Thursday, August 18, 2016

Dating New Ponies

Looking for a new equine partner is a bit like speed dating.  Except you only get one or two dates before you get married.  What a strange way to make a commitment!

I have lists upon lists of questions to ask, trying to determine if a horse would be a good match for me.  Do they think before they react or do they react and think later?  If your horse was a cartoon character, who would they be?  If someone says Tasmanian Devil, I know we're not a good match.  What kind of home would your HORSE prefer?  I'm surprised at how many owners have been surprised and a bit stumped by this one.  But really, the horse's happiness is important.  I want my new partner to enjoy similar adventures to me.

Then there's the health list.  Colic?  Lameness?  Ever done a blood test or x-rays?

And let's talk about your past.  How long have you had this horse?  Why are you selling?  Has this horse ever bucked you off?  What did you hope to accomplish when you bought this horse?

It's all so personal and detailed.  And it all can fall apart when you meet the horse in person.

Candidate #1 - 16 hand Red Roan solid paint.  Cute as a bug with a long forelock that went almost to his nose.  Seriously, his face was so stinking cute I wanted to chew on it.  7 years old, shown in 4-H and some local breed shows in English and Western.  Quiet, had done some trails.  When I asked the owner what his worst trait was, she said it's that he didn't slow down well for Western.  Ooh!  Sounds like a good fit for a dressage makeover!  Any sickness or lameness?  Nope.  She said he threw a shoe, so he was currently in easyboots on the front because the farrier was out of town.  Not a problem to be ridden though.

In Person -  Still the cutest face and the longest forelock.  First thing I noticed was a bump on his back where the back of the saddle would go.  Owner was young girl and no adults were present.  She had no idea what the bump was, but horse was slightly reactive to it.  Second thing (and this is before horse left stall), he was wearing Easyboots that were two sizes too big.  He also sucked his tongue and had a hard time holding his head still.  Owner tacked up and lunged.  He was a gorgeous mover, but probably would have been more so with boots that fit.  Owner got on and did some walk, trot and canter.  There was lots of hand/rein/bit action to keep his head down.  I got on and threw the reins away.  Horses head went up and he was looking every which way.  I trotted for all of 1 minute and got off.  Thanks, but not thanks.  Without constant direction, he is not confident.  Poor girl kept insisting he was quiet (which he was) and that he wouldn't do anything (not here....but in a year when I let him express himself, I'll bet he's a different horse under all that neurosis), but I said 'he's lovely, but not for me."  Scratch that one.

Candidate #2 - 15.3 hand palomino paint.  Owned by a young girl.  Being sold as girl is in high school and has lost interest.  Has done a little bit of everything, including dressage.  However, horse has been sitting in field for 3 months.  We talked about confidence and she said he was great, though he tried to lay down with her daughter once.  Worst habit was just that he was so quiet.  However, later in the conversation she mentions that she really wishes he didn't do this one thing.  What one thing is that?  Well, he throws his head in the air and strikes out with a front leg and can get a little light in the front end.  He doesn't MEAN anything and he gets over it if you get after him.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I'm not throwing my leg over anything that has tantrums.  Period

Candidates 3, 4, 5, 6 - No.  Hell no.  How do you think this horse could do english?  You call this quiet?

Horse shopping is such an exciting adventure.  And one I'm ready to be done with.  And that my family is ready to be done with.  With no horse, I have turned my attention to the house and cleaning out and getting rid of stuff.  I"m like a tornado whirling through the house saying "Do you really NEED this?".  Hopefully, I'll have a new partner soon and we can get back to ignoring the house and barely remembering to do laundry and dishes.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Wheel

In tarot decks there is a card called The Wheel of Fortune or sometimes just The Wheel.  It depicts the cycles of seasons, the changes of life.  In my life, one cycle has ended.  I know this leaves the door open for a new cycle, but right now I'm just letting things sink in and be what they are.

I don't want to relive the entire thing, so this may be sketchy on details but Enzo collapsed in his paddock.  The vet was called out and he was unable to walk.  His eyes were doing this wobbling kind of thing where they were constantly moving.  I know there's a fancy name for it, but frankly I'm too tired to look it up.  The vet used words such as 'vestibular' and 'neurologic'.  We gave him so anti inflammatories and discussed the situation, deciding what the next course was.

I'll skip over all the agonizing etc. and tell you that 24 hours later there was no change and on a bright, summer day in the shade of a tree and after enjoying a bellyfull of grass, Enzo crossed the rainbow bridge.

He was a teacher, a healer, a friend.  He didn't like being groomed and he hated cold water.  He liked slow trail rides and loved treats, though he was never allowed them because he was so pushy about them.

Enzo taught me to listen to the horse in a new way.  Enzo taught me that time is not always linear and that sometimes friendship is more important than being right.

I spent his final night with him at the barn, watching over him and making sure he had plenty of hay and water.  In the morning, I let him out into the big pasture (the one he couldn't go in because of his Cushing's) and he grazed (as best he could) with his girl friend.  A friend had brought out some acrylic paint so we could leave our handprints on him.  I covered my hand in pink and placed it near his heart.  He held perfectly still while it dried.  He wouldn't let anyone else put their hands on him after that, so he carried a single pink handprint over his heart.

I found this poem on the internet that pretty much sums it up.  Enzo - Licorice - Black Beauty - you will be missed.

If you bury him in this spot, the secret of which you must already have,
He will come to you when you call-
Come to you over the far, dim pastures of death,
And though you ride other, living horses through life, they shall not shy at him, nor resent his coming.
For he is yours and he belongs there.

People may scoff at you, who see no lightest blade of grass bent by his footfall,
Who hear no nicker pitched too fine for insensitive ears.
People who never really love a horse.
Smile at them then, for you shall know some thing that is hidden from them,
And which is well worth knowing.

The only place to bury a horse is in the heart of his master

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Breaking One Thing Leads to Fixing Another

I can't remember the last time I posted.  It was probably back when I had a horse I could ride, but I'm too lazy to check.  So here's the quick version.

January - Enzo feels slightly off.  Give him a few weeks off.  No improvement.

February -Vet comes out and does basic lameness.  Yep, he's lame but it's slight.  Maybe he just pulled something in pasture.  Give the pony a few more weeks off and we'll go from there.

March - Block the right hind leg and find it's in the fetlock.  Even more fun, when the right hind is blocked, he comes up lame on both fronts.  x-rays for everyone!  Nothing on the x-rays.  Next stop, ultrasound!  Inconclusive on the ultrasound.

later that day in March - MRI is out of my budget since it starts at $3,000 and I've already spent almost that much on farm calls, x-rays and ultrasounds.  Vet suggests we inject hind fetlock and both fronts and see what happens.

later in March - Front feet look better but rear hind is no better.  Still slightly off.  Best guess without MRI is suspensory ligament in right hind fetlock.  Vet prescribes short course of anti inflammatories and then hand walking, starting at 15 minutes a day and working up to 50 minutes by end of July, at which time we will re-check lameness.  Shockwave therapy is also recommended, but is not in our current budget.  Also, had multiple vets disagree on effectiveness so we do 5-10 minutes of walking on concrete as an alternative.

April - start acupuncture treatments for back soreness and to help with healing.

May - up to 30 minutes of hand walking.  Adding on 5 minutes every two weeks.

So that's the bad news.  BUT here's the amazing thing.  For almost the last year, my horse has been barely able to be ridden.  I had pretty big anxiety about riding him.  Then I couldn't ride him even if I wanted to and was forced to walk, walk, walk.  I know I said it before, but I can't stress enough that walking with your horse is a goddamn miracle.  Not an instant miracle, but if you're in it for the long game and you want your horse to be more mellow, trust you more, have a better connection under saddle then walking may be right for you.  We haven't done fancy ground work these last six months, just walking.  We walk through the barn aisles, we walk around the property.  We have explored and stood around and done nothing together. We have been startled when a bird flew up from under the bridge we were crossing.  We have watched the other horses at the farm.  We have walked slow and fast.  We have walked side by side or with me in front or with me behind.

And last week, after Enzo not having been ridden since January I found myself at the barn throwing a bridle and a bareback pad on and hopping on.  We made a lap around the indoor arena, but it was so pretty out and I KNOW Enzo now.  We both wanted to get out in the sunshine.  And so we did.  And as I felt his muscles bunch and smooth out underneath me and after I took a few selfies to prove my bravery, I just tilted my head to the sun and smiled.  This is what horses are about for me.  This bond.  This friendship.  This trust.

Enzo has gone from shut down to spookier than snot to being happy and mellow and soft.  Notice the ears looking forward.  He's so happy!!

Yep,  chillin' in the wash rack learning to ground tie.  

As we head back to work later this summer, I'm looking forward to incorporating this relationship into our working relationship.  It's been such a great reminder that horses are a long game, not a short one.  Horse training from the ground up is slow, simple and kinda boring but damn if it doesn't work.  This break fixed us and I couldn't be happier.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Happy Holidays

Life has taken over and left me with little time to do blogging.  Plus, I'm at this moment in my horse journey where I'm like a recovering alcoholic, or someone who just lost a bunch of weight or a vegan.  I just don't know when to shut the hell up and I'm a total judgy judgerson.  I know we all have our own paths and mine has taken a different turn with my horse, which has turned out to be magical.  Seriously. Fucking. Magical.

Magical like we go on mini trail rides BY OURSELVES>

Magical like riding in a bareback pad and halter and leadrope.

Magical like I finally get the idea of "First you go with the horse.  Then the horse goes with you.  Then you go together."  I can't remember if it was Tom Dorrance or Bill Dorrance or some old cowboy that said this.

Magical in that  I can tell by my pony's nostrils if he's absorbing something.  I can tell you when he's going to lick and chew and when he's going to yawn before he does it.

Magical like when we had to evacuate the barn due to flooding, my horse looked to ME for direction, walking close and checking in by breathing on my hand.

Sorry for being light on detail, but there's no time to type...I need to go out and keep working my new magic.  Happy Holidays to you, your families and your ponies.  And thanks for keeping up on your blogs.  I'm a crap writer these days, but a faithful reader!!

No big deal.  Just your average chicken riding her anxious TB cross in a bareback pad and halter and leadrope.

Solo trail ride around the property.

Ground tying?  Why not?  Also, this was my first time clipping without supervision.  It's pretty awful, but I did make a fun 12 on his butt for the Seahawks football team.  Haha!

Enzo at the barn we stayed at while our barn was flooded.  Notice how relaxed he looks and how he's headed straight for me.  It was hard to get a picture of him because he wanted to come hang out with me.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Shift and Shift and Shift Again

I suck as a blogger these days.  I've got a lot going on in my personal life and I find I am having a hard time answering emails, much less keeping up on blogging.  But here's the updates:

I am still not advertising Enzo, but letting folks know about him in case he finds his perfect match.  So far, that has not happened which is okay.  I continue to work with him and love on him and take care of him.  He will ONLY go to a home that can provide the right ownership and environment, which may very well end up being staying with me.

We still like each other.  Lots.

I had a funny feeling about his laminitis episode.  Something just wasn't adding up.  He foundered in February 2013 and then again in June of 2015.  Neither time was he fat and out on pasture all day.  I've had bloodwork done twice, but decided to empty my wallet and do it again.  I must have been on to something, because his ACTH came back elevated.  Really elevated.  Normal levels in fall are somewhere between 19-52 and Enzo was 597 on the first test and 192 on the second (a fasting one) test.  We have a third test going to a separate lab just to be sure.

Elevations of ACTH levels are a sign of Cushing's disease, which I still need to research the shit out of it.  At this point, I know it's something in his system having to do with the pituitary gland.  Enzo has no other symptoms of Cushing's except for the strange laminitis episodes.  I am a firm believer in using a holistic approach, so though I may end up medicating him, I also want to address any underlying issues that may have contributed to his.

He currently is still in the dry lot and my vet and I will be discussing options next week.  I'm concerned because the dry lot has been great for the summer, but 'dry lot' in the PNW becomes 'mud lot' in the winter and that's a huge concern.  I love, love the barn where I'm at but they're really set up for horses that can go out on pasture all day.  I'm hoping that maybe we can work out something with a muzzle and part days on pasture, but we'll see.

In training news, Enzo continues to improve every day.  If you had told me a year ago that I would be working my horse at liberty and riding with no bridle and no saddle, I would have told you that you were crazy.  We're taking it slow and steady and building a partnership in a way that I have never done with a horse.  If you had told me that hand walking my horse every day for an hour and backing him up every day for fifteen minutes would change him into a different horse, I would have been skeptical to say the least.

But I'm learning that slow and steady truly is the answer to horse training.  Really slow and really steady and paying attention to every step.  Enzo is quieter, more willing, more forward and more interested in work.  I am also quieter, more willing, more forward and more interested in Enzo.

Which is not to say that we spend every day in quiet meditation without a saddle.  Nope, I got me a new Western saddle and I still dressage it too.  In fact, I'm starting to learn to relax and just have fun.  My inspiration is a 12 year old girl and her pony.  They don't spend a whole lot of time contemplating the difficulties of things, they just go.  Bareback, with a saddle, rope halter or bridle, whatever....they just go.

So....sorry for the scattered nature.  I am not the same person who started writing this blog and I'm not sure how to even broach the subject properly.  I have new confidence, new attitude and a whole new idea on how to work with horses.  I would also like to give a shout out to my mentor, Elsa Sinclair.  You can read her incredibly eloquent and thoughtful blog at  I'm almost overwhelmed at all the new ways of thinking and doing that are possible and I can't wait until I'm brave enough to trust Enzo and I to gallop off down the beach with no saddle and bridle like The Black Stallion.  Yes, I will wave my arms and yes I will war whoop.  And yes, I will also wear a helmet!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Middle Aged Tantrum

First, let me apologize for my lack of pony selfies and photos.  I currently don't have a case on my phone and am paranoid about using it at the barn!

Next, I'd like to share what happened during my ride today.  Enzo has been getting much more sensitive to the leg and we've been working on disengaging the hindquarters and using his hind end to stretch his gaits out.  All good, but there's a basic that he and I have still struggled with.

Whenever I take up ANY kind of contact he goes slower and slower and gets crabbier and crabbier, until finally we are at a dead standstill while he swishes his tail, pins his ears and threatens.  Two nights ago at my lesson, I had my trainer Elsa ride before me.  Then I got on and we did not have any problems at a..

So I go out today and we start out fine, though sluggish and then he pulls this crap.  And we get slower and slower.  Okay, people.  This is the part where I'm going to share with all of you the meltdown that I had.  I want to share this because I know there are other people with this problem.  There are other people who have anxiety (I'm so glad I have realized that this is not a confidence issue, it's an anxiety issue.  Totally different.) and there are other people who get stuck.

So, I'm sitting in the arena by myself on Enzo.  I have a light contact (no, really.  It's really light.  Pinkie promise, this is not a 'too much contact' or a 'too heavy hands' issue) and we've now come to a complete stop.  I'm tapping with legs.  I'm tapping with whip.  The most he can be bothered to do is to pin his ears and grump at me.  Which causes my heart to speed up, my breathing to go shallow and my body to tense up.

A zen meditation master would tell you to take deep belly breaths and let everything out of your body.  And though I have found this to be a great release of tension, it does not do much to create 'energy' for you horse.  Plus, I was frustrated and angry.  And wanted to throw something.

Instead, I opened my mouth like I was going to scream and let out a loud as I could silent scream.  I pushed that silent scream all the way out.  I threw my hands up in the air in double fists and shook them at the sky, then at Enzo's ears, then at his mane.  I stood up in my stirrups and flung my body from side to side like a little kid losing his shit.  And then I put my hands on his mane and went a little apeshit.  I didn't have a conscious thought except "I want to fucking MOVE!  NOW!!" and by whatever means possible.  I crouched forward like a jockey and flapped my elbows and wiggled my hips and my legs.  None of it was kicking or whipping or anything hard, it  

I finally get it.  I finally felt it.  I FINALLY got my energy truly up without tension.  And miracle of all miracles, Enzo stepped directly into a canter.  From there we came down into a lovely energetic trot.  And changed directions.  And circled.  And took up contact.  And moved hindquarters.  It really made me realize how much tension I was holding and how secure of a rider I am when I let go of that.  So good!

Then we opened the gate and rode outside, where I kept that energy and asked him to trot a few steps.  He lightly stepped into it and politely stepped out of it when I asked.  Brilliant.  Effing Brilliant.

I can't wait to see if this revelation sticks, but I'm so excited to have been able to have a moment of bringing my life up and having my horse respond in kind.  So fun!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Lazy Pony

Poor Enzo had someone come out and try him yesterday.  The only time she had available was at 5pm, which is the hottest time of the day and yesterday peaked out at 90 degrees.  Add in a black horse and he was not the happiest of campers.

Add to THAT that he has only been worked a few days a week by a friend of mine and has had barely any groundwork lately and he hasn't really cantered in five months and you get a hot mess.

He was honest and kind, but he was definitely behind the leg and making his rider work for it.  And since I wasn't cleared to get up on him and it was a friend of a friend, she just jumped on and rode.   Which is fine, but she didn't want to over convince Enzo without knowing his reactions.  Which I totally respect.

So, at the end of the ride she said she didn't think he was the right horse for her.  I asked why and she said she was looking for a horse that was more sensitive and willing.  Huh?  I told her to give me two weeks and come back on a day that wasn't a record breaking heat day to try him again.  Both trainers have commented repeatedly on how sensitive and willing Enzo is!

However, looking back without the emotions (what??  You don't love him??) I think she was trying to say that she likes her horses hot and spicy.  It's true that he doesn't shoot off like a rocket.  And even when he's at his lightest, he doesn't shoot off like a rocket.  He's a sensible dude.  He has energy (usually) but if you keep asking him without follow up, he will totally tune you out.  He's totally not hot or spicy, but he IS willing and sensitive.  When we connect again in a week or two, I will check in with her about that but my gut says she wants something with a bigger motor and a touchier gas pedal.

I have another person possibly coming out to try him who's interested in doing a half lease before purchasing.  As long as she takes lessons with a trainer and is trainer approved, that could work out just fine.  I wouldn't hold him for her, but I'm not in a huge rush to sell him anyways.

I'm finally getting back in the saddle tonight or tomorrow and am excited to actually ride again!