Friday, January 31, 2014

Weekly update

Charlie has been doing really well with his round pen work, which is mostly what I've been doing with him due to the freezing cold weather. We've got inside and outside turns pretty much down pat and you can really tell it's helping with his listening and concentration skills. After only a few minutes the other day I had him following me around the ring with no lead, stopping, starting and backing on cue.

Yesterday we had a heat wave here (temps were above 20 degrees) and the outdoor ring and sunshine were beckoning so I decided to give it a go out there for once.

Heck yes!
Look at all that fresh unspoiled snow
Not anymore!

Charlie had a blast and it was a good workout for him. The snow was definitely deeper in some areas than I had expected.

The big boys are coming along. Finnagan is doing great, I have ridden a few times already and trotted both yesterday and today. Here's a short video. Sorry for the crappy quality, but Jan's camera phone wasn't set for hi-res.

Flint is also turning a corner. Last week he finally started to "get it" and stopped being so aggressive. We were able to saddle and bridle him and start with the long lines. Then today I got on him for the first time (wish I had pictures but, sadly, no). Here's one from the first day with a saddle (and let me tell you that's a looooong way to lift up a heavy Australian trail saddle!).
I rode Coty twice this week while both big boys were in the ring. A few weeks ago this would have caused a meltdown but his desensitizing sessions seem to be working. He didn't react at all when he was moving around either horse, beyond some ear pinning and a tail swish or two. When standing next to Flint he did squeal and strike twice but quickly realized that it wasn't fun to immediately yield his hindquarters and make a tight circle. After that he could stand relatively close to each of them without making a fuss.

Some of the biggest news, though, is that I finally got up on Sage, the chestnut mustang.

I am in love with this horse and really think she has a lot of potential. She is so sweet and smart and she definitely let us know when she was ready to do more than just groundwork. Here is a short video of her warming up before I got on, reinforcing voice commands and getting her acquainted with the feel of the saddle moving on her back (we'd been doing this for a few days). I'm really looking forward to working with her under saddle early next week.

Friday, January 24, 2014


I couldn't have been more proud of Charlie today. It was a full day of training for Jan and I (rode Finnagan for real, yay!), but Coty's owner had come to ride him so we needed a "dummy" horse to work on desensitizing him to the close presence of other horses in the ring. Jan thought it would be a good idea for me to use Charlie since it would be a new horse for Coty and might elicit a response that we could correct.

"Sure!" I said. although inside I was remembering how Charlie was rearing and bucking last night during turn in, rushing the fence, and was thinking "he hasn't been ridden in a week, it's freakin' freezing today; this may be a disaster".

I brought out my western saddle for extra grip and put him through a few exercises in the round pen first. He seemed very clear and level-headed,  but I've been tricked by that before, so I was cautious and stayed a good distance away from Coty at first. 

I needn't have worried. Charlie was perfect! We started doing circles and serpentines, crisscrossing and circling around each other, then changing direction, passing, practicing leading and following. He made me look like a pro and after a few minutes of trotting I felt him start to breath deep and evenly and settle into what I call his "working zen" mode. He made me look like a pro, and himself a perfect gentleman; I couldn't have asked for better or more beautiful behavior. He couldn't have cared less when Coty pinned his ears or passed him, even when he came up from behind.

As an added bonus, being forced to trot and trot and trot the drills with Coty forced me to actually do the repetitive trot work I am normally too bored or pressed for time to really focus on. What resulted in the end was some beautiful even trotting and supple turns. It really was amazing.
You want me to be friends with him, mom?

At the end we practiced standing side by side and face to face. Coty was being good enough that we decided to let them touch noses which, after a few seconds, resulted in a shriek from Coty and some really obnoxious striking out. Charlie didn't move a muscle!! Coty was corrected and we did it again a few more times until he no longer reacted. Charlie wasn't nervous at all and didn't make a peep or take one step away.
See, Charlie is a nice guy!

Today I really loved my horse :)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

New Job

My newest job is a part-time kennel helper at Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue (DVGRR). My family currently has three dogs we adopted from there and if anyone in the PA/NJ/NY area is looking for a Golden, look no further. This organization is fantastic at taking care of the dogs and making a great match!

Anyway, now I'm working this job twice a week, the barn 4-5 days a week, and Target 1-2 nights. It's getting a little crazy! Plus it's been tough these last few days because, between this and the barn, I've been spending the majority of my days outside and the temps have been in the single digits. It's not a glamorous job by any means, taking care of so many dogs and all that poop/pee/drool/hair/food/etc. However, the fact that I get to spend at least part of the day seeing things like this make each day worthwhile:

Lou Lou, Goldie and Duke, ex puppy mill dogs, happily wrestling in the snow
Zoey content just to have someone to snuggle with

Of course, it doesn't get much better than being told you have to go play with the puppies every day so they become socialized and used to people (mom was feral and delivered these two puppies after being rescued and brought to PA):

My favorite little pup

Interesting injuries

Don't worry, Charlie is ok, but my friend had a scary/weird incident with her horse that I wanted to share. For several days we had noticed that her horse Ruggy wasn't eating as much hay as normal, leaving some behind each evening and not having much interest in it during the day. His appetite for grain, however, was unaffected. We figured it might be a tooth issue making it difficult or painful to chew the hay so she called up the dentist to have them take a look (we also tried offering different kinds of hay in case it was a hay preference, but that didn't make a difference).

Well, the dentist was supposed to come on Tuesday but we had another big winter storm and he had to reschedule to the weekend. Meanwhile Ruggy still was not eating much and we were getting a little anxious. There was now a foul "old man" smell coming from his mouth - that's honestly the best way to describe it haha). We both looked in his mouth and felt around and the only thing we could come up with was that his wolf teeth looked pretty bad with some gingivitis, maybe one or both was rotten and that was causing the smell. With that in mind, and worried about possible infection, she decided it would be best to have the vet come out instead so a full sedated oral exam could be done and teeth pulled if necessary. 

Initially they couldn't find anything wrong. Yes, there was decay in the wolf teeth and, yes, there were some sharp edges on his teeth but nothing that would be bad enough to explain his not wanting to eat hay or that would account for the bad breath. Then they got out the speculum and caught a glimpse down his throat:

That's a large stick, lodged along the back of his palate! It was so far back the vet almost didn't see it (there is no way it would have been found if Ruggy wasn't sedated) and he expressed moderate concern about even being able to successfully get it out. Luckily with some patience and a long forceps they were able to work it free. A few days of SMZs and Ruggy should be good as new. 

Just goes to illustrate yet another example of how horses have a way of getting themselves into stick-y situations.....sorry, I couldn't help myself :P 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Big Day for Finnagan

The first time up on a new horse is one of my favorites, I think, because you get to feel them thinking in a whole new way. At first, having someone up there above them totally blows their mind! As long as you've prepped them correctly it's so cool to then watch the transition in their thought processes as they start making connections between the groundwork and what you're now cuing from the saddle and they realize that carrying a human around might actually be ok.

So that was the biggest news for today. We also were able to put a saddle on Flint and I worked for a good hour with Coty and Colby playing follow the leader, passing each other, and walking side-by-side to try and help overcome Coty's extreme sourness toward other horses (Coty's mom was there to ride him so I rode Colby and coached). Charlie got a mini roundpen workout since it was already noon by the time I finished with the other guys, and it was short but successful. More on that later. For now, off to bed!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Maryland Horse Expo and OTTB fun

This weekend I drove down to see Emily in Maryland and boy did we have a good time. We spent all day Saturday at the Maryland Horse Expo (not as awesome as Equine Affaire - honestly how could it be? - but was still tons of fun with lots of great shopping). We saw several good demos on round pen work and ground training as well as some of the stars of the Thoroughbred Makeover (some were pretty fancy!). And of course there was loads of great shopping. :)

Gaining respect on the ground...and a super cute QH
Versatility challenge, always fun
Hahaha love all the butts on these mugs!
I got to ride sidesaddle! Feels so different but more secure than I thought
Some of the TB Makeover stars showing off their skills
I scored two new blankets for Charlie, an unfilled 1200D WB turnout sheet for $55 and a 1200D 350gram "World Beater" high neck turnout for $125 (pretty sure this is a knockoff Weatherbeeta that is made in the same factory - retail price was $225 and it looked very well made). I tried them today when we got home and they fit perfect!
Heavy winter blanket
Steal of a deal on the lightweight WB
Of course I also got some small knickknacks, plus some yummy fudge and quiche. Always gotta sample the food (thank god I wasn't sick anymore and could enjoy it!) :)

On Sunday Emily took me down to her barn and I finally got to ride her horse, Ronin. He's a big OTTB too, a little older than Charlie, and goes like a warmblood which is cool and very different than what I'm used to.

Emily warmed up on him while I rode another awesome TB named Saxton who was so good and adjustable and a ton of fun, and then we switched.
Isn't Saxton totally adorable?!
A different view: bleached out Charlie!
Me and Ronin
Such a good boy
Saxton was much more "huntery" (also different than either Charlie or Ronin), but he would do exactly what you asked, whenever you asked it; when you pointed him to a jump and told him to go he would jump anything!

That was the best part, actually, I got to jump again. I may not have jumped anything more than a single fence in the last year, but I still got it! It was reassuring to feel it all come back, like riding a bike, and really amped me up to get Charlie started over fences....I feel jumping in our near future :)

Friday, January 17, 2014

New Blanket!

I've been down with some sort of flu-like bug since Tuesday, which is no fun, so no riding updates for Charlie as he's had the rest of this week off. I did, however, find a blanket :) After much online shopping and research I found a closeout 1200D Weatherbeeta freestyle in an 81" from Valley Vet Supply for only $129 with free shipping, and I had a coupon for additional money off, so I figured that kind of deal can't be beat and I snatched it up.

It came in on Wednesday and when I tried it on Charlie it fit perfectly. I love it! I opted for the high neck to take pressure off his shoulders and sharkfin withers. This blanket also has a neat wither relief pad sewn into each side of the back alongside his withers which should help relieve pressure as well. I like that the front of the blanket is cut a bit lower with sturdy fleece edging along the neck so even without a V-clip closure Charlie has free range of motion in his neck when he grazes and he doesn't get pinched. The 1200D will be key, too, since he's out with a bunch of other geldings and needs the blanket to be sturdy and rainproof. I went with an 81" (which is what Charlie had been wearing), even though WB tends to run big, and I'm glad I did as it seems to fit really well. I wonder if this means I should be looking for 83's in everything else?

He looks so snazzy now in his blue blanket and blue halter (the only color the blanket came in was blue so that worked out perfectly). I've never gotten such a nice blanket before, let alone a new one, so this is really exciting! :)

All in blue
I will be doing more blanket shopping this weekend, hopefully, at the Horse Expo in Maryland (soooo excited!!). I discovered after wearing his old blue medium blanket for a few days in a row Charlie got some nasty rubs on his shoulders; so the mediumweight is now too small, and the heavyweight is too short in the drop. Guess it means he's putting on weight/muscle, though, which is good....and who doesn't need an excuse to go shopping? :)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Long lines with Charlie

Yesterday I was feeling under the weather so I didn't want to ride Charlie after training the other horses, but I did want to do something. I was going to do a lunging session in side reins but since Jan and I have been having so much success with the other horses using long lines, I decided to give it another go with Charlie. I had tried once before over the summer and he was ok with it but I didn't really have a good space to work in.

I was really impressed! Charlie was very attuned to my cues and picked it up super fast (maybe I've just been working with the babies so much I had forgotten what it was like to work with a trained horse).

I like how the long lines can reinforce verbal and rein cues without the horse worrying about someone being in the saddle, and I think they do a good job of helping a horse learn to drop his head and use his back, especially when they are used like a lunge line (see the video below). Having one line under his butt encourages him to be aware of his body and hind end while the line in front, looped through the stirrup, encourages proper head and neck bend and softness. In this way they work similarly to side reins but are a little more versatile, I think. They also were good for Charlie in encouraging him to drop his head when he backs up and instead of throwing it up in the air. I will be using them again!

Working the drafts: introducing long lines

Jan and I have been making a lot of progress with Finnagan, the spotted draft, and were able to put a saddle and bridle on him last week. Now that that's done, we've started using long lines to teach him to respond to rein and voice cues from the ground before anyone gets up in the saddle. He's picking things up so fast! Often I'll work the long lines with Finnagan while Jan works with Flint. I don't have a video of me driving him (since I'm the videographer), but here are a few videos of Jan introducing him to long lines and having him trot. By Monday I had him trotting Figure 8s which was pretty exciting :) 

Introducing the long lines 1/10/14

Learning to trot 1/13/14

Flint is proving to be a bit more stubborn and bullyish, which cannot be tolerated in a horse this big. We've been doing a lot of round pen work with him to try and get some energy out while instilling respect for people on the ground. He needs a lot of desensitization around his head and hindquarters too. Unlike Finnagan, he is not comfortable at all with having his ears touched and was very wary about having someone be taller than him. However, we have made progress on the ground and I can get him to stop, back and turn both directions, and give a hindquarters over without much fuss. If he gets excited, though, he gets pushy. He will definitely take more time than Finnagan.

Friday, January 10, 2014

In the "big" leagues

Since starting work at Spring Hill I've helped Jan break/train all different kinda of horses: Arabians, Quarter Horses, a Chincoteague pony, a Kentucky Mountain Gaited, and a couple of Mustangs....all of which are completely different from the Thoroughbreds I grew up with. However, the newest additions to our training team put them all to shame, at least in size. Meet The Big Boys:

Flint (Percheron) and Finnagan (American Spotted Draft)
That's 18+ hands and 2000 pounds of baby in each one (they're both 4), and we're going to teach them how to ride and drive. Now this is going to be fun!

Me and Flint
Finnagan photobomb!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Blanket shopping and the Pennsylvania Farm Show

After our ride on Saturday Emily and I went out to the consignment store to go shopping. I had three things on my list: a new halter (check), bell boots (check), and a new heavyweight winter blanket since Charlie has filled out and his doesn't really cover his belly anymore. The first two items were easy. However finding a blanket, not so much. They had well over 100 blankets and I think we honestly looked through every single one, pulling them out to check the weight and eye-ball the size. I had finally narrowed it down to a very nice Weatherbeeta with a high neck (but which unfortunately was a size under what Charlie normally wears and was purple, not my favorite for a chestnut) and a black Masta (which I had never heard of but is apparently pretty popular overseas and was absolutely gorgeous).

My plan was to bring them both home and then return whichever one didn't fit. Unfortunately the store wouldn't allow any returns on consigned items so I reluctantly decided it wasn't worth the risk. I couldn't afford to spend $150 extra on a blanket that may not make it. But Charlie did get his halter, with a matching lead, some used but quality bell boots, and I got some new gloves. I'll continue my bargain blanket searching online I guess.

Charlie's new halter
On Sunday Emily, Dan and I drove out to Harrisburg to check out the Pennsylvania Farm Show. It was definitely an experience. Horse people may be crazy but honestly this was like watching a dog show but with farm animals. I've never seen so many primped, poofed and pomaded cows in my life. People were styling their hair with blow dryers and teasing it "just so"....I had no idea this type of thing existed! 
Fluffy cow
Big horns
Love the brindle!
If it didn't cost $10 I so would have done this
Of course there were also lots of sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and every other kind of farm animal you could imagine.
I really want a duck
Giant goose
Champion turkey
Yes there was rabbit petting and, yes, we participated :)
We missed the rodeo, which was Saturday, but got to see the 6-horse carriage competition and a mounted police demo. 

Mounted police

Oh, and there was a 1000lb butter sculpture.
That's a lot of lard
At the end of January Em and I are going to attend the Maryland Horse Expo which will definitely be a bit more up our ally as horse people but the farm show was a lot of fun anyway.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Snow Ride

This weekend my friend, Emily, came to visit and - like almost every other time she's come up in the last six months - Mother Nature did her best to interfere with our plans. This week it was a blizzard on Thursday and Friday which left us with 4-6 inches of snow, billowing winds, and frigid temperatures with windchills below zero. Brrr! Snow always makes barn work interesting: buckets freeze, tractors won't start, and it's always more difficult to turn out when you have to trudge through half a foot of snow, but with help it isn't too bad.

Trying to stay warm Friday morning

So on Saturday morning Emily and I, crazy horse people that we are, decided to get up early and show up at the barn to lend a hand with morning chores. We were going to ride later anyway so what was another couple of hours? It was a good thing we did; they were short-staffed and with the snow that would have made for quite a long morning. It was a bit nippy out, though.

Saturday morning
After we finished working we took Charlie and Colby out for a trail ride in the snow, one of my favorite things and a long-time winter tradition for me and Em :) We went all over the place and the horses were great. We mostly walked since we couldn't see what was under the snow, but at the end decided to let them canter across the flat snow-covered fields that led home. What fun! And what good boys! The uncharacteristic 'tude Charlie had had while we were warming up was gone and we were both enjoying ourselves. 

Speaking of his attitude, I had thought at the time it might be from static electricity building up and shocking him from his quarter sheet. However, when prepping food for Saturday night I noticed that there was a half dose of unused SmartCalm Ultra in his bin. Hmmm. Now, I'm not sure how fast a change in SmartCalm dose would take effect, but I know if Charlie skipped Vitacalm I could tell. So if Charlie only got half his dose for breakfast and then was uncharacteristically jerky before our ride, is that just coincidence? I think it really shows the positive effect the SmartCalm has been having and, if so, then SmartPak, I love you! (On a sidenote, how can you screw up SmartPaks? Really?)

Anyway, I was able to have a truly wonderful ride in the end in the most gorgeous winter wonderland. Here are a few pictures; maybe next time I can get a video of us cantering across the field :)

Can't beat that view
An unlikely pair but Colby was such a good boy
Chestnut looks good against the snow