Dixie and Clipper

Had a lesson with my normal instructor today. (And with my friend C, who is going to start taking lessons with me because she, too, just wants to be a better rider. She’s pretty cool.) I rode Clipper, the Arab.

I’m getting my hands figured out. They’re not perfect, but I’m getting the hang of “light contact” and which way to pull on the reins and how to keep my hands still while my elbows open and close. Unfortunately, this means that everything else is noticeably falling apart!

I cannot ride in a circle. I can ride in weird wobbly egg shapes, and I can ride in diamond shapes, but not circles. Man. I take it all back, all that snarking I used to do about how riding in circles sounded boooooring. It’s hard!

In addition, I can’t quite figure out what to do with my legs. I’ll get my calves wrapped around poor Clipper’s ribs so I can keep nudging him to keep trotting for me, but then my heels pop up and my toes start to slip through the stirrups. So I’ll wiggle my feet back and concentrate on keeping my heels down as I post, but then I’ll either start riding in diamonds again or I’ll forget to nudge Clipper and he’ll laze on down to a walk. ARGH!

I used to know how to post. I’m positive of that. Last summer I would ride Champ down narrow dirt trails in the forest at a fast trot, posting effortlessly and neckreining to either side of the trees. What happened? Am I overthinking things? Probably. Hmph.

Well, posting in circles was difficult, so I headed out to the field to ride my non-posting horse. Dixie seemed to know it was her turn and came right up to me. She didn’t put up a fuss at all when I saddled her, and she opened her mouth for the snaffle bit.

THE SNAFFLE BIT. Yep, I did it. I finally got up the nerve to try Dixie (née Quinn) out in the Infamous French Link Snaffle again. She’s been so… you know… calm lately that I figured she might appreciate it. And you know what? She did. She stood really still for me to mount. Then she waited til I asked her to move out. Then she gaited in a circle, then stopped when I said woah and sat back a bit and pulled on the reins a little. Then we went on a very nice trail ride.

The only thing I can credit is letting her live in a herd for three months. She just really needed to unwind and learn to be a horse. And I made friends with her – I kill flies and offer cookies and scratch the itchy spots. But I ride her too, which used to have plenty of negative memories for her!

It really takes my breath away about all the horses, that they’ll come up to me and stand quietly for me to saddle them and ride them. The only possible explanation I have is that it must actually be FUN for them. Yay!

Champ and Poppy

Well, I almost rode two horses today.

I got out to the field pretty early, around 8 am. I walked back to the run-in, whistling and calling softly. My horses were in the (large) run in, along with the other horses. My four were off in their own little section, but sure enough, they’d settled in well enough to want to nap in the run in. Anyway, all the horses were in that half-asleep horse trance. I walked in quietly, gave everybody a scritch, and headed back out. All four came trailing out after me.

I got Champ saddled and bridled, then spent a good hour working with him. He was all jittery – in a new place, with me asking him to leave his beloved Silky? He kept trying to circle around and calling for his buddies and generally being a pitiful nervous wreck. It was pretty uncharacteristic behavior, but moving fields has to be a huge upheaval in a horse’s life. I worked him through it, I think – we’d explore out from the run-in, then stop for a few minutes, then go back. I’d let him stand near Silky til he calmed down, then we’d turn around and head out again. The first few trips out were the worst, of course, with nonstop whinnying and jiggling and trying to wheel around and run “home,” but he calmed down more on every trip. By 8:45 or so, I was just running Champ through his gaits and thinking more about my riding than his state of mind. We finished up with some slow calm walking to cool down, then I untacked him and hung out with all the horses for a while.

I killed all the big horseflies I could find. Must’ve squashed five or six of those cicada-sized monster horseflies. I worked my way from horse to horse, scratching itchy spots and whacking flies. Again, I was impressed with how calm Dixie has become. She lets me walk right up to her with “normal” body language, scratch most anywhere, and even smash horseflies. Anyway, once I felt like I’d given them enough “hanging-out” time, Cersei and I left.

We drove across the county to Tractor Supply. I needed a helmet and Centered Riding for lessons, and I wanted to get a bag of oats as a treat for whichever horse got ridden. I found a helmet, and settled on alfalfa pellets for treats, and… well… there was a clearance sale on some English tack. I ended up getting another Collegiate bridle, exactly the same as Dixie’s, for $24 instead of $99. And a spare pair of reins for $14, instead of $40. I usually manage to resist the temptation to buy stuff just because it’s on sale – but that was seriously too cheap to pass up!

TSC didn’t have the book. I headed north into Memphis and hit the closest bookstore, which actually DID have the book. Looped back south and back to Olive Branch. It was only noon, and it wasn’t all that hot and I was tired of making excuses about Poppy.

He’s not actually going to flip out and kill me. He’s not even that tall – maybe 16.1? I don’t know why I’m so vaguely intimidated by Poppy – he is one of the sweetest and most honest horses I’ve ever met. And he loves attention. Yes, I don’t have a saddle for him, but he’s not such a sensitive little darling that being ridden in my normal western-ish saddle would scar him for life.

First, a bit and bridle. I have a 5.5″ full cheek single jointed snaffle and a 5.5″ low port pelham, and I figured either would work. (And Poppy came with a 6″ mullen mouth snaffle, but he absolutely detests that bit, so it’s just gathering dust in a box.) I noticed that the new Collegiate bridle was actually a “full” size, but the almost-too-large bridle I’d been using on Dixie was an “xtra full.” Hmmm. I fiddled around with bits and buckles for a few minutes and cobbled together a rig for Pops.

Turns out the bridle fits just fine, but Poppy has outgrown the damn bit. Sigh.

Next, I tried my saddle on him. It fits ok, but looks somewhat ridiculous. Like a toy saddle. He’s at least 12″ larger in the girth than Champ. Anyway, unsurprisingly, Poppy didn’t mind the saddle at ALL. I gave him lots of brushing and scritching as a thank-you for putting up with saddle fitting and a too-small bit, then packed everything back up and went to my parents’ for the afternoon.

I ordered a 6″ hanging cheek french link snaffle from drafttack.com. Poppy seems to like jointed snaffles better than solid ones. Hopefully it’ll show up soon, fit my horse, and help me communicate with the big lug. I’m actually really excited about riding him! (Yeah, nervous too, but definitely excited as well!)

Move completed!

Sometimes they’re just angel horses.

I got to my uncle’s around 7:30. Drove around their field til I found the horses, then slipped a halter on each one just in case. I saddled up Champ, hooked a lead rope to Dixie (cause she was the closest), and ponied over to the gate. Champ was not thrilled but he didn’t kick Dixie’s head in. Dixie was not thrilled but she didn’t try to bolt. We got to the gate and I noticed that both Poppy and Silky had followed us, curious about this new bizarre game.

I opened the gate, walked both horses through, and left the gate open while I remounted. I got the horses moving again, then leaned over and unclipped the lead from Dixie. Dixie and Poppy were both wide-eyed at being in a different field and were too busy staying as close as possible the Great Leader Champ to even notice ropes or the lack thereof. Silky was shadowing along about 25 yards behind us. We uneventfully made our way through that field and into the corral field.

I called the two young dingbat horses as I turned Champ into the corral. But they are dingbats, so they missed the gate and got confused and ran up and down the outside of the corral fence. Then Silky appeared, like an old and dignified matriarch, and walked right through the gate into the corral with me and Champ. The two dingbats bolted in right behind her, just bubbling over with excitement about how this amazing day had progressed so far. I hopped off Champ, untacked him, and slipped out of the corral and shut the gate.

Then I walked back to my truck.

It really is a long way. And you know what? I haven’t tromped around meadows early in the morning for a very long time, so I forgot about the dew. My feet got soaked. Worn out wet boots, soaked holey socks, and soaked-to-the-knees jeans. Yuck. Cersei and I eventually got back to the truck, though, and we drove over, picked up the tack where I’d left it outside of the corral, and drove to the house.

We checked in with my uncle, set up a game plan, and drove out to the highway to wait for Bill. He showed up, right on time. My cousin (the second hauler, for Poppy) was also on time. We all convoyed back to the corral, I started grabbing horses, and we got them loaded like we were just walking them into stalls. It was picture-perfect loading. (No credit to me, my horses came to me loading well and I’ve just never traumatized them about trailers.) Everybody convoyed on over to the new field.

My feet, snugly wrapped in sodden cotton and soaked leather, felt like I’d dipped them in pure poison ivy juice. Seriously, yall, waterboarding is probably horrible and most definitely torture. But wet booted feet? I’d tell an interrogator all my deepest darkest secrets AND spit on a picture of my momma if he’d just dry my poor soaked feet off. :(

I tried to ignore my tortured feet as we got the horses unloaded into the round pen in the middle of the pasture. My guys got to get reunited with Poppy and get their legs back on terra firma. Champ didn’t like the looks of the already resident horses, so there was a bit of fence-charging and squealing. Champ, of course, looked really truly angry and hateful – ears back, every bit of his body language warning the other mares that he was about to go postal and KILL them. The mares squealed and pawed and generally looked just as evil right back at him. Then Poppy wanted some of that action, so he charged at the mares on the other side of the fence. It was a spectacular threat display – he had the arched neck, the impulsion, the sliding stop at the fence – but he’d forgotten to pin his ears. He looked like an intensely curious retard-horse instead of an intensely dominant wild herd stallion. Sigh. I’ve been watching Poppy for what, over a year now? and I’m quite certain that there is not a dominant bone in his body. He started off being pretty socially awkward, and he’s slowly learned how to boss other horses around by watching and copying Champ’s movements. But he’s copying, so sometimes he forgets things. Like pinning his ears. Sigh.

Then I realized that my feet STILL ITCHED. Enough is enough. I drove into town and went to the dollar store. I purchased a pair of super-cheap hiking shoes and a bag of socks, peeled off the ruins of my boots and socks, and carefully dried my pale white prunefeet before wrapping them in new footwear.

With happy feet, I went back out and let my guys out of the round pen. They stuck together as a herd, exploring near the round pen for a bit. They pranced up to the other horses, Champ and a mare squealed and pawed at each other, then my horses spun away and trotted off. It was breathtaking. I hope they enjoy exploring :)

Tomorrow I’m going to do some exploring of my own – Champ or Dixie on the trails, then maybe I’ll see how Poppy feels about the Aussie and actual WORK. I’ll post tomorrow night, unless Poppy kills me or I’m too tired.

Squeee!

Horses. My horses are coming to Olive Branch tomorrow!

I’m going to Como around 7:30 tomorrow. I’ll halter everybody and lead them from the pasture over to the 1000-yards-away corral. Then when my haulers show up at 9 am, we won’t have any horse chasing excitement to contend with.

One of the barn owners, Bill, (the husband of the lady who coached my last two lessons) is bringing the big dually and the 3-horse slant load. My cousin Robert is bringing his 2-horse. Robert will take Poppy, and Bill will take the three Walking Horses. Everybody knows where we’re going, so I’ll probably just follow the trailers as a safety net.

I am SO EXCITED. Today went sooooo sloooow, and Stephen begged/ordered me to come to work tomorrow afternoon so that’s going to be hell, but I have Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to ride. Ride MY HORSES, in Olive Branch, then drive 30 minutes home and sleep and get up and do it again! I put in my 30 days notice here today, too, so in another week or two I’ll go find an apartment in Olive Branch.

Ok, last week’s dressage lesson. I should post about it before this week’s fun gets started and I forget all about last week.

Got to the barn on time – my instructor was still working with the two gals who have the slot before me. I got the Ay-rab (my buddy Clipper) out and started grooming him. Noticed some wee tiny girth galls, so when the instructor came over I showed her.

If it’d been my horse – well, I probably would’ve cussed a lot and kicked the ground and not ridden him. (One of the few perks of having Too Many Horses is that odds are, at least one is going to be sound to ride – even if it’s not the one you wanted to ride.) Anyway, the instructor did the same. She grumbled a bit and felt the tiny little galls and sighed and said “put him up, we’ll use Jazz.”

Jazz is a huge sorrel QH. He’s a little more opinionated than Clipper, but not as experienced or well-trained. I found his itchy spot (crest of his neck) right away so we got along fine.

The very first thing I did was tell her about how unexpectedly hard last week’s lesson had been. Basically I said a shorter version of what I’d posted here.

First we worked on neck bends – mount up, get the horse square, then ask him to bend his neck left and right, at a standstill. Jazz was very very stiff to the left – didn’t want to bend at all, period, but finally obliged a few times and gave me a tiny bit of left bend. He’d bend to the right no problem.

Then we did quite a bit of riding squares. Ride straight along the rail til you get to a certain point, then look left, then pull* on the left rein only until the horse has made the left turn.

*Ok, I know there are many better verbs than “pull”, but basically it boils down to pulling. Not yanking – but not neckreining, which is the only other thing I’m vaguely familiar with. Again with the semantics, I could write an entire post about the amount of force and intent behind it – but yall know I’m not hateful, and when I say “pull left” I mean… pull left.

Pulling just one rein was quite hard for me. I have only ever direct-reined as a prelude to teaching neck-reining, so I had to consciously tell that right hand to STAY STILL. I wanted to pull with left hand and use my right hand to drape the right rein on Jazz’s neck. After I consciously mastered not wanting to neck rein, I still wanted to give a little with my left hand. I think I didn’t want Jazz to try to turn his head to the left to obey my left hand but run into the right rein/bit. I am scared of contact.

After a little coaxing I managed to try pulling left while keeping right still and you know what? Jazz turned his head to the left, which took up some contact on the right, and turned left without being confused or upset at all. Pretty neat.

(Of course, we did all this in both directions several times. It’s just that I know this isn’t the clearest example of horsemanship yall have ever read so I’m not going to try to describe it as “the pulling hand and the other hand” or anything. And you know I’m not ready to call it “the opening hand and the giving hand” cause I’ll get my terms wrong!)

Then the instructor explained diagonals to me. I never really understood the whole posting diagonals thing, but she walked me through the “why” and I actually get it now. I am feeling particularly clumsy tonight so I am not going to try and relay the explanation to yall.

Then we worked on the bending exercises again, where I’d ask Jazz to bend his neck without walking. He was much more responsive, in both directions. The first thing I thought was what Daun always says about how a good dressage session is supposed to leave the horse more supple than before! (I know she didn’t invent that saying and I’m sure the rest of the dressage blogs I read also say that – but honestly, when Jazz bent like Gumby to the left and right I thought about this post first.)

Then my hour lesson had run well over an hour and a half so we quit yapping, much to the bored horses’ relief!

I’ll update tomorrow about how evil or good my horses were for the move.

Eeee I’m so productive!

1) Finished an extra job which netted me more than enough money to pay my Horse Bill this month.

2) Got the horse move finalized. This took three phone calls. Number of phone calls required is a measure of difficulty for me because I really don’t enjoy talking on the phone.

3) Talked to one of my friends from the Old Barn – she’s going to be moving down to MS, pretty near the New Barn, sometime before the end of the year. I encouraged her to try some dressage lessons and maybe board her horses with my horses. She will probably eventually do both. We compared notes on recent Old Barn Drama.

4) My one friend called his (distant) cousin who is a judge in central Mississippi. He has been meaning to call his cousin for two months now, but is obviously an even bigger procrastinator than I am. After all this buildup… he got voicemail. Oh well. Friend left a message and hopefully cousin will call friend back and want to call me and hire me. Then I will uproot everything again and move to the middle of Mississippi. Whatever – anything, as long as it’s lawyerin’ and not in a city!

Now I’ve answered (some) email and read yall’s horse blogs and I’m soooo tired and I’ve got a normal day of work starting too early tomorrow. Blah.

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