Friday, July 27, 2012

Rethinking career dreams

I was at a party this evening for one of my daughter's friends and it was one of those rare parties where it was not the usual suspects when it comes to parents.  This girl is a friend from the schoolyear before last and wasn't in my daughter's class last year so the kids she invited were not my daughter's core group of friends (thus my core group of friend's parents that I'm used to).  I was a little worried about the social aspect of it for myself because I'm not feeling my usual extroverted self today (hormonally challenged, achy and having a flare-up, got a lot on my mind ...) but it turned out ok.

One of the dads was there with his golden retriever who I noticed right away was very well trained.  I overheard him say that his dog is "on vacation" and I asked him what his dog is trained to do and he said he's a search & rescue dog.  My mom trains her dogs to be therapy dogs so that has gotten me interested in "working dogs" so I picked his brain for awhile about that.  It turns out he used to be a professional dog trainer before he quit to be a house-husband so his wife could work full-time and someone would still be home with the kids.  On a segue, my daughter said yesterday she wanted me to go back to work full-time so we could afford for her to go to camp every week in summer, but I had to explain to her that unless I was working for Trainer K. or an equally talented (and humane) horse trainer I would be miserable working full-time.   So that discussion did not go very far.  I'm glad to know that my decision to give up working to be available to my daughter as a parent is going completely unappreciated by her.  Sigh.

Anyhoo ... I was telling the dog-trainer-dad about how I had wanted to be a horse trainer for awhile, but that after a few years of being with horses it seemed too daunting because there is so much I need to learn about horses that I don't think I would know enough to be a trainer before I was in my 60's.  But I know dogs quite well, having grown up with them, taking obedience classes with them throughout my life starting in third grade and reading as much as I can about them.  My neighbors refer to me as the neighborhood dog whisperer. And it's true, I am very good with dogs.   So, I thought maybe instead I should be a dog trainer.

One of the first things I asked him was if he does clicker training because for some reason I don't like that - but it is extremely popular around here.  If you look up websites for dog training in the Greater Seattle area, the majority of them are going to talk about clicker training.  I was happily surprised to hear that he doesn't do that and doesn't really like that method either.  But then I also liked how he said that you can't just know one method of training and think it will work for every dog - you need to know a lot of methods and tailor it to each individual dog or as he put it "You can't just take a sledgehammer as your only tool and think you'll get the job done."  Exactly the same thing Trainer K. says about training horses.

But the more we talked the more it became clear that like how the toughest part of being a teacher is your student's parents, the toughest part of training dogs is the owners.  He said that dog training is 80% owner and 20% dog training.  He can't train a dog perfectly then send it back to the owners without any instruction for them and expect the dog to behave.  And I've seen that with horses too - especially with Toad.  Even when she's being very good with me - and Trainer K. and Kelsey who have also worked with her - if someone new comes along she will often regress back into her spoiled, pushy behavior from when the teenager had her because it was second nature so long to act like that and she's waiting to see what the boundaries are (or if they'll be boundaries) with the new person.

Speaking of not being able to train animals to be one way all the time with every person, I brought Rex in again from the paddock and I'm happy to say he did great today.  I told his owner yesterday I'd bring him in for her and she warned me that he would test me and not want to come in.  For one, he's a 7 year old stallion so he can be bull-headed and think he runs the show, and two, it was sunny and hot out yesterday and he loves the sun.  But when I went to bring him in and he got to the gate and said, "Nope! You can put my halter and lead rope on but we're not leaving the paddock!" and shoved his little feet into the ground and became "the immovable force which is Rex" I turned around and said, "Oh, we'll have none of that!" and gave him a little swat on the butt with the end of the lead rope and he hopped a little, looked surprised then grumbled and followed me like a polite (but slightly slow and reluctant) little guy.  I asked his owner today if that was ok because I didn't know if she was one of those "always be super gentle with my babies and never say no" types (I didn't think so but you never know!)  She said, "No - I can't train him to behave for you.  Only you can do that. If I'm not here and you're leading him I expect you to figure out how to handle it."  So that was good.  And then to my surprise when I went out to lead him in today he just walked right out with me!  It did not even occur to him to pause at the gate.  He is such a good little guy! 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

just a coupla hot nails

Toad got her feet done today and then we were going to work her over trot poles and maybe even lunge her over a tiny jump to see what she thought but it didn't end up happening.  I am actually really curious to see what she thinks the second time about lunging over a small jump because the first time she hopped over it quite gracefully, then stopped suddenly and struck out full force with both her back legs and sent it flying.  Then she wouldn't go near it again.

She was pretty good for her shoeing although she got angry at one point with one of her front feet, but then she calmed down.  Unfortunately, it turned out she got angry because she had two hot nails.  "Hot nails" are when the nails are too high up in the hoof and hurt the horse.  It's pretty easy to accidentally get a hot nail on a thoroughbred because they are so sensitive and I think my farrier told me they have less area to put nails in than other breeds.  I need to look that up - I can't remember if he told me that or not.  Anyway, she had quite a limp so we didn't get to do any work.  Trainer K. got the farrier's voice mail so she said she'd pull them out herself and then we'd just have her wait in her stall till he could come back and put in lower ones.

I was very proud of Toad because she stood like a champ for the first one, and it was difficult to get out.  It was in there so tight Trainer K had to get one of the other boarders to hold Toad's foot for her so she could pull on the nail with both hands.  My job was to keep Toad focused on me and distracted enough that she wouldn't yank her leg away and stomp down with the nail half out because that would drive it back in and possibly hurt her more.  She did very well and they got the first nail out.  Then I walked her up and down the aisle and she was still limping so Trainer K. took the second nail out.  This one hurt more as she was  pulling it out - it wiggles around in there like when you're trying to get out a giant splinter.  She threw her head a few times but as long as I kept making her look at me and keep focused on me she managed to get through it.  I was very proud of her!  I remember the story about how no one could get near her feet when she had mud fever so no one could scrub them or do anything help with it and she just had to suffer - but it was too dangerous to even try because she'd go crazy if someone went near her sore feet.  So, I was very proud that she didn't try to kill any of us and actually did really well for having a sore spot on her foot messed with.  I think she knew that we were trying to help her and she finally has people she knows she can trust.

When Trainer K. got that second nail out, Toadie let out the biggest sigh, her whole body relaxed and her head just dropped down to the ground in relief.  The farrier was able to come by a couple hours later and get some new nails in so we will resume work tomorrow instead.

My daughter got in a bit of trouble when we got home today so she was on restriction all day - no friends over and no tv or video games.  So, we did some chores together and went out and ran errands together and lied on my bed for quite awhile and just talked.  For awhile she sprawled on the couch and read while I did some work - in all it was one of the best days we've had together recently.  She even said right before going in to take a shower "Being on restriction is actually pretty fun."  I especially liked not having the tv blaring while I was making dinner with all those annoying commercials and the canned laughter and the endless fight over not watching repeats of shows she's seen a bunch of times.  I'm seriously thinking of ditching cable.  After the Olympics though because I want to watch the equestrian events.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I have a crush on a shorter man

My friend, Star has a little mini named Rex that she's going to put up for sale.  When I say "Mini" I don't mean pony, I mean Mini-Horse.  Mini-Horses are shorter than ponies and if I remember correctly, Rex is less than three feet because anyone over three feet is considered a "pony" by the whole registration thing.  In other words, anyone over  8hh's.  So, Rex is probably about 8hh's or less.  Not sure.  He's awfully cute though.  He was a rescue so he's a little tentative about new stuff, but he's extremely sweet.  There is no way I could afford to have enough horse - even a horse that tiny - but I have a little dream that if I could just find some therapists who want to do equine-assisted therapy I could be their wrangler and Rex could be their horse.  He's so sweet and sensitive I know he'd be great at that.  If only I had a ton of money.  I guess that is the lament of most humans though.

Toadie did really well in her work yesterday and today.  Yesterday we just did work on the lunge line and I clipped her mane and brushed her tail out really well and just all around did a big beauty treatment on her.  Today she worked over trot poles and stood quietly in the arena while it was crowded and busy.  She's been doing extremely well.

Ok, except for yesterday when she tried to bite me twice.  Both times were right in a row when I was tightening the girth on her sircingle.  The first time I slapped her and the second time I slapped her and she looked at me like she wanted to challenge and fight me.  I remembered what Trainer K. had learned at a clinic earlier in the ear - that we use our shoulders to communicate with the horse what they communicate with their ears.  So I looked her straight in the eye and threw my shoulders forward and then slowly pulled them back (which is actually a very subtle movement because shoulders don't move very far just by themselves if your arms are still) and boy did that snap her to attention! She quickly turned her head away from me, dropped her neck and started licking in that submissive way that horses do.  I was very pleasantly surprised!

She didn't try to bite me at all when I was putting on the surcingle today but when I was done and started to turn to get something out of the tack box she turned and nipped at me.  Kind of a "I'll tell her to fuck off when she's not looking!" sort of thing.  But I saw it out of my periphery vision and I did the shoulder movement just like yesterday along with looking her straight in the eye and I got the same reaction! I could swear there was even a word bubble over her head that said, "Sorry Mama! I didn't think you saw that! Oh crap. Now I'm in trouble." Wow.  That was it for the rest of the day for giving me any problems.  Even when I had to tighten the sircingle girth in the arena before lunging she started to turn her head like she wanted to bite at me, and I saw her out of the corner of my eye and she stopped and sighed.

I'm still trying to figure out how to communicate well with horses and it feels like I'm learning new stuff everyday.   A lot of it is almost impossible for me to explain because I don't fully understand it.  I don't understand the shoulder thing - is it intention or is it really that they see our shoulders the way they see another horse's ears?  What are they seeing and what is it really saying to them?  I am starting to understand Toadie's message pretty well though.  Her big way of communicating with me is the way she looks at stuff.  There is the "I'm looking because I'm ADD" looking, then there's "I swear I heard a monster!" looking, and then there's "By looking at this I'm telling you I want you to do something about what I'm looking at."  I'm slowly starting to tell the difference with her on which "looking" is which.

Understanding other horses is still a huge challenge.  Well, I understand some like Rex instantly - usually the sweet, sensitive ones that have had a hard life.  I don't understand Trainer J.'s horses.  And today I was bringing Toad out of the arena and I saw two of her horses in the front pasture and one was galloping in circles with her halter and lead rope still on.   I saw her stable hand coming out of the pasture and locking the fence so I wasn't sure if she was going to get help or just giving up on catching the horse.  So,  I called over to her and asked her if she needed help and she said she couldn't catch the horse with the lead rope still on.  I pointed out that was a horrible accident waiting to happen having a horse running like that with a loose lead rope.  She said she couldn't catch her and there was nothing she could do so I told her if she'd hold my horse I'd go try to catch her.  I'm sure Trainer K. would've had a fit about me walking in there with those two horses I don't know that are referred to as "the two crazy mares".  But I figured I would take it slow and leave quickly if it looked too dangerous.  Plus, no one with more experience than me was available and I really didn't want something awful happening to that horse.

First thing I did was pick up the other horse's halter and lead rope - my thinking being that I was giving them the impression that I was coming in with the intent to catch them.  Then I walked to the middle of the pasture and said calmly, "You're being bad, aren't you?" while they ran around me, chasing each other and bucking and kicking.  I just stood there and watched and they watched me the whole time they were running around.  I watched the horse with the lead rope the whole time - not because I was trying to "say anything" by that but because I wanted to keep an eye on her in case she really got tangled and fell down or freaked out (I wanted to get out of the way if that happened!).  It only took maybe a minute before they stopped what they were doing and just stood and stared back at me.  So I held my hand up in front of me and started to walk toward the horse with the lead rope and said, "Whooooa, let me help you,  Whoooooa ..." in a quiet voice.  And she just stood there. They both just stood there.  So, I walked up and took the halter and lead rope off and they *still* just stood there.  So I gave the horse I'd taken the halter off a couple of pats and nuzzles and said, "Ok, go play," and they still stood there quietly until I left the pasture -  then they started romping again.  So, I'm not sure what the stable hand was doing to get them so riled up.  They actually seemed pretty well mannered if you just asked them to be.

She said thank you and I wanted to tell her not to do whatever it was she'd been doing that got the horse so riled up it ran away from her and then she couldn't catch it, but I have no idea what it was she did.  Maybe all that was necessary was that a different person go out and try because the situation had gotten too much into a cycle of chasing.  I don't know.  I would *like* to know what happened there but I don't.  I still have a ton to learn.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The strange things I'm proud of.

The first thing I was proud of today was how well Toad and I did in our ride/lesson today.  I was pretty worried about our ride because after Sunny took down the gate at the end of the arena all that is there now is a board at about my chest level.  Which leaves lots of room for the barn dogs to come tearing into the arena when they're playing (which luckily they did not do today).  Plus, Toad had not seen the change in gate-idge so I was worried about her being spooky.  All in all I was being a Thoroughbred myself.

Trainer K. did her usual training routine (which lately has been focused a lot on Toad softening her jaw which she is resisting) then it was my turn to ride.  I heard Trainer K. say to Toad as she was dismounting, "Ok, now it's your mom's turn to ride," and my stomach just got all tied up in knots.  I don't know why because our last ride a few days ago was fine.  I think it's just my weird head after not riding her for 5 weeks after falling off.  So, I put in the trusting security-blanket eventing vest just in case she spooked and I fell off again and hopped on up.  As soon as I was up on her my first thought was, "I'm freaking out. How do I get out of this without admitting I've psyched myself up and I'm freaking out?"  But as soon as I thought that I realized that if I got off her before my lesson was over then it would be a hundred times harder to get back on her. 

So, I decided to focus on the stuff I learned last week in Beth Glosten's clinic and Trainer K. told me about "bracing my shoulder blades down" (I think that's how she phrased it - I can do the movement I just can't remember the exact phrasing).  Anyway, I did that and was very cognisant of being centered in the saddle as opposed to my tendency to slide to the right and Toad responded very well.  Oh yeah, and the other thing was to keep a forward center of gravity instead of my tendency (based solely on fear) to lean back whenever she starts moving.  She responded really well to these small changes and was very good!  We actually started out with a nice energetic walk as opposed to her usual plodding and oozing into a stop and then just standing there stubbornly.  It took me a couple tries to get her trotting more than a few steps and she wasn't completely responding to my leg so I had to employ the dressage whip a couple times with some little added taps, but then she responded really well.

We got a really nice trot going and I felt really in-tune with her and like we were doing a perfect dance where we were both completely in-step!  Then our farrier - who had just finished up with another client at the barn - popped his head over one of the arena gates to see how we were doing.  I was sure Toad was going to freak over having someone pop up there but she barely broke a stride.  She shied a little away from the gate as we passed it the first time but it was very subtle and it didn't happen when we passed it again, nor did it happen from the other direction.

From what I understand our farrier worked on her once when the teenager before me had her and back then the teenager couldn't control her at all so Trainer K. had to hold her for the vet and farrier.  But even with Trainer K. holding her (and keep in mind that was all Trainer K. was allowed to do - even though she offered to help the teenager, she (the teenager) fancied herself a savant who needed no education to handle her horses ... and she doesn't - she is the expert at screwing up horses and making them supremely dangerous).  Anyway, from what I understand the farrier worked on her once or maybe twice when the teenager had her and was none too happy about what a dangerous horse she was.  He's praised Trainer K. and me plenty since I've had her because she's been very good for him whenever he does her feet.  And I always hold her because I don't want to be reliant on someone else to have to handle my horse - and I'm nowhere near as experienced as Trainer K. so he's commented on how impressed he is that she has calmed down so much.  So it felt really good when he stood there at the gate and said how great we both looked and how we looked like we were ready to be in an actual show.  It wasn't so much the words he said as the tone in his voice of amazement at the good horse that Toad is turning out to be!  When I finished my ride and hopped down Trainer K. was beaming and said, "That was fabulous ride!" and actually gave me a high-five! Eleven months of working with her and I actually did so well I got a high-five! Very cool!  Toad actually went on the bit and relaxed and stretched her neck down and was using her core and very rounded.  I think it's finally starting to click for both me and her and the result is just great!

Another thing I'm proud of is that my daughter got her ears pierced a few weeks ago and I have not even once had to wash them for her.  She has a chart she keeps in the bathroom and marks off every time she cleans them - which is ideally three times a day for six weeks.  She doesn't always make it three times a day anymore but she definitely does two. And I'm happy to say that about three weeks in and her ears are healing up very nicely.  I realized this evening that is all her doing since I have not once had to do it for her.

And I have the best pitbull in the world.  Once again, while waiting for my daughter's camp to end I took the pitbull to the off-leash area at Medina Park for a bit.  She was being a very good girl, although she was trying to steal some poor lab's tennis ball.  The lab's owner asked me what kind of dog she was and when I told her pitbull she asked if I ever ran into any problems with people pre-judging her.  I said I did and it was irritating but it was still worth it to have such a good dog.  And it was nice that Willow was showing her true, gentle colors.  The lab's owner said Willow had a "sweet baby face".  It's always nice to meet people who see Willow for who she is - not just their preconceived notion of a "monster" like they think pitbulls are.

My weird story of the day - which I had to text to my neighbor who can't stand this guy either - is this:  There is a very sketchy ice cream man who comes to our neighborhood frequently in summer and the kids are no longer allowed to buy ice cream from him because he drives a big van as opposed to an ice cream truck, and he told my neighbor once that he "sells a lot more than ice cream" and whipped out some ipods and cell phones that were dubious in their origin (ie: it's not like he had one of those "certified Apple retailers" signs going on).  So this afternoon I'm waiting to cross the street to go to the park and I see him driving down the street and think, "Good god! What is crack-dealer ice cream guy doing her?"  then he slows down and rolls down his window and I think "Good god, why does crack-dealer ice cream guy want to talk to me? Crap!"  He stops in front of me and asked, "Where is Bill Gate's house?" to which I guess I couldn't believe he really asked that so I said, "What?" and he asked again, "Where is Bill Gates house?" and I couldn't help it, I looked at him like he was insane (because at that moment I thought he was) and said, "I have no idea.  And if I did why would I tell you?" and he drove off.  Now the kids are REALLY not buying ice cream from him.  I couldn't help but wonder if he's just a weird stalker-type fan of Bill Gates or if he had some other sort of nefarious plot going on.  I'm awfully glad I'm not famous.  How horrible that would be.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Horse antics and gardening

It seems like gardening around our house is a never-ending project.  I'm just about finished with planting in the Secret Garden and am almost finished getting in the stone walkway and the little stepable plants in the walkway and the bench and the trellis and vines ... but I still have a long way to go on weeding and clearing out the community garden and getting the benches finished for that.   I have decided to wait to plant grass until October back there because we're getting into that 6-8 weeks where it doesn't rain a lot here.  Or at least so they say.  It rained yesterday and we had thunder and lighting yesterday and the day before. 

Now on top of the our next door neighbor has given her late husband's house back to the bank and although we fixed up her front yard while her husband was sick, I'm wondering if I should get into the back yard and weed that? Not only does it mean less seeds blowing into my back yard but it will make the house more marketable since it's bank owned and the bank won't do anything to make it look nice to sell.  And they may not even put it on the market any time soon.  And the last thing I want is for the house next door to us to sit empty for years until it eventually becomes "the haunted house" because it became empty after its owner died.  Of course, in my opinion anyone would be lucky to have him haunting their house because he was such a nice man.  But if I may descend into the woo-woo for a second I can guarantee he's not in that house anymore.  I went over there for awhile after he died and the wife was too distraught to be there so that I could feed their cat, and it felt very, very empty.  Yes, I know, I get all up in arms about science and sticking to stuff that science based and can be explained, but I've had too many strange experiences for me to leave the possibility open to just maybe there is something real about the whole ghost thing.   But he was a happy, nice man who I'm sure went off to do whatever it is people's spirits do when they die.  He was not the type to hang around his house and mope.

Meanwhile things have been exciting in the land of horses.  Yesterday a small group of us went to a clinic on rider pilates with Beth Glosten.   That was really beneficial for me and from what I could tell for everyone else too.  It was also fun sitting around with friends in the afternoon and watching the individual sessions on horseback and having it devolve into much silliness and giggling because we were all so hot and tired and punch drunk.

I got to ride Toad again on Friday for about fifteen minutes before I had to run off to take my daughter out to do kid things.  I'm still not riding her alone yet but that is ok with me because it means that she and I won't develop any bad habits together by leaving me alone with a green horse and not knowing how to deal with any of the many situations that could come up.  As long as I'm getting to ride her more often again I'm happy.  The more I ride her the more confident I am with her and the better our connection.  I did realize one day last week that I have gotten to the point with Toadie where I feel very relaxed with her.  I'm no longer on edge with her, wondering what she's going to do and if I'm going to be able to deal with it.

I realized this the other money as I was going out to get her from the pasture.  Trainer K.'s horse, Maddy was in the pasture we had to walk through in order to get out so she came out to hold him while I led Toad through.  When I went into Toad's pasture to get her she was standing off to the side eating her lunch (a flake of alfalfa hay).  I said, "Come on, Toad, let's go," and did my gesture that tells her I want her to come to me.  Trainer K. yelled, "You're going to have to go get her.  No horse is going to leave their food to come to anyone," (understandably - Trainer K. didn't want to waste time standing there holding her horse waiting for me to try and convince my horse to leave her lunch to come to me) but I said, "You'll see," and clucked and did the gesture again and Toad looked up and saw me and immediately stopped eating and walked over to me and dropped her head down so I could put her halter on!  I think it was at that moment that I realized I feel more bonded with her than worried about her.  And I was definitely worried about handling her when I first got her.

I've also been going in to pick her stall before I leave.  I'm getting so tired of having to clean her rain sheets and fly sheets so often that I thought I'd be pro-active and whenever I'm at the barn always pick out the wet stuff and poop that is there before I leave.  She is so polite about it and quietly moves to the other side of the stall from wherever I am to give me room.  Sometimes she comes over and stands next to me with her head down until I pet her and give her a snuggle, then she'll go and politely stand as far away from me as she can.  Yesterday when I went to see her after the clinic and I was petting her, she suddenly backed up, looked at me, looked back at all the poop and wet stuff at the back of the stall, looked at me again, then looked back at the mess again before turning back to me.  I find it amazing that there is even the possibility she was actually trying to tell me her stall needed to be picked out, but maybe - seeing as when she wants to go in after free-lunging she'll walk over and pick up her halter and if I don't act like I get the hint, she'll toss it at me.

The big scary drama on Friday was when Sonny got away from his owner during a panic attack while lunging in the arena.  He apparently freaked out and bolted which pulled the lunge line out of his owner's hands, which then resulted in the lunge line getting wrapped around his legs which made him panic more so he was trying to run but his feet were all tied up.  I was in the grooming room with Toad and heard the commotion and heard the owner scream which made me concerned she'd gotten hurt so I ran over to the arena door and yelled, "Are you ok?" As soon as I got there though I saw Sonny (who is a fairly small Arab) galloping straight for the gate that opens from the arena back into the barn.  He was not going to stop and went up like he was going to jump over the gate but he's so small (I'm sure he's not even 15hh) and the gate is at least 4.5 feet tall.  His front leg caught on the top of the fence which sent him straight down into the gate, which collapsed and he lost his balance and came down on top of it on his side, almost on his back.  This unfortunately made me scream, "Oh no!" despite myself and I hopped down off the gate and was rushing to open unlock it so I could get in to him and his owner.  But by the time I got my gate open Sonny had managed to get up again and run.  Trainer K. came running and I said, "Sonny broke through the gate and he's hurt!" and she went tearing off in the direction he'd gone.  I went back to stay with Toad just in case Sonny came barreling down the aisleway and I wanted to be able to re-direct him away from Toad who was in the cross ties so he wouldn't freak her out and have her panic while in the cross ties.

Luckily, Sonny came out fairly unscathed.  The same can't be said for the gates which were all bent up and lying on the ground in a heap.  The owner offered to rebuild them though.  As for Sonny he was scraped up, had a few scratches and cuts and was sore and bruised but didn't seem to have broken anything.  I was sure he would've broken some ribs or a hip.  I haven't talked to his owner since their vet came out to look at him but I would've heard if he'd been seriously hurt.  It was awfully scary though.  I'm glad I saw it though because it's good to see that then see that sometimes the horse can come out ok.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Thunder is the new fireworks

The weather forecast showed sun for the entire week and no chance of rain so I was being careless about leaving things outside.  Luckily, my husband brought the Andirondack bench into the garage that we need to prime and paint instead of leaving it on the back deck like I was going to (assuming it wasn't going to rain).  Apparently, at around 3am we had a huge thunder storm and it rained like crazy.  I am a little sorry to have missed it but I woke up at 2am and even though it was peaceful and quiet and I sleepily thought "I'm so tired - I don't want to wake up if the husband starts snoring so I'm going to pro-actively put in ear plugs."  Apparently, that was enough.  Somehow my daughter slept through it also.  But then I guess she's had practice sleeping through loud booms the last week with the 4th of July and all.

Despite the heat and sun Toadie was all wound up yesterday when I brought her in from the paddock.  I'm certain it was because by the time I got back to the stable to bring her in she was alone with Sonny - a newcomer and a very high-strung Arab - and they were both feeding off of each other's anxiety about being alone in the paddocks.  Then when I brought Toad out to bring her in poor Sonny had an enormous panic attack and started screaming and running around like a mad man.  Since we had to walk alongside his paddock to get back to the barn this sent Toad into a frenzy because she was sure that monsters would get her.  She still does not have the trust/bond with me to focus on me to calm down as opposed to flipping out in her own head.  I don't know if she'll ever have that but after less than a year I guess I'm not surprised she hasn't developed it very much yet because she had five years before that to have a life with no sense of a herd leader to protect and guide her so under stress she goes to her default of "I'm all alone! No one will help me! Must panic!" when super-stressed out.  I'm hoping we can work together to develop that trust and bond over time, but we'll see.

It did not help that the paddocks are right by the owner's house and the wife of the couple opened the door to come outside and her dog ran out and started barking at Sonny because Sonny was screaming and racing around his paddock.  Then the owner started screaming at the dog, and also screamed a few "Oh no! Oh no! Something is wrong!" or something like that.  That was just too much for Toad and she decided it was time to bolt away and run like a crazy thing in no particular direction.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for her I still had the lead rope in my hand so she bolted, then had to swing around when she got to the end of the lead rope and gave me this look like, "Crap! Where did you come from???"  I told her to "Quit!" and "Calm down" in as quiet and firm a voice as I could, then tried to coerce her back behind me.  She thought I was trying to push her into danger so she danced around like a lunatic until I turned around so now she was behind me, and led her back towards where we came from and turned us around so now she was behind me again facing the barn.

I started to walk again but then; the dog barked again, the owner screamed something about everything being out of control again, Sonny wailed and started scooting and bucking and rearing behind us and Toad tried to bolt again.  Stopped by the lead rope once again.  Stood staring at me wild eyed like "You're one of them! Aaaaaagh!" so not knowing what else to do I figured I do the equivalent of slapping a hysterical person and smacked her with the end of the lead rope across the shoulder (not very hard but enough to get her attention) and said firmly, "Quit! You need to be polite. You're not in danger."  But instead of getting her attention back to focusing on me like I'd hoped, she completely freaked and reared straight up in the air so she was standing as tall as she could on her hind legs.  All the better to get a look at the hysterical carnage behind us.

The she landed and tried to bolt, I held onto the lead rope and told her to quit and calm down and she tripped over a stump next to the trail and that was the end of that - she just started running in circles around me while I held onto the lead rope.  After a couple laps she finally stopped and I went up to her and massaged her neck and talked quietly to her about how she was not in danger but that behavior was not acceptable and she needed to get it together.  We started again walking toward the barn and this time even though she was prancing and shaking she at least followed me without any more antics.  She was very relieved to get in her stall.  And after I brought Sonny in and went back to pick out Toad's stall she was nice and relaxed and very polite again.

I feel like I must have done something wrong that it escalated like that, but I can say the one thing I am proud of is that I didn't yell or scream and I actually stayed calm the whole time.  The owner's wife came down to the barn once Toadie was in her stall and was all shaken up and said, "Wasn't that terrifying?" and I said, "No, I'm used to her.  We have an agreement that she is not allowed to step on me or stampede over me." (which actually isn't totally true - when she's freaking out I don't think she's completely learned to be cognisant of where I am but we're working on it and I'm getting more practice watching her every second to stay out of her line of fire).  The owner's wife looked a little surprised I wasn't shaken up and said, "You're so good with her!"  I don't feel like that's true or she wouldn't have freaked out so badly to begin with.  But I was proud that I kept my cool and didn't blow up in anger or freak out from fear.

Anyway, then it was time to go get Sonny.  I had been told his owner was coming back soon, but he was still out in the paddock alone completely panicked and he's new to the barn - I think he's only been there a week - and he's been very anxious about the transition as it is.  So, I was worried if we waited until his owner got there to bring him in he'd hurt himself.  I'm pretty sure she would not appreciate us leaving her already anxious horse alone in the paddocks panicking, so I went out there to see how that would go.  The girl that was at the barn who'd talked to Sonny's owner just said, "If you bring him in Star said to make sure he walks slowly."  That's the other thing, he's recovering from founder so I thought all that tearing around wouldn't be good for him.

I was dubious after my bout with Toad that I could handle him while he was in a state of panic, but at least he's a hand or two smaller than Toad.  He was drenched in sweat from fear when I got back to the paddock and was shaking and running in circles.  So, I grabbed the lead rope, ducked under the electric fence and figured I'd just take it a step at a time since I didn't know him.  If he freaked out to the point where I felt in danger I'd just leave him there.  As soon as he saw me he did a fast frenzied trot straight toward me which was a little nerve-wracking. I held up my hand quietly said, "Whooooa" which always causes Toad to slow down and walk toward me instead when she comes barreling at me like that.  Didn't work with Sonny but thankfully he did skid to a stop right in front of me.  He was shaking all over and when I picked up the halter to put over his head he threw back his head and screamed which was so loud and high-pitched I wanted to cover my ears.  But I got the halter over his head and he did very well following me to the barn.  He was shaking and dancing a little but he didn't bolt or scoot or anything.  I have to admit as I was putting him in his stall I thought to myself, "I wonder if Star wants to trade horses?"

Monday, July 2, 2012

Five and a half weeks are over ...

I didn't realize until I looked at the calendar that it's been five and a half weeks since I've ridden Toadie! She's been getting worked by me and Trainer K. and Trainer K. has been riding her, but through many circumstances it hasn't worked out for me to ride her till now.  There are many factors - the biggest being that I am still only riding her in lessons with Trainer K. because we are both green and time wise that just hadn't worked the last few weeks.  Not to mention Toad went through a sore back phase and my Wintec saddle (which is cheap but fit us both so perfectly!) now no longer fits Toad because the Cair panels need to be smaller but you can't adjust Cair panels cause they suck. So we finally ended up using Trainer K.'s saddle which isn't the best but doesn't pinch like my saddle does now that Toadster has built up some shoulder muscles.  And a couple of times Trainer K. and I may have had time Trainer K. got done with her training ride on her and said she was too much of a yahoo and didn't think it would be a positive ride for us.

I have been riding though - I've been practicing on Misty and Tasha when I have time. So, it isn't like I've been out of the saddle this whole time.  But the last time I road Toad was the day I fell off so I was starting to get a little worried that I would not want to ride her again after that.  I did get on and ride her for about five minutes at a walk after I fell off but I only lasted five minutes before the shock and adrenaline started to wear off and I realized my back and neck hurt so much I just wanted to go sit down somewhere and rest.  So, really, today was the first time I've ridden her since my fall and I was way too aware of that when I got on her back.

Of course we were totally out of synch once again when we started off.  I felt funny and discombobulated in this new saddle with stirrups that felt too short and of course I was thinking that 16.1 hh's felt a lot taller than I remembered so I started out imaging how I was going to prepare myself to tuck and roll and all that when I fell off.  Plus, Toad had gotten used to just Trainer K. riding her without my tense butt and my not so sure hands that kept forgetting to let go of the left rein completely when using the right rein, etc. and I was probably an unpleasant wake-up call to Toad of all the other riders in the world.  Plus, Trainer K. didn't want me to carry my crop because the whole reason I came off Toad last time was that when she initially spooked I stayed on just fine, but my hand with the dressage whip went up in the air and that spooked her more and that's when she managed to finagle me off or her back. 

But we started out at a less than stellar pace and Toad didn't feel like listening to me to the point where she was stopping and when I'd use my legs she'd side step and throw her head.  So Trainer K. gave me her dressage whip and said, "Just use it!"  When she means "just use it" she doesn't mean start whipping her or anything (if I did that I'd be guaranteed to end up either in the rafters or on the neighbor's property) she just means to tap her with it where my leg is.  And that's all she needs to start listening.   My biggest challenge is when I change direction I'm not confident about switching the dressage whip over because you have to do it a certain way or Toad will freak and bolt.   Trainer K. I think was concerned about me not coming off again too and at one point was yelling directions and sounding more stressed than I'd ever heard her sound, but as soon as I got it together to follow said directions Toad and I actually got into a nice rhythm together and she really started listening to me!  This was at a posting trot and it's so magical when you can actually get into rhythm with a horse at posting trot - it's like dancing with a partner who you really connect with.  It was very exciting for me to have a successful ride with her again even if it was too short because I had to come home and be available to pick up my daughter.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

My face hurts.

I've been accident prone the last couple days and I'm starting to feel like a character from Fight Club.  A few days ago I turned around to see why the dog ran by me so fast only to be met by a tennis ball (thrown by my freakishly strong daughter) slamming right in the eye.  Then yesterday I was talking to my next door neighbor and was pulling the front door shut behind me and a breeze from the open windows blew the door shut faster and harder than I'd planned and it slammed my finger in the door.  Then last night I was at a party and took a frisbee right straight into my face on the bridge of my nose.  There were jokes last night about how I told my husband I was going to buy a third horse and he "set me straight".

None of my little accidents hurt as much as Sinatra breaking my toe though so they were non-events.  Well, slamming my finger in the door was close and when my neighbor asked me if I was ok I automatically said yes, then realized I was a little overwhelmed with pain and needed an ice pack and to sit down and added, "Well ... let me rethink that ..."  I'm not sure that's the best way to judge if I'm ok or not, but my first thought is "Does this hurt as bad as when Sinatra broke my toe? Not quite - ok good, nothing is broken then!"  I did have to stand for a minute or two last night waiting for my eyes to stop watering before I could throw the frisbee though.  The boy who threw it felt horrible even though I kept saying I was fine and I didn't even realize until I got home and looked in the mirror before bed that I had a nice lump and some broken skin.  Ooops.  I feel so punk rock.  Sigh.  But my face has been sore all day and that has been making me a little sad.

During my daughter's riding lesson today I finally had a chance to let Toadie out into a paddock with Misty.  She has never been turned out with another horse since I've had her and I'm pretty sure she didn't with the (stupid) teenager.  And I don't think she was during her race track days because I hear that is not common for race horses.   But she's always wanting to be physically close to other horses and Misty is really submissive with other horses so we decided to try it out with the two of them.  Trainer K. took Misty out and I took Toad and we both took off their halters at the same time because as Trainer K. said "letting horses out together is sometimes exciting".  But after a couple years of letting Ziggy and Girlfriend out and literally standing with them on either side, pulling their halters off at exactly the same time and then jogging backward while they bucked and twirled and galloped off, this was really a non-event. 

Toad and Misty both just walked to separate sides of the paddock and rolled.  Only Toad being the inattentive dork she sometimes is apparently didn't realize Misty was in her paddock because she got up from rolling, started to wander over to look at the mini's in the paddock next door, then happened to look over her shoulder and see Misty still rolling and Toad jumped straight up in the air in shock.  Then she scooted over to Misty and leaned over to sniff at her, which made Misty stop rolling and just lie there for a second on her back and look over at Toad, then Toad twirled, kicked out at her and ran to a far corner.  Good lord.

I went back in to help my daughter get Tasha tacked up then once her lesson started I went back out to check on Toad and Misty.  Misty had a very "long suffering look" and Toad was standing behind her with her head leaning on Misty's butt.  Misty would get frustrated and walk away and Toadie would follow her with her head way down, practically smashed into Misty's tail.  Then Misty would stop and Toadie would lean her head on Misty's butt for a bit.  A couple times she dropped her head and looked like she was trying to crawl under Misty between her hind legs.  When that didn't work (since Toadie is so much bigger than Misty) she would just bury her head in Misty's tail and occasionally lick her legs.  My horse is weird.