Monday, March 30, 2009

The Quick Trip around the State

Last week, I had a dear friend come to WSU with her horse to get an MRI. Alayne Blickle, creator and director of Horses For Clean Water, and her two beautiful dogs stayed with me in my humble one bedroom apartment for the week until they could return home with her horse, Bob. In order for this to work, however, I had to leave my car on the west side of the state and pick it up this past weekend. I flew home on Friday evening from Pullman with another friend, Tess, who planned on driving back to Pullman with me on Sunday.

One Saturday, it rained and poured constantly.... so, no riding. It was trying to snow throughout the day so we just super groomed the horses and put their blankets on.

Since it was so icky out, we also decided to search around for new scratching post for Tiki and Chai, our Norwegian Forest cats, since their current one is pretty torn up. Additionally, we have a new love seat being made, sooo....ya, we need their energy going somewhere else over than the new furniture. This is what we found, which they really seemed to be enjoying:

On Sunday, we were able to go for a short loop by the lake before I had to leave to pick up Tess ans drive back to the east side. This was Mercy and my first time wearing my new Outback gear, so I wanted to make sure we took it slow and steady. It was sunny out, but it was really wet too. Leaving the property, Mercy decided that she forgot how to yield to leg pressure and ended up slamming my knee into the metal gate. I haven't looked at it today, but I bruise easily, so it probably isn't pretty. After she did that, I took her through the gate a few times until she would walk through quietly while yielding to my legs. Once we really headed out Mercy was moving at a pretty fast walk and Star was poking along. They had received their second round of shots (which pretty much confirmed the rabies shot was the probable culprit from Star's vaccine reactions) on Friday, so Star was still a little sore. We got to the grassy spot by the lake and let them have a few bits between pictures:

When we rode off, Mercy got more and more hyped up. It was difficult for her to walk, at any speed, so we ended doing lots of circles to slow her feet. This was good for Star as it gave her a chance to catch up. After a while of that, a group of people with a not-so-horse-friendly dog was coming our way (we have meet up with them before). So, unfortunately, we had to cut the lesson short because I didn't want to deal with that. (BTW, is it really that hard to keep your ill-trained dogs on a leash in a public area? Really? Really!?! Grrr....) Mercy was quite 'bouncy' on the way home, but I finally got her to walk. I really didn't care how fast, I just didn't want a trot. I think she finally figured it out because she walked all the way home, even where she knows we usually lope. Going back through that gate was no big deal, thank goodness, cause my knee wouldn't have handled another hit.

We got back and Mercy was still 'up' so I took her out to the gravel road that leads to our house and let her walk a while. She didn't really slow so I asked her to speed up into a nice jog. We did a few nice small circles and I asked her to whoa. She stopped square and true so I jumped off and called that good. Tee hee! Look at the tail! And I have been working on making her mane lay over more. It is long enough and her neck looks soooo much better when it looks cleaner. The eating of the trailer will be fixed this summer. I just didn't have the time cause I had less than an hour to get on the road and I still had to pack.

All in all, it was a challenging, but at the same time relaxing ride. I *wasn't* planning on coming home this coming weekend, but it's Mom's Weekend here in Pullman and I don't really want to stay here for that. If the flights look good, I will blast out of here in a heartbeat. Plus, it's the King County 4H's first gaming show on Sunday at the Enumclaw Expo Center and I wouldn't mind seeing who's doing what this year. Should be interesting!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Annual Vet Check

On Thursday, we had Dr. Bob DeWard from Mt. Rainier Equine out to our place to administer the girls annual vaccines and to check their teeth. Because Star has had a reaction to the vaccines in the past, we decided to split up the vaccine so we could try and determine what was causing the problem. Dr. Bob also gave Star a dose of banamine to try and prevent any reaction. he thought it was either the RhinoFlu vaccine or possibly the rabies vaccine, so both of those were done. All of the others will be done this coming Friday. And since they were coming back to our place to vaccinate Star, they decided to split Mercy's vaccines up too.

We decided to go ahead and get both of the horses floated too. They were at the point where Dr. Bob could have not done anything yet, but since we ride so much in the summer, I didn't want to have any behavior problems come up and need to make a second vet call for the year. So I grabbed Mercy and handed her over to Julie, but not before she felt the need to inspect all of the tools in front of her stall.
Mercedes, the sweetheart, needed two doses of sedative to get relaxed enough that Dr. Bob could work on her teeth with his neato-teeth-grinding power tools! He got done with her teeth in not too much time to the great relief of Star and Chai who constantly supervised this whole ordeal.
After having her mouth rinsed, her lips dried, and her muzzle kissed, Mercy went to sleep... with her kind legs crossed precariously, of course.... which, I guess, isn't that unusual for her, lol!
Last up was Starlett. When she got her dose of 'nighty night juice' she went limp fast. It took a little effort to get her to stand somewhat square so she wouldn't fall down, but once she did Dr. Bob went to work on her teeth. Last year he discovered a chip missing from one of her molars, but he thought it looked like it was growing out in great shape this time around! Yes!Star took a nice, LONG nap after we were all done for the day. I must say I am glad that only happens once a year at the most. Even though Dr. Bob is super with everything he does, the horses are just never quite right for a day or two afterwards.... it cuts into my riding time when I am home on break, oh well....This is what Mercy thought of it when all was said and done: Mehhh....

At least I have two happy and healthy horses for another year! :P

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tuesday's Ride

I had a brief break in the rain clouds rolling through on Tuesday so I went for a quick ride. I grabbed both the horses, who were filthy from rolling the the mud the day before, and quickly decided to ride Star. Luckily I had left their rain sheets on, so at least the saddle area was dry. I quickly brushed Star off and picked both horses' feet... I didn't bother cleaning Mercy. I mean, why? Just to be ponied down the trail. No thanks. She likes it that way anyway.

I walked the horses out to the back gate that leads off of the property and onto the trails. I think both horses were super excited to get out of their stalls/paddocks because both were standing perfectly still without grazing while I got the gate opened.We decided to go up past the lake to the 'upper forested area' for just a short looper. Usually we lope up the main road trail, but I wanted the horses to really work their backs and legs since the ride was going to be short. Star really wanted to go and Mercy forgot how to stay back behind my leg, but soon enough we got it worked out. It's kinds funny that even when we are on the service road, Mercy prefers to walk right behind Star. All that space and she likes it back there. Fine, it's less work for me but it's also less stimulation for her. Oh well...We rode the short loop and headed down the hill to return home. They were behaving really good (there actually was a moment with Star, who forgot she could stop when I said 'whoa,' but all was forgotten) so we stopped at 'the' grassy spot for a snack. The winter here has been pretty hard, so much of the grass has already been eaten by deer, but they still find some good spots.

When we started heading home, it began to rain, so I picked up the pace to a good trot (lope for Star). Mercy has a HUGE problem of crowding the horse in front of her when she's the last in line and moving out. I needed to work on this so I basically gave Star her head and trusted that she would move straight down the trail (she definitely knows the way home!) so that I could turn around in the saddle the best I could. When Mercy got too close to Star, I would shake the lead back at her to get her to slow down or move away. It only took a couple of tries before she got the hint and stayed back. I turned back around and slowed Star to a walk as a reward. We continued to walk the rest of the way home.

After unsaddling Star and putting the horses back in their stalls/paddocks, I gave them a snack (plus a kiss). Even though it was a short ride, it was full of learning opportunities and experiences for both of my Appy girls. :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More Like Winter Break...

As usual, spring break this year has been nothing but winter-like. It has snowed EVERYDAY I have been home. To think that I had actually believed I could get a spring break that was decent before I graduated. Ha. I guess that's what I get for going to WSU who schedules their 'spring' break during the official winter season.

At least it all melts away by the end of the day so it isn't building up on itself. Besides the nighttime snow events, it has also been storming like mad. Hail, snow, strong winds, and driving rain. Everything all in the same hour of the same day, all day long...

And as usual, Star is standing out in the mess. She is a very sensitive and insecure horse, especially for a 20 year old. When she stands in that corner of the paddock, she can see Mercy at all times, so even though I know she is not comfortable standing in the cold slush, it is more comforting to her to know her best bud was still on the property. Luckily, Mercy doesn't really care that much. When I ask her to work she listens to me as if no one else was around. All of this, of course, was put to the test this past Sunday when my mom and I hauled these two out to a friends indoor arena.

I need to ride during this break, there is no option. And even though I don't feel 100%comfortable driving the trailer in the snow and slush, I need to be able to work with my horse. Slick trails do not make the best training environment. Plus, I get sick of our trails after a while so taking the horses somewhere else makes great sense. I hadn't been home for a few weeks and the horses hadn't been handled much except for some great grooming sessions, so I am always curious how the loading will go. This time they were awesome! They both loaded up quietly and quickly. Could be that my mom and I caught the short sun break that drove that luck, but then again, they are much better loading in general now.

We were able to get to the arena before the next CRAZY thunderstorm rolled through so saddling up was easy and stress less, like always. We head into the barn where three of my GREAT 4H club members are riding their horses preparing for the show this coming Saturday. I said hi quickly to their parents and baby sister and turned around to see Star starting a fight with my mom. I had Mercy still in the aisle way and my mom had taken Star into the arena and now Star felt threatened by the other horses around her friend. When Star gets upset, she forgets about personal space, dominance, partnership and general sanity. She also kicks and squeals like a freakin' stallion. Since she was giving my mom such a hard time and disrupting the other girls' training, I handed Mercy to my mom and I took a hold of Star. I took her out to the middle of the arena, out of the way of everyone. She for the life of her could not stand still and NOT stare at Mercy. At that point, that's all I wanted from her, for her to look away from Mercy and relax. When she did we were calm and I gave her a reassuring pat, when she wasn't, I did some ground work with her. My mom, meanwhile, had Mercy practice walking over a bridge which kept her busy enough.

I realized at some point that Star was not going to settle down enough to feel any accomplishment, so I just bridled her up and jumped on. She has always been the kind of horse that is more easily controlled on her back than working with her on the ground. Once I was up, I proceeded to keep her busy by asking for collection, gait transitions, and speed control while working on the rail with the other riders. Except for the freak thunderstorm that rolled over us, spewing it's massive hail balls on the tin roof, Star did start to relax much more than with the ground work, so I jumped off and handed over the reins.

I tightened Mercy's cinch and hopped up. Luckily, she is Miss Easy-Go-Lucky around other horses, so working with her in a small arena full of horses she knew and didn't know is a pleasure. I started off just working small circles asking her to stay between my reins and my legs while reaching for collection. It took her awhile to reach a somewhat collected state, but as soon as she did we quit for a short break in the center of the arena. Once she had taken my to the left and right, at a trot, willingly and soft, I moved back out to the rail.

Meanwhile, I just had my mom continue to work with Star by giving her breaks to rest when she was good. Then one of the riders on a dark bay Arabian left the arena, at which point Starlett let out a HUGE sigh and completely relaxed to the point where my mom could ride her on the rail without too much trouble. Hmmm... I don't know why but I think Star felt most 'threatened' by this dark arab. It became clear this was the case later when he returned to the arena and Star was again on alert. That is the most frustrating behavior. I did have plans on taking both horses to my gaming shows this year, but at this point that would be stupid and irresponsible of me. we'll see what happens....

Anyway, all three of the riders left after quite a while of riding. We said goodbye to them and continued to ride. After continuing some rail work with collection, I decided to try loping Mercy. I started with her 'good' side, to the left, to give us a good staring point and a place to build on later. Once mom and Star were in the middle of the arena, I asked for a lope. She jumps right into it, no problem, expect that I am not use to her long stride. It takes quite a bit of effort for my out of shape self to stay centered over her. Especially when we have no speed control yet. We were going around great for a while, then her saddle started slipping to the outside, leading to some minor crow hops. We stopped so I could tighten her up again. I need a different cinch and it's too bad she doesn't have higher withers...that would sure solve this silly problem.

I once again asked her to lope and this time I waited for her to slow down to a nice controlled lope. Then we stopped and took a long break to reward her for the job well done. Once she started getting antsy (or bored) I reversed directions to her 'bad' or right side. I have had one hell of a time getting her to move over her hip and align her shoulders to take the lead. Mercy just has this trick where she can be balanced and prepared for the correct lead and at the absolute last minute she will throw her hip to the inside and either take the left lead or crossfire down the rail. Fun.

I set her up the best I could and urged her into the right lead. I looked down to check out how things were going (yes, I know, I shouldn't have too but with her long stride I just don't have the skills yet to know what lead we're on). But OMG! We got it! What?!?! This has never happened on the first try... ever. It must have been a fluke. Seriously, it takes me forever to get it when I ask her. Yes! I want to make it a good deal so I let her come back to a walk and eventually ask her to stop. Oh breath!

Is it asking too much to try again? I thought, 'Well, I'm here at this indoor arena with no one else here. I have time if it doesn't work out.' I asked her again to pick up the right lead.

Once again, she easily lopes off on the right. I was so thrilled that I couldn't even pay attention to steering. I just wanted to ride it and feel it out. What a wonder feeling. No cross firing. No bucking. No head tossing. Just the right lead and her moving out! I asked for her to slow her lope down a little and it took a while, but as soon as she did I jumped off, loosened her cinch, and gave her a final break. I walked her around for a while to let her catch her breath and we called it a day.

When we exited the arena, it was nice out so loading went easily and the drive home was a breeze. Before leaving the facility, this is what we found- usually you can see the mountains, not this day:

The colors of these clouds just didn't come out. This storm cloud was massive, and so extremely black. We are so lucky we didn't have to drive home in that!

What a GREAT DAY!! ;)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Mercy's time to shine

After saddling her up, Ann and I walked her out to the arena again. I moved her into a few circles around me to make sure she didn't feel 'stuck' or grabby. She really just looked bored to be honest, not really enthusiastic, but not spacing out either. As I moved her around, she was crossing over nicely behind and had a good expression.

I didn't want anything to become a lesson, so I decided to let her loose in the small arena to move at liberty. Well, kinda. She didn't exactly want to move out. It took quite a bit of encouragement from the end of my lead swinging at her to get her to move. Once she got the idea, I was finally able to evaluate her movement. I'll be honest when I saw I really can't analyze movement very well, but I can notice a slight limp or lameness. Since she wasn't really moving out too fast or with much impulsion, it was easy to see she moved well enough. The saddle we threw on her was not the best fitting for her. It wanted to rock back, dip into her withers, and lift around the skirt and cantle. Even with the saddle moving up and down with every stride, she remained smooth and even in her gaits and transitions.
At one point I pushed her to really move out (which again, really didn't happen. It was more of a faster lope) and she offered a crow hop. I think she was just fed up with the saddle bouncing on her back. Anyway, whenever I offered her a release of pressure, she immediately stopped moving and faced toward me. I would have liked to have her walk up to me, but what are you going to do? At least she stood patiently with forward, alert ears and a relaxed leg while I walked up to her with the halter and lead.

Of course, I couldn't just stop there and be satisfied. I know many of you will think I am crazy, but I wanted to sit on her. Not ride, just sit. She had been ridden a few times before, so why not? Plus, I had the spirit of youth on my side, didn't I?! ;) I didn't want to fool with a bit so I just looped her lead around. While I rechecked the cinch's tightness, Ann grabbed a helmet for me to use. I also just practiced rocking the saddle back and forth, left and right, to see if she would set herself up to prepare for a rider. She tried, but it still looked awkward. I gave Dakota a pat and threw on the helmet. I was prepared to bail if I had to by keeping my foot barely in the stirrup and a hand securely on the pommel or horn. I was also prepared to pull her head around into a one-rein stop to halt her forward movement at least. I just laid my body over her the first time I put weight in the stirrup and she looked around, but didn't move. I jumped down before she thought about moving. I didn't really want to fool around too much, so the second time I gently let my right leg fall over the saddle and into the opposite stirrup. I was on!

Remembering that the saddle was not the best fit, I only stayed up there maybe a minute or two. I didn't ask her to move, just to stand calmly which she did perfectly. I think she was a little curious why someone was on her again after such along time off, but seemed unfazed. I jumped off and walked her around a little, mostly to loosen up my nerves which had finally caught up with me. I had done everything I could think of at the time to try with her. At that point, it was time to go and think things over. I really liked what I had seen, from her color and behavior, to her personality and age. All that was left to do was to report home to the family.

Change for the better

Today started out sunny here on the Palouse. Then around noon, like in many other areas around Washington, it began snowing hard. It was also really windy. Luckily the roads were not icing up like they usually do. I think it was just too warm at ground level. But now, the clouds have broken and the sunset is amazing.

I obviously stayed in Pullman this weekend as the snow predictions for the area were just making it too risky for not making it back in time for Monday's class. Plus, there is only 6 more days until spring break, so I can wait to make it home one more week. I am currently writing up the next Mercy story and it should be up later tonight. But first, I need to feed the 18 goldfish I have staring at me right now. Gotta be honest, it's a little creepy. ;)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mother Nature needs to be put on the naughty chair

The snow's no big deal, I guess. I do enjoy it's tranquility and quiet stillness. But seriously, it's one week away from the start of my spring break (and major Mercedes tune-up) and I need to be able to get over Snoqualmie Pass in one piece with my Ford Mustang unscathed just one more time before graduation. Until the day the snow ceases in time for spring, seriously this time, I get to get some extra exercise walking from my apartment to school to work and back again... in the thick, heavy snow and my slick, worn out skater shoes- not a good combination but a great work out, lol! Anyway, here are some pictures from WSU's campus that I took on my walk back from work tonight.

The new mega-sized cougar statue out in front of the newly renovated Martin Stadium:

On Stadium Way walking on the unshoveled sidewalks. I know I am being picky here, but we students pay how much to not have a clear way to and from school?! Ya, that's what I thought:

And just for kicks, here is a photo I took a few weeks ago. The snow berms were finally made in the parking lot below my apartment and this kid decided that every parking spot the was open in the lot wasn't good enough. So, he drove his rig up the snow bank and parked it. I am not kidding when I say this bank was at least 10 feet tall. It did look pretty neat. Plus, it was funny watching him try to get back in his truck with a pizza in his hands!:

Monday, March 2, 2009

Valentines Day to The Extreme

I can't believe it, but three weekends ago was Valentine's day. I was home from school that weekend and was so excited to ride again. It had been two weeks since I had been home and ridden the 'spotted one.' She has the greatest personality in that she tolerates me not riding for weeks at a time, only to come back and jump on her back like we hadn't missed a day. My goal was to go for a long ride to make up for our lack of riding, but before we headed out, I wanted to get a nice picture of her saddled up.

We headed out and went over to the old trail tracks to do some loping. It had been wet for a few days so I wasn't expecting to go very fast, especially if she acted up at all. But she didn't. She was calm and responsive, so once we got to our 'running spot,' which is a stretch of the straightaway that has no other trails dumping into it which could really cause an accident if anyone was to pop out, I urged her into a lope. Now, let me explain something just real quick as I will explain it in more detail in a future post: Mercy can be a bucker. She has only gotten my off once when I wasn't paying attention to her. Most importantly, I am NOT afraid of her or her antics, but I am alert and aware. Every time we lope I try to set her up for success, but there are no guarantees. Anyway, this day was one of those good days: she wanted to go! I urged her more and she gave me a little more speed. Again I asked her for more. Every time I did, she responded. And when we got to our 'stopping spot,' a little seat pressure and she slowed immediately. Perfect.
That part of the ride was a thrill. I could not have asked more from her. It could sound so silly to some of you, but loping/galloping with Mercy has been a challenge for us both. And, we need to get through it together if we are every going to get to barrel racing! Of course speed comes later in training, but you still need speed to game and be competitive, obviously. She and I will also need to get this figured out if we ever want to get to a reining show. Oh my plans are finally becoming a reality. Slowly but surely we'll get there (and without being mentally fried and lame! Bonus!).

Now, to reveal the hint I posed as my computer crashed last week: technically, there is nothing in THAT picture of salal, a native plant of western Washington. But as we started to head back home after weaving in and out of some old growth-type wooded trails, we heard a rustle ahead. Well, quite honestly, that's not unusual. There are bears, deer, elk, bobcats, cougars, and many other large animals found where we ride, no big deal right? Wrong. It wasn't any of those animals. What we rode up to was a young Spanish speaking man. Not unusual enough yet? YOU COULDN'T SEE HIM! Literally! He had bundles of this salal covering his whole body as he trudged through the undergrowth. The pictures below don't even begin to look like what we saw, but they are the best I can find that was big enough. I am dead serious now when I say we couldn't see the guy under all of this foliage.

At first the horses were OK, I think cause they didn't realize that it was a 'bush' that was moving. They just knew something was moving and they couldn't see it. They stood stock still.

I thought, "Good, no one's panicking."
Then Starlett moved forward with my mom, Mercy and I tagging along. They rode on, both keeping an eye on the unknown moving object to our left. Then, at the same exact time, both Starlett and the young man entered the gravel service road, at which point Star spooked and tried to run off to get away from the at least 7 foot tall and wide green monster emerging from the forest. I was somehow able to hold Mercy back and on the trail so she wouldn't enter the road and try bolting too. With Mercy still decently quiet and standing, I knew Star wouldn't go too far. Plus my mom had a good hold on her, just in case. When I realized the young man didn't speak English, I dismounted and gave Mercy a pat. No sense in getting hurt entering the road, plus I know she doesn't feel 'rewarded' when I get off. I think this also gave Star the courage to relax a little, giving my mom a little easier time handling her.
The young man was scared too. He did the right thing though, taking all of the salal bundles off his back, sides, head, and front, leaving himself in only his boots and rubber overalls. I know he didn't understand me, but I talked to him to make the horses more comfortable. I thanked him over and over for putting his load down. Mercy even wanted to say hi, but I just wanted to keep moving so we didn't have any more spooks. I lead Mercy past and Star followed on the other side of us.

A little distance later, I remounted and we continued our trail ride. We eventually rode past the young man's van, full of salal bundles harvested earlier that day, waiting for transport. Remember, or if you are unaware, salal is common floral arrangement greenery, so harvesting it (legally) is big here, especially around Valentine's day. The salal that grows around this land where we ride is beautiful and very marketable as very little is damaged or has black spot. For some reason, we thought they would be gone from the area since it was Valentine's day... silly us....

It's a good laugh now, but how can you expect that? Seriously. You could never prepare a horse for that. I am just so grateful that we have two willing and trusting horses who at least give us the opportunity to show them that it is OK when we are there. (BTW mom- great job handling our 'crazy, wild, semi-retired barrel racing, 20-year-old stallion, mare!' ;) )

After returning to the barn, my mom took a few neat pictures of Mercy and I, just for kicks.

When we got back and unsaddled the horses, I decided to try and take a decent conformation shot of Miss Cedes. She is truly a difficult one to get decent pictures of because the way her mane sticks up causes the illusion of a seriously thick and somewhat disfigured neck. I promise it's really not that way! It is a little more 'ewed' than I would like, but she carries her head low naturally, so I am not that concerned.

And of course, an apple for the good spotted pony and a nice roll ends the crazy, exciting return to riding.