Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fair Weather Rider

Today is Tuesday, one of the best days to ride Poco up at the barn where I board him.

Tuesdays are quiet, not very many people around and no jumps set up in the indoor arena so one doesn't have to risk their life to ride. 

My friend Haley usually joins me. We've ridden together enough now that we have a set routine. We turn on some music and then we each silently work our horses. 

Once the work is out of the way, it's social riding time. We ride around the arena, cooling our horses off, having these funny philosophical conversations, which include much humor and even more laughter. I can't think of a better way I'd rather spend my day.

But today is (another) windy and rainy day. We've had them for the past few days but today our temperature has dropped.  It's currently sitting close to 40 degrees and the 25 mph steady wind which is gusting upwards to 35 mph is making it colder.  Snow level is right above us!

As I write this post the rain and wind are beating against my windows.  I can hear the wind howling.  The leaves and rain are flying past my window sideways.

It makes me glad to be inside but I wonder about our Belgians, out there in the pasture.  I haven't seen them for a few hours so (unless our fence has blown down), I assume they are in the loafing shed out of the rain.

Here they are!  Standing outside in the rain and wind with their backs to the storm.  Silly horses!  They have two loafing sheds to go to out of the wind and rain, one full of hay.  Yet here they are standing outside looking half asleep!

I could put them in their stalls but I save the stalls for the worst of conditions.  Hmmm, think we're about there on that status; however, I'll wait until tonight and then put them in overnight to dry off.

No riding for me today.  I do love this stormy weather but I'm a fair weather rider.  Poco is in a different barn then the arena.  I hate the thought of us walking between the two locations, getting soaking wet and blown around.  Oh how nice it is to have a horse that is so consistent that he doesn't have to be ridden every day and to not be afraid of getting on him after a few days off.  That's my boy, Poco.

So I'm off to check on him and his eyes (which have been doing well recently).  Today Poco gets a beauty treatment and a day off from riding! 

Fire in the wood stove tonight and a homemade quiche to celebrate today, Mr. 50+ and my silver wedding anniversary.  Sure we could have gone to Hawaii to celebrate this occasion but I know I'd rather be here and I know he feels the same.  Home, where we are warm, safe and sound with our animals and ranch surrounding us.  :)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Getting to Know You

I'd sure spent a lot of times on the sidelines as a Horse Show Mom but had never ridden our daughter's performance horse, Champ, when I inherited him as she headed off to college. 

I'd ridden since I was a kid but never had lessons.  I wanted to learn how to ride like our daughter but had no idea how to operate Champ's "buttons" to get the same results.  I didn't know a half halt from a side pass.  Today after eighteen months of lessons I do.

I'd ridden Poco for a week before purchasing him but then spent the next two weeks off of him, focusing on Champ's illness.  Two weeks later Poco was my only horse. 

I jumped right back into lessons with Poco now instead of Champ.  I'd been told that Poco's history included showing so I kept the same goals I'd had with Champ.  But I was surprised to find how much harder Poco was to ride.  When I tried to apply the buttons I'd used on Champ I didn't get the same results.  My weekly lessons became a struggle. 

My Trainer Rachel, suggested Poco was rusty and so I offered him out to her to use for lessons.  The thought was that it would help tune Poco up and improve our rides.  Instead things became worse. 

Poco is 21 years old.  When I would come up to ride him later in the day after someone else had taken a lesson on him, I found him sluggish and worn out from his earlier ride.  I started staying off of Poco on the days he was being used for lessons. 

Soon I found the only day I could ride was on MY lesson day.  My time off of Poco caused a larger gap between us.  My lessons that used to go by in a flash now seemed to drag on.

Poco's diagnosis of Moon Blindness and loss of sight in his right eye was my wakeup call.  My Vet's warning about taking Poco out on trails and to shows was validated by Poco's spooking at unusual objects on his right side.  Poco's reaction was a spook that could cover 15 feet sideways or forward in a split second.  It wasn't something I felt confident about riding out.

Without showing or trail riding in my future, goals with Poco changed.  Lessons had been an aid to meeting goals.  Now I had no idea what my goals were or what I should be working towards.  I felt lost.

The one thing I knew for sure was that Poco would need to depend on and trust me.  That was going to mean we become the team we currently weren't.  I didn't know Poco and he didn't know me - all we knew about each other was under the guidance of someone telling us what to do in a lesson environment.

Last month I told Rachel that I was no longer offering Poco out and I was taking time off from lessons.  I told her I just wanted to ride and get to know my horse.  Rachel is an incredible trainer and she was totally supportive.

That was almost a month ago and it has been one of the best things I could have done as Poco and I have gone down the road of not only getting to know each other but having a good time doing it.

I'm thrilled to find Poco to be the best patient I've ever treated when I need to apply the antibiotic ointment to his eyes or give him a dose of Butte.  He's inquisitive, sensitive and yet comical.  His head now pops out of the stall door whenever he hears my voice upon arrival.

I'm working on gaining his trust by exposing him to different things and assuring him that it's safe.  I'm riding him in both the indoor and outdoor arena.  I've been leading him between the two but am at the point now where I think I can ride him between the two without any mishap as long as there isn't any competing vehicles or activity around.

Right now my goals are still gray but I'm hoping that with his trust in me that maybe, just maybe, we can go to a schooling show and hang out.  Depending on his reaction, I may enter us in a class.

In the meantime Poco and I are just having plain old good fun, riding and hanging out together.  Horses take us on the most incredible journeys and this is surely to be one of them.  And the best thing is that riding is fun again.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

First Horse

Fourteen years ago this last weekend, I bought my first horse. 

I'd wanted a horse all my life.  Playing horse was my favorite childhood game as well as "riding" fences and rocks.  Every Christmas and Birthday, I specifically asked for a horse (no luck). 

As a child I chased after the trail riders who came out of the woods across from our house, screaming, "A Horse! A HORSE!!!  Can I have a ride?"  Many agreed and I rode like royalty in front of them around the neighborhood.

My parents always told the story of how I stood at the end of our driveway from dawn until dusk on one hot summer's day, rope in hand.  There was a forest fire in the mountains (about 200 miles from where we lived).  I stood at the end of our driveway waiting for a wild horse to come down the road.  If I couldn't get one for my birthday or Christmas I was going to catch my own!

As I grew up I rode all my friend's horses.  I bought books on caring for horses so I'd be prepared for the day when I finally had one of my own.

In my early twenties, just starting out in my career, I had a co-worker who needed to find a home for her horse.  We discussed my taking her young Mare.  Used for jumping, she was huge and spirited.  The idea of calling this horse my own held for about two weeks until I finally came to my senses after falling off and getting a concussion. 

The truth was as bitter as the dirt I ate that day.  I wasn't financially secure enough to have a horse and this wasn't the right horse for me.  It was one of those (logical) grown up decisions that hurt terribly.  I passed on the opportunity.

I licked my wounds.  I was lucky.  My best friend let me ride one of her horses whenever I wanted.  It was the next best thing to having a horse of my own and the hands-on experience taught me things that books didn't.  I rode that horse until he was too old to be ridden and then made weekly visits to him until the day he died.

My wanting a horse was a well meant joke in my family and also amongst my friends.  They all smiled at my passion to have a horse.  And I surely advertised my dreams and intentions to someday own a horse to anybody I met, including the man I married.

When I hit 40,  married, with a child and fully secure in my profession, I felt the clock to have my first horse ticking.  As each year came after the big-4-oh, it ticked louder.

Almost fourteen years ago to this exact date, I took a ride with a friend up in the Cascade Mountains where our cabin is located.  I rode our friend's horse, Barnie.  He was a seasoned trail horse and a joy to ride.  I recall it being a clear, crisp day.  We rode the trails above the cabins, the leaves crunching underneath our horse's feet.

After we finished I walked back to our cabin where my husband awaited me.  I recall sitting on the arm of the couch and telling him about my ride.  I still remember to this day using the word "spiritual" when I described the ride I'd just had.  I told him that it was "time".  I needed to buy a horse.  Something inside the core of me was missing without a horse in my life.

My husband was not hot on this idea.  It's not that he didn't want me to have a horse but he knew how head-strong and passionate I could be.  He was concerned about the fiscal and logistical challenges of having a horse since we didn't have a place to keep one.  He pointed out all the cons of my decision and I pointed out all the pros.  We were at a stalemate.

I returned home from the cabin and within three days had a bead on a horse for sale.  On a crisp, sunny, fall Friday afternoon I headed out to look at a horse while my husband headed out to go deer hunting for the weekend.

She was a 19-year old Quarter Horse.  The first thing that struck me was how "pretty" she was.  I walked around her, petted her, watched her go into her stall for the evening, turned around and told the owner I'd buy her.  No riding her first, no pre-purchase exam, etc.  Just as my husband knew, I was a headstrong, passionate, first-time horse buyer.  I was also as green as a young tree about purchasing a horse.

The next day the owner transported her to my sister's farm and there I was, with my first horse.  She came with a bridle and halter but no saddle.  I didn't have any feed, buckets, etc. 

My sister and I took my first and expensive trip to the feed store where I started to learn that the cheapest part of buying a horse is the initial purchase.  My sister's neighbor came over to check her out and offered to sell me a saddle. 

Here is the first picture I had of Sunshine, taken three days after I purchased her:

I was so excited to have my own horse!  I could barely sleep that first night.  I slept with the saddle next to my bed.  I kept waking up to touch it.  I loved the smell of the leather and horse on it, I still love that smell.

When my husband returned from his hunting trip that Sunday evening to find a turkey dinner cooking and a smile I couldn't keep off of my face, he knew I'd bought a horse and he was none too pleased about it.  I can't tell you how grateful I am for his acceptance of my decision; it still means the world to me.

I lucked out on my first horse purchase.  Sunshine was a healthy, well behaved horse.  She loaded like a dream, she didn't kick or bite.  Yet she was smart enough to recognize a green rider on her back and take advantage of them when she could; i.e., a typical horse.  I quickly learned that the more I felt in charge of the situation the better she'd be and we got along well.  She patiently taught me a lot.

I soon wanted her closer to our home.  I was fortunate to be able to move Sunshine next door and keep her at good friends of ours, the same place I used to ride my best friend's horse.  To walk out my backdoor and through a path in the woods to be with my horse was a dream come true.

Within a few months we had an opportunity to take care of Barnie, the horse that had moved me forward with the decision to buy a horse that crisp, fall day at the cabin.  Sunshine and Barnie immediately became best friends.  We referred to them as Ma and Pa.  That next summer we had the chance to buy Barnie.  My husband and I rode Sunshine and Barnie all over the trails around the cabin.  Horses were now a family event.

The Christmas picture we sent out that year:

Note the child (who later went on to show horses) on Barnie in tennis shoes, minus a helmet.  Note the Mom (me) on Sunshine, also in tennis shoes and no helmet. Things have sure changed in the years we've had horses.  Today nobody rides our horses without a helmet and boots.

Sunshine and I interacting at the cabin:

Sunshine hosted our daughter's birthday party: 

We've come a long way with horses since that day years ago when I bought Sunshine.  Horses prompted us to sell our home and move up into the Cascade Foothills where we found serenity and peacefulness.   We've never regretted the move and still pause in disbelief that we live in such a wonderful place.

Fourteen years ago horses came into our lives and today I still feel there is something spiritual about interacting with and riding them.  Today horses define my family and who we are. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Riding Time and Fall Weather

With the knowledge now that Poco has Moon Blindness and his right eye is damaged, I'm now on a new horse journey. As saddened as I am about the news of Poco's eyesight, it confirms my philosophy about horses. There is always something new to learn. Although I've hit some pretty big pot holes this year with horses, this news is not the end of Poco and my future together or the end of our rides.

On this particular day I rode Poco in the outdoor arena. I took a lot of time to walk him around all of the jumps and let him smell them before I climbed up on him. I made sure I was in no hurry. My commitment to Poco is that it's more important for Poco to feel comfortable then for me to "just get on and ride".
Poco and I have become close and the walk around the arena to explore the jumps only solidified our relationship.  He seemed to enjoy our time together.  He was curious and deeply smelled each jump I introduced him to.  He'd then turn to look at me as if he was saying, "Ok, I'm ready to move on".  At that point we'd walk to the next jump.  We did this in both directions so he could smell/see them from both sides of his "brain".
While we rode all the horses in the turnout pastures around the arena were brought in for dinner.  Poco's stall is by this arena and although he was aware that 1) there were no other horses around; 2) he was hungry; and 3) dinner was taking place and he wasn't a participant, he was so well behaved!  We rode until I decided it was time to quit.  What a good horse!
One thing I noticed in the pictures I've taken when I'm on Poco's back is that his right ear is always forward (probably because his right eye is damaged and he's listening to what's around him) but his left ear moves back and forth (listening to me). 
The following day was again gorgeous.  My riding pal Haley, her horse Harley, Poco and I, rode together.  I wrote about my friendship with Haley in my former post, True Friends (9/12/10).  She is one of those people who makes me smile and laugh all the time.  A great friend and a joy to ride with!
But this morning brought a change to our wonderful weather and predictions of five separate weather fronts coming in, strong winds, a lowering snow level and in some areas, up to 4 inches of rain.  Guess that's the end of riding outside for awhile.
I decided it was time to put all of the outdoor furniture away for winter (before it blew away). The patio looked empty without the outdoor furniture.
I also decided that today is the day I will quit watering my hanging baskets.  They no longer look so great and I know that in the next week or two we'll have temperatures in the 30's.  I'll have my husband put them away so I can re-use the baskets next year.

As I finish this Post I can hear the rain pounding outside my window.  I guess the first wave of storms is hitting.  I'm glad I got our outdoor furniture put away and that our horses are all protected from the rain tonight.  It's always a comfy feeling to know that everything and everybody is out of the wet!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Beach Horses

For many years we lived in a wonderful community on a little spit of land that reached out into the waters of Puget Sound. 

Our house was one block from the beach and thanks to the generosity of good friends, it was a walk through their woods behind our house to the seven acres where our horses resided in the same fields and barn where I rode horses as a child.

We didn't advertise there were horses on lower Browns Point.  We worried about liability, children getting into the pasture and perhaps getting hurt, etc., not to mention the loss of privacy to our generous neighbors who allowed us to keep horses on their property.

However, children did show up to see our horses, usually towards the end of summer, right before school started.  I'd offer to spend time with them, showing them all about horses, but requested they not come up to see the horses on their own.  I found once school started and the weather got wet their visits stopped.

Sometimes our horses escaped.  I recall one situation where one of our horses had pushed the gate open on Fourth of July.  All four horses leisurely wandered down to the park on the beach to greet the crowds of people who were gathered to enjoy their holiday picnics and await the evening fireworks.

Our horses ate well that day.  We got the call and arrived to find a group of about eight men, followed by a crowd of women and children, leading the horses back up the road to the barn. 

Brave, generous souls these men, encouraged by their interaction with our horses, which made them even braver, who volunteered to help that day.  They'd gone into their garages or boats to find ropes which they slipped over our horses's necks to lead them back home. 

One of the bravest (and the oldest), rode our (feisty) Mare home bareback with only a rope around her neck.  It's said he talked about that experience until the day he died and so I'm glad he did it.  But I have to say I almost fainted when I saw him riding her.

Our horses came home willingly, tired from all the exercise and gorged from the treats they'd been given.  These fire breathing equines were stuffed with watermelon and heaven knows what from the picnic grounds.  They were exhausted and ready to settle down and take naps.

Once back in their pasture they seemed relieved.  The women and children who had followed this party home approached to provide one last bit of summer holiday treat and lots of loving pets.  The men stood around, coiling up their "lassos" and talking about their adventure.  We gushed with gratitude, so grateful for good neighbors.

As they left the men walked a little taller, the women smiled a little wider and the children skipped and danced a little higher.

Five months later, as we did every year on Christmas Day, we brushed our horses until they shined.  We spruced them up with jingle bells (we worked on getting them used to the bells months ahead of time), and again paraded them down the road that aligned our home and those on the beach for our annual Christmas morning walk, always returning promptly to pick up "road apples".

I recall all the neighbors looking forward to our yearly parade of horses.  Families would come out on their doorsteps to cheer us on and wish holiday greetings.  Children would come out with apples and carrots, saved for this special event.  Smiles would abound from all, good will and cheer would fill the air.

Five years ago we decided to move our horses from the beach to the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.  We left the smells of salt water for the smells of, well - smells of the country.

I hear it was with sadness that those along our Christmas Parade route awaited us that first holiday after we left.  I hear it was later said, "The horses have left Browns Point".  I wonder, five years later, how many recall our Christmas day walks and what type of response we'd get today if we were to trailer over and take that walk once more? 

Definitely something to ponder.