Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Today was simply blissful. Galahad--or was this the "good twin"?--came right over to me when I went to the fence, and followed me as best he could to the gate. A couple of higher-status horses came along, so Galahad had to hang back a little until I got there to shoo them away.

He was obviously glad to see me, which warmed my heart. I fed him some lunch, ate my own, then put Midnight's English saddle on him. While Galahad's "happy trot" is lovely and smooth, his "not happy" trot will shake your teeth loose. Lately, he's been "not happy" every time I've ridden him in the arena. Posting is much easier!

Today, though, he was good as gold, after a couple of minutes of fussing at the mounting block. After that, he relaxed and trotted willingly around the arena. Posting is a breeze when he's relaxed. It just felt so good, so quiet, so natural and free. I think he actually enjoyed it, too.

After twenty minutes or so of arena work, including lots of reining and leg cue practice, I unsaddled him and brushed him. Just touching that beautiful animal is a blessing. Grooming him while he shifts his weight so I can reach the good spots, or watching him doze while I'm working on his back and shoulders, fills me with a quiet joy.

Because he'd been so good, I led him out to do some grazing. Some training involved there, too, though he doesn't realize it: I make sure I never let him push me out of the way. Horses play that game: they'll graze closer and closer, and finally (usually), their owner will step out of their way. That means the horse wins. Too bad for my boy, because I know that game and don't budge. So he goes the other way. He doesn't take it personally.

Does it sometimes sound like I'm boasting about how much control I have? It sounds that way to me. Like many women, I'm a little bit uncomfortable with asserting my authority. But Galahad and the others have taught me that assertiveness is more about just standing one's ground than about pushing into someone else's space, physical or psychological. It's about setting boundaries and maintaining them, about asking for and expecting one's requests to be honored and respected. Horses are great at teaching life skills.

Galahad, never one to pass up an opportunity for play, investigated the downed honeysuckle branches along the lane. I thought he was going to eat one of them, but instead, he picked it up and shook it all around, over and over, obviously having a great time.

I can't wait for tomorrow, when I can spend more time with him. I am definitely in love.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A day for hanging out with the horses

This weekend we've got six horses to look after: our two, two for a friend who's recovering from minor surgery, and two for folks who are either out of town or can't make it to the barn for a couple of days.

All these horses get their basic needs met without our intervention, mind you. They get grain twice a day and hay once a day. During the week they're turned out into the dry lot pasture and their stalls get mucked out. But on weekends they're stuck in their stalls all day, and it's not much fun for them, so most of us try hard to get out to the barn and get them out on Saturdays and Sundays.

I scarcely made it out of the arena barn. Spent a lot of time with "Raja", an elderly Egyptian Arabian who holds a special place in my heart because he taught me how soft horse muzzles are, and how gentle horse kisses can be. Raja's teeth are very, very worn, and he's been having a hard time eating the hard grain that the horses are fed at the barn. Over the winter he lost a tremendous amount of weight, and this spring he's alarmingly thin.

I think Raja is also a little depressed, because even when his owner switched his feed to the softer senior-type grain, he often simply refused to eat. He's had his teeth floated and the vet has looked him over without finding any illness or metabolic issues. He stands out in the pasture alone, head down, and refuses grooming or attention by the other horses. It worries me.

So when his owner said she was going to be out of pocket for a couple of weeks, I jumped at the chance to spend some time with him and see if I could get some weight back on him. We discovered that there is a different brand of senior feed (Nutrena, the one we feed Midnight) that Raja will eat if it's moistened. Sometimes he'll eat it on his own, but more often, he requires a little encouragement. Yesterday, by hand-feeding him, I got about 4 quarts of it down him. That' probably more than he's eaten in one day for months. We were very pleased.

Raja also will eat grass--in fact, he eats it greedily, so we spend at least a few minutes a day out on the lane. Can't let him have too much at a time. Horses have such weird digestive systems! This time of the spring, when everything is lush and growing and they're SO hungry for greens, they can easily make themselves sick in a matter of hours.

After a couple of hours with him, I put Raja back in his stall to nap and went down to get Galahad. I was going to ride him back to the arena barn like I always do, but as I led him out, the sky darkened and it started to thunder. Fortunately, I decided to lead him instead.

We had no sooner gotten to the arena barn than the tornado alert sirens went off and it started to hail. The arena barn has a high, huge tin roof, and Galahad was sure that someone was throwing rocks at him and he was going to be killed in the next instant. Being a horse, his instinct was to jerk away from me and bolt. I managed to keep hold of the rope and move with him for a minute or so, but eventually it was let go or be dragged. I thought he would run back toward his stall, but for some reason he wanted to go into the arena, and one of the lesson instructors standing at the gate caught the rope.

I wonder if he wanted to be with the other horses in the arena--there was a lesson going on. The lesson horses, having lived through thunder, lightning, and the crash and din of hail and driving rain on that tin barn roof for years, just stood calmly while their young riders dismounted. I let Galahad watch them, and eventually he did calm down and stand almost as quietly.

This went on for a good 45 minutes. The hail didn't last long, but the rain was torrential. After ten or fifteen minutes, the instructors continued the lesson, and about the time it finished, the rain quit and the sun came out. An exciting afternoon, but not one I'd really care to repeat.

The rest of the afternoon was much quieter. I hand-fed Raja, got food ready for the other five, cleaned and bandaged gouged fetlocks on two of them, and put all the tack and equipment away.

Riding wasn't even on the radar, but it was a wonderful day. Just hanging around horses is so satisfying. I'm counting my blessings.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Yesterday evening a friend of mine took Sahara, a huge and beautiful warmblood, out to graze along the lane, and I rode Galahad, bareback and with the rope halter, out with them.

Gahahad got spooked by someone’s loose brindle pit bull in the parking lot at the farm. I made sure he was under control, standing and at least somewhat relaxed, then hopped off to let him graze. A lovely, peaceful evening.

As it started to get late, I asked him to sidle up to the bench so that I could get back on. It wasn’t easy—he’s still not happy about it, and he was still keeping one eye out for that dog. (A horse owner should know better than to let his dog run loose, wouldn’t you think? But apparently not.)

But once I was on his back, Sir Galahad decided that he wasn’t done grazing, thank you very much, and started to toss his head and dance when I suggested it was time to head back for the barn. Thank goodness his bad-boy behavior didn’t escalate into bucking, or I’d have come right off, I suspect. But he didn’t. And dancing, I can handle.

I would gladly have let him graze more if he had settled down nicely, but he refused. Every time I tried to head him back up onto the lane and turn him, he’d throw his head and try to pull back to the grass. I’ve developed some pretty good biceps over the last six months, and we’ve trained him with the “one-rein stop” method, so once I get his head cranked around to my boot, he will, eventually, stop and stand.

He’s pretty funny when he’s in that nose-to-boot stance, because it’s so obvious that he’s not happy about it. His eyes are wild, his lips moving, no doubt muttering every curse-word known to horses. He pulls against the halter for a while, then finally quits and holds his head there, cussing me, as I release the pressure.

We went through this several times before I realized that he wasn’t going to behave well enough to be rewarded with any more grass, and that we were going to have to head back to the barn. That was a battle all the way. Three or four slow steps forward, and then he’d throw another fit. I’d get him stopped facing the barn, finally, and we’d stand. Then three or four more steps, and another fit.

There was also that darned dog. Its owner had packed it into his truck and left, pulling the horse trailer, some time back, but Galahad wasn’t sure at all. In between tantrums he kept a close eye out for the “wolf.” So here I was, bareback (and naturally, without my helmet—we were just going to graze!) and barely in control of this spinning dervish of a 4-year old who was also jumping at every shadow and just waiting for something to leap out of the bushes at him.

After what seemed like an age, we made it back to the barn, where I could get off. Galahad finally settled down and was sweet as he could be. That darned horse.

Training and Re-Training

A good day with Galahad. Since he’s been seeing the chiropractor, he’s been feeling so much better that I swear he acts like a different horse.

Not that he’s been bucking, just that he’s been stubborn, acting like he’s never heard of such a thing as stepping over to a wall or a bench so that someone can get on him. And what’s this about standing still at a mounting block? Or flexing his neck when asked? He apparently never heard of those, either.

So we worked, last night and today, for what seemed like hours on those very basic skills. Oddly, even though you’d think I’d be frustrated and annoyed by his bad-boy attitude, I wasn’t. Instead, I found it oddly satisfying to work him back through those basics, slowly, one step at a time.

He’s teaching me patience, among other things.

I came back out from the lunchroom this noon and looked at him—he is so beautiful I almost can’t believe it. How lucky I am!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Rodeo Rider

I had an unexpected audition for the rodeo this afternoon. Don't think that'll be my next career, folks.

This photo is the only one I have of Galahad doing anything resembling a buck. It happens rarely enough that I've never caught him at it with my camera. Now, I'm going to make a point of it!

It was a hot, windy spring day today, and Galahad, after his visit with the chiropractor last week, is still not allowed out in the pasture with his buddies. I expected a bumpy ride when I took him out, but nothing quite like what I got.

He fussed all the way out, wanting to eat grass and run. I really do wish we could let the horses run wild around the big, grassy fields in the conservation area near the barn, but that's not allowed. So I asked him to behave himself. And since we're only supposed to ride him "gently" this week, I asked him to walk. Hmmm....

We went along the path that leads through the woods, where we encountered several deer. Oh boy--let's chase them! Um, no. My bitless bridle gives me just enough leverage to crank his head around so that he'll stop. Once he quit prancing, we walked on.

Then, near an open stretch, he reared. Well, that was fun, sort of. It's actually not difficult to sit on a rearing horse. You just kind of lean forward to keep yourself vertical, and the back of the saddle helps you stay on. Once he came down onto all fours again, I cranked his head around the other way until he stood relatively still. Then we walked on.

We did a lot of circles on the way back across the flats toward the barn, and all seemed to be well until we hit the last stretch of open grass. I guess he just couldn't stand it any more--the smell of all that greenery, the wind, the fresh air.

I actually didn't know that Galahad would or could buck with someone on his back, but yes indeed, he can. I'm not talking crow-hopping, folks. I'm talking all four feet in the air, land on the front feet, and kick up the heels kind of bucking. The kind you see in rodeos, only (thank goodness) nowhere near as vicious.

Three cycles; if he had gone for four, my butt would have been in the dirt. As it was, I lost both stirrups and was hanging on more like a tick than an equestrian. But I did stay on, and when he came down that third time and stopped, I got his head around to the side one more time. We stood there, both of us breathing hard, for a little while.

I made him walk a little farther, then stopped and got off to check the saddle, in case there was something wrong in that department that was bugging him. Nope. So we walked for a while, then I got back on. Thankfully, I've learned how to get on this tall horse from the ground, without needing a bench.

He behaved pretty well after that incident. I got him back to the barn, got the saddle off, and then started to shake and feel sick to my stomach. But hey--he didn't win this round, either!

Once I got him cooled down, I tied up his halter and rode him, bareback, back to his stall for his dinner.

I am amazed at myself. Only a few months ago, this incident would have terrified me, even if I had managed not to get thrown. Now, looking back, I wonder where my calmness came from this afternoon: I never raised my voice, used only enough pressure to get him stopped, and for the most part "sat happy," as my friend and trainer Scott likes to say. Wow. Wow....

I'm just a little sore.