Reluctant Cowgirl


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Lessons in Humility

This could probably be the title of every post about a lesson, but this one was especially humbling.

It was a brisk, breezy day and we rode outdoors. Lately Alice saddles up her young Azteca mare to ride with me, which I love. Not only does it give us both experience riding with other horses, it also gives her a birds-eye view of my riding, and Henry a kick in the pants. (Would you want to be chased by a fiery grey mare?) I have no idea how in the world she is coordinated enough to both control her green horse and critique Henry and I for an hour straight at all three gaits, but she’s really good at it. She prefaces these lessons by saying “remember, I’m not yelling at you!” because she really does have to yell sometimes, and when the yelling is also combined with chasing it can be a little intimidating.

RCowboy got a good amount of video from this lesson, so I could slowly scroll through and take screenshots of us and remember how little I know and how poor my equitation is.

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Left: how to canter. Right: how not to canter.

The words I heard the most during this lesson were “HE’S BRACING” which are also the words I say to myself the most when I ride in the arena alone. In the journey to suppleness and self-carriage we are taking very baby steps which include all the bending and rollbacks and 10-m circles. I am learning how to properly hold my reins and keep my eyes up and shoulders level.

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Try to focus on the scenery and not the miniature trotter and his incompetent jockey.

We did have our moments. Some of those turns really got him to engage and when it all comes together Alice gives a whooping “YESSSSS!” and I smile. My mindset and attitude have come a long way and I definitely have fun with these lessons, even if we are far from perfecting anything or even showing consistency. I laugh out loud a lot, because if there’s one thing I can master it’s not taking myself (or any of this) too seriously. I’m lucky to own a horse and have the time and means to ride him in lessons; everything else is just gravy.

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Me: bend, pony, bend! Pony: THESE MARES ARE SO DISTRACTING

When we finished up Alice asked if she could ride him to demo some homework. She first showed me three rein positions to ask for suppleness at the halt and then at the walk and trot. Then she got him to do some very pretty trot and canter work.

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Gosh my horse is pretty when someone else rides him.

A lot of times I have to remind myself that when I got this horse less than two years ago he had 100 days of training, and his trainer spent about 60 of those days just trying to touch him. He came to me with less than 30 rides on him. When I got him, I hadn’t owned a horse or ridden consistently in 20 years. It’s fun to see what he’s capable of in experienced hands, and where we might go with time and patience.

And maybe spurs.

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Zoom zoom.

 


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Annual Vet Visit

[Warning: terribly long post about a terribly boring vet visit. Feel free to TL; DR.]

I’m more than a month late for getting the boys their vaccines. Rube is slopping half-chewed balls of hay all over the place, his old man teeth desperately in need of floating. Henry has weird nodules at the base of his mane that I really hope are just hives but my brain screams NOPE, PROBABLY MELANOMA because I grew up with grey Arabs.

I don’t want to sound like a whiny baby here, but it is really hard getting back into horses as an adult and living in the middle of nowhere with few horse friends. I’m grateful that I found someone to take dressage lessons with here in cowboy country, but I do that once or twice a month and the hour goes by so fast that I can barely take care of my riding concerns let alone ask for advice regarding what the heck I’m supposed to vaccinate my horses for and if perfectly healthy, fat mustangs need their teeth floated every year.

I know what you’re thinking; ask your vet! That’s what vets are for! Yes. Sure. I can imagine what it would be like to have a conversation with your vet in suburban not-flyover-country. Do you want to know how my conversation with my vet went last year? Henry has this extremely charming/horrifying habit of sticking his head in the air with his mouth open and ‘clicking’ the back of his throat. He does it mostly after eating or drinking, and aside from looking like he could be dying appears completely not-at-all distressed. His leg is cocked, his tail swishes lazily at flies, he flicks his ears to and fro and will even pin them at Sam, all while doing this odd mouth business. I describe this to the vet (who is approximately 70 years old and more concerned about talking about hunting with my SO than hearing me ask him questions about abnormal horse behavior) and he chortles at me, saying something along the lines of “that sounds odd!”

Face. Palm.

I know what you’re thinking; get a new vet! I tried another one, and he was, if you can believe it, worse in every way except he was a little bit younger. I believe there are a total of 3 equine vets in this county, and I don’t like the odds that number 3 is any better. We took the donkey three hours to Boise when she got sick, but come on, as much as I know veterinary care needs to be a priority, do I really need to spend 6 hours in the truck for routine annual exams and shots?

This all leaves me with the over-informed, under-cited internet as my guide. Today I googled ‘horses tetanus’ and got the following result:

Your horse’s muscles are contracting in spasms, he’s arching his back, and his body is rigid. The movements of his eyes and lips are unlike anything you’ve ever seen, rendering him unfamiliar. Brewing and multiplying deep in a puncture wound you might not even know he has is the dreaded Clostridium tetani, which is already wreaking havoc in his nervous system. He has tetanus.

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The article goes on to say such things as “wound contamination generally leads to tetanus” and “usually 50-75% of the horses that get tetanus will succumb to the disease, no matter what is done to treat them.” My horses always have wounds. They are filthy, marauding wild creatures who constantly rake their teeth across each other and poke themselves on all the protruding bits of metal I have yet to find on this neglected property that will take years to rehab. So. I guess I should be vaccinating for tetanus. No, my vet didn’t recommend it last year. *sigh*

Flu/Rhino/EWT/WNV appears to be the default combo of vaccines given in these parts, and that’s what appears on my bill from last year. That’s influenza, Rhinopneumonitis (equine herpesvirus), OH MY GOD WAIT. EWT = Eastern + Western Equine Encephalitis + tetanus. God. This is a boring-ass post but I’m glad I’m writing it because I’m learning so much. And West Nile.

Sorry. Anyway, to the vet we go!

(Last year we did a farm call but we live so damn far away from everything that the mileage fee was bonkers and this year I said let’s take them in, it will be good for all of us. And probably cost just as much in gas. Also we have no suitable place to hang the headrest for floating.)

I told the tech that I didn’t know if Henry needed his teeth floated but Rube certainly did. I said I wasn’t sure which vaccines to give old horses, if any. She said we’d ask the vet (how novel!), and he could check Henry’s teeth, too. I had no idea there was an entire indoor horse area with stocks. For some reason I guess I thought you went to the vet and just stood in the parking area, holding your animal for them to poke and prod, or maybe there was a place to tie outdoors. Stocks! Wow. That was surprising. I’m not sure why.

Henry and I lingered by the open door while Rube got loaded in. We need to shut the door, the tech said, so you guys can come in or wait out there. Um, okay? There was already one thousand-pound beast in the small-ish room, but you think I should bring this second one, who was once a wild animal, and who I have never taken to a vet before, inside as well? Henry seemed game so we went for it, turning his bulk around in the tight quarters so his head was near Rube’s. I tried to relax. RCowboy made commentary about how he’d rather not be holding Henry when the switched on the floating tool. I imagined him throwing his head upward and bolting back, knocking over computer stands and expensive tools, embarrassing me and hurting himself. We’d never get him in a small veterinary clinic room again.

Just two large horses in a small, enclosed room.

Maybe it was Rube, maybe it was me, maybe it was just the fact that Henry really is a very chill horse, but he stood there for Rube’s entire exam and float with not much more than a twitch of concern. He raised his head a couple times when the floater got especially loud, but most of the time he stood with a leg cocked, licking, chewing, and putting his nose to the ground like he does when he’s trying to say look mom, I’m a good boy, can I have a treat now please?

I guess this is fine.

I was rather shocked, for some reason. I’m continually amazed how good he can be. I expect train wrecks and failure at all junctures and he farts out rainbows and blue ribbons. (Not literally. We don’t really try for ribbons yet.)

Rube’s float and exam were uneventful. He got vaccines for tetanus, West Nile, and WEE. The tech pushed him, stumbling, out of the stocks and they opened them up for Henry to go in.

OH NO IS THIS REALLY NECESSARY was my reaction, because what if my completely placid horse becomes a wild mustang again when you confine him in this small body vice, what if he has flashbacks to being branded and poked and gelded and all that awful stuff he went through while still wild? These thoughts went zinging through my brain and wouldn’t you know it, he balked, heading backward toward that very precarious computer stand. The vet, a very old man, waved his hand and whatever was in it (I forget) toward his butt to cease the backward motion. We stopped and took a breath and tried again. He followed me forward and they closed the side, I walked through the front and they latched that too. He lurched backward, his m.o., and I waited for something terribly awful and ugly to happen, like him rearing up and attempting to exit the stocks over the top of the front and getting caught, broken, traumatized. My whole body tensed and I waited for the explosion. Henry, of course, bumped the butt bar and came forward, then realized he was stuck and stood still, however stiff. He was swabbed, vaccinated, his vitals listened to. We discussed his fat deposits (which are not melanoma). The tech made jokes about feeding a fat horse sweet feed, but that’s exactly what she did to calm him down when the needle came out. His neck was stroked and business was tended to and no one got hurt or overly traumatized. I panicked more than he did. We both survived. He loaded back into the trailer again without hesitation. Rube, still recovering from the demerol, stumbled aboard as well and we did a bunch of errands and got home.

I was my usual unconfident self. I made wishy-washy conversation and didn’t get most of my questions answered. I didn’t ask for advice on how to slim him down. I didn’t say I wanted to find out why he does his odd burping behavior after eating, but I told them about it and stood there, awkwardly. I blurted out some sob story about the donkey and once again doubted my ability to care for a hoofed creature, ever. My brain said it was a failure.

But come on. I took two equines into a small room with odd smells, noises, and power equipment and only one got sedated. Stocks still seem like an unnecessary torture device for an exam and single shot, but we got through that. The tech said she prepares her horses using -R pinch and release to simulate the needle. It seemed to make sense, though sensitive Henry isn’t really ready for me pinching him when I can’t even get him to stand to have his neck brushed every time. Still, it’s something to consider with training and desensitizing.

Oh, and Sam stayed home alone without incident. The Neighbor called not long after we got to town and I was all OH GOD, SAM IS LOOSE but it turns out she just left the water on and was hoping we could turn it off for her. We could not, but I was so dang relieved.

I guess we wore Rube out because he napped in the middle of the lawn the next day.

So sleepy.


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Theme of the Week: Pace

We had another lesson last weekend and my friend Paul and his wife Nel (and her mule) came over the mountains to join in. Paul tried out and purchased a new horse that day – a grey PRE gelding named Mateo that I might have bought if he didn’t. Those Spanish horses are just so gosh darn pretty.

We worked on one-handed riding to emphasize the use of our other aids in steering, which I found very helpful. It can be so easy to fall back on the reins and grow dependent on them. Henry was a little distracted in the group lesson setting, and we also talked about empathy and giving credit to the animals for putting up with all the wild scenarios we put them in.

The best part of the group lesson was when Alice hopped on Mateo at the end to do some “military style” riding with Nel and I. She turned on some music and we rode three abreast and I had flashbacks to drill team riding at 4H camp and boy, was it fun. Henry was very good about being packed in with two strange horses but it was harder than I thought to keep the right pace with a snappy little mule and a big, stretchy Spanish horse.

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Column of threes, aka the odd trio

Pace is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately as I think about endurance riding. The books all say you need to find your horse’s ‘all day trot’ and that has been a real challenge. Henry has reverted to the giraffe trot on many occasions recently, and I feel like I’m begging and pleading with him to put his head down a bit and relax into it, engage his core and hind end. Aside from looking ghastly, the giraffe trot is also horribly uncomfortable to ride.

I thought maybe I just needed to get out and trot him a good long time to find that trot, so last night we trailered two miles up the road to ride on the forest roads. My goal was to ride for an hour and do more trotting than walking. I brought RCowboy on his mountain bike and two dogs badly in need of exercise.

I will now summarize how this ride went from start to finish in bullet form:

  • 6 pm, unload from trailer. Woo, hoo! Beautiful night. Let’s start off walking and jogging in hand to get us both warmed up. This is going to be great and we’ll be home in time to make spaghetti and meatballs.
  • Mount up. He’s forward but controllable. Dogs are going berserk.
  • Argument with RCowboy about which road to take. I loathe going out-and-back and would give my kingdom for a damn loop. He claimed there were no loops where we were. I figured he was probably wrong, but had no good evidence.
  • Took the trail I wanted. H suddenly kind of tense but I’m trying to just ride through it.
  • H explodes into a bolt because the grey dog runs in from behind him. The grey dog goes everywhere with us. He has never before cared one bit about the grey dog. I ride my first bolt without dying.
  • H remains tense. “Well, this is terrifying.” (I actually say this out loud.)
  • All trails I pick dead end, so we turn around and get on the one trail we know goes a long way. We trot some, canter a little. I cannot find the all day trot. It is either too fast and bouncy or he’s breaking back into a walk. He’s especially unhappy about trotting on the stretches of hard, rocky ground. I start obsessing over buying hoof boots, which is probably not what I should be doing while riding.
  • We have a couple pretty good stretches at trot and canter. (They feel long, but in reality are probably only a minute or two.) I’m smiling. Everything is green and lupine and balsamroot are blooming and it’s a very WOW spring evening. I’m SO going to do my first LD on this horse soon. I love this.
  • I keep waiting for the loop to form, but don’t say anything. It’s probably like 7:30 pm. We’ve been out 1.5 hours.
  • Again, even after 5-6 miles, I cannot make my horse do a comfortable, consistent trot. He’s starting to be Obnoxiously Hungry Horse, threatening to go full stop from a trot to stick his face in whatever green thing is on the side of the trail. I have to keep rein and leg on constantly.
  • There’s still no loop. RCowboy finally asks how far we’re planning to go; it’s going to be dark soon. I tell him about the loop. He reiterates that there. are. no. loops.
  • We turn around. It’s a long way back and the sun is setting and I *still* can’t make my horse go the speed I want. I snap at RCowboy and tell him to “just go back” because I’m tired of him stopping to wait for us. We’re plodding along at a pokey walk now because I’m too frustrated to keep trying to trot right and my legs are fresh Jell-O.
  • My brain is going “I’m never doing this again.”
  • A mountain lion killed someone on a mountain bike in Washington this week. Mountain lions like to hunt at dusk.
  • I hate my horse, I hate my tack. I hate everything. I don’t want to do endurance. Our ride has become a slow, sad death march back to the trailer. We have gone 8.5 miles. It is dark-ish.
  • Horse suddenly terrified that there’s a mountain bike on the trail ahead of us. I dismount because another bolt right now will absolutely kill me.
  • Silently walk next to angry man on mountain bike the last mile back to the trailer.
  • Horse will not load into trailer. Of course he won’t. It is full dark and after 9 pm.
  • RCowboy, displaying an amazing load of patience for this juncture of the evening, loads horse for me. It is not pretty, but it gets done. He also tries to talk to me about focusing on all the good things that happened tonight, and I want to murder him.
  • Get home, examine odd sweat patterns that probably mean saddle doesn’t fit, feed, feel terrible about myself, pour large glass of wine and eat leftovers while watching dark crime show set in rainy city. Sleep the sleep of babes.

Regarding goals for the ride, we were certainly out for an hour. We most certainly did not trot more than walk.

It’s amazing how little time it takes to forget how shitty something can feel. Today I’m all “let’s go out again! I bet I can find a loop! Where’s the entry form for my first LD?”

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At least we saw a pretty sunset


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Owyhee River Challenge

I took my horse to an endurance ride, and I did not cry.

Did I neglect to put that on my list of goals for this event? Yup. But really it was the one that mattered most. I wanted to have a positive experience, which means no crying. (I’m a 38-year-old woman, and I am a hell of a crier.)

We arrived Friday early afternoon and unloaded the dogs to pee while we scouted the area we’d chosen to park in and contemplated the setup of Henry’s pen. He waited in the trailer looking out at the growing ride camp. Once we’d decided on a spot, I unloaded the horse while RCowboy started pounding in stakes. Ride camp was an ugly, weedy mess with little to no edible forage, but Henry still marched around shoving nasty dry dead weeds in his mouth. He seemed fairly relaxed about everything, until he realized we had parked near the hill where folks that were doing the CTR (competitive trail ride) that afternoon descended to come into camp for their vet checks.

There were horses all around us. He has no issues with horses a few hundred feet away. But horses on the horizon or in the distance are terrifying. I can only imagine it has something to do with his wild days, when spotting brethren in the distance could mean rival stallions or sassy mares that wanted to run him out of dodge. The riders and horses sent him into a bit of a fire-breathing dragon episode. I clung to his lead and tried to regain his attention. I asked for circles and he gave me a grand, prancing trot with his tail held high, neck arched, nostrils flared. I asked to change direction and I got head tossing and blowing snorts. I was scared. But I took some deep breaths and stuck to what I knew and I talked us both down. I looked for focus and tiny bits of relaxation and gradually they increased until he was once again less dragon than horse.

It was very windy with some rain that afternoon, so we were both getting wet during this episode, and when he came down from his stallion throwback he took a couple rolls in the nasty weedy dirt, coming up with a caked, dusty coat and mane and tail full of sticks and debris that made me very thankful we weren’t going into any competitions that required looking pretty.

The rest of the time at camp was without incident. He respected the fence. He ate, drank, slept. I never saw him lie down, but he was obviously relaxed. He nickered to horses a few times, but it was a very low, calm greeting, not the panicky screams of the buddy sour Arabs all around us.

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Not a big deal.

He continued to watch the horses and riders coming down off the hill with interest, but there was no more snorting or running about. The wind and rain did not let up all afternoon or evening so I elected not to ride that day. I went to the ride meeting in the evening and then walked the dogs and we cooked a hot meal in the trailer after getting cots set up for sleeping. It was so rainy and windy and the foster dog barked at every noise he heard so no one slept a wink that night. The riders were off by the time I got up Saturday morning; the 55 started at 6:30 and the 25 at 7:30. I’d been worried that Henry would get very worked up seeing everyone heading out, but he continued to not care about much of anything.

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This is all fine.

I volunteered to pulse and scribe during the vet checks that day and the action came in spurts. I’m terrible at math under pressure and was terrified I was pulsing animals down wrong, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t cost anyone a placing. My favorite riders were a group of young girls on grumpy mules who were winning the 25 miler. God, to be a young, fearless rider again.

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These ridiculous mules are rolling at the vet check. They DNGAF.

Once things slowed down at the vet check I worked up the courage to saddle up and pick a trail to ride. I cheated and brought my comfort boyfriend and dog along. We did about 7 miles and I definitely got off a couple times in the beginning when I got nervous. But we worked through it. We trotted and cantered some but nowhere near enough to be considered endurance riders. It was leisurely. The sun came out. I smiled a lot. We did not get eaten by the ride photographer, who was a Very Scary Being Parked in the Creek Maybe to Eat Us.

That night was awards and a potluck. I won a TTouch session and a package of Mrs. Pastures cookies in the raffle, the latter of which Henry lost his mind over because I only ever buy him low-calorie health food treats and Mrs. Pastures are basically horse Ho-Ho’s. The weather was much improved and we were treated to a gorgeous sunset.

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My new buddy, Bravo, resting up after coming in second in the 55.

Needless to say we all slept well on night two. Unfortunately we woke to more rain and fog and I thought, this has been good enough, let’s pack up. I don’t need to ride again. But as we had a leisurely breakfast and started to pack the weather improved and I threw on a saddle and headed out alone. We did an out-and-back on the trail we’d done the day before in the reverse direction. Again, I got off a few times. But we crossed paths with several of those frisky mules and their kids and a few other horses and nobody got too upset and we made it back to camp unscathed. Victory.

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Good boy.

So there you have it. My first endurance ride and campout with the mustang was a positive experience and I’m eager to try more. The thing I’m finding out about endurance though is that most of the people are specialists who become consumed by the thing and do it so much it becomes their entire life. Me and Henry, we’re generalists. I definitely want to give LDs (“limited distance”; rides less than 50 miles) a try and see how that goes, but I don’t know if I have the desire to aim for Tevis. There’s a lot of badasses in this sport, and I’m continually floored by their efforts, especially the women of a certain age who are pounding out 8-18 hours in the saddle through wicked weather and terrain while taking good care of their partners. It’s a heck of a thing. But for now we’ll take it slow and easy and see where the trails (and dressage lessons) take us.


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Dual/Mule Lessons

We’re on a roll with scheduling and going to lessons. Two in one spring might not seem like much but when you consider our previous record of taking an entire year to get back down into the valley to ride, this is stupendous.

I called to confirm our time and immediately after I hung up Reluctant Cowboy asked if we should bring Sam. I tried calling back but got no response. Sam, of course, is the mule we got for the cost of his vet bill last fall because we had the burning desire to get a longear and are extremely gullible novices who will take any animal someone says needs a home. (He might to go auction, they said, and you KNOW what happens to animals that go to auction…)

I argued that we should not bring a second animal to the lesson without the instructor’s permission to do so, but Cowboy said I was being ridiculous so even though we were running late he loaded his critter in with mine and off we went.

If Sam is one thing he is loud. He got off the trailer and bugled his presence to the entire valley. If Sam is anything else he is pushy, so he immediately began showing Alice and anyone else who was on the premises exactly why he and Cowboy need some pointers. But it was Henry’s and my turn first, so he went into the round pen to bray and have anxiety attacks while we went to the indoor to work on freeing up the hip.

I have no photos from the lesson so please accept these handsome headshots.

We started out doing Alice’s patented ‘stop sign’ work in hand, where the point is some suppling and beginning lateral work to warm up. He did magical, beautiful things for her and then I led him through a much more stumble-and-laughing-at-myself  version. Next we mounted up and worked on tempo at the walk and full, bending corners (look with your eye, outside rein, inside leg), circles to a set number of steps and then a somewhat face-paced, chaotic call and response set of turns all around and across the arena which was actually pretty fun. We finished with the stop sign exercise under saddle. Arena work is getting so much better now that Henry has lost a few pounds and I’ve gained some confidence.

Hm, yes, you make it look so simple.

Sam’s lesson showed just how smart he is, and how ill-equipped we are as horsemen to deal with mules. But it’s encouraging to see how quickly he responds when he’s being asked by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing. By the end RCowboy was able to keep his attention for more than 2.4 seconds at a time and keep him out of his space much more effectively. And I’m happy to say he’s continued the work at home. There are some days I think we’d all be safer and better off without that mule, so I’m glad to see some work being done with him, and to have gotten Alice’s opinion that he’s not a bad animal who’s beyond help.

 

Personal space issues.


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First Lesson of the Year

I take lessons with a wonderful older woman who is loved and respected by the horse community of this isolated, rural area (and beyond). She grew up in a ranch family but expanded her knowledge beyond quarter horses and cow work to train in classical dressage and Doma Vaquera. Last year she traveled across the country to work with Bettina Drummond, who trained under Portuguese horseman Nuno Olivera. It’s an honor to ride with Alice, and each time I make the effort to get over there I marvel that we are lucky enough to have such a consummate horseman at our fingertips here in the middle of nowhere.

Alice is also a fine teacher, and her lessons begin and end in the same way. She always starts by asking how things are going and what I might like to to work on. This time I responded by saying, “well, this is kind of embarrassing, but we’re still awful at bridling.” I went on to babble for three minutes about our problems, how he backs up 15 steps and sticks his head straight in the air the moment I present the reins, how I have trained him using positive reinforcement to drop his head to the ground but it hasn’t seemed to help, how I probably screwed him up to begin with by being rushy and banging him with the bit and maybe his teeth need floating. She listened patiently because she is a fine teacher, but in the end just said, “let’s have you watch first.” She proceeded to take my horse, “bridle” him using the leadrope as a bit, asking him to drop and pick up the “bit” repeatedly with his head cradled gently in her arms. He did not take a single step backward. His nose wasn’t in the arena dirt, but it never went above her waist. He did not protest. She sent him an invitation and he RSVP’d ‘yes.’ She repeated the steps with the bridle with the same result, then handed him over to me. He said something along the lines of ‘well, you’re still not that woman but you are under her guidance so okay.’ (RSVP: maybe.) I really believe there is some amount of magic to Alice’s level of horsemanship. It’s timing, it’s your own self-carriage, it’s visualization, it’s knowledge and understanding. It doesn’t involve excuses or long-winded variations on a single theme. It’s simple and clear and it works.

That all being said I have no idea if I will be able to get the bridle on this horse as effortlessly as I did Saturday ever again.

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In lieu of very funny looking video from the lesson, here is a pretty picture of us on a hack the day before.

After that lesson in humility, I told her I was also interested in working more on my seat aid, as the concept is a bit obtuse at my level of practice and rust. So we worked first on the lunge with her instructing me to feel the timing of his inside hind and count it out, using the feel of my inside sit bone and a slightly forward outside rein at both the walk and the trot. I’ve been feeling bouncy and stiff in my lower back lately and this exercise was helpful in getting my butt where it needed to be. She also encouraged more posting from the thigh and had me standing in my stirrups at the trot, which felt so impossible it was almost like I’d never done half-seat in my entire life. (I spent 1/3 of my life in half-seat or two-point during my teenage years.)

After work on the line, she had us work at the trot first riding the arena as a square (we’re really good at that; for some reason that’s one of the dressage lessons that sticks with me) and then making circles in each corner. The circles were challenging – she said to make them ten strides and the first few took at least 13-18. But we got it eventually. At this stage she was mounting up on the Andalusian that she’d had tied for the first part of the lesson and for the remainder we rode together, which was very fun for me who constantly rides alone, and good practice for Henry who is a formerly wild horse who still wonders on occasion what the hell he’s doing with his life now. We followed Alice and the grey Andalusian around the ring for the remainder of the lesson, doing modified shoulder-in work as a means of suppling. We both needed some time to catch on to this exercise, but when we did my boyfriend was cheering and very excited so I imagine it must have looked pretty cool. Unfortunately he was too engrossed to take any video at that point.

At the end of each lesson we go over our “take-home.” I always know this question is coming but still struggle half the time. I went with suppleness, as the final exercises were revelatory and continuing them will greatly benefit Henry’s “football player” body and my confidence that my dirty, short, stocky mustang is capable of great things.

Alice was very encouraging and kept saying how much she liked Henry’s attitude and energy level today. She would say things like “that’s really great…for Henry” because she understands that this is a formerly-wild animal that got rushed through a 100-day training challenge and then purchased by an admittedly novice re-rider. He can be focused and excited to work and then suddenly go sullen and shut-down. She also complimented his weight, which is something we’ve been working on for more than a year now, and probably is in direct correlation with the improvement to his energy level.

One weird take-home for me from this lesson, absorbed both by watching some video of myself afterward and seeing Alice in the saddle, is that gosh-dangit my stirrups are short. You can take the girl out of the jumper ring, but you can’t take the jumper ring out of the girl, I guess. Stronger thighs will buy me a longer leg, eventually. Our assigned homework was more suppling exercises, but I’m also self-assigning more leg work including going without stirrups.


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Our First Clinic

We trucked the mustang a couple five hours over to the Cascades for a clinic last weekend. It was his longest trip since he traveled from the Seattle area to Boise for the makeover event where I purchased him in late July of last year. It would also be his first trip to a place with a whole bunch of strange horses since then, coupled with stall confinement (which he doesn’t do here), wet weather, and oh right, the whole clinic and prize ride. I spent much of the days leading up to this weekend alternately shopping for crap I was sure I needed (a blanket for my wild horse, a saddle pad that wasn’t so garishly ugly-colored, a proper cute riding rain jacket for myself, waterless shampoo so I wouldn’t have the dirtiest horse there, etc.) and watching videos online about how not to be an idiot novice horseman. I’m not sure how I did, but I only bought the blanket and that turned out to be a good decision.

The drive was uneventful and we arrived with an hour to spare before darkness descended. The mustang did not care about the presence of the other horses; he was much more interested in the fact that he was back in the real Pacific Northwest where they still have ample lush clover and green grass in October.

All settled in to his little outdoor stall. This is the driest he’d be all weekend.

This clinic and campout was called the Mustang Rendezvous Clinic and Retreat, and I was really looking forward to both meeting other mustang owners and re-connecting with the trainer who gentled my mustang (also the clinician). Sunday there was a “prize ride” which is also known as a “poker ride” (I’m still not sure I understand what that means) to benefit the group Mustang Yearlings and Washington Youth. Let me state for the record right here that everyone involved with this weekend was good people and I’m pretty glad to have met them all.

So after settling in on Friday we humans enjoyed a potluck and discussed whether or not to trailer from the adorable host site, Flying Horseshoe Ranch, to the closest nearby barn with an indoor arena for the day Saturday in lieu of conducting the clinic in a roofless outdoor in weather conditions that were predicted as ‘100% rain, all day.’ My initial impression was that these people were a bunch of weenies, what the heck is a little rain? We had after all already trailered across two states to get here and I kind of wanted to stay put. But we would of course amicably go along with the majority, who voted on paying the $10 per person fee to trailer in.

Saturday around 5 am the rain started. We were holed up in a summer sleeping cabin with a tin roof and I was already not sleeping due to nerves and because it was about 45 degrees and for some reason my 20 degree down bag was not doing me any favors. We got up and fed in the downpour, then had breakfast and loaded up. At this point I had still not broken out the waterproof turnout that I bought and brought along “just in case” because my horse was a mustang, dammit, and he doesn’t need no stinking blanket.

Illustration of said mustang, in fact needing blanket.

The indoor was lovely and dry, unlike the rest of the world around us at that time, albeit cold. In fact quite cold. Cold enough that during the groundwork portion the clinician’s mother, a dear lady, came over to me and said, “I think Henry is shivering!” And sure enough, he was, the poor, soaking wet bloke. The blanket was removed from its packaging and my impression of my horse’s survival abilities was forever changed. I guess this is why mustangs come from the desert and there is no Cascades HMA. Wet + cold = bad for just about everybody, wild horses included.

On the ground we did a lot of basic work on personal space, ground tying, proper leading and tool use (flags, whips, rope). Much of this was stuff that I’d worked on and understood, but after many months of working by myself (with the help of the internet) I can’t say how good it was to work on it while watching other people and being able to ask questions.

We are basically professional ground-tie-ers.

In the ridden session we concentrated on lightness and softness, and I got some special instruction on baby-steps to collection. When I got the mustang I fell in love with the trot his trainer showcased, pretty and engaged, strong and solid. In the year since, under my novice riding, it has turned into a bouncy giraffe impression and I am so ready to reverse that change. I learned a lot about my riding in that afternoon including that I am both tense AF and leaning all over the poor dude when I’m trying to turn him. Turns out if you put all your weight on his right shoulder while asking him to go right his answer is “no way dude.” Can’t say I blame him.

Look how good I am at LEANING! (Also note previously-mentioned hideous saddle pad – is it pink? Is it orange? Who knows!)

By the end of the session my legs were screaming and I was smiling and I felt like I had a ton of things to work on along with actual ways to work on them. Yay, clinics. So many things learned, and thanks go to Whitney, mustang trainer, clinician extraordinaire, and overall outstanding human. I wish we lived closer.

This post has gotten long, so I’ll wrap up the weekend in another one. To be continued.