Sunday, June 27, 2010

First solo mission

Before I mention our first solo mission, I must say that I'm very happy to report that I FINALLY got a fly mask on Mac! For some reason the flies LOVE him and he could have 100 flies on his face and buzzing around his eyes. Flies are gross and dirty and annoying and so I was determined that Mac would wear a fly mask. He was scared of it at first so I just hung it on the gate for a couple days so he could sniff it and get used to it. Then we did some ground work in preparation for me working on desensitizing him to the mask. Once we did that I kind of hung it on his ear and took it off a few times, then I hung it on both ears and took it, on, off, on, etc. until finally I got it over both ears and eyes and velcroed it on. Ta-da!!! No more flies in his eyes! He's not crazy about getting it put on every morning but I think he appreciates its purpose.

So yesterday we had our first solo mission, aka our first real trail ride by ourselves off our property. Since it was very hot we went up to the forest so we could be in the shade of the tall pines. He loaded on the trailer fine and traveled well. Once there, there were other people and horses in the staging area tacking up to go on their ride. They hit the trails before we did and Mac whinnied for the horses. I finished grooming and tacking up and went in the opposite direction than the other people did because I didn't want to feel like we were trying to catch up with them.

Mac has a super walk - very forward, marching, big, ground-covering. He sometimes looks at things on the ground, like a rock or log being hit by sunlight, but doesn't do anything silly. It was funny because it seemed like he remembered where to go from last weekend! At various times during the ride he put his nose on the ground to . . . sniff? I don't know what he smelled but I guess it was interesting.

As we came to the end of one trail and needed to decide where to go I checked my watch and saw that because of his big, forward walk that we had covered a lot of ground in a short period of time. I decided to turn left down the trail, then take a loop back to the same trail which I could then take back to the staging area.

When we turned down the trail his walk got bigger and bigger and he wanted to trot. So we trotted a bit. Then I realized that he was "tracking" his horsey friends! He started whinnying for them, although they never answered back. It is not really fun or cute to be on a horse who is whinnying and wants to be somewhere else so I turned him around and made him trot and canter up the trail and away from where he wanted to be.

He has a great forward walk, a good trot, but really no endurance at the canter so we didn't canter for long, although he is comfortable and steady. We came back to the walk and finished the ride. Wow, it was less than an hour! Oh well, I thought it was a good first solo adventure and I had fun.

Today we went back to the same place but this time we met my friend on her horse (we had the buckskin-twin adventures!) and did a similar ride. Mac was a good leader on the trails and this time we went into parts of the forest where he hasn't been before. He was a very good boy and I think my friend enjoyed the ride as well. It sure was HOT today, though!

When we got back to the trailer we gave the horses some water and a sponge bath and let them graze for a bit before loading back up and heading home.

I wish I had trails like that out my door. I really love trail riding - it is such a fun thing to do with your horse and you see so many pretty sights. You can go as slow or as fast as you want and there are no arena fences to dictate your boundaries. Just you and your horse in the open space - fun, fun, fun!!!

I do think, though, that it is time for Mac to start his formal education so I will see if my dressage trainer can start working with him this week. He needs to learn how to long-line so that he can learn the finer points of contact in the bridle, including reliable "whoa" and steering!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Oooooh, a new follower!

Well I have to admit that I am a vain person and want people to read my blog. Even though I write it for me, I am flattered that people are interested and of course want people to think I am witty and wise (and pretty...I feel pretty, oh so pretty...). So it looks like I have a new follower - hello, whoever you are!

My friend Kali came up to visit this weekend as she is horse shopping and has had horse-shopping woes and wanted to come up and go trail riding and go look at a few horses. I'll spare you the horse-shopping details, as this isn't about HER, it is about ME! Rather, it is about Mac.

So to get to the nitty-gritty, Kali and I took Paddy and Mac to Lone Grave for a trail ride today. Lone Grave is in the tall pines of the Tahoe National Forest and it is a pretty place to go and it is also a good place to go conditioning. There are some hills, some single-track, some wider trails, some winding-through-the-pine-trees single-track, etc.

We loaded up the horses (Mac loaded like a champ) and headed up there. It was a gorgeous day for a trail ride - sunny and warm but not too hot and with a nice breeze. We tacked up and I had Kali start off on Paddy and I started off on Mac. Paddy was pretty bouncy, though, so after 15 minutes or so we switched and she rode Mac and I rode Paddy (for those of you who couldn't follow ;-)).

I asked if Kali was ok to go trotting off and she said yes so off we went trotting through some single-track. Paddy really, Really, REALLY needed to go forward and have a nice gallop so we turned off onto the bigger, wider trail and soon our trot turned into a canter and a forward one at that. Mac has a big trot and kept trotting bigger and bigger to stay with the pack and eventually cantered and then hit overdrive for a little bit. We brought the horses back to the walk and Paddy was happy to have let off some steam and he was no longer bouncy.

We made a nice big loop and then continued down a different trail where we again did some trotting through the trees on a winding single-track trail. Paddy's trot felt forward and powerful and engaged and really fun - if only I could get that trot in the dressage arena!

Kali was very complimentary of Mac and seemed to really enjoy riding him. He has such a good brain. The whole time he followed along willingly and easily, happy to do whatever we wanted. At one point he wanted to lead the way and spooked (which means his eyes got kind of big and he kind of stopped and planted his feet) at a pine cone, lol! But he marched right along with his Big Mac walk and then Paddy lead the way again. We made another small loop and headed for the staging area.

We got back, untacked the horses, toweled them down with wet towels, and then put them on the trailer. Mac got right on without hesitation and off we went for home.

What a fun day! I really need to hit the trails more - I love it out there so much and the horses do, too.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

More progress

Today we were supposed to have another training session but Ezra had to cancel. At first I thought I would ride Mac but thought again and decided it is always good to do ground work and we need to work on longing and voice commands so I decided to try my hand at longing in the arena today.

Oh, I also thought I would give the fly spray another try, as he seems to be so afraid of it! I held the bottle and let him sniff it, then I'd point it away from him and spray it and that was just too much. So I went back to just holding it in front of him. Then I tried to move to his neck and just stroke his neck with the bottle. Well that alone was scary but I was able to hold the bottle in my hand and pat him all over with my other hand. I think maybe I should just wear the bottle around my neck for a week or so!

I took the bottle down to the arena with us and put it on the fence post so he'd see it every time he went by. We've gotten more tuned in to each other so that I can easily move his shoulder or haunches and it is easy to get him out on the line - yay! I worked on keeping my body in the right position so I didn't give him mixed signals. Going left was better and easier than going right - that is not unusual, as horses are "sided" as we are and one direction is easier than the other. One of the objectives in training is to work the body so the horse is even in both directions.

We worked on walking and trotting. I can easily "disengage his hindquarters" to get him to stop from the trot but I've got to figure out how to get him to go from a trot to a walk and continue going forward and not turn in to face me. I'll have to do some research and homework on that.

We did some good, steady trot work in both directions and then I worked with him again on the fly spray and on letting me hold the spray and pat him at the same time. We also worked on me working around his head and ears and getting him to lower his head if I touch his ears and poll.

It was a really good training session!

Afterward I ground tied him and put some Swat on his face and belly to keep the flies away then brought him back to the pasture where he had a nice roll - and flipped over a few times! There is an old wives' tale that says each time a rolling horse turns over he is worth a hundred dollars! :-)

Oh, I came back to add that after we were done longing but we were working on fly spray and ear stuff, Paddy called to Mac and Mac did not call back!!! That is really good progress - that means his attention was with me, not back with his friends!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

First trail ride away from home!

So today Colin and I took Paddy and Mac and met our friend Tom at one of the local trails. I have to interject and say that Tom and his wife Amy were the ones who found Mac and I'm so thankful that I went along with Amy to see him one day (and that she decided she didn't want to buy him!)

I've been wanting to get Mac out on the trails but wanted to make sure that he was more solid on trailer-loading so that I could go by myself and know that I could get him on the trailer after the ride.

We loaded Paddy on the trailer and it took Mac less than a minute to join the party. We got there and unloaded and tacked up and everything was just fine - no drama. Tom brought his new horse who looks like a unicorn without the horn and he was even cuter in person than in the pictures I saw!

From the time Colin swung a leg over, Paddy was a very bouncy horse and it wasn't the "walk on the buckle" relaxing trail ride that I hoped Colin would have. He handled it well - sometimes Paddy just gets like that (actually it was the first trail ride of the season and what Paddy really needed was a 10-minute gallop up a steep hill!). Mac was very level-headed despite Paddy's antics. It looks like there have been some new trails cut there (although they're lined with gravel which I DON'T like) that I look forward to exploring.

Half way through the ride Tom and I switched horses and I got to ride the big unicorn. He was a very nice boy and didn't mind being in back and just letting Paddy bounce along.

We finished our ride, wet-towel bathed the horses, loaded them up and went home. It was a very easy and non-stressful event for Mac. Really, if I had access to great trails out my back door, I may never do anything other than trail ride!

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Well I did some homework today. Either I'm doing something very wrong or Mac is just a smart guy. I went out to the pasture to get him and work with him a bit at liberty. He quickly remembered the lesson from Tuesday to go forward, change direction, turn to face me and stop. I rubbed and patted him all over, brought the lunge whip and rubbed him all over with the lash, swung it over his body, behind his butt, around his head, and he didn't move. So then I went to put the halter on and he tucked his nose in to put it in the nose-hole area. Wow, okay!

With the halter and longe line attached I then did some ground work with moving the shoulders and moving the haunches, stopping, going back, etc. I also did some longing and that was less successful but then I realized that I was walking along with him and I remembered Ezra said to stand in one place and when I did that it was better. Having gotten the idea that it was work time, I decided we could move on to trailer loading.

We went down to the trailer and I had the longe whip and the longe line attached to his halter. I pointed him at the trailer and he stood on the ramp and sniffed it. We did that a couple times then I asked him for more and he gave it to me. Within a minute or two he was standing on the trailer and backing out nicely. This was all with the divider moved over. I put the divider back in the middle position and asked him to go on again and he did. We loaded and unloaded quietly a few times and the last time I had him stand there and I just scratched his butt. I thought that was enough so let him quietly back off. Sheesh, our whole training session took maybe 30 minutes.

Then I realized that I had the halter and longe line but no lead rope. I wanted to groom him so figured he could just "ground tie" while I groomed him. We haven't formally worked on this but what I did was have the longe line very slack and held it in my hand while I worked around him. If he moved, I moved him back to where I wanted him to be. He mostly didn't move - just a small step or so, but still, I moved him back. Since he's terrified of fly spray, I put Swat on his face and on the insides of his thighs/sheath area, and took him up to the pasture to let him have some grass.

It was a great lesson!

Oh yeah, and I got the videos from our XC schooling this weekend. Thanks to Colin for putting them up on YouTube!

Trotting over a log

Going up the bank

Going in the water

He did great!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Training session round 2

Yesterday we had our second training session with Ezra. We picked up where we left off but worked in a smaller fenced-off pasture area since the arena is just too big for round pen-type work. We worked on moving the feet: direction (to the left or right) and pace (walk, trot, or canter). We went through changes of direction and changes of pace for a bit (and when I say "we" I mean Ezra and Mac and I watched).

Once Mac relaxed and dropped his head and did some licking and chewing and softened his frame/eye/body, Ezra invited him in. There were lots of changes of direction because Mac would turn in but then wouldn't stop and that went on for a bit. Finally he did turn in and stop and so Ezra just let the pressure off and stood there quietly. He then approached Mac, said hello, and patted and rubbed him all over. He moved around in a circle and Mac kept following him, which was good. Then when Mac lost his focus and/or decided something else was more interesting, Ezra had him move his feet again until he decided he wanted to stop and participate in the experience. (Of course there are a lot of subtleties that I can envision in my mind, I just can't really put them into words!)

Mac came back and they worked on the line a bit, moving the shoulder, moving the hip, sending out from the shoulder (like longing), staying out in a circle on the line, etc. Once that seemed to be going well we left the pasture area and went on to work on trailer loading.

At the trailer it was just more of the same but in a different environment. First we started with the divider moved to the side (this is the straight load trailer I'm talking about) so there was a bigger space for Mac to go in to. Again, the premise was get the feet moving and the "pressure" is released as a reward when Mac does what we want. So if he stepped on the ramp, the pressure was released. He was allowed to back off the ramp, but then he had to go back to work and step on again...but this time he had to make a bigger effort to get more feet on the ramp or in the trailer. It didn't take too long for him to get on and stand quietly, so we then moved on to putting the divider in the middle position so Mac had to go into a smaller space. Again, more of the same. He had a couple really good tries, then a couple "temper tantrums" (which aren't really tantrums...more like confusion or frustration coming out in pawing behavior) and then back to good tries and finally relaxation. He got in and stood there for a bit and we decided that was enough for the day. We worked on it for about 30 minutes or so. I should mention, for those who don't know about trailer loading, that the point of this is to teach him to get on the trailer by himself, or "self load." I can get him on by walking him on but we're just kind of faking it that way and at this point I can't do it by myself. He needs to learn to go on when I point him at the trailer. Of course this is important for going to lessons and trail rides, but it is also important in case of emergency if I need to get him to the vet or (knock wood that this never happens) evacuate the property.

So all in all it was a good lesson and I'm looking forward to next week when we'll probably do more trailer loading and maybe some desensitization stuff!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mac's First XC Schooling!

I asked Colin if I could officially call it an XC schooling, since we didn't actually "jump" but we did a lot of the types of obstacles one would find on an XC course: up bank, water, log, ditch.

Colin's eventing trainer hosted an XC clinic this weekend and I thought it would be fun to bring Mac along for his first outing. It was at Eventful Acres, a place not too far from us, and one of my favorite places to be in the whole world. The clinic was scheduled for two days - Saturday Colin rode with Jackie and Sunday he rode with her friend (and fellow eventing trainer) Val. We did this same clinic last year and had a lot of fun. Last year we even did karaoke, which I swore I would never in my lifetime be caught doing but enough booze will make one do stupid things, and won the karaoke contest! This year I did not ride with the trainers in the class but brought Mac along to expose him to new things.

We got there on Sunday morning to set up camp and get ready for the ride at 1:30. On Saturday I did ride with Colin's class, but I just stood on the sidelines watching and walking around and letting Mac see all there was to see. He was a good boy. We only walked but we did walk through the creek and over some small poles on the ground.

Saturday the Tomato was a bit spicy so Colin made a plan for a longer warm-up on Sunday afternoon before his ride. I planned on riding Mac by himself on Sunday so he would know that he sometimes has to leave his friends and work and they'll be there when he gets back (and vice versa - when his friends leave him to work, they'll come back when they're done).

Before we left for the camp, I mentioned to Colin that wouldn't it be great if an adapter existed that you could plug into your cigarette lighter and have an electrical outlet for making coffee. I can do without a lot of accoutrement, like a flushing toilet, shower, hair dryer, my own bed, but I've done without coffee on our little horse camping trips long enough. Colin said that something like that does exist and it is called an inverter so on Sunday morning, he got us all set up to make coffee!

I don't know what he did but he opened the hood and hooked this thing up so that we could have our morning cuppa joe. Notice the coffee pot set up and can tell by the red light on the coffee maker! Ok, maybe the photo is too small to see the red light, but it is there. Further evidence is that we had awesome coffee in the morning - I don't think coffee has ever tasted so good! We sat and watched people warm up for their lessons while drinking coffee and enjoying the morning. There's no where else I would have rather been!
I decided I would ride at 9 a.m. before it got too hot. I groomed and tacked up Mac and off we went into the wild blue yonder. Ok, it was more of a densley-treed area with grass on the ground and jumps all around, but you get the picture.

Mac was good walking away from camp but he did start calling to Tomato a bit once we got past the point where he could see him or feel comfortable knowing that he was around. That's ok, we had plenty of work to do and I hoped that work would occupy his mind more than the location of his friend.

We started with a short walk through the woods to scope out where all the riding groups were. At that time the water was not being used so that's where we went. Mac wasn't too sure that the water was a good place to go - the water was murky and he couldn't see the bottom.

After a bit of coaxing, though, he went in and had a big splash!

We then moved on to the up bank and first went up and down the sloped side of it and followed that with actually going UP the banked part of it.

We went toward the creek to cross it and I think Mac realized we were leaving (although we were already far from) his friends. He turned and ran the other way! Naughty pony. So we had to school up and down some "pimple" bumps in the arena and then we headed to the creek again.

The creek crossing can be scary for horses because they are going from a wide-open space that is bright and airy into a dark, shaded, steep downhill and uphill area. Mac hesitated a bit but then went down and up with no problems - he was great! As we got on the other side of the creek into the front pasture area there were people schooling in that immediate area so we moved over to another spot where we did some circles at the trot.

We did trot circles then walked over a log then trotted more circles in the other direction and walked over the log again. Then we trotted over the log! Doesn't sound very exciting, but it was fun! He didn't jump the log, he just trotted over it. Colin got some video so when he has a chance to put it up I'll add it in here.

We then went to the up bank in that area - this up bank was a little bigger than the first one and he did really well. Colin got video on that, too. He also got video of us going in that water.

At that point I had been on for almost an hour and he had done a LOT of stuff, so we called it a day. He walked back through the creek easily and without hesitation. He was a VERY GOOD BOY!

I untacked him and cleaned him up and sat in the lounge chair for a break of my own.

I also have to put up some pictures of Colin and the Tomato. Tomato is jumping really well and they worked out a speed issue over the weekend.

Colin has been working hard on his release and he's looking really good!

Tomato is very difficult to ride and Colin does a really good job with him. Tomato is very fun to jump and will always jump, but it is riding between the jumps and keeping him in the right pace that is difficult.

I'm mad at myself for not checking my camera settings because a lot of my photos didn't have the right aperture or shutter speed. And I'm especially mad because if I had gotten it right on this picture, it would be the best one of all!

All in all we had a great weekend. Pico came with us and was a real trooper, although I think it was very tiring for him. The ponies were really good, we got some fun social time with our riding friends, and we didn't have to do all our at-home farm chores...although they are always waiting for us when we get home!

Friday, June 4, 2010


Finally the vet and I synched up and she came out yesterday to do Mac's teeth. She said he had the biggest canine teeth she'd ever seen! She didn't see any wolf teeth. It is likely they were taken out when he was gelded. That, or he never got any.

Mac was a Very. Good. Boy. for the vet. He was quite drunk with his sedation and was quiet and easy to work with (despite getting drugs, some horses are still difficult). I got quite the compliment afterward; she said, "Congratulations on such a nice horse. I really like him." That made me quite happy, as I quite like him, too!

Today was test drive day for trailering Mac and Tomato together. I put Tomato's shipping boots on because Mac kicked the last time he was in the trailer and I wanted to give Tomato a little protection in case anything happened.

Of course Tomato walked right on like the champ he is. Mac is used to walking on by himself and on the side where Tomato was, so he was a bit confused by his now smaller area to load into. It took a few tries and a bit of "work outside, rest inside" but it didn't take any longer than 5 minutes and he was on. He didn't panic or get nervous when the butt bar went up, either, which is good news. I tied his head up, closed the doors, and off we went to the gas station (might as well multi-task!). Both Tomato and Mac were very good. There was no kicking or screaming in the trailer. They were quiet and trailered quite nicely the entire time. I'm looking forward to going on an adventure with Colin and Tomato, and Mac!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Brain overload

Well the trainer came out yesterday to work with Mac. I even brought my camera to the trailer to remember to bring it to the arena with us but I of course didn't so I don't have any photos to share.

Trainer had the observation that Mac kind of knows how to get along but he isn't really "trained" (which I quickly figured out after I brought him home) and if the shit hits the fan all bets may well be off because he won't know how to be tuned in to me or how to handle himself, for example.

Trainer worked on defining space and exercises to get Mac to know that the person is the leader and Mac is the follower. He who moves his feet is not the winner. The horse has to move his feet.

He worked on moving the shoulder, moving the haunches, coming forward, moving away, longing, working "off line" in the arena, etc. My brain is kind of in overload mode so it is hard to put into words but it was very interesting to watch.

It was nice to see Mac move at liberty and I still like the way he moves. Once he relaxed, his topline rounded and he could move more freely over his back and it was lovely to watch. Mac did become very attuned to what Trainer was working on and I was interested to watch the learning process.

Trainer is coming back next week for another session. In the meantime, I will be working with Mac more on loading in the trailer and going to new places. I am really glad that he's in our family - I think working with him will definitely expand my horizons of horsemanship and I'm excited to go through this process!