Friday, February 27, 2015

Licorice Shows His Anxiety

I had my second lesson with E and it went well.  Licorice showed his true colors at the start of our lesson by losing his mind over a horse that was walking on the trails around the property.  The horse would show up through a gap in the trees and then disappear.  Licorice whirled and spun and snorted and kept his head high and tense.  We walked and walked and walked.  He eventually settled down, but E was surprised at his behavior.  We talked about what this meant in terms of long term calmness.  She said it's harder to work on horses that spook at things in the distance because there isn't a way to train that.  Either he will overall calm down as we work with him or this will always be his button.

With that in mind, we're giving it 90 days to see what happens.  If both Licorice and I can move forward through our anxiety in the next 90 days, then we will re-evaluate.  If we can't and I find myself back in the position of avoiding going out to the barn, then I need to come up with a Plan B.  But, no point in thinking bad thoughts right now.  We've got learning to do!

This lesson we worked on moving Licorice through a space (such as through the barn doors) while I stood still.  He did great!  So we got to move on to more exciting things.  We did the weirdest lunging exercise I've ever done.  It involved me walking in a straight line from one end of the arena to the other, while Licorice circled around me.  Licorice needed some reminding that he had to keep going, but overall he did really well.  E said this will keep him engaged and that once we can do this at a walk, we will move to a larger circle and do it at the trot and then at the canter.

Finally, we ended up with sideways along the wall.  Licorice was pretty terrible at this, but he figured it out quickly.  One of the things I love about E is that her energy is very consistent.  At no time did Licorice get stressed out about the process, even when E had to get big to get him to move.  As soon as Licorice stepped sideways, E would immediately remove the pressure by facing sideways (instead of at him) and relaxing against the arena wall.

E stressed that after EVERY exercise (the sideways, the going through spaces) that I needed to let Licorice rest for at least a breath.  She said that's what will give him time to process right now.  The beginning phases of this, it's important to be really clear about what we're asking and to make sure that Licorice gets the idea that as soon as he does it right, he gets to relax.  And since the most important thing we want from him is relaxation, this is key to me being in the leadership role.

At the end of our hour, Licorice stood next to me yawning over and over and chewing and licking.  E said this was a great sign of relaxation.  I asked if it would make more sense for E to train Licorice and if that would be more effective.  E said that she could get him trained faster and easier, but that in a week I would end up with the same horse.  She said it made much more sense for me to be the one handling him.  I like her style.

Today, I will get those pictures taken.  I'm planning on having today be a pony spa day so there will be before and after 'goat beard' pictures too.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Anxiety Down, Stubborn Up

Licorice had Tuesday off because I had a busy day.  Wednesday, he was happily grazing with his girlfriend when I arrived.  They both looked up when I came over and Licorice let me pet his face.  But then they wandered off.  I followed and waited until I got Licorice's attention.  He decided he'd rather stay with his girlfriend, so I just followed them around for about five minutes, making it clear I wasn't going away.  Licorice looked up and I swear he gave a huge sigh and an eye roll while he waited for me and stood still while I haltered him.

We started out with walking and walking.  We were both zeros on the anxiety scale, so we went ahead and went into the barn.  Licorice is in the smaller front barn(I swear I will get barn tour pictures soon) which was a bit dark with the lights off, but not in a scary way.  We walked in and went to the cross ties.  I asked Licorice to take a step back and stand.  He stood for a minute, but then something got his attention and his head flew up.  So, off we went for more walking down the lane.

Well, our anxiety went down but when we got back to the barn, Licorice said No Thank You.  Not in an anxious way, in a stubborn piglet kind of way.  He just planted his feet and said no.  So, we zigged and we zagged and we walked and walked but he still said no.  I got a little frustrated and just made him do a quick moving of his hindquarters both directions.  Still, no go.  Then I just reverted back to the old leadrope wack on his blanket.  He walked in, though he was not happy.

We went back to the crossties and stood there for a few minutes.  I even hooked them on.  For some reason, I'm ridiculously uncomfortable using crossties on a rope halter.  I think someone must have told me that you should never, ever use crossties with a rope halter.  But Licorice really needs the rope halter right now because he can be so barge-y when he's anxious.  We stood there for a few minutes and I knocked some mud off his face.  He started to fuss in the crossties.  I don't think he was anxious, I think he was just bored.  But it made ME anxious and our new thing is to be a unit, so off we went for a walk.

When I tried to get him back in the little barn for a third time, he didn't want to go again.  I managed to get him in, but it didn't feel like we were a unit.  We walked up to the upper barn, where someone getting out of their car scared Licorice into a full on spook and spin.  What was fantastic was that he did it and then we just walked and we both calmed down very quickly.  He was much better about going in and out of the bigger barn.

We finished up with one more trip into the little barn and then he got to back out with his girlfriend.  I have another lesson today, which is great since I want to find out what's going on with not even wanting to go into the barn.  Backwards is not the direction I want to go.  :)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Walk It Off

Licorice and I met with a new trainer today and had an amazing lesson of doing what appeared to be nothing.  The new trainer does Classical French Dressage (so fancy, right?) but is also big on fixing holes on the ground.  I told her that I wanted to work on my anxiety levels before getting into the saddle and that even on the ground, I had anxiety in new situations.  Such as moving to a strange barn.

So, we went to the pasture to get Licorice.  My anxiety was already starting to rise as Licorice was in with his new friend, who is not a horse I know.  When L walked over, his new girlfriend came with him.  My new trainer (who shall now be called E), had me walk up to Licorice and if he stayed with me, just stand next to him and pet him.  If he walked away with his girlfriend, we just followed.  We did a sort of approach and retreat thing for a few minutes and then began to approach Licorice, but shoo his girlfriend away.  That took all of 30 seconds and Licorice stayed with me.  E had me put his halter on and take him out then.

The rest of my hour long lesson was spent walking.  And walking.  And zigging and zagging and walking.  E suggested that Licorice and I need more walking.  She said this is the first phase of our training and that later we will work on more refined things, but for now, she wanted to see us reduce our anxiety by walking.

E also suggested that I start thinking of Licorice and I as a unit.  So, if he's anxious and needs to move, go with him and walk.  Licorice is not a spooky, hot horse so walking is a good speed for him.  If he got distracted and lifted his head, called to his girlfriend, or just started crowding me, I was to change directions.  However, E pointed out that most people do this really abruptly, which can startle the horse even further.  When I changed direction, I was to do it smoothly and in time with our regular footfalls.

She really stressed rhythm with us.  She wanted us walking in rhythm, changing directions in rhythm, stopping in rhythm.  We walked and walked through the barn, up and down the aisle.  When we got to the cross ties, we turned him in and let him stop.  If he felt too anxious to be there, we calmly just walked and walked.  With rhythm.  Then we returned and tried again.  Set him up, back him one step to let him know we'd like him to stay there and then wait.  If he rested, he rested.  If not, we walked.

E also suggested that we walk when *I* am anxious (we're a unit, remember?).  So, at one point, they were loading hay into the upper part of the barn and though Licorice remained calm, I started to feel anxious.  So, we kept walking until my anxiety went away.

People, it was genius.  Freaking genius.  So. Simple.  So.  Damn.  Simple.  And yet, so effective.  E said that she does this with any horse that people want to be 'kid broke' because it's the best platform for a mellow, calm horse.  She did say that she would not do this with a show horse that someone wanted on the hotter side, as it is a very calming exercise.

E also said that she thought Licorice and I would be fine together.  If today was any indication, she's right.  We will be totally fine.  We'll just walk it off.
Licorice showing the other horses how to dig a hole to China.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Moving In

I'm typing this from my phone, so please excuse any shortness or weirdness and how it is formatted. Here are some pictures of Licorice at his new place. I will try to take the camera out to actually get decent photos tomorrow.

I can't wait to trim the goat beard this week! 

Awesome giant stall. 

Looking out at some pasture.

Licorice and his new girlfriend. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Moving Day is Here

I'm moving Licorice to our new barn this morning.  I have been up since 3am.  I'm not nervous, I'm more excited but apparently my body can't tell the difference and kept harassing me with stress dreams all night long.  I mean, I dreamt about going to the DENTIST.  Urgh!

But, I'm up and showered and just getting ready to load the last of my stuff up.  Then it's off to meet my friends with the truck and trailer at the barn.  Send us easy loading vibes.  I've been told to stay far away from them while they are loading Licorice so that he doesn't pick up on my anxiety about it.  Haha.

Loading is still on my list of things I'm going to fix.  I'm pretty sure the new place has someone who can help me fix that, since there are lots of trailers there and people who go places.  Even though I have everything I need on the property (trails!  indoor and outdoor arena!  Wash Rack with hot water!!!!), it's important that Licorice and I learn how to load calmly and properly.  Yes, I made sure to include myself.  Because really, Licorice knows how to load and just needs gentle reminders.  I, on the other hand, need a Xanax and a lot of practice not freaking out.

It looks like the weather is going to be good.  No rain and mild temperatures.  The move is a short one, we're only going about ten miles down the road.  Then I'll spend some time getting Licorice settled in and getting my stuff settled in.

At the new barn, I'm responsible for putting together his AM and PM feedings, as well as supplying my own feed tub, salt block and garbage can to store my feed in.  I finally got everything together last night and I have to admit, it was fun putting together Licorice's customized baggies.  Something about it made me feel more like he's MY horse and not a trainer's horse.  I'm sure the 'glow' of that will wear off, much like before you have a baby (and even in the beginning) you love folding little tiny clothes.  But after a few weeks or months you think, I really wish someone would fold these clothes.  Or you just stuff them in a drawer and call it good.  Or if you're like me, you can't even make it to the drawer and you just fold the clothes in a laundry basket and pull clean clothes straight from the basket.  Or on a really good day, I just leave the clothes in the dryer and pull straight from there.  That way I can re-run the heat for a few minutes to 'get the wrinkles out'.  So lazy!

Okay, I'm off the give L a good grooming so he's not a total pig when he rolls off the trailer at the new barn.  I will try to take some pics of his new casa today.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


Horse nutrition is not my strong point.  It's such a huge topic and there's so much information AND so much marketing out there.  Horses are not humans and their digestive systems are nothing like ours.  I'm sure lots of feed companies pack their products with extras that horses simply don't need.

I've been in the natural pet food industry for 20 years, so I know the tricks of the trade.  Unfortunately, I don't know enough about horse nutrition to know what my horse 'needs', what is actually bad for my horse and what they just put in their to ensure that the horse will eat it.


I see lots of feeds with molasses in them.  Knowing that horses probably don't go foraging for molasses, I'm assuming that this is put in to cover up ingredients that the horse wouldn't eat.  Things like soybean meal.  Soybean meal in the dog/cat industry is used because it's cheap.  Why is it used in horse food?  Same reason?

Licorice is currently getting LMF Super Supplement, but when I move barns I can feed him whatever I want in terms of grain and vitamins and minerals.  He's hot enough that I don't want to feed him ANY grain.  Does he need a vitamin/mineral supplement?  He will be on all day grass turnout every day from dusk til dawn, plus he will get timothy hay and his supplements (SmartPak Ultra Digest and Cosequin ASU for his joints).
Licorice's new digs:  Patterson Creek Farm

Can anyone point me to a no nonsense website or article to help figure out if a multi vitamin is good sense or just good marketing?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

Weird phrase, eh?  Apparently it originated in Vegas when a chicken dinner costs less than $2.00 and if you won $2.00 they would say 'Winner!  Winner!  Chicken Dinner!' or something to that effect.

Well, I have a winner.  Hopefully.  I'm waiting to hear back from them to make sure I can move in at the end of the month but I brought home the paperwork and confirmed with my husband.

Barn #2 is the barn where we'll be going.  It's definitely farther out, but when I arrived and EVERY SINGLE HORSE WAS OUT in a big giant field with at least one other horse, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Then I was shown the stalls which are giant and open.  There are walls between the horses, but no bars or anything, so the horses can hang their heads out and see the neighbors across from them.

The facility is huge, but there aren't that many horses.  There's a small barn up front that has 8 stalls and then a larger one in back with maybe 12?

I was concerned about the last feeding being at 4pm, but the person I talked to today said that I could put in a slow feeder so that Licorice would have food all night.  Yeah!  The horse are out on grass, though they do have what they dubbed The Jenny Craig area if horses get too fat.  I will need to monitor Licorice in spring since he did have a founder episode.  I will probably consult with my vet about this to make sure we do it right.  I think he'll probably be fine as long we don't let him get fat.

Under saddle, Licorice continues to challenge me.  My friend Sarah (who has balls of steel) came out and rode him for me on Saturday.  He went immediately into trot numerous times without any fussing.  She had a great ride on him.

Then I had my lesson with him today.  As soon as I swung a leg over, he sucked back into the pokiest walk ever.  When I asked him to walk on, he sucked back farther.  When I asked him to trot, he cow kicked.  He kicked at the girth and then he bucked.  Then he went to the worst, slowest trot ever.  Then he bucked again going into the second worst trot ever.  Not a great day.

I'm going to have Sarah continue to ride him.  She's a bit heavier handed than me, but she's no nonsense and Licorice needs to get worked.  I need to think about what my game plan is as I am not having a good time trying to muster up confidence to ride my horse.  Our relationship has improved a hundred thousand times on the ground, but under saddle it has degraded to the point of not getting anything done.  Lame.

Look for happier news as we move to a barn with turnout from dusk to dawn every day!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Narrowing It Down

I think I've narrowed my barn search down to two barns.  I haven't visited barn #2 yet, but will visit it tomorrow.  Here's the skinny on my top two picks.

Pick # 1


Close to my house.  REALLY close to my house.  Five minute drive maximum.  The back of their property connects to a popular trail system that goes right by my house.  I could (in another universe where I have balls and/or a quieter horse) ride my horse from my barn to my house and back.  It's really only about 2 miles away.

I met some of the people there and they seem nice.  You can bring in your own trainer.

They have great lighting on their outdoor arena and round pens.

Two round pens, one outdoor arena, one indoor arena.  Trails around the property and easy access to more trails (though you have to go through traffic).

Horses live in outdoor shelter/pens next to each other and get turned out most days with a buddy or two in large pastures.  I say most days because for the last two days we have had a DELUGE of rain and the pastures were flooded.  It's been unusually damp though.


Both the arenas have very deep sand footing.  The indoor is a converted dairy barn so it's very narrow.

No hot water wash rack.

The people who feed and clean stalls and do turnout do not have a clue about horses.

Final feeding is at 4pm and no night check on the horses.

Pick #2 (the one I haven't seen in person yet.)


All day pasture turnout in a group.  Horses get fed their morning hay out in the pasture.  Not sure yet if this is a pro or a con since I haven't seen how they do that.

Indoor, outdoor and trails on property.

Was told most folks there have a background in Natural Horsemanship but do multiple disciplines.


30 minutes away

Only two feedings and the final one is at 4pm.  No night checkup.

The people with a background in NH could be the kind of people that are a bit wonky about it.  The ladies who like to talk about their horses personality as a way of excusing their horses poor behavior.

So - Barn #1 is not awesome yet.  BUT there's lots of room for improvement and they seem to be willing to do it.  The owner is a hedge fund investor and this boarding barn project is just a side thing for fun.  He plans on eventually ripping down the old dairy barn and building a full size dressage arena with wash racks, grooming stalls etc.  But until then, it's pretty rustic.

Barn #2 sounds nice but 30 minutes farther away.  I have a feeling they might be more horse savvy than barn #1 though.  Which could be critical if something goes wrong....

Sorry I don't have pictures.  Barn #1 can be found here, but keep in mind they are not showing the whole property and the wonky bits (like where you tack up and that sort of thing).  You can, however, see the deep footing. Barn #2 only has a Facebook page here.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

I'm Going on a Barn Hunt, a Barn Hunt, A Barn Hunt

Licorice had a lameness follow up today and though the vet would like to see him on some joint supplements, she pronounced him sound and fit and ready to return to work.

I am still struggling through my anxiety when he pins his ears, doesn't pay attention, kicks at my leg.  My whole body tenses up and I grab at the reins.  Not good, Mona Sterling, not good.  I think I am going to try and find someone to ride him for a month to get him back going again.  I think it will restore both of our confidences.  From there, I can figure out what we're doing.

The other thing we need to do is move somewhere where there are more people.  I ride weekday mornings and I don't mind riding in an arena by myself if there are people 'around'.  I'm not a fan of riding without anybody else there.

So, I'm on the hunt for the right boarding facility.

Must have:

  • Arena - Prefer covered AND outdoor arena.
  • Trails on site - I don't have a trailer.  It doesn't even need to be miles and miles of trails.  It could even be a track around the perimeter of the place.  Just somewhere that is outside and not an arena so we can practice.
  • Turnout - Licorice may just need more turnout.  I know more than one horse who did a 180 in personality when they had the right amount of turnout.  He has had limited turnout the last four months and I think it's not working for him.
  • Timothy Hay - Licorice does better on Timothy than Alfalfa.
  • People -There must be people.  I don't want it to be a graveyard when I ride.
  • Knowledgeable Barn Owner - I'm putting my horses care in someone elses hands when I'm not there.  I want to sleep well at night.
  • Less than 30 Minute from My House and No Major Highways Involved - I don't want to spend my life commuting.
Are there any bloggers/lurkers that know of anything in the Redmond, WA area?  I know of lots of barns, but I'd love to have a personal recommendation for one!  I'd also love to work with a trainer at the new barn, so if you have a trainer to recommend let me know!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Perfect Partner

Why is it that we are expected to find the perfect horse partner right away?  I'm not talking about how long you 'look' at horses to buy, I'm talking about after you buy them.  It seems to me that the horse world has decided that once you pick out the horse, unless there is something catastrophically wrong with it, that you stick with that horse.

If I had done this with boyfriends, I would be the most unhappily married person ever.  However, I find myself thinking that with horses.

Here's the thing.  I like Licorice.  He likes me.  But he's more sensitive guy than stalwart companion.  If I'm anxious, Licorice is anxious.  And now that we're outside our comfort zone, I'm definitely anxious.  And so Licorice is more anxious.

Yet when I think of selling him, I think about being a failure and having had two horses in the last five years.  And then I think I'm just going to keep buying horses and ingraining them with my anxiety and no matter what horse I get, I will make them a hot mess. my heart of hearts, I know that's not true.  I know that I can find a teacher in a horse who will tolerate or ignore my anxiety without escalating.

It feels very depressing right now because I don't want 'give up', but I'm not having fun.  I force myself to go out and to ride and at the end of a ride I do feel successful and happy but I have to give myself a pep talk EVERY TIME.

I actually got a Groupon for a Western barn (gasp!  the Dark Side!  Yes!) and went and took a lesson there this morning.  The trainer said "You are a beautiful rider.  No matter what discipline you choose, you'll be successful.  Your body position is great."

I told her I had confidence issues and she shrugged and said "We have quiet horses.  We have horses for lease if you wanted to lease one for a while.  These are pleasure bred Quarter Horses and they're meant to be quiet."

Sure enough, my little pleasure mare I rode on was quiet.  And despite being a new horse, in a new arena in Western tack, I had no anxiety.  None at all.  Hmmmm.  Thinking.  Thinking.   Thinking.

So, that's where I'm really at and it sucks.  It sucks to waffle and hem and haw and to feel overwhelmingly guilty and stupid and to re-hash every moment.  I'm trying hard not to do that to myself but to simply decide to move forward and see what happens.  And I'm totally going back and taking another Western riding lesson on a dead quiet horse.