Thursday, October 13, 2016

Finding the Joy in it

Crimson and I have hit a few bumps in the road. It was bound to happen. And yet, they always find new ways to challenge and surprise us.

You see, being under saddle continues to be Crimson's happy place (believe me, for that I am grateful), but a week or so ago, things started to go awry on the ground.

Before I get any further, the first clue that something was not right was that, although we had tripled his hay intake and added 3 quarts of haystretcher to his diet, he took a turn and suddenly started looking ribby.

Along with his shitty appearance came a host of undesirable behavior when tacking up. Crimson definitely hates confinement of any sort. He hates to be stalled and we won't even talk about the trailer. But up until a week or so ago, he was really good on the crossties.

Suddenly, he went from a horse that was generally easy-going, to dancing, pawing, biting his girth and half-rearing. It got to the point that last week, it took two people to tack him up. During that time, he moved his bowels FOUR TIMES and peed TWICE. He wasn't being bad (well, yes, he kind of was) but his anxiety level was through the roof. I felt terrible for him. It seemed like if he could have, he would have crawled out of his own skin.

The thought had already crossed my mind, but Heather voiced it. The dreaded U-word. Ulcers. I immediately formed a plan to make dietary changes and picked up ulcer meds.

But, in the meantime, I was incredibly stressed myself that my horse was so unhappy. I had visions that I was permanently creating bad associations with myself, stalls, and barns in general.

That is when I had a conversation with my friend H. She said "You have to help him find the joy in this" and "Change the conversation".

Armed with this new way of thinking, I schemed ways to make tacking up and being in the barn a pleasant experience, not a fight or a struggle.

I was so excited/anxious to try out my new plan that I could barely wait until the end of the day to get to the barn after work.

First, I had Heather give him 1cc of Ace about a 1/2 hour before I got there. Some might not agree with that. I think of it as giving him a cocktail. A horse margarita, if you like.

When I got to the barn, I put Crimson's favorite horsey friend in the stall next to the cross ties. I brought all my tack and brushes in, so I wouldn't need to leave him to grab anything. I filled my pockets with treats and turned on the radio.

I grabbed Crimson from the field, brought him in and put him on the crossties. I brushed him, sang to him, and fed him and his buddy treats. There was no pawing, dancing, biting his girth or rearing. I fed both horses handfuls of hay. I just generally tried to make it a fun, pleasant experience for both of them.

Once Crimson was tacked, l led them both out of the barn and put his buddy back in the field, then proceeded to go have a good ride.

My plan is to repeat this for a few days. Crimson won't always need his hand held on the crossties. But for now, I want to make this enjoyable and fun for him. So, for now, I am romancing my horse.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Baby Horse Process

I am enjoying the young horse process far more than I thought I would.

Although Crimson has the basics down, from what I understand, he is pretty limited in terms of life experience. He was born in April 2011, grew up on his breeder's farm in Massachusetts and at some point was sent to a farm in Western Mass to get broke. In the meantime, the nearest track, Suffolk Downs, closed in November 2013. At some point, he was sent to Finger Lakes to train. He was there for 4 months, his breeder had a falling out with the trainer and brought him home, where he then sat for another 10+ months.

Lest you think all has been perfect thus far, we have had a few baby moments. Crimson definitely has claustrophobia issues. He doesn't like to be in a stall or on a trailer. His go-to response is to get light in the front end. He half-rears and flails around like a giant orange marlin on a fishing line.

Luckily, I have the guidance of an experienced trainer, who has started and re-started many babies and greenies of various breeds and backgrounds and currently has 5 OTTBs of her own, with another two in training. I jokingly call her the horse whisperer, because she has a lot of 'feel' for horses. She has good timing and understanding of the whys of horse behavior.

Our first experience with Crimson objecting to anything was the farrier. I feel very strongly about my horses being safe to handle by the farrier, vet, etc. No one should have to sacrifice their safety to handle my horse - ever. Crimson has been barefoot and it is pretty clear his feet haven't been done in some time. I had already ridden that day, he was standing quietly on the cross-ties. I wasn't expecting his reaction to the farrier handling his feet, but we were in for a surprise. When my farrier picked up his hoof, we were treated to the rearing and flailing that I have now come to know is his signature move. I took the cross-ties off, put the chain over his nose and we tried again. This time with more violent flailing. At that point I called Heather for help. She came in, we put on a lip chain, and he stood quietly to get his feet rasped. Heather noted he was shaking and was genuinely scared.

Through all this, I wasn't upset, angry or nervous. I was surprised by his response, but I was interested by the puzzle this represented. My assumption is that he has had some negative experiences with having his feet done in the past. I already have some ideas on how to work with him on this and I'm confident that we can make this a more pleasant experience for everyone involved.

I'm kind of surprised by my own patience, how fun and interesting it is to work with such a clean slate. Of course, I enjoy it mostly because he is such an easy baby, and it helps tremendously that his happy place is under saddle.

Overall, this is not the experience I expected to have -- giant, green, young, TB -- but it is one I am enjoying a tremendous amount. I like that I am doing 98% of the work myself, with occasional guidance from my trainer.

I feel like Crimson already trusts me a lot. He comes to me in the pasture, is interested and engaged in what I am doing, feels more secure in the barn when I am there - even if he has the company of other horses and people.

I'm planning on taking things pretty slow with him. We don't have anywhere to be in the next six months. I want him to know that when I introduce him to new things, that they will be fun, that he is always safe with me, and that I am his person. I'm sure we'll have our ups and downs along the way, but this is definitely the honeymoon stage.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

My Baby Horse is Insane

...As in, insanely good.
Guys, I am really bonding with this young horse. I think this might be the beginning of something special. I just really enjoy being around him. We already have a lot of trust and I continue to be impressed with his decisions.
We don't actually have a ring where I am currently boarding. Just a grass field and a lot of wide open spaces. Some people aren't really comfortable outside the confines of a ring, but I happen to feel most at home there.
We started our ride last night in the grass ring, but it was such a gorgeous night, I didn't want to stop riding. So I unlatched the gate from his back (surprisingly easy to do when your horse is a giant) and we went for a wander.

Not my large orange beast - photo used for perspective

We rode down to the last field on the right, I unlatched another gate, and we took a cruise around the field, chased some Canadian geese, and checked out the neighbor's hay field. I kept it to a walk, because I don't want Mr. Orange to assume that trail ride = speed. That can come later.

He was so good on his own - marching along, interested, confident, excited, in a positive way. I was so happy with his evident enjoyment of a new experience. I have been wanting to ride in the super giant hay field at the end of the lane pretty much since the moment I got there. Luckily, my instructor had a lesson fail to show up, and she had a horse tacked and ready to go, so we decided to head out there.

Not me - photo used for perspective.

I needn't have worried about my baby horse needing company. Even though twilight was falling, he marched around the field, taking in all the sights. He even broke in to a happy trot a few times, but easily came back to me when asked. We were supposed to be cooling out, as we were quickly losing daylight. My trainer's horse couldn't keep up with his marching walk - I don't think he even knew or cared that she was there.

It was another great ride on my giant beast, and I am excited we can ride out in the field with our brains in our heads. That will be a fun place for future hacks and conditioning rides.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Baby Saint

 Crimson continues to impress me with his life decisions.

Ok, maybe not this one.

I'm really enjoying this phase of learning, but admittedly he's making it easy. The goals are low and simple. Namely, don't kill your new mom.

The look I got when trying to remove the burrs from his tail.
Less than impressed.

The weather has dropped 20 degrees and turned windy. But still, Crimson tries really, really hard to be a good boy. He visibly likes to work and seems to especially enjoy being under saddle. Right now, our program is lunging first, incorporating verbal cues and exercises, that we then translate under saddle. My goal is to make everything as easy for him as possible. Lots of praise and making him feel smart for making good decisions.

I've learned that although he is naturally very easy-going and has a great foundation, he tends to be insecure. He looks to you to be consistent and clear. Any foibles we have usually happen when I am disorganized or don't have a clear plan. It is actually helping me a lot as a rider and horse person to slow down, take time and be more organized, something that hasn't always been a priority for me. 

But he is so gosh-darn willing! It makes it so much fun to work with him, that he is genuinely seeking to please. It also helps that I am working with my trainer Heather again. She is the trainer that worked with Boca and I before I went to the eventing barn. Heather is one of those people who seems to have an innate sense and understanding of horses. Plus, she always has great ideas, exercises and suggestions. For instance, I was trying to get the burrs out of Crimson's forelock. I gave up halfway through, as we'd both had enough at that point. Heather asked if I had tried putting detangler in his forelock. #MINDBLOWN  Problem immediately solved with less stress on both our parts. Genius.

We cantered!

On our fifth day, we were able to canter under saddle. Heather introduced this in a really fun, simple exercise. She placed a pole on the ground, between 1 standard and a small block. On the lunge, we asked him to trot the pole a few times. Then, as he went over the pole, we asked for canter, using the 'kiss for canter' sound that much of western training uses. We did it a few times in each direction, to firmly plant the exercise in his mind.

We then translated that to under saddle. I trotted the pole, and we cantered away. Simple, easy, non-event. Much praise.

I'm trying to keep everything simple with this horse. And fun. And so far, it's working. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

First Time Ride

Guys! I rode my pony! And nobody died!!! 

Yup, he is pretty much asleep 

I wasn't expecting to get on Crimson so soon. I figured we would ease into lunging him under saddle, then *maybe* I would get on him this weekend. No rush.

Although I kind of wondered how much lunging I could take, seeing as he already seemed bored, and I was tired from running around, waving my lunge whip in the air, trying to encourage him.

In fact, I actually asked my trainer to lunge him yesterday to see if she could make it a little more organized.

Trotting over poles, NBD
Yes, he really is that big.

I was definitely surprised when she told me to grab my helmet and get on. No multiple days of lunging under tack. No trainer ride.

So I did. 

First, she had me climb on mounting block next to him and jump around a bit. Nothing. Then, we slapped the stirrup leathers on the saddles on both sides. Nothing. So then I put my weight in the left stirrup and lay across his back. Crickets.

So, with that, I swung on. I kept my seat light at first, until we were sure he was truly ok with me up there. And he was.

Guys, he was PERFECT. Halt, walk, trot in both directions. He has a lovely mouth - like buttah. He seems to already understand half-halts from body and seat (Probably because slow and stop are his favorite speeds. He doesn't need much encouragement).

It was so weird to see his thick double-sided mane in front of me. He has a lovely rolling stride. Like being on a big ship on the ocean.

I was so thrilled with our first ride. I think we are going to have a lot of fun together.

All the pats for the best boy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Giant Baby Horse

So... I may have done a thing.

The Thing

Someone we know *not naming any names here* may have bought a giant baby horse. A giant goofy chestnut baby thoroughbred, to be exact.

Ok, fine. It was me.

Yes. I went full-on bat-shit crazy. I bought a giant, 5 year old, 17h chestnut thoroughbred gelding.

But wait! I can explain! It's not as crazy as it sounds. It's actually all my husband's fault. Totally true. No word of a lie.

I had all these grand plans to wait until spring, save all my pennies, and get another horse, one that was further along in its training. Something that I could get started with right away. I was Sensible. Rational. Logical. But that doesn't stop a someone from perusing the sales ads online, AmIRite? I mean, it is harmless. Porn for horse people.

I think my husband just got tired of the random bursts of crying. I mean, when your wife of 3 years breaks down in tears every few days when she thinks of her retired horse, you get a little desperate. We actually had to leave a public park because I used to ride Boca there, saw horse trailers in the parking lot, and promptly lost it. Family walk aborted.

So when said wife was casually perusing online sales ads (horse porn) hubby made a dastardly mistake. Pointing to a pic of a giant chestnut horse (that I was not even looking at, I swear) he said "Look! That telephone number is in our town. You should call it." I hemmed and I hawed, and told him all the reasons why it was a bad idea. And then he said the Magic Words. "What could it hurt?".  What could it hurt, indeed? What's a harmless little phone call?

No harm here. Just giant ears.
I called the number and left a voice message. I expected nothing. I was actually a little relieved not to hear back. My husband asked me a few days later if I had hear anything. So I could honestly tell him that, yes I had called and no, I had not heard anything. Case closed.

But then, I did get a return call. The owner had been out of town, and had just returned home and gotten my voicemail. Yes, the horse was still available. Yes, I was welcome to come see him. And yes, he was right in my town.

How could I not? I mean, he was practically right in my back yard. I had nothing better to do on the weekend. Might as well go see a man about a horse. I roped my friend H into coming with me. She was supposed to be my voice of reason. She was going to point out all the flaws, the things that could go wrong. The reasons why this horse was not right for me.

So not right for me
Except, he was really sweet. Really personable. Really goofy. Really calm, with a great brain. He had trained at Finger Lakes for 4+ months. His owner had a dispute with the trainer and had brought him home. He had been let down for 10 months. He lived out 24/7 and was barefoot. He lunged w/t/c in both directions, voice command. He was happy to try and do what was asked of him, even though it clearly deviated from his routine. I watched his pasture neighbor gallop madly around at feeding time. My horse just stood there and wondered what all the fuss was about.

His current owners were his breeders - a husband and wife team that had bred and raced horses for 40 years. Now in their 70's and with thoroughbred racing all but dead in New England, they only sought good homes for their remaining horses that were no longer racing.

I was doubtful. He needed to be re-started. I wouldn't be able to ride him before I bought him. He was the first and only horse I looked at. Considering buying him was madness. I texted with a friend, who, unknown to me, had also purchased a horse from his breeder. She raved about the breeder, said he accurately represented his horses in both soundness and temperament. Said his horses were lovely, started correctly and were perfect to handle. She said she wouldn't hesitate to purchase from him again. I think her final words were "Go Get Him!!!"  (<--- See, not my fault. I was coerced.)

Also, the breeder took a liking to me. He had been burned in the past by buyers who had not done right by his horses after purchase. His horses had a home for life with him and he tried only to let them go to the right home. He wouldn't consider letting his horses go to be re-sold, only wanted a his horses to go to a home where they would be appreciated and cared for, not flipped as an investment. He cut the purchase price in half for me, without any asking on my part.

So, I decided to do something crazy. I decided to buy the horse.

To recap, I bought the first horse I looked at. The only horse I looked at. Without being able to try him beforehand. In fact, I decided to go full-on crazy and skip a PPE. I reasoned that the last two horses I bought, the PPE did not reveal the issues they were later plagued with, so I should not bother with a PPE this time around. #PretzelLogic

And so, as of Sunday, I now own a giant baby TB. One who bears a striking resemblance in personality and coloring to Boca. I definitely have a type. Great brain? Check. Curious? Check. Brave? Check. Willing? Check. Goofy? Check. Chestnut with a blaze and some white socks? Check, check.

Let me formally introduce you to CRIMSON TIDE.
Yes, my husband named him after his favorite football team.
Ladies, sometimes, you gotta keep the husbands happy.
Crimson came home on Monday. I was so excited to rush out after work and spend time with him. We had a perfect first night, which involved lunging w/t/c in both directions, going on cross-ties for the first time, and getting a bath with the hose.
I am so happy and excited for our journey. I have no plans and no timeline.
We'll take all the time he needs. He can be whatever he wants to be.
Whatever that ends up being, we'll do it together.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Where Do I Go From Here?

The short answer is - I don't know.

The past few weeks, I have been letting Boca just be a horse, and practicing a form of benign neglect. Now that he is on full board and I know that he is being taken care of, I have been pretty absent from the barn. In fact, I haven't been there since Saturday, which is unusual for me. When my mom asked me if I have been riding him, the answer is no. The reason is, it is just too hard. I don't want to question my decision or start the random carousel of thoughts back up in my head. I know on one level, I am trying to start the process of detaching, to make it easier to comprehend that we aren't going to be a team anymore.

People have asked me a number of questions -
Are you going to still take lessons? Are you going to lease? The answer is no.

No, I do not want to take lessons. No, I do not want to lease. I have been there before. I leased and lessoned for years before buying Boca. And I don't want to. I don't want to share. Call me an only child, but I've been there, done that, have the T-shirt. And I'm not interested in doing it again.

Will I get another horse?
Yes. At some point. I just don't know if that point is going to be sooner or later.

If I wanted to get a horse right now, my budget would be really, really small. Like tiny. Like straight off the track OTTB or OTSB. If the right horse came along, I would do it. But it would have to be the right one.

Or, I can take a break for 6 months, save every penny, and have a decent budget to work with in the spring, one that would give me more options. But that means I have to get through the next 6-8 months sans horses and somehow stay sane.

I alternate between feverishly searching online sales ads and floating in a state of numbness and mild depression. I am making it through every day, but not well. Beautiful sunny days hurt me. They are a reminder of all the riding time I am losing, losing, losing, as days pass.

I am trying to wait, be still, let the right answers come. But it is hard.

If you need me, I'll be over here, cuddling my puppy.