trail is anyway is home, so when I turn him the other direction if he has misbehaved he then thinks "oh, now we're going home that way!" That is more of a challenge, but we are working on meeting it.

On the final section of trail we usually turn and go up "Barking Dog Hill." Major wanted to go the other way, which is longer, steeper and farther...ok buddy, let's go. Partway up he realized his mistake, but we continued home that way. Trotting back through the fancy neighborhood, a woman gardening yelled "that looks like fun!" I replied "It can be!" Going through the neighborhood is fun, trot on gravel, bark, over a driveway, back on dirt, driveway, more gravel, driveway, bark, all manner of footing and mailbox obstacles. I love when Major is on a mission, focused on his job, just ready to go.

We walked back through the forest, to cool down and relax. I got off and Major was eating grass right as the first raindrops hit my saddle. He was barely sweaty from the cool day, but did get to try on his cooler as he ate his beet pulp. I walked him to cool him before putting him out to pasture. He went and stood at his paddock gate since it was raining a bit, the barn manager describes him as the wimpiest horse about wet.

I felt much better about this ride, and my horse in general. I like how (although I know this) keeping a consistent pace is easier on both of us and allows for a faster ride. I don't like how he still had moments of ignoring me completely, and the pressure I had to use to get him to listen. Reading Ridecamp this weekend there was an interesting topic about conditioning and how to know if a horse is ready for a 25, 50, etc. Reading the responses did make me think Major is ready physically for a 25, though I'm not sure if mentally we're there yet. I know they tend to be a different horse at the ride, and since we're not consistent at home yet, I think we're not there yet. I'd love to do a longer ride with someone, but need to find a riding buddy who can keep up the pace for that long, I'd like to see what my horse (and I) can do. But for now I'll wait till the deluge stops. (Two inches of rain in one California storm in October, seriously?!)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde

Today I got to ride Dr. Jeckyll...Major's other personality! (I couldn't remember the story, but Hyde was the evil one...). I don't know if was the new training tool I tried, the new bit, the trails I chose, the day, his pasturemates, but he was a much better horse. It is hard to replicate exact situations (and I didn't really want to relive the ride from Sunday) and I wanted to see how he was on a shorter ride.

1. New training tool. I have tried this tool before, but with horses, you can always come back to something. Since my current regime wasn't registering with him, every time he broke gait/was silly/didn't do as I asked we turned around and headed the other direction. So we'd be trotting, he'd canter and I'd slow him down, turn around, and trot the other direction. After about 200 feet I'd whoa, turn back around, and resume the trail and pace as if nothing has happen. If he kept trotting, we'd pass the "sticky" spot. If not, we'd turn around and repeat. Only once did I have to do this three times. By the fifth time or so he figured it out, and the one time he "accidentally" did one canter step with one foot…and caught his mistake before I even corrected him. Good boy! And that was even coming home. We did canter in some places, when I asked for it, and he was listening and not just blowing through my aids. Much improved.

2. Trails. I stayed on the forest trails, which he knows but are not the wide-open fun of the lake and sandy canal trail. We went out and came home. Out on a nice loose rein, coming home was when we used the training tool. On all aspects of the ride we'd trot and I'd unexpectedly ask for a whoa, or a change of pace.

3. New Bit. I am trying it, and it is not a severe bit, but rode with a loose rein most of the time. The few times I had to correct him I did it in the above training way, so I think that was more the case. However if he gets really strong, I can use this aspect.

4. The day. I'll have to continue this for awhile. And just like us they have their good and bad days. I expect some backsliding, but will continue: I like my horse and the trails too much!

5. New pasturemate. Major has a new pasturemate/toy. Marti is a yearling arab/haflinger and I guess he and Major have been having a grand time. I love that, though the barn owner worries about them running up and down the hill. I am just glad someone plays with him, the other horses in the pasture are a bit stuffy.

One thing I love about today is that the trimmer came out before my ride. He trimmed Major's feet, which are looking better and better, and then I easily rode up the gravel road, packed hard trails and over granite slabs with no problems.

At the end of the ride I got off about a half-mile early and walked in (I usually do this anyway). Major had a yummy grass snack and I relaxed too. When we got home and untacked he wanted to dash off into the pasture, but I let him loose to roll in the nice sand arena. Then I turned him into the pasture, when he ran off, bucked and rolled in the dirt.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I was trying to think of a good post many came to mind, but this just about sums up our last ride.

He knows better, he truly does. We'd done some work in the arena this week. He listens to a voice whoa, and even just my seat after warm up. When we practice cantering in the arena at whoa he slams on the brakes like a reining horse. Not so much yesterday.

I wanted to spend some time out on the trails, the weather was threatening but nice and cool. After a nice warm up in the arena, (where he was just perfectly pleasant) we headed out. He was forward but fine. Then we got to the real trail (not the connector trail). Major thought that a new land-speed record needed to be set between Horseshoe Bar and Sterling Point. This is not on the nice lower trail, this was on the curvy, rocky, dropoff trail. Unfortunately it is also not a trail where there is much room to work on discipline (no good hills to run up, no good places to sidepass or backup). But that was just a mile or so, so took him to the lower trail where he could work on listening.

Rider, what rider? Blowing through aids, completely ignoring me. But there were a few nice wide places to trot in big circles, trot through and over sticks and rocks and sand, trot a circle downhill, back up, over and sideways, back down, repeat. And repeat. And repeat. After about a half hour we had come to more of an agreement. We trotted along, with much less pulling, and when we passed a cutoff trail that goes home I suddenly had a slug. Not today...we kept going. Had a much better trip, though later heading home had a couple regressive moments. I'd say a seven mile fight out of nine total miles....

I am glad he loves the trails. I'm glad he wants to explore, but we need to do it at a speed we can both agree on. I'll admit I like a nice 7-8 mph trot. And he wants to go at 13-14 mph. I can compromise if he can, but I may have decided that it will take more bit than I am currently using. I hate that, I have always felt going to a bigger bit means my training is failing (it's not the bit, it's the rider, I know that). And I am sure my training is lacking somewhere, but until I can have some control it isn't safe for either of us. I know lots of people have been happy with the myler combination, I don't know if I want to go there quite yet, but I'll do some research.

Coming home we did climb quite a few hills, it was interesting to see the GPS read 1,282 feet total ascent, 1,205 total descent. Major walked most of that, he'd prefer to trot the hills but I was not in an accommodating mood, I thought it was good training to walk them. Looking at our speed graph is pretty amusing (now, not at the time). Stop, speed goes up up up to about 15 mph, drop back down as we worked though that pushiness, repeat. I just finished reading "Go the Distance" by Nancy Loving (great book) and I know she talked about finding a consistent pace which is better for conditioning...I'm trying!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

haf pad update

I have been liking the haf pad, with no complaints from Major. It is nice to not have a sopping wet wool blanket to deal with. The other day though I noticed a dry spot in the same location as before, on both sides. I think the foam isn’t distributing the weight enough. The saddle fitters had given me the idea, so I cut up a felt dressage pad I had (about 1/4 inch think) and inserted it in on top of the foam.

It felt a little weird at first. I felt a bit perched and without as much feel of Major’s back. But as the ride progressed I think the felt conformed and by the end of the ride it felt ok, still stiffer (of course) than the foam alone. Major’s back looked evenly sweaty, with no hair ripples, but I do wish he could let me know! I will say the pad never moves an inch, and stays really nicely in place up in the spine channel of the saddle. I don’t use a breastcollar or anything but saddle and girth, so the stability is a plus. I’ll see how this test works.

snakes on a trail

After arena work earlier this week went pretty well, I went down to the arena to play again. We started warming up...but as I passed the gate I just couldn’t stay inside any longer. All day trapped in an office, Major in the pasture, we both wanted out. We started down the road, and into the forest. It has been really hot this week, so the shade was welcome, though it is still so dusty. Right away we came across a rattlesnake path in the dust. I hadn’t seen many this summer, but it is so hot and dry I think they’re on the move. After some discussions with Major on the best way to go (not towards home already) we started up another trail...rattlesnake path there too.

I truly don’t mind the snakes. They keep to themselves and they don’t want to get smashed by hooves any more than I want to run over one. But as I needed to circle Major again, I was cautious about going into the weeds on the side of the trail. When Major would flinch at something (quail, deer) I would wonder if he heard a snake. We back tracked on a portion of the trail previously snake-free and I saw a snake path...that ended in the middle of the road with a snake still on it. A baby rattler, only a foot long or so.

I think that was enough for me. We had been heading in the direction of home anyway, and I didn’t want to be on snakey trails in the deepening twilight, so we headed home, a big nice walk. I didn’t go as far or as fast as I wanted (and Major really wanted), but it was still a nice evening out of the arena, in the golden light. Even with dusty trails and snakes, it is good to be on a horse.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

a full show weekend

This was an all-horse, all the time weekend. On Saturday I was the groom for a friend who was competing. We spent all day at the show, and I nagged her into a couple classes she wasn't going to enter...and she did great! It was great to watch, and I know I should have participated, but wimped out. I think I was a bit intimidated by some of the requirements (which turned out not too matter very much at this mostly schooling show) and worried about not having enough training time on Major. I was more than happy to be there with my friend though, and less stress than with the two of us managing the two horses.

On Sunday I did take Major to the show. He loaded in my friend's trailer after a little convincing (I can't wait till I can practice with him in my new trailer). The horseman's park was packed with trailers! The nice parking guys found us a spot, and we unloaded. Major was a bit nervous, he looked around a bit wide-eyed at all the fuss, but then noticed his hay bag and set to calmly eating. HIs buddy Friday seemed pretty unfazed, he'd been here the day before! We registered, tacked up and walked the horses around. There were horses and people everywhere, but proudly both Major and Friday were curious but not silly.

I probably should have warmed up more, but the warm-up arena was filled with western people really really slowly trotting their horses. Major's trot would look like a tornado compared to that (on a side note: lots of arabs there, and lots of the painfully slow trot. I understand collection, but this wasn't, and i'm sorry western show people, but it doesn't seem like any horse really moves like the field, do they trot like that?!)

We went right down to the the trail trial, which takes place in a wooded area. There were some easier obstacles (backing around a tree and not hitting the outside logs, we did ok) and some we didn't do very well on (get off and lunge your horse to jump over logs, no thank you, I prefer Major to just step over things!). I was proud that we accomplished the water obstacle: pick up a bucket on a string, go down the bank to the stream and fill it halfway, bring the bucket back up and set it on a paper plate, hanging the string back up. Since one of the last things-on-string and water incidents had turned ugly I was glad we'd worked on the sponge months ago and that Major was good. He was a little upset about leaving his trailer friend, but mostly listened.

I knew overall that the trail trail was not our best this time, but was glad I tried it. Our next class was arena trail. There were many patterns, but I chose to do the Novice one: everything looked doable and it was easier to memorize. Memorizing two patterns that day was more than my tired brain could deal with, so just one arena class.

Waiting in the very long line for the class took more than an hour. Major got antsy, so I did take him on a trot around the woods. We just did one circuit, but he willingly left his friend and picked up a trot, hoping for a trail ride I'm sure. I do love that about him, he has lots of enthusiasm for exploring and new trails are no concern.

He was a star in the arena trail class, listened nicely, stepped over logs and over the bridge, trot into the triangle, up the the mailbox, nice back and everything else. It was simple, but precise, and I liked that he was so calm. We had to wait another long time for the results, and while we wanted to leave, we both thought we'd done well.

And we did! I got second place, Friday got fifth place (I think) and two other friends got third and fourth. Major was half asleep at this point, and got into the trailer with much less fuss and was glad to be home. When I let him back into the pasture he trotted out, snaking head and having fun, before stopping for a huge great roll. He deserved it after that long day.

It is nice to know (again, I always am thinking this) that we have come this far. The judge remarked to another friend that she liked how calm our horses were. For Major's first real show, I am so proud of him!

Friday, October 8, 2010


The color and quality of the light this time of year is just spectacular. On my ride yesterday I kept stopping and just admiring the colors. People think in California we're missing the seasons, and it's true that I don't see strands of amazing colored trees. But looking out at the deep blue lake, evergreen oak trees, beautiful golden grasses, red poison oak, it is a pretty picture.
golden trails: which way to you think he wanted to go? (hint, the ears are pointed towards home)

But I didn't get to take a picture there because Major wouldn't stand still. I thought I'd take him on a short trail ride, make sure that leg was doing OK, get back into it. He had other plans, mostly involving jigging all over. It started out nicely, including a few really nice canters and good trail manners. But he hadn't been out for awhile and is way too fit for him to find a slow 45-minute three-mile walk in the woods much of any exercise. He wanted to really stretch his legs, I wanted to make sure he was OK, so we argued a bit and ended up doing five miles in an hour, still mostly slow, much of it backtracking when we was being silly. He thought every time we turned towards home (we were on forest trails that circle all over) "Yeah, we're going home!" We were nowhere close to home. So the jigging commenced.

He is truly not as bad as some horses, he'll start jigging, I pick up one rein and put leg on to circle and he usually just turns his head, stops his feet and when he gives, I release. And after about 20 times he figured it out. His walk is faster than jigging and I don't nag him (I wish they'd figure that out!) I got a gorgeous fast walk home, GPS says about 5.5 mph. He just hadn't been out for too long, and had forgotten some manners. It was still a really nice ride, and his leg is fine. Coming home we trotted across a packed-dirt area, with a really cool shadow. When I stopped to take a photo, standing still is not as nice as the pretty trot image, and my horse looks pregnant!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

desert born

Too much time to think on the walk yesterday. At least when I'm riding I can't think about much else except staying on and controlling my horse. On the walk yesterday I was so proud of my calm horse. But when I look in his eye I can see the fire burning in there, where I just have to ask and he'd be running across the fields.

The smart/thinking/worried part of me puts on saddle, bridle and helmet, keeps my horse (mostly) under control and finds some (again, mostly) sensible trails for a fun ride.

But in dreams I think we all do something else. We jump on our horse and gallop across wind-swept meadows, wind in our hair, freedom singing. We feel that a little bit in a gorgeous canter along a trail, or watching our horse run and buck in pasture.

I watch Major loose in the arena, snorting and tail held high, the amazing arab bounce in his step, seemingly levitating, not a creature of earth any longer. I imagine him running across the sands of Egypt, nostrils flaring, floating across sand.

I know in my heart that he was born in California and has never known desert, and I also know that my vision is a fantasy of Black Stallion books. I know he likes his guaranteed hay, and nice pasture. But I also know that we capture their freedom. And that we owe them so much: for being our companions, for carrying us where we ask, for trusting these slow 2-footed beings.

The horse gives us freedom (as they have for thousands of years). I hope that when I ride I can give him some of that freedom back.

a (hand) walk in the woods

Fall is here. The air is crisp and nights are cold, yesterday it threatened to rain. Major is feeling good, and wants to be out on the trails, but his leg cut has been swollen the last couple days (just some fluid retention), so I've been cold hosing and hand walking. All the swelling goes away with the hand-walking, and he is not tender or lame, but we can both take the time to enjoy the change of seasons.

We went on a walk through the forest, it was so quiet. Some mountain bikers passed us on the gravel road, Major was concerned about the sound of gravel on tires, but once he saw what it was he didn't care. We walked quietly out the trail, through dirt that has been pounded to fine dust after a summer of horses, and onto a side trail. Last fall this is where we did so much schooling. I considered all the things we'd worked on: not crowding me, staying behind on a small trail, not rushing ahead while walking next to me. And not once on this walk did I need to enforce a single one. Later in the fall I'd worked on just getting up the courage to get on the jigging idiot, making him walk slowly home. This walk I considered hopping on him bareback (if I'd had my helmet) as he walked quietly along, knowing what is expected.

The whole walk was just great. Coming home we have to walk the road a little bit, which spoiled a bit of the fairytale as a UPS truck came down the gravel road. We got to the side, just so the truck could pass, and had no problems. Later when the truck came back by Major had found a bit of grass, nothing was going to disturb that snack. The driver stopped and thanked me, while I thanked him for slowing. A bit of courtesy both ways.

I did take a picture of one of my favorite odd tree branches. The sun was so low and bright so it is hard to see, but the tree branch grew out, then bent back on itself and is growing into the trunk of the tree. Someday it will just be part of the main trunk, but for now there is a little window. I have seen the branch get bigger and window smaller over the last 10 years riding in the area. I hope I get to continue to see it, this forest is special.

Monday, October 4, 2010

show horse

I am very proud of Major. He thought the whole day was just one long lesson, with eating breaks inbetween.

He stayed clean last week after his bath. When I checked him on Saturday evening, he'd managed to slip in some mud, making a huge mud streak down his side, poke himself pretty good with a stick he landed on and scape up his back leg. Mostly superficial, I cleaned everything up and he trotted out fine (I wasn't sure how hard he'd fallen, the boys can play pretty hard sometimes). I told him just to be careful for the next 12 hours before the show.

I took him away from the last of his breakfast at 8:30, and was riding down the road by 9:00. I rode with my barn owner, who has a horse she's trying to sell and wanted to see how he'd go at this schooling show. When we got to the show the street was lined with cars and there were children and school horses and parents milling about. The children usually know more than the parents, but the parents are insistent on helping, which usually means they are getting in the way. The trainers keep things moving, and that is part of the fun of a schooling show.

I signed up for four classes: walk/trot pleasure, walk/trot equitation, arena trail open and trail trials. The first class was huge, about 20 people, and this is a small arena! Major was unconcerned, thank goodness, and we worked on keeping our spacing and smiling. Walt/Trot both directions, back up while in line, and they called the ribbons and I very unexpectedly got fifth place! I thought that was great in such a big class that Major was relaxed and looked like a nice horse to ride (which he is!).

After some hurry up and wait, we did the equitation class. This is not my strong suit, but I tried! Standard walk/trot, though this class was just as big as the pleasure class, and we circled at the trot, which got a little dicey. We lined up, and were not in the ribbons this time (which was expected). I thought I did ok (for me) but have video of the whole thing so I can review later.

After lunch came arena trail. I had practiced this in lesson, but it is certainly more stressful at a show! I only missed one pole in the fan, picked up the correct canter lead, backed the L and a nice turn on the hindquarters. I felt pretty good in this class, and got third place! I was excited for that, as I'd watched the first place performance (which was flawless) and the second place (which was great) so knowing I'm somewhere near that level was nice. I have video too, that one I've watched and other than leaning forward (which I always am working on fixing) it looked smoother and better than it felt.

The last class was trail trials. This is held out in the pasture, with natural obstacles to go over. First was the pond. We'd been through the pond no problem, but they marked where to enter/exit the pond with flour, and that was Major's undoing! He had to look hard at that, sidepass away a little, then sniff it (blowing clouds of flour!). After all that he walked into the pond just fine. We walked out of the pond, over the bridge (where we stopped and stood) and dismounted/mounted on a box. Trotted over some logs, then backed down a small gully. Our backup could have been cleaner, but it was decent. Walked over to back the log L, did that well with just a tiny hesitation at the end. Trotted off, stepped over a big log and then up and down a bank. I felt pretty good about that class, but there were lots of good competitors, and they must have been more precise, no placing in that. I still think he's a good trail horse!

I rode home, quite proud of Major. He was tired by the end of the day (me too), it was a lot of standing around. Every chance I got I took off his bit and loosened his girth, he ate his way though the day (hay bag, grass, weeds) and even drank some. We were both glad to get home, where he got cleaned up and had a well deserved roll.

I enjoyed practicing for the show, and know that the arena skills are important and translate to the trail. It was fun to hang out with my friends and have my very supportive boyfriend there feeding me, filming me and helping with my horse. But for now I want to enjoy this fall weather and have some more trail adventures!

Friday, October 1, 2010

more arena fun

Lesson today was fun. We practiced again for the upcoming show, doing ok in some practice classes (arena trail), and so bad in others that I made the instructor laugh! I had to remind her I was not going to be doing the walk/trot/canter classes, as in practice Major switches leads, breaks to a  trot, cuts corners, falls in and otherwise looks like an idiot. I as the rider am not helping him either! Something we need to really practice on. She did say once everything was in place we looked good (for about five strides). She is a very generous and optimistic trainer...

I was so proud of Major going home yesterday, It was dark, which crept up on me too fast this time of year. We had to ride home in the dark, up the road. There were cars coming at us and behind us, with their high-beams on, and not one single car moved over even a little at the sight of a horse and rider on the side of the road (would they slow for deer? or kids on bikes? crazy). Major never flinched, was just happy to be heading home, and once clear of traffic we trotted home, (with one not-asked-for-canter quickly corrected) where he got justly rewarded with beet pulp and dinner. He was happily munching away while I put tack away and said goodnight.

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.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

booted adventure

It rained this morning. In August. Not exactly our usual weather. So I started my ride a bit later, but the weather was perfect. Low 70s, nice breeze, the dust dampened just enough. I decided to try boots for this ride, knowing I was going to try for about 10 miles and that the trails are getting harder and harder. Major has seemed fine, but I know on the longer rides he starts looking for the edge of the trail, and I needed to put some miles on the boots.

Bread Rock
This ride ended up having multiple personalities, quite a strange ride. Even as we walked up the road Major felt like he liked the boots, striding right down the (usually avoided) big sharp rocky driveway. As we headed out I knew I wanted to end up by the lake, but took a roundabout way to get there. Major was a bit perplexed at the different turns, but he sure wanted to move out. We mostly trotted with some cantering throw in, he was listening pretty nicely. I thought about taking the lower lake trail, but the higher trail requires Major to think a bit more, and I wanted to work on that. We ended up on the bike trails at Twin Rocks, with surprising few bikes! Major is fine with bikes, and I like to step off the trail and work on standing quietly, though all the cyclists started to stop before I waved them on.

On this trail Major got a bit squirrley, and was doing a little sideways silliness. Trying to get him to stop I realized one of the boots was hanging around his ankle. I jumped off, glad that was all he did with a crazy thing flapping around, and put it back on. At the top of the hill I checked them again, seeing that one was getting crooked, and fixed them both.

Heading home we rode the lower trail. Major certainly likes to get going on that, so there was a lot of pulling. Our discussion continued, as I'm sure it will for awhile. There were little scary waves, though we did wade into the water. I wanted to take the trail all the way around, but found a spot too deep to pass. Went to cut up to the higher trail and were a bit too far down, so did some mighty cross-country bushwhacking to find it. Major didn’t bat an eye, he just wanted to get home.

Coming up a steep hill with rocks we did a bit of scrambling, kept trotting...something sounded different. I looked boots on either foot! I looked back down the trail and there they were, both pointing different directions, both completely intact (velco closed, secured). Hmmm, this is going to take some practicing. I decided to just clip them to the saddle, there were only a couple miles to go.

I took all different trails home, just to mix things up. Major wasn’t the least bit tired. We came up a trail and while we usually turn left, I wanted to turn right. I was looking right, had right leg on, right rein, and was leaning into the corner when Major took the usual left turn, fast. I think I hung in the air like Wile E. Coyote, landing on my feet with the reins in my hand, Major circling around me. No harm, so hopped back on and continued! The rest of the ride was uneventful. Major wasn’t very happy with me going the wrong way through the Enchanted Forest and the wrong way past Bread Rock, but we were heading in the right direction. Walking up the road I usually dismount, loosen the girth, take off his bit, toss the stirrups up and he can eat some grass. My saddle looked too funny with all the stuff attached to it, though that doesn’t even show the water bottle on the other side.

Major got a bath and a beet pulp snack, and headed off for a good roll. I still had to wash off the boots, and will work on fine-tuning their fit. I still really like them, but they might be a little small for him now. I’ll look them over and have the other rider at the barn who successfully uses hers maybe give me a hand.

P.S. I did meet up with three trail riders on the way out, and as we all went to pass we stopped and had a nice discussion about barefoot. They asked about the Renegades (at this point I hadn’t lost one yet!) and two were using Easy Boot gloves themselves. One rider said her horse was 23 and spent his whole life in shoes, but had really contracted feet they were hoping to fix. They were riding with another person who shod, everyone doing what they thought best for their horses. I think it is good to discuss  different techniques (be it barefoot, nutrition, etc) but just to be respectful of what someone has decided is best for them. You never know what they’ve gone through!

Friday, August 27, 2010

thursday lesson

Since my Friday rides are no more, my work schedule has changed and I'll be trying to attend a Thursday night lesson (until darkness catches us). Major came to the gate: all week he's been meeting me at the gate and being rewarded with it being too hot to ride and just getting a treat. Last night it was different, and we saddles up and went to walk a few circuts around our arena before heading down the road.

I hadn't ridden since Friday because of a few crazy 105 degree days, but Major was quite well behaved. He enjoyed heading down the road, though when we turned to go to the other stable and not the forest I think he was a bit perplexed. We walked down the street and even across the busy road. Walking into the stable yard he was really unconcerned. He tried to eat the plastic chair, rain barrel, my friend's helmet...time for lesson.

The lesson was a really nice group again, where we each worked on our strengths and weaknesses. We started with working on getting a more extended, flowing walk, asking for the horse to really use himself and feeling the power in the stride. Then luckily (or unluckily!) we worked on Major's major (that is a strange phrase) weakness: suppleness. He is sometimes like turning a freight train. So we were working on bending, moving off leg, flexion on a circle and overall responsiveness. I enjoyed seeing the different lessons click in some horse's (and rider's) mind. I think we only got a few really nice steps in, and I don't "feel" it yet, but that is what practice and more lessons are for.

It was already getting dark as we headed for home. Major walked out nicely, no jigging, but steadily and happily towards home. We did stop for a few bites of grass, with no rush to get home to dinner, and he was put away with a big pile of hay, beet pulp snack and darkness almost complete. The long days are dwindling, and I hate it!

Monday, August 23, 2010

last friday ride

Back to our regularly scheduled more Friday's off. So went out on a really nice relaxing ride. As we walked up the road to meet our trail riding buddy Major saw the horse coming up the road. His head went up, our walk picked up, and he was just happy to see his friend! His friend is Friday the horse, and my friend Christie. We took a wandering path through the forest, finding familiar trails and deciding to try the canal trail to Beeks Bight. I was hoping that on a Friday we'd avoid the rude people I'd encountered last weekend, and we didi!

The trail along the shore isn't entirely uncovered, so in a few places you need to skirt uphill and find a way along. Both horses willingly went up to the lake, putting noses and feet in. A few little waves came up, Major got a little looky, but was ok. I asked him to walk in, and he certainly likes that, wanting to walk further in. But I have to ask him to stop before the bottom drops off, or we start swimming! One day we'll try that. The horse-eating burned log that tried to get us last weekend is not as scary from the other direction, but did get a sideways look as we went past. The upper trail was a bit hot, some of it is very exposed, but we were going home and they know that trail, so the horses kept up a nice pace with no silliness.

A really nice uneventful ride, our favorite kind. A few spots of trotting, a good hill climb and both of these barefoot horses manage all the rocks and footing just fine. A fine ending to Friday rides...

canal trail two and lesson

A Wednesday night ride on the canal trail was not quite as relaxing and fun as I'd hoped. Trail is fine, but Major was having too much fun trying to pick up speed in the nice sandy footing! Lots of half halts, full halts, and whoas punctuated the ride, which was just a short trip. I think on shorter rides our focus needs to be on paying attention and behaving, because 5 miles just doesn't put any dent in his fitness level (he wasn't even sweaty on an 85 degree evening), but there are a couple nice loops that distance and the time it takes after work is just right.

Making him listen did get some support in our lesson on Thursday night. Lesson is hard to get to right after work, I have to walk down the road about 20 minutes, have him ready to go, myself off work early, etc. So I'd wanted to do more lessons this summer, but time didn't allow. Thursday night was really good. There were just four people in a group lesson, all with different issues, but all the issues being address by the instructor are something we'll all encounter. It was great to watch the instructor work with a horse who is really scared of contact with the bit, and get him listening and much more quiet. I worked on not motorcycling around corners, using contact and balance. We all did some canter work, and I added some exercises I can practice at home. I think Major was mentally tired out from that one hour lesson, it feels good to practice different things with him and help him become a more solid equine citizen.