My horse's feet are as swift as rolling thunder
He carries me away from all my fears
And when the world threatens to fall asunder
His mane is there to wipe away my tears.
Well, here goes. I'm getting a late start on one of my New Year's resolutions - that is - keeping a riding journal. I believe it is important to keep a record of where you have been, so you know where you're going.
I own several horses, but one in particular I call my "heart horse". His name is Thunder and he is a firecracker of a pony, standing at 13.2h (approximate, I haven't actually sticked him). We estimate he is somewhere between 10 and 12 yrs old. His breeding is unknown but most agree he probably is at least part Quarter Horse or Quarter Pony. I got him for free after he sustained an injury during the summer of 2011. The muscles in his shoulder were atrophied (a condition known as sweeney shoulder), after he was kicked by another horse in the pasture. There is no real cure, although sometimes surgery is recommended. Thunder's owners put him on craiglist in an attempt to give him away as a pasture pet...they made it clear that if no one took him they were going to have him euthanized. To make the long story short, I offered to take him. And I'll be honest, for the first few months I really hated him. He was a brat in the pasture, constantly chasing and harassing my other horses and just generally causing drama. He was food aggressive and a pain to handle as well. He snapped at me, charged at my daughter, and threatened to kick me on numerous occasions. I concluded that I was in over my head and decided that he needed to go.The good news was that he was quickly recovering. Just a few months of pasture "rest" worked miracles (his previous owners kept him confined to a stall for 3 months after his injury. Just 6 months after I acquired him, we determined he was ready for light riding again. It was around that time that I attempted to rehome him. I tried to sell him. I tried to lease him. Heck I even tried giving him away! But it seemed nobody wanted a 13.2h grade pony that was not child safe.
Finally I concluded that I would have to put some training into him before I could sucessfully rehome him, and so I dedicated the summer months to riding him. And, despite myself, I developed a fondness for him. I was just getting back into riding after being away from horses for about 5 years, and it was with Thunder that I regained my confidence. I started jumping and riding bareback again. I told myself that our partnership was only temporary (after all he was way too small for me, right?) but at the end of the summer when I found someone who wanted to lease him, I just couldn't let him go.
Of course, we still have a lot a lot of hard work ahead of us. He has possibly the hardest mouth of any horse I have ever ridden, and he has no idea how to move. He is still largely resistant to the bit, and
As far as dreams go, mine are far reaching. I am hoping to get involved in CT (competitive trail) riding this coming year, building up to endurance. I doubt Thunder will be suitable for longer rides, but I don't think that 25 milers are beyond us:)
I have our goals for 2013 saved on my phone (so I can pull it out and reread as needed, haha) It goes like this:
Get in better shape
Get Thunder fit
Get a truck capable of pulling a trailer! (the main thing holding me back)
Complete a short endurance (or LD/CT) ride
Ride at Moses Cone with Marianne
Ride/camp at Grayson Highlands/Mt Rogers
Attend a Hunter Pace (or two!)
Improve our groundwork
JUST HAVE FUN!!
Thunder hasn't been himself lately. I would describe him as grumpy. Surly. Petulant. He doesn't want me to ride him, he doesn't want me to catch him, he doesn't even want me to pet him. My sister describes him as 'fussy', and I guess that's accurate. But (up until a couple weeks ago) he was always friendly and willing. I just don't know what's up.
Yesterday I took him out and attempted to lunge him. I say 'attempted' because I am honestly not sure the poor guy even knows how! I haven't done a whole lot of groundwork for him (one of my goals for this year) and so I hadn't really ever actively tried to lunge him. He was quite resistant at first, but ultimately seemed to "get" what I was asking for. However we didn't spend an obnoxiously long time on it, since he was being so sullen.
Next the plan was to work him under saddle under some ground poles. But you know the saying, even best laid plans.... yeah. The first thing he tried to do was take me out on the corner of the hitching post as I mounted. Secondly, the hackamore I'd planned to try on him was too big, so I decided to attempt to ride him in his halter. Um, epic fail. He decided he would just plow off in whatever direction he wanted, completely ignoring all my aids. I managed to get him to walk over the poles once, in each direction, and called it a day.
After untacking, I had Mark and Tanja look at him, and do a little body work. Their riding instructor is big on equine massage, so they know more than me in that area. We noticed a bit of sensitivity over his withers (which makes it worry that it may be his new saddle), and Tanja discovered that he seems to have some knots and stiffness in his right shoulder (the same that was atrophied when I got him). I am going to do some more research on equine massage so I can figure out what he needs to loosen up.
I think that for the next couple of days I will just do groundwork with him. I have been doing a bit of reading about Parelli's concept of "hill therapy". I'm by no means a "Natural Horsemanship fanatic" and am not one to tout any one trainer, but I am open to trying just about anything at least once. Considering Thunder is so rigid and restistant 90% of the time I think that hill work would be good for him.
Also I think I will order a new pad and see if that helps with his saddle fit. On Monday I hope to take him out on a longer trail ride and for that I will probably go back to my tried and true old English saddle. It isn't the most comfortable thing (for me) but at least I know it fits him.
I lunged Thunder this evening and he did very well! When I first when to catch him he tried to evade me, but I cornered him and surprised him with a treat. I don't typically feed him treats because he can be somewhat food aggressive but I figured in this case, it couldn't hurt and might actually help. He was a lot more attentive after that, knowing I had more tucked away in my pockets.
We started off lunging to the right, which is the side we'd worked on yesterday. I was surprised when he walked right out and circled me like an old pro (almost, anyway). He would still stop and look at me questioningly at intervals but kept moving much better than yesterday. After we had worked a few minutes on that side, we tried going the other way. Whenever you switch sides, you are basically starting from scratch again. However, he seemed to do better in this direction and picked going to the left faster than going to the right. He was going nicely by the time I called it quits.
He still doesn't look exactly pleased, but at least he is listening!
The sky as we wrapped things up ...beautiful!
You'll have to excuse the quality (it was taken with my cell phone) but here is a short video as well:)
It rained last night and drizzled most of the day. When the rain stopped, the fog crept in. Mark came up to drop off some stuff and see Duke. He decided against riding because it was so muddy. I did do some groundwork with Thunder, however, and Mark took pictures! We did some more lunging, worked on backing, standing square, yielding, flexing and jogging out. This time Thunder was anticipating treats and he was quite attentive...to my pockets at least! I had to work to keep him focused on what I was asking, but at least he was no longer giving me attitude. I have a rule - no treats unless he is working and then I only treat him when he has done something right. If he is not listening, I don't treat him (rather I continue asking until he gives me his mind) and even then I don't treat him every time. All things in moderation.
Here are some photos from today:) I may or may not ride him tomorrow...it depends on how we both are feeling. I have been having some back and knee pain recently and I have to get hay tomorrow as well. If I throw out my back again I probably won't ride but if I'm feeling ok I may hop on him bareback and try trotting him over some poles.
Yesterday was sort of a 'meh' day. We came, we rode. End of story. I didn't feel like we got much accomplished. I noticed when I was putting Thunder up that he was sweating - not badly, but his chest was moist. Considering we didn't do THAT much, I was led to wonder if he was that much out of shape, or if it was due to the warm weather (this weekend we experienced a heat wave w/temps in the lower 70's!)
Today was much better. Caught him without fuss, groomed him, tacked up. Mark was over riding Duke again, so we stayed in the pasture. I decided to enlarge our usual circle and did some trotting. Not too much really, but more than usual and as it is on a gentle hill, we got him sweating. We also trotted over the poles several times. All in all he did awesome. That saddle seems to fit him (but not me) better. For some reason I have trouble keeping my balance in it, and it takes a lot of both upper and lower body strength to keep my position intact.
After we got done riding, I turned my attention to his feet. Thunder has the most awesome hooves. He can go months between trims and you can scarcely tell. Today I had forgotten to bring the nippers, but I did have my rasp. Considering the length of time that had passed since his last trim, I would've thought he would've needed more taken off but as it turned out, all it took was a rasping and they are looking great once again!
Tomorrow is my day off. Rather, it's my husband's day off (and thus the only day I have a 'babysitter' for my daughter). After I get off in the morning (I work 3rd shift), I plan to take Thunder out on a long trail ride. We actually have a pretty good network of trails nearby, but you have to ride for a couple miles along the road to get there. All in all I'm thinking we should put in about 10 miles.
And now some photos from today:)
Miracle thought he would 'help' us tack up! LOL
I realized today while doing his feet that his tail has gotten so long it sweeps the ground! I braided it afterwards so he wouldn't step on it...he's got a very pretty tail (but his mane needs trimming again!)
Just playing around with long exposures the other night....it was hard because he would move his head a lot but I kind of liked this shot:)
Even the rain couldn't keep me from riding yesterday. Sunday was a tough night, as I ran into my ex best friend at work. We had been close for 8+ yrs, drawn together by our love of horses and photography, but over the past year she just stopped talking to me. I guess she got really into the hunter scene and found herself a whole new (better?) group of friends. It sucks, y'know. There are countless songs and films dealing with romantic breakups, but to lose someone you considered a sister...well, it hurts.
Horses are the best therapy in the world. As soon as I got off work, I grabbed my saddlebags and headed to the pasture. I fed the ponies, and laid down in the truck to snatch a quick nap while they ate. I awoke to the sound of rain drumming steadily on the roof. I jumped up, grabbed Thunder and pulled him into the barn/run-in before he got completely soaked. He contentedly munched his hay while I tacked him up. I took my time, hoping the rain might stop but it showed now signs of letting up.
By the time I led him out of the pasture, secured the gate and mounted, my saddle was soaked. So much for a dry seat! Thunder turned his head and gave me this incredulous look, as if to say, 'You can't be serious!'
The first part of our ride was pretty miserable. We have to ride along the road for about 2 miles to get to the 'trailhead' and Thunder slowfooted it all the way. He wouldn't stay straight, he zigged and then zagged and kept trying to look behind him. I felt like we were playing tug of war. It was a bit ridiculous. I have an idea of how to correct him when he tries muscling me around like that, but there on the wet pavement wasn't the place to get into it.
Once we got the the trails, things improved. He was still a little headstrong but definitely less so than before. He crossed the creek nicely and we cantered and trotted a little. Though I won't lie, trotting was a struggle. He tends to trot very hollow and fast on the trails, making it a nightmare to post. I tried to slow him with half halts, but he was having none of it and just put his head in the air. We were a mess and I was glad no one was watching. I am planning on getting him a new bit very soon and I just hope it helps things a bit. (I also think the saddle wasn't helping things. The cantle is too high and it throws me off balance. Next time I am taking my old Cortina.)
The trail really doesn't go too far. It's great if you are just walking, but we completed it in less than 30 minutes. We decided to go into another field to see if we could find any more trails or paths, which we did, but it also dead ended after a bit. However, I could see a familiar field on the other side so we took a chance on cutting through the woods. They were much thicker than I'd anticipated, with hanging vines and briars all over the place. Thunder was very good about listening and letting me direct him. Once we got out into the open we headed up to the high school and then cut across the big field back home. It started raining hard again about then. I noticed Thunder was starting to look pretty tired and got off and let him rest for a few minutes, then led him for the next half mile or so. When I remounted he was raring to go again and actually tried to break into a trot several times as we got closer to home.
All in all it was a great ride. We were out for about 3 hrs (it wouldn't have been so long if we hadn't gotten "lost"), and rode about 7 miles (map says 6.95 but we spent some time following detours that isnt accounted for).
At one point I dismounted to give Thunder a brief respite. I let go of him completely and just started walking. He dropped his head and followed me, staying right beside me the entire time. It was a special moment. When your horse chooses to stay with you…even when he doesn’t have to.
I gave Thunder Tuesday off but we did go for a short hack this afternoon. We completed a loop we do pretty often, which is about 3.5 miles long. The first 2.3 miles we did a lot of trotting (well, a lot for us!). And I discovered that I am much more out of shape than I thought I was! Just a few minutes of posting left me sweating, with pain my back and legs like jello! I don't have a way to track Thunder's pulse but he was barely breathing and scarcely sweating. Again, he never ceases to amaze me!
He was so good throughout our entire ride...the only time he fussed a little bit was when I asked him to stop for a moment by the train tracks. He just didn't want to stand still!
Altogether we were out for 56 minutes. I wimped out and asked Thunder to walk the last mile home. Before that however, we'd completed approximately 2.3 miles in 36 minutes. I am terrible at Math but I figure that is about 3.8 mph. I'll
When we got home, I let him go for a second while I jumped across the puddle and got the gate. He stood patiently while I unlatched it, walked through when I opened it, and then stopped at my shoulder and stood beside me like a complete gentleman. He has his moments. ;) I love that pony!
Thursday night we had a winter storm sweep through the area and it snowed for the first time this year! I didn't have much time before my husband headed to work but I braved the icy roads early Friday morning and managed to squeeze a 20 minute ride in. It was so beautiful! There is nothing like galloping your pony across an open field through the snow at the crack of the dawn! Bareback, bitless, helmetless....completely free! "My horse's feet are as swift as rolling THUNDER - He carries me away from all my fears!" I am the luckiest girl in the world!
Put in another ride on Thunder yesterday. I had intended to take him out in the morning when I got off work (3rd shift here), as Mondays are the one day I really get a lot of time to ride. However, I wimped out when I realized it was only 28 degrees. Usually the weather doesn't deter me, but for some reason I just wasn't feeling it. I really had no desire to revisit the trails of last week and there was no other place else I could think of that appealed to me.
I woke at 12:30 and found a message from Mark, saying that he and Tanja would be back out that afternoon. Crap. That only gave me a few hours to ride. I headed out and tacked up Thunder. On Saturday I actually bought him a new saddle...I say that now as if it is an everyday occurance, but it honestly was a big deal to me. I have been riding in old hand-me-down equipment for the most part for the past year and a half....including an unknown brand English saddle that I got for $25 (the cantle is too high for my liking and drives me nuts), and an old Cortina with no knee pads (like this saddle better but it is still hard as a rock). And of course there is the treeless I got for Christmas, which I love, but it doesn't seem to fit Thunder quite right (I did order a western riser pad in hopes that this will remedy things). So when I found a like-new beautiful black English saddle at a nearby tack store for only $120, I couldn't pass it up. Turns out, it fits Thunder (and me) perfectly!
Anyway, yesterday was my first real ride in my new saddle (and I can honestly say I LOVE it!). I decided to take a shorter route (a little over 3 miles), to McLeansville and back. It's nothing new really but it does have some good areas for trotting.
Ohmygosh, trotting. We have GOT to work on that! Thunder has really gotten into this whole running thing and thinks he is a racehorse. He tends to trot as fast as he possibly can, head up in the air, breaking into a canter wherever possible. When I give him half halts and attempt to slow him, he just flips his head and keeps going. Normally I would circle him to get him balanced and listening, but this is kind of hard to do on the side of the road. The only thing I could really do was transition down, ask again, and pray that he would soon begin to tire.
He didn't. He kept going and going and going. But, about halfway through the ride, I discovered something. Usually, when on a straight line, I find myself posting his right diagonal, which means I am sitting as his right front hits the ground. I do it without thinking, because I am personally stronger on my right and it is easier for me. However, his right shoulder is also the one that was injured when I got him. For kicks, I decided to try posting the other diagonal to see what would happen. And wow! SO much harder for me to post, but I felt the difference in his gait immediately. His trot was more springy (less flat) and he maintained his pace better - as opposed to his usual speeding up and slowing down. Even though he is sound and has techically recovered from his shoulder injury, I think there is a lot more going on there than we initially thought.
I am also trying to get into better shape, so about a mile away from the barn, I hopped off and walked beside him for a while. (Speaking of which does anyone know of any good riding boots that are comfortable enough to jog in? My current cowboy boots are quite comfy....as long as you keep it to a walk!) When it came time to remount however, Thunder threw a FIT! As soon as I tried to swing aboard, he would drop his shoulder and duck away from me, then attempt to take off at a trot/canter. He tried this 3 or 4 times in a row! I ended up having to groundwork him to get him to stand still long enough for me to swing aboard and then - when I finally did manage to get on - I kept one rein tight so he had nowhere to go but in circles. We continued this until he deigned to stand quietly.
We were almost home when my ADD kicked in and I decided to check out a nearby abandoned house. I LOVE exploring old homesteads, but this one isn't that old so I hadn't checked it out, until then. There was nothing to it really. Just an empty brick residence, a small pond (with POSTED signs surrounding it), and a couple of sheds and a "barn" with several old lawnmowers and miscellaneous pieces of furniture. I was about to leave when I spotted a gate at the edge of yard. As we drew closer I realized that just beyond was a trail leading into the woods so, naturally, we decided to check it out! To my surprise it went quite a ways back - crossing some powerlines and and passing through an overgrown clearing before finally leading out to a huge field. However as we headed up the last hill (still in the woods) we heard shooting and then spotted some four wheelers on the crest of the hill, so we decided to turn back at that point.
Still, it was a great discovery! Later that night, I pulled up google maps to and poured over satellites images of the area. To my delight, I found that the huge fields eventually led to a road, and that across the way is an even smaller gravel rd. I am dying to see what is up there, as it has road signs stating that it is closed to thru traffic. Adventure awaits!
I feel bad for this horse...he lives completely alone, with no companions of any kind. I let Thunder greet him over the fence, but felt horrible when it came time to leave.
I swear there were deer stands every 20 ft or so along this trail! Definitely NOT somewhere I would ride during hunting season! (PS - can you spot the moon in this picture?