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.