Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Juno = Snow Ride

Although our projected Snowpocalyse from Winter Storm Juno turned out to be more of a Snore-Easter here in Central Jersey, it made for some really pretty landscapes. So today I ventured out to the barn to spend some quality time hanging out with Charlie, including a wonderful ride through the snow, my first ride in weeks! It felt so good to be back, and Charlie couldn't have been more level-headed and fun.

Yes, this is happening! Untouched snow! Woohoo!
Blowing snow makes this post-ride shot oh-so-picturesque :)
Afterward I had to fix one of the gates that had come off its hinges. Charlie of course tried to help.

He is such a big help. Or at least he thinks so.
Hmmm. I concur. That gate is definitely off its hinge.
Baling twine? What a novel idea! 
Then came the fun. Point a camera at Charlie and he turns into such a ham. It's adorable. I finally just stood back and let him have my full attention, and this is what evolved:

Picture time? Ok....go!
Sexy pouty face
Thank you, thank you very much
A bit tipsy
Zen master. Ohhhmm.
I'm so funny I make myself lol
That concludes our session. Thank you!

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Is that apple for us?
Today Charlie's new farrier came out, and I decided after much deliberation to pull his shoes for the first time ever. Charlie has really good feet - and not just for a Thoroughbred - and since I'm not riding nearly as much as I thought I would this winter, I figured why pay to keep the shoes on? If I did, I'd need to spend the money for snow pads anyway. So here's to braving things barefoot for a little while!

It was actually probably a good thing Dave didn't have to nail shoes back on. Charlie was kind of a nut. The appointment was a last minute "I can fit you in now" kind of thing, so I only got about 20 min of groundwork in before the farrier arrived. Enough to take the edge off, but not enough to wear Charlie out so he wouldn't think monsters were out to get him when he caught a glimpse of the caretaker's kid as he went running off across the snowy lawn. That set him off. Charlie darted and spun and fell in the snow and generally got himself all worked up....aaand then the farrier pulled in. <sigh> He really wasn't awful, but it definitely was not the stellar first impression I would have liked.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Refresher course

Friday was sunny and a fairly warm 30 degrees so I headed out to the barn to hang with Charlie. I actually had just read a good article from Horse Illustrated regarding non-riding winter conditioning exercises. It reminded me of stretches and other things I could do with Charlie and was just the incentive I needed to start getting back in the game. Gave me something to focus on. 

My goal for the day was to do a refresher of the basics, remind Charlie about personal space (which he seems to have forgotten now that he's been living the good life in the pasture with other guys), and take him for a successful, quiet hand walk away from the other horses. Build up both his confidence and mine, as well as ours for each other.

Nice mud-ice ring
The ring was still a frozen mud mess, so I decided to work with Charlie in the field. The other two horses are both old, non-reactive guys so I figured this would give Charlie both a calming influence and a distraction; if I could get him focusing on me instead of them, that would be a big accomplishment for us both. 

We started with several stretches: nose to chest, nose to knees, nose between hocks, then bending around to the shoulder, girth, and hip on each side. Then 30 steps backward (Charlie is really good at this, backing on just a voice command until I say stop). From there we progressed to walking in hand, focusing on him stopping when I said "whoa" (not a step or two later) and staying out of my personal space. Initially he was very pushy. I had to remind him several times with a firm second "whoa" - and had to constantly flick the end of the leap rope to remind him to stay out of my space - but it came back to him eventually. 

Back to school

He was definitely distracted by the other horses in the beginning. Anytime I'd ask him to stop or turn away from them he would grunt and spin away, threatening to rear. I've learned there is a very fine line with Charlie between firmly redirecting him when he is misbehaving and telling him too strongly to stop, which makes him think you are attacking him and results in his "go-to" backup-pull-rear behavior. Since he is especially reactive to face tension, the worst thing I can do is to let him feel any tension on the lead rope when he acts up. So, during this lesson I really focused on pointing the lead rope away from my body, releasing any tension on it, directing my energy at his hip, and redirecting him forward into the open space every time he acted up rather than choking up on the lead. It worked! After five or ten minutes, and several repetitions, he started licking and chewing and calming down.

The main part of our exercise came next: walking over raised ground poles. I don't have ground poles, but I do have logs! First I sent Charlie across the shorter two, encouraging him through the "chute" formed by the longer logs while I remained on the outside. Several times in one direction, then several times the other way. Then we switched so I was on his opposite side. 

Better than ground poles
Once he could do that calmly, I progressed to asking him across the two larger logs. They span a ditch so this required more concentration, and the first few times he got pretty frustrated, flipping his head in the air and grunting as he clipped a toe, or didn't place his feet quite right, or tried to jump it and flailed. Again, I ignored any tantrum and didn't apply any tension to the lead. I just redirected him back to do the exercise again, allowing him to rest and receive praise if he did it calmly, and he got the idea that I wasn't going to freak out on him or yank on his face if he messed up. 

Learning to move in, out, and around the "box"
We ended with a walk around the entire perimeter of the field and the outdoor ring, away from the other horses. It was really encouraging for me to see the different horse I had at the end of the lessen versus the beginning. He wasn't perfect, but it was a definite step back toward where we were, and gave me some solid confidence to do it again. I plan on doing a few more sessions just like this one before we attempt a hand walk around the property and down the driveway (where he flipped out before). And then we'll ride, once the weather cooperates of course.

I think the logs exercise was particularly helpful, and I'm excited to do more work with them and other natural obstacles around the property in the future. I think Charlie liked it too. Something different.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


The new year is supposed to be full of resolutions and the desire to do more, be better, etc, etc, etc, but I am quickly discovering that the sudden lack of an indoor ring coupled with the frigid temperatures is rapidly sapping my horse motivation. I miss my indoor, much more than I realized I would. I look outside and see things like this:

Apartment windows are frozen
The river is frozen
Streets are (pretty but) frozen
...and then I remember that I have an unworked Thoroughbred waiting for me at the barn and approximately ten good minutes in the cold before I lose feeling in my fingers and toes. So I start thinking of other things I'd much rather be doing than wrangling the wild beast in single digit windchill temps. Yes, I could do groundwork - and I'll probably get out some books and reread articles to get myself back in the mood since that's something I can do inside the barn - but all I really want to do is hop on my horse and go! Have fun! Gallop across the snowy fields! 

I know that I can do it; it's just a matter of getting motivated to put in the time with the boring stuff again so that I can get Charlie back to where he was a month or two ago and we can have fun. He's been on vacation for too long and really needs a refresher course, but when faced with the idea of standing in a barn aisle NOT moving around much (read: slowly freezing) and attempting the uphill climb that is getting Charlie to refocus on me and not on what his buddies are doing outside, cozying up on the couch just sounds so much better!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

2014 Wrap Up

It is now a week into 2015 and I'm only now sitting down to catch up on blogging. Sorry!

2014 ended in a whirlwind of activity. Dan and I successfully moved into our little apartment. The boxes are all put away and we finally have a living room thanks to a couch donation from Dan's cousin (we had been sitting in butterfly chairs for the first few weeks). We barely had time to settle in, though, before we were off for holiday visits with family across three different states.

Merry Christmas from Stockton, NJ
Christmas celebrations for us started the day before Christmas Eve in NJ with Dan's family, and then we migrated to PA to see mine. Christmas Day actually saw us celebrating the holiday in three different places: first in PA, then Chicago, and finally in Huntington Beach, CA as we flew coast-to-coast for a mini Christmas vacation with my uncle and his family.
Me and my sisters
Christmas Day Goose Island beers during our Chi-town layover
Me and my uncle on the HB pier
View from our bike ride to the Wedge in Southern California
Back to NJ: Charlie seems to be settling in well to his new home. It's a small barn on private property with two other semi-retired geldings. With an open barn layout he is able to go in and out of the large box stalls whenever he wants, which is the perfect scenario for me. Outside, the horses can be separated by closing several gates or have full access to a few acres of pasture and the outdoor arena (for when it is really muddy and they can't go on the grass).

Posing for a shot at the new barn
Meeting the new guys
This isn't so bad
Until yesterday the weather here would make you think it is March, not mid-winter. We reached 60-degree temps over the Christmas break which, along with lots of rain turned everything into a muddy mess. Because of that I was only able to squeeze in one ride so far, a few days after the move, since I no longer have an indoor and am at the mercy of outdoor conditions. I admit, I was a little nervous about riding Charlie alone in a new place and didn't trust the big man to not misbehave, so I borrowed an old Simco western saddle from the barn owner for an extra sense of security (which, miraculously, fit pretty well!).

First ride selfie
In the end I was glad for that decision. Charlie couldn't focus, zooming around the ring, jumping puddles and random bunches of leaves, and overall buzzing with energy. To his credit, Charlie didn't spook when the mounting "block" (an old stump) fell over as I tried to get on, or when we were visited by a herd of deer, OR when one stirrup fell completely off because - although I checked the leather for rot - I didn't fully latch the keeper. Oops.

Hard to see, but those are deer in the paddock
He did try a buck-rear-spook episode, though, when I asked him to cool off with a walk down the driveway and we got too far away from his new buddies. I was really trying to not hold him back and make him feel boxed in, but looking back I think I needed to give him a bit more direction and purpose rather than just sitting there trying not to interfere. Or maybe Charlie was just having a TB-moment, looking for any excuse. Giving him a job, though, and sending him in a series of tight, forward serpentines (practically pivots to release his hind end) got us through it.

I'm hopeful that these rides will get better and better. He is definitely much calmer in the stall and aisle for grooming now than he was a few weeks ago so I'm sure the outdoor riding confidence will come.