Complete 180

That’s pretty much what both of us did from yesterday’s less than stellar performance.

My workday was infinitely less stressful. We had “Easter Day” at work, so my eight hours at the Dover corporate office were full of entertaining coworkers in bunny ears/costumes. There was lots of laughing and maybe a little less work than usual…hey, it’s Good Friday — everyone who didn’t have to work was out riding their horses, so it was quiet!

Image was much more “himself” today as well. The faraway look had left his eyes and he leaned into the scratches I gave him when I slid into the paddock. There was a visitor at the barn, so Image stood with me while we all chitchatted and exchanged stories. He stood quietly, occasionally swinging his head around to watch the dogs rough housing further down the driveway. He snuffled my hands and cocked a hind leg. Yay for relaxed ponies!

The visitor left and we all dispersed to go do our separate things. L asked me if I would feed for her, so while she was setting up grain, I decided to play in the small, vacant paddock that was recently created. I walked Image in, and slid his halter off. Since day one, I’ve reinforced the idea that he only gets to walk off when I tell him it’s okay. He stood, still as a statue, until I “released” him. He wandered off to the other side of the paddock. I picked up my “encouragement” (also known as a lunge whip, which I really didn’t need and will forego next time!), pointed in the direction I wanted him to go, and clucked.

He raised his head and flicked an ear back.

Well. All righty then.

I flicked the end of the whip towards his hind quarters, clucked again, and pointed. “Aha!”, I imagined him saying as he broke into a stretchy trot. “I get it now!”

He traveled around me at a nice clip, though the corners caused him to get a bit “sticky”. The footing wasn’t terrible, but there were a few muddy spots, so I kept him at an easy pace.

Asking him to whoa took a time or two before he really “got it”. He mostly understood what I wanted from his time on the end of the lunge line, but he took a bit to associate the two. By the end of the session, all I really had to do was step in front of the imaginary “drive line”, and I got a smooth, immediate stop out of him.

I also worked with him on a couple of things I really never could achieve with another horse. Image is very quick to clue in to body language, and is so fur-reekin’ smart, that he picks up on things that my wonderful but slightly duller Quarter Horse GP never really could. A cluck, a “come here” gesture with my hand, and the command “walk up!” has him immediately walking towards me. Palms out with a stern “whoa” — dead in his tracks. Pointing at him, clucking, and the command “back” has him backing away from me from quite a distance. I know this doesn’t seem like much, but I’m SO not used to working with a horse that “tunes in” so well. I’m also not used to working with a horse with this level of try. Not to mention, I’ve also never owned a horse of my very own that needs some help…so, you know that kind of plays a big part in how excited I get over every little bit of progress!

I ended up moving around the paddock with him at my shoulder. He stopped, backed, and turned as if he had a halter and lead on, so that was really cool as well. Even when we were done playing, he stood with me, licking and chewing as I got instructions from L about feeding the herd. It wasn’t until I walked him back into his paddock, which is only separated from the vacant one by some electric rope, that he wandered from my side…and that was to chase Gus away from me. Take that, you obnoxious gray beastie!

A couple of other interesting notes from today:

Mares. Sigh. There is a Newfoundland pony mare on the property in the next paddock right now. Image is, apparently, quite smitten with said mare. Heather doesn’t even look at him, so as he stands in the corner closest to her paddock and gives her that deep, throaty nicker he usually reserves for food (and on one occasion, for me!), head up and ears at attention. During our little “round” pen session, I had stopped him to let L’s mother walk through to go to the back paddock. He swung his head around, caught sight of Heather, and he nickered suggestively. Uh, no. BIG no. I’m not sure if he was gelded late or what, but I have no interest in that becoming any sort of issue. I quickly pushed him off and had him hustle for a lap or two. He didn’t do it again while we were working. It was an interesting discovery, as B didn’t have any mares on the property. Who knows when he last encountered a pretty lady? Regardless, I’ve seen what happens when geldings get obsessive over mares. He may never get to that point, even if I don’t address it now, but I don’t want to take that chance.

It also looks like I’m going to be on the hunt for a different probiotic. The one I have been using, Omega Alpha’s Biotic 8, does not please Mr. Pickypants. This sucks because I really trust Omega Alpha’s products. I may touch base with them on Monday when I get into work to see what they recommend to make it a more appetizing. If not, I’ll be looking for a pelleted probiotic. There will be a bit of a trial and error process here. I was never much of a supplement person until working for Dover, but now that I know what I know, keeping him on a probiotic seems like a smart idea, especially because he’s a bit of a worrier. Ulcers are so, so, SO common with domesticated horses because of the way we have them live, and I’d like to avoid having to buy Gastroguard at all costs!!

Tomorrow will bring a VERY thorough grooming session, because he was totally disgusting today. Maybe a walk around the neighborhood. Maybe nothing more than scratches and getting him clean. We shall see!

Here’s a quick video from this afternoon!

I apologize for the obnoxious clucking. His tendency to get sticky in the corners made me over compensate, which I didn’t realize I was doing until after the fact. I need to work on that so I’m not being a nag! So, turn the volume down and look at the cute pony. 😀

Some Days are Better than Others

Ain’t that the truth?

Today kind of sucked all around. I woke up at 3 AM and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I packed to house sit in northern MA, forgot five or six different things…and only remembered that little fact when I had gotten to work. Speaking of, work was batshit crazy, with insane customers and downed servers, which had me out of a computer most of the day, and the entire company dead in the water for about an hour. There’s nothing like having work to do, WANTING to get it done, and not being able to! The end of the day brought many cheers of relief — it’s over, and only one day left before the weekend!

I was hoping that my barn time would make the day all better. Wrong. I’m not convinced it was entirely a coincidence, but Image was not himself either. He was unfocused and fidgety as I fitted him with his rope halter (though he responded to every single one of my commands, regardless of the fact that his mind was obviously elsewhere). I had a speedy bullet on the end of the lunge line, which completely blew my plan of just working on some simple yielding commands right out of the water. Now, even with his brain not in its usual place, he did listen to every command I gave him…it’s just that “slow” was not in his vocabulary. Once I got a couple of laps at the walk out of him, I quit and brought him back in to pull a few more pounds of fur off of him. I wouldn’t say he had relaxed, but his demeanor was less tense than it was when I arrived. However, I KNOW he’s having an off day when I can’t even go into the tack room (which is connected to the barn and I am visible the entire time) without him becoming nervous and unsettled.

Despite the fact that I had calmed down and was in a much better frame of mind by the time I stepped out of my car at the barn, I’m 100% positive that he picked up on whatever little bit of tension I had left over from my crazy day at work…which, in turn, amplified the fact that he was out of sorts, himself. So, in conclusion…sensitive critter is sensitive. Emotionally damaged beings have days that are good, days that are okay, and days that downright suck. Today…today wasn’t a full on suck, but it wasn’t great, either. So be it. I still wrapped my arms around his neck, rubbed his forehead, and kissed his nose multiple times. He still made me smile and filled my heart with joy. Bad days are no fun, but they certainly don’t mean that I love him any less.

So. Bad days happen. Tomorrow’s another day.

You know what I just realized? I forgot to stop and get wine.


Lightbulb Moments

Sometimes, when working with an animal (especially a smart animal), you can literally SEE the moment something “clicks”. Image had one of those moments today, and it was the best thing ever.

Saturday was lather, rinse, repeat in terms of what we did. I had an anxious, unhappy horse at the end of my lines. He started out a little bit on edge, so we worked on lunging a bit just to get his brain a little more focused. I am still emphasizing “slow and steady” with him, and probably always will be. He has gotten much, much better at walking when I give the command. This is fabulous, not only because he “gets” it…but because turning him in tiny circles around me makes me dizzy!

Shortly after, I hooked up the long lines and spent about a half an hour walking a few paces and stopping for about five minutes until he calmed down just a fraction. Thankfully, nothing he does is dangerous or out of control — just panicky and fidgety for a horse that is otherwise quiet and composed. I am no longer convinced his issues are directly related to the bit, because even with the side pull, he throws his head down and forward to escape any pressure, real or imagined, at the halt. He is constantly chewing with his mouth, with or without a bit in there, which looks to me like it’s anxiety related. The only time he does either of these things is when I’m behind him and he’s on the lines.

I called it a day after I got a semi-quiet halt for thirty seconds, and brought him back inside. He snuffled my hair and heaved a massive sigh when I came back into his eye line, and all the tension left his body. He REALLY does not like it when he can’t see me, and I’m asking him to do things. Ground work where he can have at least one eye and one ear on me at all times? No problem. However, if I go into his blind spot and start asking things of him, it’s cause for panic. Nothing really gets him to settle except for me stepping back into his field of vision. It’s a difficult situation, because I don’t like to get him so worked up that he quits thinking, but I also don’t want to perpetuate the issue.

I spent the car ride home lost in thought. Now, his past after the last five years, is mostly unknown. God only knows what he went through. It’s not really worth speculating on at this point, because there isn’t anything I can do about it. The only thing I can do, is try and fix his future. However, at my normal round of psychiatric appointments this past week, my psychiatrist, who is very sweet and doesn’t know a thing about horses, said something that made me realize that my initial instincts weren’t too far off. When I told her, in layman’s terms, how Image was acting, she nodded thoughtfully and replied with: “You know, he sounds like he has PTSD and a secondary anxiety disorder. Have you spoken to his doctor about putting him on Prozac?”

She was 100% serious, which made me feel a bit bad, because I may or may not have burst into laughter. I gently explained that horses don’t work the same way as people (or dogs, as dogs can be prescribed the anti-depressant) and that horses had their own versions of anti-anxiety medications that can be bought “over the counter”, so to speak. Anyway, it made me think back to when I first started talking to B last year. I may not have a psychology degree, but my various experiences have made it pretty easy to put a name to a set of symptoms. Pony PTSD was the first thing I thought when B described Image’s reactions to things. After working with him for the past two months (has it only been two months!?), I’d still call it that. It may sound silly, but it helps me understand how to work with him, and how to work through his issues. It’s no secret that my past was bumpy, and it’s left me with some emotional baggage that I have to fight against every day. I was diagnosed with PTSD five or six years ago, and have yet to rid myself of the label. I may never fully “recover”. That’s something I’m going to have to learn how to live with. When it comes to Image, there may be things in his brain that simply can’t be rewired at this point in time. There may always be things that “trigger” his panic button. It’s kind of a scary thought, to be honest.

I can’t focus on that part of it, though. If that’s all I saw, then this journey would have never started. So, this morning, having thought all of this through last night, I trekked up to the barn. Image met me at the gate and stood like a stone for a quick once over in the barn so I could saddle him up. I’ve been working him lately with my saddle on, mostly because I’d like him to get used to the concept of the saddle on his back, and I can run the lines through the stirrups to keep them from hitting the ground.

The ring was much squishier than it has been in awhile today, so I was able to lunge a bit and work on some flexing before hooking the lines up. I positioned myself behind him, and clucked him forward.

I was prepared for his usual head up, tense, power walking. I got about five strides of that, and all of a sudden…it just clicked. Something changed. Maybe he finally realized that the voice behind him was mine, and that there was no way I was going to hurt him. I don’t know what fell into place, but it did. We got five or six good, CALM laps around the ring in each direction. Each lap was peppered with halts, which were mostly quiet except for his anxious chewing habit. There was no dancing back and forth, no attempts to rush back into a walk. Just solid halts and an easygoing forward pace. He wasn’t completely relaxed, but there definitely wasn’t the “oh my good God what is going to happen to me” air about him.

I nearly cried.

I didn’t push it much more than that. We got back to the front of the ring, and as I went to move to his head, he moved off around me. Oops. When I go to unclip the lines, I keep hold of both lines as I walk up to his head, keeping the outside line draped over his back. He usually stands stock still, but for whatever reason, he moved off away from me. I reined him in a circle, and nearly burst into tears again. There was only slight pressure on the lines from me, but it was just enough for him to step into the most perfect little four beat rack I’ve ever seen him do. I pushed him forward a bit (“punishment” for walking off without being asked to), and asked him to stop. He did, and I was able to get the lines off of him without an issue.

I spent the next hour buffing and pampering him. I probably got about 10 pounds of hair off of him, which makes me happy. I’m so excited to see him all slicked out! I also bit the bullet and did something I had been meaning to do for awhile — checked his sheath. Ew. Sheath cleaning is probably my least favorite thing about owning a gelding. I donned a rubber glove and poked around in there a bit. Glad I did, because he was due. A little Excalibur (warmed up in my hands, poor guy!) and some water later, and he’s mostly clean in there. Nothing like having someone walk into the barn while you’re wrist deep in your gelding’s sheath! He didn’t protest…actually, I’m pretty sure I saw him pointing and wiggling his lip a few times. Sigh. GP liked having his sheath cleaned too. I think I’d rather have a horse that puts up a bit of a fight…makes me feel a little less gross when I’m done. Hah!

“Hello. I’m adorable. :D”

Cookies plz. Kthx.

Today was awesome and I am so proud of him. I don’t expect he’ll give me this same performance from here on out, but I feel like we’re definitely headed in the right direction now! This week will be interesting, as I am house sitting up north and will be able to see him Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (if I skip out on one of the Easter gatherings I’ve been invited to)…and I won’t have to drive an hour home. Woo!

In unrelated news, my camera lens has gone to the Big Camera Bag in the Sky 😦 I’ll be limited to cell phone pictures for awhile. Excuse me while I go cry myself to sleep over this particular bit of information.

Baby Steps

I meant to finish this quite a few days ago, but work and lack of sleep got to me. So, here it is, Saturday again…and I figured I should finish up last weekend’s report before I head to the barn and do all kinds of new things that need to be written about 😉

I went to the barn later than usual last Saturday, as I was having a few friends tag along. J and her daughter D have become wonderful friends since I met them last summer, and I spent quite a bit of time with them riding their very large, very sweet draft horse named Henry. Since Image came home, I haven’t had much time to go over and play, so it was wonderful to see them!

Image, of course, charmed them with his adorableness. He was a sweet gentleman who politely took the cookies they offered, batted his long eyelashes, and cuddled with me to make them both go “awwww!”. I worked with him briefly while they were there, and he didn’t put a foot wrong. He flexed beautifully in both directions, walked/gaited around me quietly when I asked, and stopped on a dime when I asked him to. I stood next to him on the mounting block and leaned over his back. He snuffled my pants and rested a hind leg. So, basically, he made me look good even though I haven’t really done all that much. He was super affectionate, though, and spent most of the time searching for scratches or cookies. Luckily, there were many cookies to be had and my Furminator is officially on overtime because he’s started shedding buckets full of hair!

After Wednesday’s ground driving session, I managed to find a friend with a rope halter sidepull that I could borrow. Once J and D said their goodbyes, I worked Image in the sidepull. He gave to it immediately, seeing as he’s used to his rope halter already. I wasn’t 100% sure what was going to happen when I hooked the lines up and got behind him.

Well, it was honestly just a repeat of Wednesday, though slightly scaled down some. He is very uncomfortable once I am out of eyesight, and giving him commands. There was still head tossing and dancing at the halt, but a fraction less so than Wednesday, and a lot more progress towards quiet, relaxed halts. He is definitely tense and stopping is not his favorite thing to do, but he is slowly “getting it”. By the end of the session, I had more relaxation and a lot less fussiness on the end of the lines. I was rather pleased to see any marked improvement, so I quit while the going was good.

The big wooden mounting block was dry after so many beautiful days this week, so after unhooking and wrapping the lines up, I plopped down on the block and sat with him. He gave me a blustery sigh, and stood there with his head basically in my lap, enjoying his fill of snuggles.

I brought him back to the barn shortly thereafter, where he stood on the cross ties while I did L’s two stalls (I so miss doing horse chores on a daily basis!). Suddenly, I heard a ruckus outside — a ruckus of the pounding hooves variety. I poked my head out and saw Gus and Ray having a grand old time rough housing. I didn’t even think about what I did next — grabbed my phone and my camera, and went to town.

The boys put on appropriate show for me with lots of bucking and rearing and farting and being generally obnoxious. Rodger stood with me by the gate, occasionally shooting a look over his shoulder. He was clearly exasperated by the whole ordeal.

“Rawr, Imma eat you!”

I heard the girls — or what I thought was the girls — squealing at each other in the back paddock as I defied death by jumping into the paddock to take some pictures (me, stupid? Naaah…). Once the boys wore themselves out, I stepped back into the barn…to find a terrified horse standing on the crossties. Image stood there, trembling, his eyes wide and nostrils flared. Um, what just happened?

I stepped back outside the barn, where he could not see me. I observed him dancing back and forth, as he tried to find me. He even popped a small rear once or twice. He was clearly distressed by the fact that he couldn’t see me or his horse buddies.

Well. That was new. I stepped back into his eye line once he had settled just a fraction. He blew heavily and dropped his head to a more neutral position, his body visibly relaxing. Poor critter. I rubbed his forehead and finished up for the day, letting the new information circle through my brain.

For now, he won’t be left alone on the cross ties until I figure out how best to tackle this issue. My friend and fellow blogger has spent a lot of time working with rescued standardbreds, and I remember hearing about one who had some serious issues in the cross ties. I’ll be touching base with her at some point this weekend to see what she suggests, as this particular issue is not something I know how to go about handling. I don’t blame him for not wanting to be all by his onesies, but I also don’t want him having a bit of a mental breakdown if I need to step outside the barn for something.

We took it easy on Sunday and spent most of the day just playing. The ring was crappy, so we played in the driveway and with some snowbanks. I had him hopping gleefully over a perfectly shaped snowbank, his knees tucked up to his chin as he cleared it with about five feet to spare. I used the trail bridge that was mostly uncovered to teach him to “step up” with his front feet, which he learned in about ten seconds. He seemed to enjoy learning new things and really didn’t seem to mind when I asked him to do “weird” things. Such a good critter.

It’s warmed up enough for me to head out, so off I go! Maybe the next update will come a little quicker than ths one did! 😉


This afternoon, a coworker stopped by my desk to chat. It was a slow day in the world of Dover Saddlery, so I welcomed the momentary distraction from reorganizing the pharmacy orders in my filing cabinet. General pleasantries were exchanged, and then, as people who work for an equestrian equipment company are wont to do, the conversation turned to our horses.

“How’s Image doing?” she queried, leaning against the half wall that separates me from the Big Boss.
“Really well,” I responded, glancing over at the picture of him on my desk. “Taking a step back was a really good idea. The only thing is, is that I’m really having a hard time finding what triggers his reaction. I’m starting to wonder if it really is the sensation of someone being in the saddle, and I’m going to just have to use my western saddle with it’s ‘oh shit’ handle, and figure it out from on his back.”

We tossed some ideas back and forth before she went on her way into the warehouse. Shortly thereafter, I discovered my order waiting for me in the employee order bin. Well, if that wasn’t a sign to go see my critter after work today, I’m not sure what is!

So, off to the barn I went once 4:30 rolled around. Fortunately, I’m in the habit of keeping a pair of boots and socks in the back of my car, so I ditched my flip flops (yes, flip flops!! Bye bye, snow!!) and wrestled my waterproof (ish) tall boots on. I said hello to L and the few others that were hanging out in the yard, before fetching my horse.

Image is definitely shedding now. I went over him with my Furminator, but really didn’t do a thorough grooming. I’m finding that he’s got more hair to shed after he’s worked, so I wait until we’re done to give him a thorough grooming. We did some cookie stretches for good measure, and I’m pleased to report that he is now able to stretch allll the way back to his flank! When I first started doing these, he was stiff and unable to even reach halfway down his barrel. I stretch him from side to side, down between his legs, and up as far as I can go, per the suggestion of the masseuse we saw a few weeks back. It’s definitely helped limber him up some, and I’m pleased with that progress.

I outfitted him with my new surcingle, put his bridle on over his halter, and headed to the ring. Actually, I didn’t head to the ring. I headed to the POND. Yikes! The ring is kind of a disaster right now, and it’s mostly a slushy-watery-yucky mess. I scoped out the best spot with the best footing, and did our usual warm up routine. He is learning that “walk” means walk, and walk calmly. He was a little hyped up today, so there were many more tight circles until he chilled out. Once I got a few quiet laps out of him in each direction, we went to flexing and disengaging. I’m really excited to say that he has softened up immensely since I first brought him home, especially on the right side. I love having a soft horse!

Shortly thereafter, I broke open my new lunge lines and hooked them up. The second I stepped behind him, I noticed his head come up and tension fill his body — much more than there has been the past couple of times we’ve done this. He understands what I’m asking now, as he moves off immediately when I cluck. I asked for a whoa. He danced nervously, trying to swing his head around to look at me. I spoke to him quietly until I got a bit of relaxation. He walked off with a simple cluck, and we repeated the exercise. He seemed concerned by the fact that I was behind him. He was also really, really unhappy with the bit — a big change from this weekend’s much quieter acceptance.

This is the first time I’ve had any serious negative reaction from him on the ground. Something has triggered him, and I’m not sure what yet. This weekend, I’m going to forego the bit all together and try a little “S” hackamore, to see if I get the same response. I’d like to get the bit out of his mouth until I’m sure he has no teeth issues, which is my top concern in regards to the bit. Barring any bit issues, this comes back to my theory that someone has manhandled his mouth, and bits mean bad things to him. There are so many things about this little horse that I don’t know yet, so as bad as this is going to sound, I’m actually a little relieved to see a reaction such as this on the ground. It gives me something to go off of so I can try and figure out a way to help him overcome his fears. For all I know, today was just a bad day and I’ll be back at square one come this weekend, but the way he was acting tells me otherwise. So, we’ll do some experimenting to see what he is most comfortable with for the time being, and work from there.

This development has me thinking about getting in touch with a friend who has a rescued Paso Fino who exhibited many of the same characteristics. I’m going to get her opinion, especially since her way of bringing Tico back around way was to do the many of the same things I seem to be doing.  I’m also happy to receive any thoughts from Image’s fanbase here — I know what I think, but what I think isn’t always right!

In other news, he had his feet done on Monday and was a perfect angel for the farrier. I enjoyed the hour and a half long break from work to be there for his first farrier appointment. On Sunday, we took a low key walk around the neighborhood and loved his reaction to small children: “Oh, hello, tiny human. Here, this is my nose…you can pat it if you want!” He also handled cars, motorcycles (?! It’s still too damn cold for that shit!), runners, people bundled up in snowsuits, and dogs without any fanfare. He was happy to go out exploring, which was fun to see. These sunshiney days are really helping all of that nasty snow disappear, so we are well on our way to spring! I can see my front lawn again, so that’s always a plus!

I apologize for lack of pictures lately. My wrist is still a bit ouchy and I was told to not handle my camera too much, due to its weight and the repetitive motion of working my zoom lens. It’s also very hard to take pictures when you have to hold the horse and be far enough away to take a decent shot! Here’s a very bad cell phone picture of him getting his feet done by Brian of Granite State Farrier:

You think he looks disgruntled now? Wait until I break out the glittery hoof polish…!

Time for bed, as tomorrow is a school day…just a few more days until the weekend! 🙂

Pony Snuggles

Busy, busy, busy Saturday!

I actually had yesterday “off”…also known as, I woke up at my normal time, took one look out my window, squeaked in panic and fumbled with my phone to call out of work. I felt immensely guilty, as I HATE doing that to my fabulous coworkers, but I am a self-diagnosed snow wuss. 
I had to help my younger sister move this morning, so I spent most of yesterday doing chores that I would have otherwise ignored. I also moved about sixteen tons of snow off of my car. Okay, it probably wasn’t exactly sixteen tons, but my back is telling me that it sure as hell FELT like sixteen tons!
I headed north early to baby wrangle for said sister — my nephew just turned one year old, and he is an adorable little critter that is going to drive my sister insane. I’m a terrible big sister — I am highly amused by her frustrations with her stubborn, opinionated little man. My sister was a stubborn, opinionated little girl, so this is payback for a childhood of fistfights and screaming matches. Thankfully, we’re both grown ups (or at least pretending to be grown ups) now, and we work well together. So, I got to run around after the pipsqueak and entertain him while she and a friend trucked her stuff from one town to another.
I escaped — I mean, uh, left! — in the early afternoon and hustled to the barn. Now, Friday’s snowstorm dumped another 12-18″ inches of the nasty white stuff on us. It was the heavy, wet type, that probably would have been closer to three feet had it not been compacted down so much. It was also on the warmer side today, which made mud. A lot of mud. I sloshed into the barn driveway and winced…hopefully I’d be able to get back out!
I went and fetched Image, who peered at me from the other side of the run in. He’s learned by now that I always come out to get him with cookies, so he usually shuffles over to inspect what I’ve brought him. It took him a few extra seconds, and watching the other two geldings in the paddock gets scratches and a cookie each, for him to meander my way. Once he did get to me and he accepted the treat I offered him, he stuffed his face into the halter and looked at me expectantly: “Okay. What now?” Damn it, horse, stop being adorable!
I gave him a quick once over with a brush and a hoof pick, but didn’t go nuts. Shedding season is officially in full swing and I could have been there for hours currying him and getting out loose hair. I can’t wait for this time of year to be done…I don’t exactly like horse hair being in my diet!
I planned to ground drive again, so I gathered up my needed supplies, changed him into his rope halter, and trudged out to the ring, critter in tow. I had to laugh when we entered the ring. The snow was deeper in some places, and almost non-existent in others. However, where I was standing, trying to reorganize myself and put down the ground driving tack I wasn’t ready for? Yeah, it was nearly at the top of my tall boots. Dear Mother Nature: WE’RE ALL DONE NOW. ‘Kay thanks, bye!
I moved out to a slightly less deep part of the ring, and we worked on the same things from last week: slow and steady, walk when I say walk, and relaaaax. This week was a much bigger success than last week. I’d had a bit of trouble trying to find an effective way of communicating what I wanted from him last week, but figured out that pulling him in closer so his circle was smaller if he ignored my requests to slow down got my point across. When he dropped down to a walk, I let him widen his circle (easier to maintain = less work = reward). Soon enough, he was doing a lovely, quiet walk around me. With this horse, once he GETS what you want, he has no problem giving it to you. Fortunately, he’s smart (probably smarter than I am, to be honest) and once I figure out how best to ask him, it doesn’t take much for him to get the point. We worked on both sides, before I let him rest. Just walking was a bit of a chore in this snow, so a rest was deserved and appreciated. I rubbed his forehead for a little bit, and he about fell asleep, his entire face looking relaxed and happy. Again, I say: quit being adorable, immediately!
Ear scratchies are good too!
After some work on flexing and dropping his head (flexing: B. Dropping his head: A-. He’s getting there!), I put his bridle on. I switched his bit to a Myler D-ring snaffle today, because the mouthpiece is just a touch thinner. He seemed fussy with both my nondescript double jointed loose ring, and my Herm Sprenger KK Ultra D-ring, which are both on the thicker end of things. I was hoping to find something he was a little less displeased with. He has never, ever refused to take the bridle — if anything, he reaches for the bit, which is interesting (more on that later) — but has not been at all pleased with having one in his mouth. I know his teeth have been well maintained over the years, but I’m beginning to wonder if he’s got something going on in there that’s interfering with how comfortable the bit is in his mouth. Fortunately, the entire slew of horse medical professionals will be coming out the end of April. For now, I’ll keep him in the Myler, which he seemed to like much better than my other two bits, and keep an eye on it. 
Once the bridle and surcingle were in place, I spent a few minutes flexing him in the bridle. He is much softer in the mouth than GP ever was. It only took two repetitions on each side before he was giving me a nice, soft bend with little to no resistance. I rubbed his forehead for a minute or two (and put him to sleep again), and hooked up the lines.
He really made me proud (again!) this week. He marched out on the end of the lines like he’d been doing it forever. For all I know, he DID do it forever at one point, but the confusion I saw last week makes me think otherwise. He walked off with a simple cluck, stopped when I said whoa, and backed relatively well. He is a little antsy about any pressure on his mouth at all, which is why it intrigues me so much that he takes the bit so readily. I think a lot of his issues stem from the bit. It’s my belief that someone has really hauled on his mouth, and he’s not the type to need anything more than a touch of the reins. Asking him to back up was an interesting experience. I could tell he was displeased with the pressure on the bit, even though it was light and even on both sides. He resisted me briefly, throwing his head up and dancing a bit to the side. When the pressure didn’t give, he rocked himself back onto his haunches. I released then, because it was enough of a try for me to get my point across. I let him stand and process before taking up the reins again. This time, he took a step back. I let him stand for a minute, before walking him forward. It didn’t take much more than that to have him backing up a few steps at a time with less and less pressure. 
Bestest pony ever. 🙂
I pulled the lines off of him shortly thereafter, and spent ten minutes standing next to him on the mounting block. It was mostly for me, to be honest, as this is usually when I’d park my butt in a chair and let him graze if it were summer. So, I went for a “mom wants to snuggle you so lets make it into a teachable moment” type deal. I talked and sang, rubbed his neck, stood next to his barrel and patted his off side, and leaned over his back. He stood there, listening to my voice, and allowed me to rub on him without an issue. It was kind of nice to be at his height, to be honest. I moved to his head after I was done being a pest, and he was more than happy to receive ear rubs. 
I called it a day there, and brought him back inside. M was due to show up shortly, as we were going to cause trouble at a local restaurant  Image begged a few freebie cookies off of me before doing some cookie stretches. M arrived, and we talked while I continued to love on my mush of a horse. He has turned into such a lovebug lately. You rub his forehead, and you’ve got a new best friend. Rub his ears, and he’ll never leave your side. Rub the inside of his nostrils — yes, you read the right — and he basically dies of happiness. I’m not exactly sure what possessed me to rub the inside of his nostrils today, but it had both M and I giggling like fools. He was on the more standoffish side when I first brought him home, but he is slowly coming out of his shell. He melts my heart every time he puts his face into my chest (politely, mind you!) and asks for ear rubs. He searches for contact with me, and reaches out towards me when I ask him to stop on the end of the line, because he knows he’s going to get forehead rubs. I am a physically affectionate person myself, so I am thrilled with this trait of his. I keep myself very much in check around most people so I don’t offend anyone, but animals? Yeah, they’re in trouble. Luckily for me, it seems like my horse looks for that physical contact just as much as I do. 
It’s hard to believe he’s only been mine for just over a month. I feel like he’s owned a piece of my heart for so much longer than just a few months. I’ve spent much of the past two months reading, researching, and asking questions to more knowledgable friends to bring as much to the proverbial table as I could, so we can continue working on becoming a team. I celebrate each and every little step in the right direction, because it means that we are progressing, even if it’s just a tiny little bit. 
I can’t wait for tomorrow. More pony time for me 🙂
Before I turn in for the night, I want to show off what M got me as a gift:
I have the best friends ever! 😉
Oh, and by the way? I got out of the barn driveway unscathed. My breeches, on the other hand, fell victim to an accidental mud splashing via horse…which I didn’t find until AFTER M and I were done at the restaurant…siiiigh.

Hard Days Made Easier

Sometimes, you just have an off day.

It’s usually explainable: “This is what’s bothering me, and it’s why I’m reacting this way.” Sometimes, it’s not, and you have to spend some time trying to figure out what’s causing you to feel so out of sorts. I usually have to dig around in my own brain to figure out my issues. Today, however, was relatively cut and dry.

My father would have been 50 years old today. It’s been ten years since he died, so his birthday stopped being painful a few years ago — instead, it was a day to remember him for who he was, instead of what he was missing. Unfortunately, this particular birthday hit me harder than I expected, so I spent most of the day treading water just to keep afloat.

Then, I went to the barn after work. It’s finally light enough out in the afternoon that I can get away with doing this.

I hugged my horse. I kissed his nose. I rebraided his tail. I stood with him while he ate his supper.

Perfect end to a not so perfect day.

His favorite time of day 😉

Ground Driving

It’s hard only getting to see my horse once a week — twice, if I’m lucky and staying at a friend’s in the area — so I try to make the most of the time we have together. Luckily, come next Sunday, I might actually have some daylight at the end of the day to jet off from work and go see him in the evenings. Yay for Daylight Savings!

My best friend and surrogate sister, M, came to meet Image today. She and I have been friends for seven years now, and even though our lives have taken separate paths, our friendship picks up from right where it left off. I met her at K’s, where we spent two weeks quietly working separately, until our common interest in horses and similar personalities brought us together. We’ve spent a lot of time on horseback together talking about our dreams, so I was excited to have her come and meet my dream come true.

I brought Image inside, where he promptly but politely searched me for cookies. Stinker. I gave him one, and noted that for the first time since he moved home, he looked dirty. The snow is starting to give way to mud, and I foresee a very long mud season ahead of us.

M and I worked in tandem, currying and buffing him until he was soft and shiny again. He thoroughly enjoyed the attention, heaving a contented sigh and resting a hind leg. It pleased me to see that, because up until now, the only time he’s been truly relaxed was after he and I had worked some of the tenseness out of him by working his brain.  During the time that I was pondering this, I realized that my sweatshirt was no longer blue, but black…shedding season is out in full swing, and he is dropping his coat quite quickly. Thankfully, if temperatures drop again, I’ve picked up a midweight blanket from work, that combined with his lightweight, should be more than enough to keep him cozy during the next few months.

My plan for the day was to begin with stuff he already knows — a little bit of lunging, some flexing, dropping his head, some disengaging of the hindquarters, ect. — and then to find out whether or not he ground drives. Ground driving is something that I’ve seen done, and helped with, but never actually attempted myself. I did a lot of research yesterday while doing some household chores, and watched about six million videos on YouTube, starring people who were doing it right AND doing it wrong. Now, I’m the first to understand that watching a video and actually DOING something is very different, so I was prepared for a little bit of operator error on my end once I got us set up. This is an approach I wanted to attempt because I felt it will help him learn to trust me a little more — he can’t see me, and the cues are very much the same through the bridle as they would be if I were up in the saddle.

First, though, we worked on relaxing at the end of the line at a quiet walk. I got a lap in each direction at a quiet walk, and a few laps in each direction at a relaxed, stretchy trot. The snow is at a funny depth at the moment, and a strange texture, so it made his workout a little harder than I would have liked. He is also much more apt to trot/pace/rack/runwalk the entire time. I can kiss him up until a canter (and he has an ADORABLE canter from the ground!), and ease him back into an intermediate gait, but getting him to walk is a challenge. I played around a bit to see if there was a button I was missing (highly likely at this stage in the game), but I honestly found none. Something tells me he was immediately pushed into a faster gait when he was put on the end of a line. I like a horse with a little “get up and go”, but I also like a horse with a well-installed “chill out” button. He’s got enough energy for forward movement, but focusing on getting him to relax and take it easy will take time and repetition.

On the other hand, he has picked up the softening exercises I’ve taught him quite quickly. He drops his head down with the lightest touch, and he is getting better and better about flexing to each side when I ask him. He was EXTREMELY stiff when I first started asking him to give to pressure, so this is a huge improvement. He backs up off of voice, for the most part, and leads like a dream.

Once we had gone through everything he knows well and engaged his brain enough to have his attention on me, it was time to see if ground driving was already in his repertoire.

Well. I learned damn quick that is isn’t.

I’m starting to realize that as long as I’m in his direct line of vision, he honestly isn’t worried about much. However, the second I am in his blind spot or up on his back, we’ve got problems. He was not thrilled with me being behind him, and it was quickly apparent that he did not have a clue as to what I was asking. His immediate reaction was to spin away and out from under one of the lines, so he was facing me again. I would quietly reset, and cluck. Rinse and repeat, until I decided to try asking him to turn. This “unstuck” him for a stride or two, and I would sing his praises the entire time.

Some of his moves were a little on the “hold on tight” side of things. Thankfully, I only ended up in the snow once, and that was because I tripped over my own damn feet and couldn’t get my balance again. That, of course, spooked my poor guy and he went “what in the ever lovin’ hell?!” He scooted forward. I was on my stomach, which gave me a little more leverage, so I was not about to let him get away. The second he felt the pressure from the lines, he stopped and faced me. The look of pure surprise in his eyes when he saw me lying on the ground at the end of the lines was comical — “Uh…what…are you doing down there?!” M had a good laugh at my face plant, and I decided at that point to try a surcingle. M ran and fetched it for me (she rocks!) and I got him situated.

I actually moved out onto the plowed driveway, as keeping up with him in the deep snow was proving to be troublesome. I wanted to be able to give him an immediate reward once he yielded to pressure in the form of a release, and it was difficult to do so slogging through the snow.

He was unsure, and definitely not at all enthused with the idea that I was behind him, but it wasn’t long until we were doing small laps in the driveway (which is the width of a wide road and unpaved). There were a few moments where he became a little bit panicked, but he relaxed some to the sound of my voice. It was a real treat to see the proverbial “lightbulb” come on when he finally understood what I was asking. Once we got a few good laps in each direction at a walk, I called it quits and had a pony party. What’s a pony party? It’s a ripoff of the ever popular “puppy party”, which is when you make a really big fuss over a dog when it’s done well. A puppy party is usually much more frantic and high energy. My pony parties consist of head rubs, ear rubs, and lots of verbal praise. He responds very well to this approach, and thoroughly appreciates getting his ears scratched.

We brought him back into the barn and finished his pampering. He has been clipped at one point or another, because after an initial dragon snort, he actually rather liked the sensation against his muzzle. He looks quite handsome with a neatened muzzle, clipped bridle path, and trimmed ears. He’s such a fluffy, wooly beast. I can’t wait until he’s all slick and shiny come summer!

He made me very, very proud today. I was not at all sure what I was going to come up against when I asked him to do something that he obviously was not comfortable with, but he continues to show me that he is smart, willing, and trying to do the right thing. He is slowly (very, very slowly) giving me a little more of his trust every time we work together, and I’m honored by that. I adore him more and more as I spend time with him, and I’m more and more certain that with a lot of time, understanding and patience he is going to be a rock star. I’m also learning so much in a very short amount of time — hell, I ground drove a horse today for the first time and no one died. There were a few technical difficulties, but we figured them out. It was a wonderful experience for both of us.

One final thing, before I head upstairs and settle in for the two hour movie conclusion to television series Firefly: after I had put Image back in the paddock, M got ready to leave. She stepped out of the barn, and I followed. I raised my voice to talk to her, and all of a sudden, Image’s head popped up from where he was inspecting the ground for more hay. He came directly to the gate, his ears forward. M and I laughed, because he was obviously watching me. It was a sweet little moment — one I won’t soon forget.

Tomorrow starts another long work week. I may actually make a trip up midweek to spend some time with him, because going a whole week without seeing him makes me a bit antsy. However, spring is right around the corner, and I have another five days of vacation left at work…I think a little time off in May/June sounds mighty fine, doesn’t it?


I’m freeeeee!

My doctor’s appointment yesterday for my wrist was all of 10 minutes long: “Your CAT scan was clean. It’s just a bad sprain. Take it easy, build up to your former level of physical activity, and don’t fall off any more horses for awhile.”

I happy danced my way to my company’s annual vendor banquet, where I proceeded to make nicey nice with many of the equestrian world’s top manufacturers, got some neat stuff (including a flashy new Troxel helmet that fits my round but little noggin perfectly!), ate some yummy food, and had a couple of drinks with friends.

Today I am taking it easy because dear God are my feet pissed off at me. I’m trying to muster up the motivation to clean my bedroom, bathroom, and do some laundry before I settle in for a movie day because I feel guilty for not being productive for another weekend in a row.

Tomorrow will be an Image Day — my best friend and surrogate sister, M, will finally be coming to meet her new “nephew” pony. Onward and upward!

One Year

One year ago, at 3 in the morning, I found myself sitting in a stall, covered in shavings, stroking my best friend’s nose. He looked up at me with pain glazed eyes as I whispered to him non-stop, his ears trained on the sound of my voice. I had held myself together up until that point…but as he held my gaze, I began to cry as hard as I ever have.
A year later, and it can still be an insanely difficult thing to remember. I laid in bed last night and had a good cry. Obviously, I am no stranger to loss. I was ten when my father died, and eighteen when my mother died. Hell, just this past October, I lost my maternal grandmother, who played an integral part in my childhood. No, loss is not something I am unfamiliar with. The loss of GP, though, was an entirely new experience. I felt more alone than I ever had in my entire life, especially when people scoffed at me for being so broken hearted over “just a horse”. I couldn’t explain that he was more than “just a horse” to them…and even if I could, it wouldn’t matter. Dead parents? That they could understand, because everyone can relate to that, on some level. Rendered inconsolable over a horse? That just made me a little bit crazy, in their eyes. They didn’t understand that this horse not only saved my life, but helped me repair my very shattered heart. He taught me how to love again. He showed me what it was like to leave your problems in the dust as you galloped at mach ten. He allowed me to see that all of those silly, romanticized things about connecting with a horse were true. I had learned how to simply live life again with him by my side, and without him…well, I wasn’t sure how to keep on keeping on without my silly red horse.
Well, that stupid cliche that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is one of the more true statements out there. I made it through, only slightly worse for the wear. I learned how to function without him in my life, and even though it sucks to not have him here, I’ve learned to come to terms with it. He was a grand old horse (even if he didn’t believe he was old) who lead an incredible life, and I am honored to have been a part of it.
Not to mention, if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have this adorable black beast waiting for me every weekend, with his fuzzy ears and sweet face. I miss GP each and every day, but it’s simply incredible to see where this journey has lead me. Everything happens for a reason, in my (not-so-humble) opinion, including bad things…and, usually, those bad things get turned into good things sometime down the road.
I miss you, silly red horse. Thanks for looking out for me, from wherever you are. 
General Purpose