Ole Man Winter showed up tonight, on the heels of high winds and fast dropping temperatures. Just in the nick of time (I have a horse named Nic so find that funny right now), I had unsaddled fillies and distributed horses into various lots, with run ins and shelter belts. Tucked the afore mentioned Nic the Thoroughbred colt, in the barn as he has no genetic heritage telling him he needs a hair coat in this part of the world and I don't need an overly large horse-sicle decorating my pasture, nor do I need to call his owner, who has him here on consignment, that I have let his very nice colt freeze to death.
Stretched hoses, man, I am not ready for the winter chores, haven't even unearthed my tank heaters, yet, made sure the electric fence was alive and well and came into the house to refect upon the day.
Great day at work, still developing that quality of life theory that anywhere you are is worthwhile if you put your heart into it and do a topnotch job of getting things done. It's working out in the day job I acquired a month or so back. Though, as I told my (jobless) son tonight, being proud of doing well in a job designed to be handled successfully by brand new high school graduates is a very personal choice on my part. Having that go okay is helping the grieving process of not having my days to completely call my own (shoulda got more accomplished and maybe I could have afforded the lifestyle, but I never do, left to my own devices), and the short hours left to find horse time is causing me a serious difficulty on more than two levels.
Got home this afternoon and raced the setting sun to get the two fillies I was going to ride caught, groomed and saddled. My energy was at a fairly intense level, and several times the looks on their faces and their body reactions reminded me, my schedules, issues and fears of the rapidly dropping temps and sun were of no concern to them but how I treated them most certainly was. I made myself take breaths, and slow down, quieting my racing heartbeat. I had forever to run my brush over the buckskin filly's golden body . . . all day and a night to saddle her, allow her to settle for bridling . . . she was backing away and flashes of Moonshine crossed my mind. The last thing I want to do is CREATE an issue for this nice filly that has not had any previously. Again. Slow down. Frame her face, let her settle, place the bit under her chin, rub away the worry, let her settle. Ask nicely for her to accept the chilly iron into her mouth, be respectful and fold the ears forward with care when setting the headstall in place. Breathe. Both of us.
I hang her on the wall, she does what all my horses do when they have been here awhile, immediately cocks a hip and dozes. For all she knows, she might be there a spell . . . I saddle Slippin, the gray filly, having to remind myself the same things, but am already feeling myself transition from fast paced "get 'er done" to what I want to be for my horses . . . slow moving, caring, and letting my love and regard for them flow out of my fingertips every time I touch them.
My plan for Knosie's next ride was to be out of the round pen. I had planned for it to come the day after the last one, but weather and a trip out of town, supporting my husband's interests for a change, made that not happen. I decided to warm up outside, start in the round pen and see how things developed. Warm up now for both of these fillies is just a matter of checking emotional temperature, working out any stiffness in the body that could cause an issue under saddle, and takes about five minutes, as a rule. We do the bridge again, she couldn't care less, I just have to be careful that I don't put feel into the line and have her come prematurely off the bridge into a circle.
I set her up to mount, inside the pen, and let her know I am coming, pulling a bit on the saddle horn to encourage Knosie to set her feet. She's ready. I swing up. Bend her head around to the left, she follows the rein nicely. Ask her to bend and see from the right as well. I have never got bucked off a green horse doing this, but I darned sure have got dumped on a few I didn't let see me on both sides, first!
Knosie is dead calm, this is old news to her. I ask her to move off, and she dawdles along. This will not do. I know there is a good walk in there, and I bring up the life in my seat and legs, acting like we are already walking faster. I try to time my body movements to asking for more as each foot leaves the ground. Not much reaction or result from Knosie. Okay fine. I pick up the end of my rein and tap my leg with the popper . . . we get a smidge more. Cue from the body and then I lightly pop her shoulder. Now she walks out. Getting Knosie to loosen up her feet works better from the trot, she moves into it easily, nice long strided thing that she is. It's easy to sit, and I experiment weighting my seat bones to keep her either on the rail, or move her off of it to avoid the deep sticky mud at one end. She runs through my legs and hands occasionally, and I find myself nagging her with the supporting leg. It doesn't seem to mean much to her, right now and it needs to. I thump her pretty good with it, and she obligingly shifts over. Next time I ask, I still have to thump but not as hard, and the time after that, she moves off an ask, and stays out of the mud, to boot. Progress!
I am working on developing a soft feel with her in the bridle while avoiding trapping her between my hands and legs. She needs to feel free to move, and I feel for her tries and reward them with all my might. I ride with intention, directing her at points in the round pen, and start riding boxes, moving her haunches out the way first before asking the shoulders to turn. This is working really well, and I decide it's time to come out of the round pen.
Dusk is settling in, the heavy clouds bringing down even thicker darkness. Nonetheless, we are going to ride. I get on her down in the barnyard, she is a little surprised as I shift her weight and set her feet for mounting (reasons I set the expectations, like I do) but accepts me in the saddle with no issue. Sees from both sides again. "Yep, Ter, I know you are up there," she says with those big, calm dark eyes of hers. I ask her to move off, and she's a little hesitant but goes where I point her. I ride her on the slope, introducing her to the idea of having to tug herself up a hill with the unwieldy and unexpected weight of a rider up there, down the same way. We ride for awhile, she now stays nicely between my hands and legs. The coolest thing is that there is no "working on the headset" as I once would have been doing (like maybe a few weeks ago). The headset is coming naturally, jaw softening to the bit, pretty level carriage, sweetly arched neck resulting from the poll breaking due to the roundness of the body behind it. It feels kick ass. We do box turns and ride from diagonal to diagonal. My markers are that downed piece of wood over there, the bunch of weeds on that side . . . not exactly the cool alphabet markings on the wall of the indoor arena I dream of, but we get done what we are trying to get done, and she is increasingly responsive under me.
Moonshine has wandered up to see what's going on and I realize we have an audience from the other side of the fence as well. Hasn't phased Knosie or distracted her from our work. I decide to put Moonshine into the run she is standing closest to, as I am locking horses up tonight. I use Knosie to put a little pressure on the big mare, and position the young filly to block her if Moonshine should decide to escape us. She is, without doubt, senior and boss mare to my filly, but Knosie trusts me, just the slightest hint of doubt as I ask he to move up and encourage 'Shine to take the release into the pen. Moonshine looks for a moment like she's going to break and run, and I quickly ask Knosie to shift in that direction to block the intent. 'Shine gives me a rather dirty look and walks haughtily into the pen. I move Knosie in after her, and then back us out, taking her off the object we were trailing. I look at the heavy gate, it does NOT happen to be one of the new ones we have placed on wheels, and decide not to push my luck by asking Knosie to help me close it. I dismount quickly, causing a flinch from the filly which I then need to fix.
I close the gate, move her off her tension and mount up, still moving a little rapidly, letting her know things can happen around her and it doesn't have to be a big deal. She takes it in stride, as she does most things, these days. Now, it's time to leave the security of the barn yard and venture out a little. Dark is all around us now, but it's not full, and I steer us up on the squeezy side of the round pen and ride Knosie between that and the neighboring pasture's fenceline. There's all kinds of junk on the ground there, goat chewed lariat, hula hoop . . . mounting block and hey, there's the folding chair! She cruises by without a second glance. It is too dark to go far into the pasture, we go out, find the bundle of sticks to walk through that we let the Morgan mare think was a jump, come back, cross the bridge both ways, back to the barnyard, some really fluid turns around the barrels that are laying scattered all around, and call it good. Again, not bad for her first trip out. I can't wait to get her out on trails, I'd ride this filly anywhere.
Pitch dark now . . . and Slippin needs her turn. I pull the big barn doors open, letting the light inside flood the barnyard. It casts some interesting shadows and I think, okay, we can work with this. Minimum warm up (I think I could probably flex her a couple times and mount up), we do this incredible dance with the falling leaf routine, her body bending and flexing, I concentrate on the hip rolling over, and it's in motion before I am, I step back and she comes through on the front end, crossing over in these gorgeous motions, light on the rein, eyes dancing, I think she has as much fun with this as I do. I mount up, and do the same exercise from the saddle. It's not quite as smooth, but I can tell my intent for her is not quite as clear. I focus on sending energy into the hip yield, breaking down the parts and pieces of the exercise, not asking for the next til the one I am on is perfect. We get it, and I am laughing out loud while I am riding her. I put my hands on each side of her stocky gray neck, sending to her the love and the joy I feel in being on her and developing this partnership with such a nice filly. Her ears pricked forward, we head up the slope, picking up a nice trot, turn a box turn at the top, trot across but slow to a walk for the descent. I am always conscious of two year old legs, ankles and minds. We will develop Slippin's ability to trot down hill but it won't be tonight.
We head out around the round pen, do the bridge in the dark, she takes it without a blink. Clamber up over, spin around, come back the other way and off to the light of the barnyard where we can actually see where she's putting her feet. I ride her between the barn doors, into the light inside, waking Knosie who is dozing and drying. Back out, I wonder if the change from bright light to dark will bother her, and the dogs, goat and a couple of cats are playing raucously off to the side. I prepare myself for a possible spook and ride her out. Not a step out of place, an ear swivels, an eye takes in the commotion she can just barely see to the dark side of the barn, and out we go. Now, I start asking her to move slightly laterally off my legs, preparing her for half tracking and sidepassing. We do that, back and forth, get some steps, release, get some steps release, both directions. She's really not sure what I am after, but she will be soon. I am finding myself missing my spurs, I am a little fat and lazy, and my legs are getting tired. I don't go get the spurs.
Aiding the motion, I want hindquarters also. At one point, she runs through my hands, a little bothered by the pressure (too much, Ter, too much) and I let her run into the bit, soften and back off of it. She backs a little crooked and I tip her nose in the direction her hip is diving off to and correct the motion. A light bulb goes off in my head and I ask for a serpentine backwards step in the other direction, get one, back again, get one . . . we do that a few times, her hips loosen up for me and I think she's had enough. Probably a good thing I do have a day job and do not have an indoor . . . nights like this, I'd ride til dawn.
This brings us full circle back to the nick of time untacking and settling of horses. I catch distrustful Moonshine, tie her in the barn to keep Nic company and settle a couple horses. Watching her, so unhappy at being captive, I pick up a soft brush and smooth her velvet coal black coat. There has got to be a way to this mare's heart. There just has to be. She tolerates my brushing but in no way does it win her over or set high in her priorities. I decide to go for her stomach, worked on my husband, why not the big mare? A handful of grain, and I am MUCH more popular than a moment ago. Nic happily takes in a treat, and I walk over to Knosie. Apparently, she didn't get the memo that food can come from human being hands and she sniffs suspiciously. Incredulously, she lips a couple of grains, and becomes a believer. Retaining all my fingers, I laugh at her expression of wonder and pet her.
Everyone is settled, Moonshine remains her own girl, but I am far from giving up. Baby colts hold no resentment from their halter lesson the other night, I am sold on the idea that if I never put resistance in them now, I probably won't have to fix it later. They are both lamby gentle, and take some pets. My black colt, Smokey (yep, we have a gang of black horses around here right now) remains one of the ugliest babies I have laid eyes on in recent history. His mother loves him and he's a well bred thing, so I can only hold out hope there is a swan hiding somewhere. He sure has a beaky enough head for one.
Looking forward to tomorrow being the end of the work week. Still going to work "one day at a time" every day, on time. The weekend holds cool things, my trailer comes home, Sugar Sox comes home and we'll see what has become of him. That's probably worthy of another blog.
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