Sunday, February 28, 2010

Show Time!

I'm planning on attending a horse show next Sunday, March 7th.  This will be my second horse show, my first show being last October, see my posting entitled First Horse Show, October 28. 

This show will be a bit different.  It will be a full day of Western classes with a Trail course also set up.  Hero Trainer advised me at my lesson last week that I should enter the Walk/Trot Trail class for Novice riders.

Champ has had experience on a trail course but it's all new to me.  So last week most of my lesson was spent on trail challenges, including cones and trotting over poles as well as a pinwheel of poles (easier than it looks)!  I also backed through L-shaped poles.  It was a lot of fun.

I'm going to do a few things differently at this show:

1.  I'm going to dress better.  I dressed for WARMTH at the October show, and although March will still be cool, I won't wear the huge green vest that I wore at the previous show. 

I'm not skinny gal (although I've almost lost 15 pounds since I retired).  But that vest puffed me up like a huge green marshmallow.  I think it hid my equitation and frankly, it just wasn't becoming.  Not sure what I'll wear instead but the green vest it OUT.

2.  I'm not going to ride in as many classes as I did at the last show.  Although I placed in all but two of my classes, it wasn't about placing, it was about riding in my first show.  Now that I've done that I'm going to pick and choose which classes I ride in and challenge myself to ride better. 

3.  I'm not going to drill Champ this week.  I'll continue to mix it up, giving him different jobs to do each day and continue the relaxing rides we've been taking after we finish our work. 

For instance, tomorrow I'm confiscating my husband's last Christmas present - a steer head attached to an ice chest.  Inside the chest are two ropes.  Hero Trainer and I are going to introduce her horse and Champ (and further what little I know of it) to roping this week.  Should be fun - and that's what it's all about.  

4.  I may (I say may because I still want the option to decline), ride in my first walk/jog/lope class (the green rider class).  The ground work and mixing it up with Champ have brought us back together again as one unit.  Last week was the first time I'd loped since we went sideways in November and I found myself comfortable and back to enjoying this gait.

No matter what happens next Sunday, I look forward to having as much FUN as I did at my last show.  To me getting a ribbon is nice but it isn't half as special as being one with your horse, riding with your peers and just hanging out with friends and family.  To me, that's what makes a day like this so special.  :)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sometimes It's Right Underneath Your Nose!

Sometimes we search all over the place for something only to find it was "right underneath your nose all the time", as my Mom used to say. 

I've struggled with the decision to replace my horse, Cisco, who I lost to Colic last month.  He was my confidence booster, a horse who after months of sitting in a pasture, I could climb on and have a nice, low stress ride.  Those rides would raise my confidence in riding Champ.

Recently I've been spending a lot of time at the barn with Champ.  Although we have our two Belgians at home, my time with them has been spent at feeding time.  I've also found that three is a crowd at our place.  When there are three horses, someone gets left out.  So I've wondered if I should pursue replacing Cisco. 

It appears my dilemma has resolved itself.  Meet Sunny Bear (referred in our household affectionately as "Bear").  He's our older Belgian, whom we rescued a few years ago after two other parties had taken on the task and failed.  He came to us underweight and lost.  Here's my husband, (who is 6'6") with Bear the day we brought him home:

The first few days we had Bear he only ate and slept.  He didn't seem to know or care where he was or what was taking place around him.  His interest level was 1 on a scale of 1 - 10.   We kept an eye on him but left him alone to eat and rest.  You can see his left hip bone jutting out as he rested in his pasture.
As times passed Bear has filled out and his interest in what takes place around him has increased - although not much gets him excited.  Bear and I bonded after my efforts to give him a 'beauty treatment' with all the works thanks to an abundance of 'stuff' our daughter had left over from horse shows.  That's all it took for him to become my best friend.  He loves being pampered. 

Somewhere in his past life he's had some training.  He knows "Whoa", "Back" and yields sideways in both directions when requested.  He loads and leads nicely, halting at my side when I stop.

We weren't sure if we should ride Bear because his confirmation isn't the best.  So for the past year he's been a pasture pet.  However, after the loss of Cisco and a visit from the Vet last week to do dentals on both of our Belgians, we were encouraged to ride him lightly to assist with his oncoming arthritis. 

As the sun started to set last night and it was feeding time, I pulled out Cisco's saddle and put it up on Bear.  It looked like a pony saddle on that big Belgian but amazingly, Cisco's saddle fits him perfect!  With my husband's assistance and the mounting block, I climbed up and laid across the saddle to see what type of reaction I'd get - nothing.  I found Bear is only a little taller than Champ.  I was also pleased to find my confidence at a comfortable level as I experimented with the saddle.  Must be from my recent rides/ground work with Champ (Yeah!)

This afternoon, I'll saddle Bear back up and we'll go for a walk around the pasture.  My husband will hand-walk his Belgian, Gus, next to us.  I don't expect any problems.  And that's all I really want from my "home horse" is to get on and walk around a bit. 

If it all works out, I'm hoping we can take both horses on low key trail rides.  Bear will also be a good horse for my 50+ friends at Cabin Creek, who would love to go for a ride but will need something to help them with their confidence and provide a slow pace so that they enjoy the experience.

Having a horse like Bear at home, to climb on whenever I want and putt around on is exactly what I need to keep my confidence at a comfortable level.  I'm thinking my replacement for a confidence builder was right underneath my nose all the time.  And if so, perhaps for us 50+ riders, the older, slower, calmer breeds are a key to confidence and thus, happiness.

I'll take my ride today and let you know what happens.  Stay tuned!  :)

==================================== Later That Day...

I rode Sunny Bear this evening right before dark, fuzzy in his winter coat.  He was great about my getting on but I was surprised to find how FAR I had to swing my leg over him!  And as I got my leg over, I wondered how the width would impact my being on him - but it actually wasn't a big deal.  I also found him taller then I expected but after Champ's size, it was merely and observation and didn't concern me.

I used a snaffle and some longer, home-made reins that I thought might help what I suspected we'd encounter (and we did), steering issues.  Although I checked multiple times before I climbed on, I feel the bit is too far back...hard to find a wrinkle in all that hair.  I'll get a larger headstall for future rides.  And as you can see below - my comment on a Pony Saddle is pretty close to being the case.  :)

We ended our ride as the sun was setting.  I was pretty happy and I think he was pretty pleased himself. 
As Mount Rainier turned pink through the trees behind us, I told Bear that once I find a larger headstall, I'll be back for another ride. 

I found such happiness/confidence today on this ride with my sweet/aged Belgian who has been sitting in our pasture, right underneath my nose!  Maybe being 50+ causes us to make life more complicated then it needs to be.  Today I found simplicity and a new found love for my big hairy Belgian who, like me, held his head a bit higher when we finished our ride.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mixing It Up

In my travels to come to grips with Champ's 'winter' attitude, I've been doing ground work to establish myself as the Leader.  Some days have been frustrating, others have been incredible.  A common thread being the more often I work with him, the better.  Just like life, you get what you put into it.

But I'm sold on ground work finding that besides the positive change in behavior, one becomes close with your horse and that has always been a goal, to bond with my horse.  So good stuff for this 50+ rider! 

One benefit of my recent adventures is that I've come to see more of life from Champ's point of view.  His whole life has consisted of being ridden as or in training as a Performance Horse either around an indoor or outdoor arena.  Every ride has been a drill for him on collection, yielding, etc.

I've been mixing it up a bit recently.  We've been blessed with a mild winter and unusually warm weather (my condolences to you in the South and East).  I've started riding Champ outside of the arena.  On days I don't have time to ride or the weather is nasty, I've started hand walking him outside. 

I've been pleasantly surprised to find myself with a happy, observant horse that is always at his stall door with perked ears when he hears me arrive.  He seems to look forward to these adventures and I find myself enjoying them just as much.

I've found in exposing Champ to various new environments that his version of  spooking is to look at the object sideways and move off a few steps.  Walking him past the questionable object in both directions a few times removes any of his concerns and future bypasses are a non issue.  Although that may not always be the situation but it's nice to know that his normal spook level is around 3 on a 1 thru 10 rating.

I've also discovered that Champ must be part bloodhound.  He loves to smell things such as other horses 'calling cards', trees, barn equipment, you name it.  We stop to smell and then continue to meander around, just the two of us together enjoying each other's company.  Talk about low stress and time to bond with your horse!

Yesterday we played with mud puddles.  They were big and bright in the sunshine and Champ wasn't quite sure what they were.  All these years he's been walked past them and never been given a chance to explore them.  That is very sad. 

He pawed at the first one and then commenced to drink it.  I found myself chuckling at him for his funny ways and I swear I saw him smile back at me, a true sign of bonding!  I found a bunch of them together where there was no choice other than to walk through them.  After smelling and drinking out of most of them, he happily walked through them without a thought in the world.  I praised him and we moved on in our adventures, me with a smile on my face and Champ with a muddy nose.

I've come to the realization that the issues I've been having with my horse are certainly related to respect and cold weather but could also be related to the fact that he is BORED from all his years of being drilled as a Performance horse, the only life he's known.

There isn't any issue about Champ's abilities to perform, and I do intend to take him to two shows in March.  But I'm not going to stress about those shows or how we'll do.  And I'm not going to drill, drill, drill him before we go.  We'll just go in and do our thing and then probably spend the rest of the day exploring the grounds of the facility.  Yes, I am mixing it up and finding the benefits of doing so rewarding for both of us!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Perfect Match

The Perfect Match.  The ultimate words for you and your horse because it means you've gotten to that inner core that we all strive for.  You and your horse are 'one'.  Either of you only needs to think and the other understands.  This is the ultimate in a horse and rider relationship.  I've been there with my horse, Barnie.  And I long to go there again because if you've been there once, you want to go back in the worst way.

And in another way, I did go back.  There's another Perfect Match.  I heard it stated on the TV news last week and it brought back a lot of memories that made me feel a need to write this Post.  This Perfect Match is related to medicine and the donation of one's self to help another.

There are certain times of the year that bring up strong memories of the past and being The Perfect Match.  February is one of them.

My little brother, the same little brother who used to beat me up in my Post, "I Get That Horse", a well known Master Gardner and Arborist, always interested in my horse life, was diagnosed with Advanced Leukemia in early May of 2006.

In late May 2006 my little sister and I drove up to Seattle, Washington, to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), part of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and were tested to see if our stem cells matched his. 

A few weeks later I received a call that I'd been declared "The Perfect Match".  I recall Yah-Hooing as loud as I could yell.  The Calvary was on its way in three sections of Me, Myself and I.  I was going to save my little brother.

As I prepared for this event so did my little brother.  I had the easy part compared to what he went through.  The Chemo and meds he took made him terribly sick.  Yet every few days I'd get a phone call from him.  He never complained and talked to me as if we were planning to meet for a special lunch instead of rolling the dice and hoping to save him.  Such courage, I've never seen before or since.

June and July came and went - the perfect time was necessary for this event.  A few weeks into August we started the stem cell process.  I drove up for daily growth hormone shots while my little brother was in the hospital being prepared to receive my stem cells.

The day of the transplant came.  I recall being so jazzed for this special day and envisioned my stem cells looking like the little bubbles in the Tidy Bowl commercials.  With both arms hooked up for the transplant I repeated over and over again, "Come on, Stem Cells, Let's Go!"

I finished after a few hours and they took my results over to the hospital.  The next day I went back and did another 'draw', for research.  I felt it was important to give something back to those wonderful people who were helping my brother. 

On the way home from the second 'draw' I got a call from my little brother.  He told me he was getting my transplant and that he suddenly had an urge to buy a horse.  We both were pretty worn out by that time but I recalled both of us laughing at his humor.

August passed to September and the stem cells started growing.  We were all excited.  October and November came and they continued to grow.  Things were looking up but my little brother didn't seem to have the same perk that he used to.  I recall going over to see him that Christmas and telling him that HE was the best Christmas present I could ever have.

January brought the news that the stem cells had quit growing and the Leukemia was back.  I urged my brother to go through another Chemo and I'd donate more stem cells, telling him we'd do it again and get it right this time.  He was game for a second round but by the end of January we were told that his days with us were growing short.  The Perfect Match had been too perfect and the Leukemia was now in full force.

February was a time of many wonderful, heart-warming family dinners.  It was a time of lots of laughs, seeing old friends, telling stories - factual or not, and trying to say everything one could think of before the time ran out.  The words, "I love you" were used often.

My little brother loved Cabin Creek, an old logging town on the east side of the Cascade Mountains where my siblings and I all had cabins.  It was always his favorite place, it was his home.  In early February he requested to be taken to Cabin Creek.  It would be his last time to travel a road he knew by heart.  Family and friends stepped in to make his wish come true, clearing the road, cleaning the cabin top to bottom so that he wouldn't pick up any germs.

At this time of the year, with four feet of snow at Cabin Creek, we all went up to spend a weekend together.  We held a potluck dinner at his cabin that Saturday night and everybody in 'camp' came down to eat.  I recall the cabin being packed with family/friends (truly all of them were family) and my little brother being animated and joking with everybody.

The next day he seemed to have lost his spark.  With his brother-in-laws supporting him on each side, he left his beloved cabin for the last time.

The Master Gardner, Arborist and a sibling lover of horses passed away on the first day of spring.  He kept up the facade of his uncomfort until the very end, never complaining.

A few years have now passed and there are times of the year, as in February, where we still deal with our grief and the hole that has been left in our hearts.  Not many days pass when one of us doesn't mention my little brother, such a character that he was.  More then one of us has felt his presence at Cabin Creek in the soft sigh of the wind in the trees or the shimmer of the creek.

The Perfect Match isn't always what it turns out to be, yet to be part of it will always be part of you.

In Loving Memory of My Little Brother, Don Stewart

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Daughter

She was ten years old when she told her Mom and Dad that she wanted to join her friends and show horses in 4H.  Her family had three horses, two elderly horses and one younger 'trail horse', a Morgan/Arabian Gelding named Charlie, fairly new, purchased to fill the void when one of the older horses passed on.

Her parents knew that the older horses wouldn't be able to stand the stress of 4H.  They suggested the Daughter use Charlie as her 4H horse.

The Mom and the Daughter checked out barns, and chose a place where they could haul Charlie and the Daughter to lessons.   For the next twelve months the Mom and the Daughter hauled Charlie to the barn for lessons every Wednesday evening.  The Dad would drive there after work to join them.  The family, already close, became closer.  The Daughter and Charlie became best friends.

After a year of lessons, the family decided to let Charlie live at the barn where the Daughter could come and ride him whenever she wanted.  The Mom and Dad were always happy to drive the Daughter out to ride or take her to lessons.  They loved to watch the Daughter ride. 

The Daughter made many friends at the barn and in the summer they would all pack water bottles and their lunches and spend their days at the barn playing with their horses.  All of the Mom's would take turns carpooling them to the barn and back.  Infact the Daughter (on the right) even learned how to sew things for Charlie. 

A few months after Charlie settled down at the barn, it was time for 4H horse shows.  The family had lots of fun taking the Daughter and Charlie to shows in their used 1970-vintage Miley trailer.  The family purchased a camper and the Dad and the Daughter would go to the shows the night before and camp out.  It was some of their favorite times.  The Mom would join them the next morning, bringing them breakfast from McDonald's.

    Soon it was time for the County Fair, the finals for 4H and where the State Fair competitors would be chosen.  Charlie had never been to a fair.  He had a hard time with the noise and excitement.  He tried to be brave but sometimes it was too much for him and he got very scared.  Charlie and the Daughter returned from County Fair with lots of experience but did not get chosen to go to State Fair.  The Daughter said, "It's ok, Charlie and I will do better next year."

And indeed they worked very hard the entire next year, taking lessons, going to all the schooling shows and attending all of the 4H shows!  Early that summer the Daughter mentioned she'd like to jump.  The Mom told the Daughter that she should never jump Charlie without an adult around.  A few weeks later, the Mom found this picture in the Daughter's room: 

The Mom and the Daughter had a long talk about responsibility.  The Mom didn't mention how tall the Daughter was getting but the Mom knew the Daughter was outgrowing Charlie.

Soon the next year was upon them and it was time again for the County Fair.  Charlie was now used to the noise and bustle but sadly once again the Daughter and Charlie didn't make it to State Fair.

When the Mom picked the Daughter up at the barn after the County Fair, the Daughter sobbed, telling her Mom how hard she and Charlie had worked and how much she had wanted them to be chosen for State Fair.  Life hit hard for a twelve year old and it about broke the Mom's heart.

The Daughter's legs were now hanging down below Charlie's stomach.  The Mom and Dad talked to the Daughter about finding a larger horse.  The Daughter agreed but she was hesitant to leave her beloved friend, Charlie.

The Mom and Dad took the Daughter to see a horse.  He was a Paint and his name was Want My Autograph (Champ).  He had the talents to become a show horse.  The Daughter rode him and shortly therafter the Paint was purchased. 

Charlie went home where he enjoyed being the boss of everything in sight.  But the family knew that Charlie needed a new home where he could make someone else as happy as he had made the Daughter.  He was sold to a family who had a little girl who used him as a trail horse.  The Mom checked on Charlie after he was sold to find that the new family loved him and that Charlie was much happier being a trail horse then he'd been as a show horse. 

The Daughter worked hard with Champ, just as she had with Charlie.  They participated in some APHA shows and even went to Canada. 

But the Daughter missed her friends in 4H.  In her Junior year of high school, seven years after she'd told the Mom and the Dad that she wanted to ride horses, she returned to 4H.  She rode Champ at County Fair and this time she made it to State Fair! 

But it didn't seem to hold the same meaning as it did when she was ten years old.  The Daughter was growing up.  After the State Fair she quit riding to concentrate on getting ready for College and the life of "growing up". 

One day, the Mom and the Daughter were driving in the car when the Kenny Chesney song, "Who'd You Be Today", came on the radio.  The Daughter told the Mom that the song made her think about Charlie and she talked to the Mom about how much she still missed him.

The Mom contacted the family who owned Charlie, asking them if they'd consider selling him back but they declined.  In some way the Mom had thought if she could bring Charlie back that her little girl would also come back. 

The Daughter graduated from High School with Honors and headed off to College.  She became a lovely, intelligent women, with a special quality for compassion and seeing both sides of a situation.  The Mom and Dad are proud of the Daughter and believe that the family's time together with horses contributed to how special she has become.

Today at almost twenty years of age, ten years after she came to the Mom and Dad and said she wanted to ride horses, the Daughter's bedroom is empty most of the year, unless she is home from College (and then it's very messy).  :)   Throughout the years this picture of the Daughter and Charlie with their first ribbon at their first horse show, still hangs on the Daughter's bedroom wall. 

Charlie will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Round Two of Confidence Building

As most of you know, I'm currently struggling to regain the confidence I worked so hard for and then lost as a result of being an absent rider.  YES!  MY FAULT!  I'm paying the price for my choices during this winter.  And indeed Clinton Anderson's article in February's Horse and Rider Magazine hits home real hard.

My last lesson started with the ground work that I'd been doing every day for a week.  I had noted positive results in the seven consistent days I'd been working with Champ - a new respect towards me but still some issues. 

Most of our issues center around when I ask Champ to reverse directions on the lunge line.  He'll change direction but then turns his head towards me and with teeth bared and ears pinned back, he seems to sneer at me.  He'll shake his head and either break into bucks or settle down until I reverse him, and then we'll go through it all over again.

On one of our reverses this day, he did his sneer deal and then broke into full rodeo mode.  He pulled away from me so hard I lost the lunge line.  As the rope burned through my hands I was glad I'd put on my leather gloves, but now I had a loose horse running around the arena.

Thankfully nobody else was in there riding.  I was grateful for Hero Trainer, who had been standing nearby.  Her advice was, "Let him run, let him learn the consequences of his decision."  She headed to the other end of the arena to ensure he kept moving.

Off Champ went around the arena at mach speeds, lead line between his front legs, flailing out between his back legs, sometimes stepping on it and jerking the rope halter.  Ugh! 

Numerous times he sighted me across the arena, penned his ears flat back and headed towards me at a full speed.  A Knight at the King's Court would love a horse like that!  As for me?  I stood my ground, pretended I was 8'3" instead of 5'3", 20 years of age instead of 50+, and just like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, I used my stick in a way that said, "Go ahead Punk, make my day!"  And with that stance, each time Champ got close he veered away from me. 

It seemed that this show went on forever.  It was definitely a good 15 minutes until Champ stopped in the middle of the arena, sideways between Hero Trainer and me, each at our respective ends.  Hero Trainer laughed and said, "Let's see which one of us he chooses."

Champ stood there panting and then he looked at me.  He came to me at a slow lope with his ears pricked, like he was asking for help.  Yet I still played the role of Dirty Harry, unsure of what would happen. 

He circled around at a slow lope as if he was on a lunge line.  Hero Trainer chuckled that it appeared he now preferred being back where he'd left me.  However, I was told to keep him going until he asked my permission to slow down. 

Eventually the licking/chewing started and then, taking a few moments, but not immediately, I verbally requested (in a calm voice) that he change to a trot (Champ knows voice commends for Trot and Ease (I chose Ease for Walk because Walk sounds too much like Whoa) and of course, Whoa means stop). 

He was now fully intent on me.  Down he went to a trot and then when directed to the ease (walk) command.  I put him back up to the trot and back down to the ease in both directions numerous times before I verbally requested he whoa.

He was now as humble as he was lathered and panting.  I scratched his head with my stick as I'd seen done and then walked him out some more in different directions.  Hero Trainer suggested I get on and walk him out to cool him off. 

Up I went without an ounce of nerves, (knowing there wasn't much left in Champ to threaten me).  We walked around and then I asked if Hero Trainer would open the gate and let us out of the arena so we could go outside where it was nice and sunny.  So off we went, on a low key ride around the property, just the two of us. 

It was heaven!  It took me back to the days of my rides with my old buddy Barnie.  I could have cried for the partnership I was feeling with this horse, who only thirty minutes ago was charging at me with flattened ears and teeth bared.

As I recalled my rides with Barnie, I thought about Champ's times at home with us in the pasture, always the lowest horse in the pecking order, the one always getting beat up.  Could it be that this guy doesn't know how to deal with being the Leader?  I realized that here is a horse who is looking for his Leader and that is ME!  I felt a new compassion towards this huge red Paint.

Since that experience there seems to be a bond that has been set between us.  He is anxiously waiting at his stall door when I arrive, he must recognize my voice.  There is a peace between us as we walk the property together after our ground work.

Yet when I'm out there by myself, I'm afraid to climb on and ride.  I'm uncomfortable being out there alone.  This is a demon I must face just as I did when I first rode Barnie.  But unlike Barnie, although I've witnessed positive results, I'm still not sold that Champ and I are finished with our issues.  I'll stay on task with the ground work, worried that if I stop we'll backslide. 

And as I did many years ago, noted in one of my earlier posts, "One Step at a Time", I'll count time as my friend, to help me build confidence each time I work with Champ and this in turn will give me the confidence to get back up and ride out there by myself. 

Sounds pretty simple, but it isn't.  But one thing is for sure, you can count me in as sold on the concept of ground work.  :)