Monday, February 6, 2012

Riding with my mind

Friend Nat, me, and the sleepy Paxfilly herself.
Clearly, blogging has not been my focus nor my strength in the past months. After my fear post in November, I received some amazing feedback through comments, e-mails, and even a phone call or two. Much thanks for that. It would be a lie to say "I'm over it!" but also a lie to say I haven't improved daily. No, I'm not riding Indigo yet. I'm not ready, and obviously he is not, either— I've let him be more or less dormant, minus a few ground lessons, and where his manners were fair before, he's adopted a much less go-with-the-flow attitude. Several people, my husband included, have generously offered to work with me and mount him the first time themselves.. I'm not ruling that out, and it might help, but worse than hurting myself is the thought of getting someone else banged up because of my own insecurities. Though I'm not ready for that step on my own, I'm doing fine on other horses and losing the heart-in-the-throat feeling that mounting a squirrelly horse gave me so strongly after the incident in Utopia. I push myself a little bit every time I ride someone new, and it feels better and better. Not like it used to be, but that's fine. I can be patient.

I have worked with Pax, and see her going off to be properly started next fall. She has taken to —sigh..— jumping things. Like fences, and gates. And barrels. And I think the corner of the plastic round bale holders. She lept out of the arena two weeks ago and only slightly snagged her back feet. Hoping it is all a phase, in part because.. (exciting news to follow:)

Camp is finally getting a new riding arena! Of real pipe! And real footing! And even level ground!

Finally, the stars have aligned and the right people have uttered the word "yes" and it looks like we should have the old arena, tacking area, and corral torn down and a new structure standing by the beginning of March. Sounds like a potential donor has committed to getting us sand footing and railroad ties to line and elevate the arena itself, providing the solid, safe, less rocky ground that will benefit our kids and our horses. Can't express how stoked I am, and likewise how thankful. Temporary fencing has gone up and tomorrow the tear-down process begins. Riding lessons cancelled for the rest of February, though you bet I will still be riding Bandit.

Bandit.. My hero. Through all of this anxiety junk, he's been about as good as I could ask him. He has packed me on trails at weird hours of the day, and put up with my dressage-dreams-fueled weird exercises and experiments that come to me from nowhere. We dealt with some grouchiness and pain issues at our last regular dressage lesson, and swapped some things around (extracted his ground-down wolf teeth; powerfloated; de-beaned; trimmed; restarted SmartFlex Senior.) I was more than a little nervous that he'd turn up lame or not turn up at all, so to speak, at the Joan Bolton clinic we lucked into riding in. Instead, I learned (within minutes) all the ways that I was exacerbating his flaws and giving him all kinds of reasons to protest the gymnastic elements of dressage that are lacking in our normal skill set. By the end of the ride, you couldn't have Windexed the smile off of my face. 

Clinic, 1-27-2012. Come so far, and so far yet to go!
Both Cindy, the instructor I've been riding with north of Kerrville, and Joan (and Heather Blitz, rider of the great Paragon) practice riding through biomechanics, as conceptualized and taught by Mary Wanless. From Mrs. Blitz's website, linked to above:
The person who has been the biggest influence in my riding is my biomechanics coach, Mary Wanless.  I met Mary in 1993 and have continued to learn from her to the present.  Her research into the effect of riders’ bodies on horses is extensive and unique and not found in more “traditional” training.  Her theories continue miles beyond teaching the beginner to improve their seat.   The more advanced I become in my riding,  I find her even more helpful.  Like a mechanic tuning my engine as I need more and more technique, power and refinement.  As you progress up the levels, it gets harder and harder to find words to describe what we’re trying to achieve  but Mary’s style, using analogies and sensory feedback allows for amazing communication and understanding in a world of feel and timing.  I have always had a special niche in my own teaching because of my education from Mary and will forever be grateful for the day I was introduced to her. 
Bible-like. Kept by my bedside.
Reading Wanless' Ride with Your Mind Masterclass and Ride with Your Mind Essentials is changing my riding every day. I used the Essentials text to focus my attention on one muscle group at a time, and was quite quickly lead to the realization that there are many notions of horsemanship that I absolutely must let go. The balance, seat, and leg that I've received compliments (and good horsemanship scores) on repeatedly leave me vulnerable to a dozen traps that break the energy flow that can suddenly turn an acceptable ride into a connected, lifted, and beautiful one. We are so far from making that the norm, but those fleeting moments of roundness and softness are happening more and more often and I'm slowly developing the muscle memory to know where I need to be in order for the beauty in him to come out. I realize I would be eternally farther along in the process if I could spend some time riding a schoolmaster and being taught how and when to press the buttons to receive the award. Instead, it's a joint process with two personalities and two sets of flaws to contend with, as well as thirty-three years of bad habits between us. Outside of this circle of riders I've become privy to (weather through the barn I've been riding at or through YouTube searches of horse-and-rider teams employing the same principles) I have not seen riding like this. I want it, badly. 

My involvement in NATRC currently hovers at sitting on the advisory board of the newsletter and editing things for the Hoof Print. I'm glad I get to be involved there, but I'm completely looking forward to competing in the Wimberly Wayfarer later in the spring. Wimberly is another gorgeous Hill Country town, closer to Austin, and I think the familiar scenery could lend a little calm to my bucket o' crazy pony. He is so prone to absorbing the atmosphere around him.. at the dressage clinic, he was miraculously the quietest, most well-behaved little gelding of the bunch. I got several compliments on his ability to stand tied anywhere I put him; a skill honed strictly from trying to learn the ropes of long distance competitive trail. Yet when we're at CTRs, he's a bucket of nerves who tries to remove his eyeball and instead removes the trailer door, all in one foul swoop because a completely familiar person got a completely unremarkable distance away from him. Oh well. Can't have it all, and I'm lucky to have my old man!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Deconstructing some fear stuff.

I kid you not, this was my fortune at supper last night.

I have recently discovered being scared.

Like, really scared.

From my understanding, (and Equus, etc. subscriptions) riders of all natures deal with fear at one point or another.  Also, the only riders I've met who never deal with any twinge of fear are idiots as a general rule.

But for the multitude of things I am scared of in life— heights being at the top of the list— horsemanship has always been a very controllable subject. Doofy horses might put my senses on higher alert, but I'd ride them.. and often liked to.

I have a good sized list of things I will not do because I don't think they are worth the risk anymore, personally. I haven't ridden without a helmet since I was 22. I haven't ridden double since I was a teenager. I got confident enough to gallop around bareback in college but don't feel the urge to go that fast without a saddle again. Riding on busy roads does not excite me. Moving fast on slick pavement with any kind of grade has made me nervous since a fall I had at the age of 20. I've always known I can sit a few bucks, but no bronc busting. I wish I could say I never ride alone, but I don't have that luxury. Becoming the director of an equestrian program instead of just a hired hand changed a lot of the way I ride, and I started defining my boundaries a bit.. but for the most part, it made me a better rider. I think everyone has their limits. I also knew (know?) what I was (am?) good at, and worked to better what I sucked at.

Yesterday, I went to go ride. I have been advised by my doctor to stay off of horses preferably through November and into December, but I've had to ride several times during that time period and felt fine afterwards. One of my duties and one of the things I really enjoy is trying out and working on new camp horse acquisitions— figuring out what they're good at, what needs tuning up, and which students or campers would benefit from riding them. Our farrier brought us an older, half-blind black mare a few weeks ago who is broke as anything. He used "Jessie" for mounted shooting, apparently, and general ranch work, but she's past the age of being terribly useful at any jobs involving speed.. Exactly the age we want for a good-natured babysitter horse.

I've had a few weeks to get to know Jessie on the ground, so while my husband was trimming ponies down at the barn, I tacked her up and lead her out to the arena to take her for a test drive. She hasn't been used in a year or so, but had given us no reason to doubt her usefulness. I lead her to the mounting block, stood on the top step, and started to put a foot in the stirrup. As many slightly pissy old mares do, she flapped her lips and twitched her tail. I hesitated. And then I started to shake, and, shortly thereafter, cry.
Jessie Girl.. half asleep. As usual.
(It is not fun to write that.)

Richard had been watching me the entire time, and he came over to see what on Earth I was doing. Because he has a huge heart (and probably because he's a camp guy, weekend wrangler, and used to the occasional hysterical little girl) he talked me through swinging over and— again, this pains me to write— lead me around the arena about half a lap. I had composed myself by then and rode her for a half hour or so, sans lead line, and she was fine. Rusty, grouchy, and slow.. but perfectly fine.

A couple of days before Jessie, my former boss (and friend) put me on his three-year-old colt to lead trail rides. I was perfectly fine with that. The colt, "Smiley," was incredibly well-mannered and polite, but he's still just a baby and I didn't hesitate to ride him. He even boogered once, and I probably tensed more than I normally would, but we moved on and had a nice time. I think perhaps I wasn't as afraid because I wasn't the boss in that situation. Sure, in my short relationship with my horse, I was the boss.. But there was my actual boss there, maybe not physically, but I was doing a job he asked me to do and I had no problem with executing it and leaving that young horse hopefully a tiny bit better for his widened experience. Not real fear on my part. But when I'm the top dog at my own place, I burst into tears getting on a geriatric, sleepy ranch horse. 

What brought this crap on?

I'm tired of telling the story, but if you recall my last post about taking three-year-old mustang Indigo to his first ACTHA ride.. I took him, but we didn't get to go on the actual trail ride. Instead, he transformed from the quietest, un-phaseable colt I've ever met to a real fun little bronc. He tossed me before I could even get in the saddle the first time and continued to buck for close to 90 seconds. (I checked my watch.) 

I ignored my guts, which told me to quit. I also ignored my experience, which (should have) told me to stop and figure out what had made this little horse do such a violent 180 in his behavior.

Instead, I got back on (and was bolted and tossed in very short succession) not once, but twice. I had to be picked off the ground on the last go-around, but besides doing some damage to the normal alignment of my skeletal system and being bed ridden for a day, I came off gloriously unscathed.

He's been to a chiro, who reports (a) saddle fit pain (b) possibly the remnants of a fall, equalling misalignment of his spine and a tilted pelvis (c) tenseness and muscle overcompensation all over his body. He has shown us twice that he is ready and willing to buck again when you try and step a foot in the saddle. I have not done any more than that.

I've been to a chiro, who says my legs are crooked, my pelvis is wonky, and my lower back is toast. Which I knew. Not to snark what she does; it was a huge help! 

I took him to a Natural Horsemanship ground clinic. He has been reported to be a "left-brained introvert" on the "Parelli Horsenality" spectrum, "extremely passive-aggressive," and "potentially dangerous or violent." I really liked the folks at the clinic, but I'd also like to believe they are wrong. We had some success with the Seven Games and I don't discount their use. But I didn't walk away feeling terribly encouraged about him. I'm not done trying, and he is still sore. Those are notes for a later date, anyways.

To sum it up and psychoanalyze myself.. I'm primarily scared of getting injured. Potentially much, much worse than I was. (I got off quite good, with a couple of weeks of a really cool limp.) But fueling that is a hypersensitivity to every ear twitch and stomp and snort— I'm terrified I'm going to overlook the warning signs that I'm about to become a lawn dart again. And I have a tough time trusting my mount. I trusted Indigo with a lot last summer, and he never once gave me a reason to doubt him. There is a sense of failure in my first solo experiment in training a horse from square one. There is frustration. And yep, definitely still a hefty dose of fear at the thought of sitting on him again. I've fallen off more times than I can count (like most riders, probably)— but this was definitely different.

Anyway.. what to do about it?

Obviously, seek help. I don't have dozens of horse friends in the area who I would want to take instruction from (doesn't that sound witchy?) But there are others I trust and want to learn from who have offered to help with Indigo. I have (and will) use them, plus the equine chiro and our vet. I am not at all ready to get back on him again, but if pain is any indication, he isn't ready to carry a rider, either.

I loved the woman I was taking dressage lessons from with Bandit, and I will be using her again as soon as she gets back from training in Florida. I have a couple of leads on other trainers and instructors who I may have to drive a bit to utilize, but I think it's worth it.

And I'm just going to keep riding. I dismissed my two months with no riding because I was afraid my nervousness would only get worse. Riding Bandit has helped; even though he is far from a Steady Eddie, I know his moves and I trust our relationship. Unfortunately, he is still recovering so I'm limited in what we do. (That bad eye looks pretty good, though!) I'm going to ride Jessie and Ranger, who are new (they need it before they go into lessons) but who I know are well broke and relatively mindful.  I'm going to get back on Annie next week and see if going back to twice weekly rides will help her with her chronic witchiness.

I wish I had more people to ride with. Not experts, just horse folks. I wish I could be at a boarding  barn sometimes, and this is one of those times. I miss the horse community— not the great one that exists when I get to be at NATRC rides, or the one I have on Facebook thanks to a short lifetime of riding and acquiring friends along the way. But actual human beings to ride with, so I'm not always the one at the barn by myself. Would that solve everything? No way, but it would make things easier. 

"The horse doesn't love you." — Jere Johnson
But I am so glad to have my old man to totter around on!
Possibly the best advice I've received thus far is to stop replaying the bad memory over and over again. I haven't been able to quit completely, but I think about it less frequently. There's something masochisticly pleasing about hitting the "replay" button on that mental tape.. and hitting the ground over, and over, and over again. Gah. Sucks.

But it is getting better!

Have you had a sudden onset of fear while riding? What've you done about it?

I confess to taking some inspiration to write about all of this from a blog called Drafts with Dots; the writer had a nasty incident involving back hooves and her face, and is still in the process of recovery. She writes much more frequently and poignantly than I do, and the fact that she could do it prompted me to try. I think the simple act of typing out the things I hate to think about banishes some of the squicky gut feelings. I know I'm getting better. And at the end of the day, I still absolutely love to ride.. and almost more so, I love to teach children to love riding like I do.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Catch-up; catching the wild horse; catching a bad attitude before it gets worse.


We survived summer. The start was rocky, for lots of reasons that don't particularly belong here, but thanks to good help we made it through keeping kids safe and reasonably happy. The temperatures were unbelievable— read, crazy-mother-trucking-hot and devoid of any kind of moisture. Having a huge herd of thirty was more work than before but worth it; I don't think anyone got particularly fatigued despite a heavier workload of kids and the NightRyder program adding a little bit of work in the evening. We have pulled some of the old horses up to a great weight, but there are some others in their early or mid twenties who lost condition that we are still trying to recover. The joys of old, worn and wonderful hand-me-down horses.

Leading a ride in July.
Indigo, the first mustang colt, was a great success. He had two rough spots, to include randomly falling off of a three-inch cliff with Tiffany for no apparent reason. (Stood back up before she could even step off, so it was chalked up to being a dummy three-year-old who doesn't know where to place his feet.) And I got ballsy and put an "advanced" camper with a relatively weak seat on his back.. bareback. He had been great for everybody else, but she slumped forward onto his shoulder and he took a step to the left and dropped her less than five seconds after she'd mounted. She was fine and he luckily didn't pick up the hint that it's possible to dump people on purpose. I used him to lead trail rides all day, several days a week, and for a few Blue Bead ceremonies which went reasonably well considering I was jumpy being bareback, helmetless, and in front of a big crowd. He carried about five different campers, all competent riders, during NightRyders and Saddle Club, as well as a couple of novice counselors. Not bad for three.

Here's a post on the camp blog from one of our great Saddle Club girls; she writes a little about her experience using Indy for our pony games day.

Bandit is large and lazy. He didn't get as much work this summer thanks to Inders, but behaved when he did. I am for some reason not panicked about getting him ready for the Pole Canyon CTR; I had intended to ride Open division for the first time to get experience doing the mileage, but for a couple of reasons, have stuck to Novice. I know that, continuing with our conditioning rides for the coming weeks and barring injury, he will be able to do the distance, especially in an area that is challenging because it's rocky— like home! Like Alpine!— instead of deep and sandy. We'll blow some more obstacles, but I'm totally ready to be back. Plus, there's a horsemanship clinic the day before, so we are hauling early and maybe that will take the edge off. I'm excited!

Bandito was featured in a blog / article I wrote for Long Riders' Gear, which will also go in the NATRC HoofPrint. Crazy boy— Competitive Trail Riding: A Newbie's Perspective.

Awkward photo, but see?! Her head is starting to fit!
Pax, who gets little press here considering she is the title feature, is growing into her head. Yikes, that's the best update I can give ya? She is doing exactly what two-year-olds should do, in my opinion— getting a few lessons on ground manners, carrying a saddle around occasionally, and eating and growing and being adorable. Her back has lengthened, which I'm not thrilled about, but she is coming into proportion and I think she moves a little better than before. I'm looking into buying a friend's Collegiate dressage saddle; a good buy on a nice, basic piece of tack that I hope will last me through the next year or so until I can afford something nicer without risking making the car payment, etc. At that point, she'll be closer to full grown and easier to eyeball a good fit for. She is the "lovey-est" horse I've been around in forever— when we left for twelve days for Northern Ireland, she was the first horse to meet me at the fence (not in the feeding location, either) at a dead sprint, looking for pats. She honestly seemed happy to see us.

ApHC Suprise Hayley Annie
I have an offer to take a horse on free lease that's tempting. Granted, we have more than enough projects to go around here, but she's somewhat of a special case in my very skewed handbook— she is Bandit's five-year-old half sister. And she's cute. Compact, like her broseph. Great color, if you like Apps. She's green broke, which is nice in that she's at least rideable. And I am sure she needs some work. I not-so-secretly would love her to be a follow up NATRC horse to replace Bandit in a few years. The guy who owns her claims to love her but is in the process of moving. I don't want to buy her —she isn't worth $1500 in my book, despite better than average bloodlines. $1500 green broke "cute" horse is a joke right now in this part of the world. I mean, I do want to meet her. I would also like to work with her. I just don't know how far I want to go; I'm a little worried about falling in love with her and having her snatched off to California just as I get her going well. And I'm also worried she might be a nightmare. Worth going to look at her next Tuesday? Worth taking a trailer with me? Worth drawing up paperwork? Thoughts?

And finally.. Flint. Flint is our second mustang, a three year old gelding out of the Adoble Wells HMA in southern Wyoming. Tiffany, her boss and America's Favorite Trail Horse* finalist TJ, and I drove up to beautiful Colorado in the middle of a very hot August.

* See the trailer below, if you haven't already. Exciting to have an equestrian reality TV show that isn't about the racing industry, whatever your thoughts on ACTHA and competitive trail riding are!

CFA Flint Rock's "beachy" hairdo.
Flint is more of a challenge than Indigo was. He was older when he came out of the wild, older when he was gelded, older when he came to camp. He and Inders are just now the same age. I am okay with this. I wanted this. We got to haltering and leading in about the same amount of time. I was more confident and I had my own schedule of milestones to hit. We spent the days before my trip to the U.K. leading around camp, learning about grooming and tying and all the basics. He was flighty, but smart and willing and a big "mama's boy." He spazzed, but recovered by standing behind my shoulder and waiting. Then I got cocky yesterday and put the two mustang boys together in the arena. They were perfect— could catch them both, no big quarrels. I worked the two of them at liberty together. Indy joined up right away and stayed at my shoulder until I brought Flint around. I moved the two of them as a unit. Indigo was definitely the leader and he was nearly flawless. I could kick myself for using one green colt to work another green colt, but I assure you that the dynamic worked and our first BLM pony is a treasure. A weird treasure, but a treasure.

Anyway. I was feeling sorry for Flint being cooped up in his pen for so long after a lifetime of herd dynamics, so I let the two boys stay in the arena overnight with some hay and water. This morning, Richard and I were up early to feed and saddle twelve horses for a retreat. When I went to catch Flint.. He walked straight through our (incredibly shoddy, withering-cedar-post) arena fence, smashing it into splinters, and into the corral filled with all of the spare horses. I was immediately terrified for him getting the snot beat out of him.. Until he single-handedly took on all of the huge bully horses and commandeered the hay ring for himself. Here was this scrappy, girly looking grey pony colt laying the smack down on our duo of ornery, 16.2+ hh Thoroughbreds and everyone else.

Catching him took over twelve hours of on-and-off efforts. Now that he's learned he can push over fences, we couldn't push him hard enough to tire him for fear he'd just peace out and leave the premises— not good considering there's thirty weekenders here for the retreat. I was livid. And the first rule of horsemanship is to never do anything with haste and anger.. Two sentiments thundering through my veins. I managed to clip the lead on him, but was drug a little ways multiple times, which only exacerbated the problem and fueled the pony's desire to run. Long story short, my hero of a husband ended up coaxing him close enough to catch, then stuck out his protesting rears and fits until he had the colt under control. We've switched him to a halter with some more bite (nose knots) and returned him to his little metal panel pen. Back to basics tomorrow, and I have learned my lessons.

  1. If you're that pissed off, stop.
  2. Don't overestimate the flexibility and durability of the trust you've established with a wild animal. It's brittle. Like, really really brittle. Like, baked-cedar-pole-in-the-summertime brittle.
  3. There are a few things your larger, stronger, testosterone-fueled spouse can do better. Like hold on to a lead rope with a bucket of angry crazy at the end.
  4. Seriously, we need a new freaking fence. This year it ceased to be a funny talking point.
  5. Angelic Indigo was a fluke. 
  6. The drag rope idea to halter break worked brilliantly on more than one horse I've started or help start in the past. It can, as in this case, backfire. Flint is now adept at walking through a jerk on the lead rope. In fact, he's gotten quite good at it.
I'm so ready to do this better.

I ended this rather crappy day with the first ride on Indigo I've taken in awhile. Bandit got a little work this morning; now it was the colt's turn— I'm taking him to an ACTHA ride in the middle of October. Should be fun. I'm slightly worried about traumatizing him and, consequentially, getting my arse dumped, but optimistic that at least it will be a good experience for him and excited to ride with some friends and maybe make new ones.

Upcoming events:
Retreat next weekend; Tiff's coming to work.
New Hampshire the next weekend for a slighty crunchy sounding camp directors' retreat. I'm excited.
Pole Canyon NATRC ride second weekend of October, plus horsemanship clinic. (Get to use new, tiny LQ trailer! Excited!)
ACTHA ride in Utopia the next weekend.
Possibly taking a horse to the San Antonio Mustang Expo that next Friday.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Threw a couple more blogs on my "Suggested Reading" list to the right of this page. I'd check them out and follow 'em, had I not already.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Notes on the herd and my rides

I apologize, to the handful of you who read, for a decidedly long hiatus between posts here. Though I have been no less busy with horse-related things, those horse-related things tended to be work-related things. And I haven't been in a mindset to write, particularly, in part due to personal matters and the loss of my great Dad. That aside, I think it's time to catch up a bit.

I took the Very Large Filly on a walk the other day. I'm relatively certain that Taking Your Horse For a Walk doesn't make it into a lot of training books, but when I'm not close to being ready to get on her and not in the mood to long line or lunge, it is a nice way to get her mind out of the herd and onto her two-legged "mom." She was nervous, but mindful at the get-go, but I admire the fact that her nerves rarely manifest themselves into action. She is observant, rarely hesitant, and almost never flighty.. Except for when I started making a racket with my dressage whip in the tall pampas grass. That resulted in minor fireworks for a few minutes.

Satan's lair.

Anyhow, after we'd established that the pampas grass could be added to the "rather alarming but not malicious" list, Pax and I headed out the gate and down to the river crossing for our first swimming attempt. She is one of a handful of horses who tend to try and bathe in the elevated water troughs in the pasture, so I had high hopes— and was not disappointed. With just one sniff at the wide expanse of river and a pause to allow me to hike my shorts up and pull my boots on tighter (classy, yes) we stepped graciously in and waded around to both our chests' deep of the drink. She snuffled and played but remained a lady, and I acquired some brilliant blisters walking all the way back to the barn in sodden cowboy boots and swimwear. We stopped at a few spots on the way back to lunge on a shortened line and get back into "work, not rush home" mode, and she wasn't even pulling for the gate when we made it back in site of the equestrian center. Overall, I am proud of her. If I may have a moment to brag, she is growing up gorgeous. Very few PMU-mutts can ever pass the A+ confirmation test, and she certainly does not, but she is maturing into a balanced and graceful mare and I can't wait to see where things go in the next two years. My mom and I have discussed sending her to a proper trainer to get started. I've never done that before, but also only started one horse by myself under saddle.. and as she has been a bit of an investment, and I would like her to be worthy for low-level competition, it would be worth paying for sixty days of professional work. But that's a long way off. No reason to start her before fall 2012, if even then. June 1st will be her second birthday!

The Princess herself. Need to think of a good proper name for her soon.

Tiff, a good friend and one of the part-time camp wranglers, started looking into a BLM horse seriously last week and I got to thinking about our little pinto 'stang boy sitting out in the pasture enjoying life and being lazy, and/or trying to hump a mare or two. (He's cut. I promise.) So I rigged up the borrowed surcingle over a western saddle, attached long lines after a little warm-up, figured ourselves out again in the round pen, and took the fellow driving around camp. He was great! A little bit of a gaffufle to get started, when we initially started moving away from our comfort zone of the equestrian center. We polished our "woah" and walk/trotted using voice cues, and I am able to cut back on the noise motivation from the stock whip I carry. I rarely if ever have to touch him with it, but he's lazy enough to wait for the threatening sound before moving off. But putting him in a new position and having to be the physical leader, while directing from behind, put Indy back on his toes and I got a nice little jog out of him through the kickball fields and down by the river. He is taking a while to truly soften to the bit, but he does accept it and bridles like a real boy now. His woah is good with contact, but it wasn't until this lesson that I felt him anticipate the sound a bit. I can't wait to get on him more this summer! And more mustangs for camp, with proper time and training, I think will be an excellent idea, especially in our aging herd. I wouldn't risk the online auction thing, but the drive to Colorado to really evaluate temperament and soundness was worth it. I think our product is shaping up wonderfully.

Tranquil stop by the Guad.

El Bandito
As for my grouchy old man, I was hoping to squeeze in another lesson with Sally in Fredericksburg before the craziness of summer cuts off all possibilities, but it looks like she may be out-of-state for quite some time. Her family is relocating away from the Hill Country, so I knew our time with her would be short, albeit a great blessing and hopefully the right way to shift focus with Bandit. I've gotten to spend time with some of the Waldemar polocrosse ladies on a couple of afternoons (one of our best camp horses was donated through that club, more or less) and caught the name of another woman who teaches dressage just outside of Kerrville. The price is a bit more, unsurprisingly as we were scoring an awesome deal minus the diesel cost, but the facility sounds fantastic. I haven't ridden in an indoor arena since sneaking into my university's rodeo arena to ride a handful of times. I haven't ridden with mirrors since I was about eleven. I am utterly excited.

Last week I made an attempt at doing some more "dressage homework," as Sally put it, but ended up getting distracted and going over the tiny jumps Dick and I put together for the kiddos. I have not asked Bandit to jump a thing, minus trail obstacles, since I was about fifteen and into our brief Parelli phase.. which involved alot of the at-liberty lunging over barrels. He was pretty good at that, I think mainly because he is scared of the color white (which encompasses a wide gamut of objects, let me tell you.) But after a couple of shady go-arounds and blasting our way through trot poles trying to snatch at the bit, we did some successful little bounces and, if I dare say so, I think the old man enjoyed the change-up. That said, tomorrow I plan on getting down to business and aiming for a degree of respectability at next week's lesson. It's at, like.. a fancy place. As in, I may wear a clean shirt. With a collar. Gasp.

Putting Little Sister Pax in her place. Height is no object.

A note on his bridle— having not been terribly impressed with the Dr. Cook's on a trail ride where I (stupidly) decided to go for a gallop with a friend on a similarly hot horse, and not having particularly measurable success getting Bandit on the "bit" (in the bridle?) without an actual bit.. We had a random breakthrough last weekend. I switched to Bandito after riding a super-solid but slightly slow lease horse for a group trail ride. I always ride him in the Dr. Cook's for those easy rides, as he is cucumber cool for the most part and I see advantages in switching things up with him between his various mild headgear. I don't ask for much, but usually try to get a little practice in every ride.. and from somewhere, things clicked, and I had a lovely, soft, round horse taking contact from my reins and going on about as nicely as Bandit will go. I won't be switching to the Cook's bitless for lessons, but maybe for more of our homework.

Why is The Fattest Pony In The West on this list? Well.. I have been cajoled? Convinced? By a friend or two to give polocrosse a try next fall when practices kick up again. As I see a temporary but extremely disappointing moratorium happening on my NATRC rides, thanks to an already packed schedule of weekend camp events through 2012, attending the polocrosse practices and kicking about at a new sport would keep me in a mix of horsey people and give me something new to learn. Let me assure you that at this point, I would much rather be charging along at a competitive trail ride.. But have to made allowances somewhere. Job is important and I am lucky to have it. Waldemar donated three used but quality Australian saddles to my riding program here at CFA, and I plunked down some cash to rig them out and see what I can learn. I don't think Bandit will ever be steady enough with flying balls and sticks, Indigo isn't old enough, and obese Rue needs a job. She is young, bombproof, capable of moving her fat little arse when she needs to, and plucky.. And very low to the ground, so my lanky, uncoordinated self can have a better shot at getting the darn ball off the dirt. I just.. y'know.. Look a little ridiculous on her. And she is a little ridiculous looking on top of that.

This angle does her too much justice. You can't see the hay gut.

Anyway, I don't even have a proper stick to use yet, so have mainly been conditioning her. Which turns out to be more of a commitment than I had anticipated— we trotted halfway up Mt. Vesper on the rocky hillside road, and literally had to stop. She wasn't being witchy or balky. She physically was worn out. Took it much easier the rest of the day, but I realize that she won't be in any fair condition until summer is on its way and I can alternate riding her and a couple of other horses. She has developed a rather hard mouth and opinionated way of going, but I think some consistency and a nice change to an o-ring snaffle will clean that up.

"Really, woman. I'm done now."

I leave you with this charming buttshot of The Cool Kids in the herd. Mind you, there are five round bales for our thirty horses, which averages out to six or less horses per bale if you account for those resting or watering themselves. There are twelve below, all the top dogs of the pasture, all determined to sit at the cool table in the cafeteria.

From far left to right: Peppy, Sunny, Hannah, Rue, Pax, Pumbaa, Indigo, Whiskers, Tango, Bonnie (hidden,) Marquee, and JB (also hidden.)

There are only two emotions that belong in the saddle.
One is a sense of humor, and the other is patience.
— John Lyons