Why I Gotta Trot - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 3619 Old 12-04-2015, 03:04 AM Thread Starter
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Why I Gotta Trot

Probably my first horse ride ever, circa late '70s.

"To understand just one life you have to swallow the world..." Salman Rushdie

It seems a little difficult to explain where I’m at in my horse life.
For sure I’ve found a horse life to be a dynamic thing, shifting and changing in ways a person may not expect.

First I should explain that whatever may change about me, a constant is that I need to have horses in my life. I’m human, female, and just as deep as both of those things I’m a horse person. In the times of my life where I could not have my own horses, I still thought about them, read about them, obsessed about them. Throughout the long years of childhood and as a teen, when my mother remained convinced I would outgrow this phase, my thoughts revolved around learning, preparing, and planning for when I would own a horse. Any chance I had to meet a horse, touch a horse, ride a horse, and I was there.

When I was in college, they asked me why I chose my career as a nurse. Others around me said they’d always dreamed of helping people or been interested in health care. I truthfully said I wanted to have a career that would help me have a good income so I could always have horses.

Although I did not own a horse until my early twenties, my obsession with horses meant that before I bought a horse I had ridden many horses, taken different types of lessons, studied many different trainers, knew a lot about various types of tack and riding styles, horse breeds, and how to assess horses for soundness and conformation.

As always with horses, and something I learned long before I owned a horse, is that even if you study horses your entire life, you can only know a fraction of what there is to know.

Over the years I’ve found horse people to be opinionated, stubborn, emotional, dramatic, and helpful, tough, caring, loyal. Most of them are loyal to their horses first, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s hard sometimes to call them “my people,” yet they are. They’re the only ones who can understand the deep-seated need “we people” have to talk about horses. Co-workers’ eyes glaze over, spouses try to care but get bored, family members have heard it for far too many years. Strangers won’t stick around long enough. Even when horse people get frustrating, they’re still good to have around to listen to the stories.

I’ve had the chance my horse life to study some different disciplines and different theories whole-heartedly. I’ve had the opportunity to be disillusioned by the difference between dreams and reality, and to learn again and again that horses are amazing animals, just animals, but animals worth spending years and dollars and dreams on. Horses have been teaching me about myself, about humanity, about beauty, and about life. There’s more to learn.

Where I’ve landed is somewhere far away from those that use horses for profit and ego and their own goals. It’s also some distance from those that use horses to fulfill purely emotional needs, or those that believe horses sense our purposes and bond with us with some form of blind parent/child trust. I’ve learned that absolutes such as never, or always do not apply to horses. No horse will “always.” No horse will “never.” In the right situation, any horse will, and can hurt you. I’ve learned that you can’t take anything personal with an animal, and to stay far away from anthropomorphizing. The more I understand that horses are individuals with their own, strong motivations, the more I appreciate them.

These philosophies help explain why I have the two horses I own, and may give insight into what I write about them. In the next post I’ll introduce my horses.

Last edited by jaydee; 07-07-2017 at 03:29 PM.
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post #2 of 3619 Old 12-04-2015, 04:27 AM Thread Starter
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Amore: The Early Years

Amore was my first horse. I bought her when she was 12 years old, and now she is 24.
She has taught me more than I realized a horse could teach a person.
The first thing she taught me was to throw the book away, it did not apply to her.

When I went shopping for my first horse, I was completely open-minded about what age, gender, breed, or level of training to buy. Although I had not trained a horse myself, I felt confident that I was experienced enough, having ridden many horses and even very green and young ones. Having read thousands of horse books and magazines, I knew of many training methods. I’d ridden quite a few breeds of horses, and knew positive things about many of them as well as their faults. So when I saw a beautiful, 14.2 hand bay mare, age 12 with no real training, it did not deter me. Her conformation faults were minor, she had good bone and pretty movement. She was very, very sweet. A blank slate, if you will, seemed to be a positive thing.

We bought Amore on Valentine’s day, and her star was shaped like a heart. A sweet little horse, she didn’t know how to lead without stepping on you but her eyes were big and doe-like in their innocence. How hard could this be?

Two words to describe Amore: Innocent, terrified.
She literally knew nothing. She’d always lived on one small property, with her mother and older half-sister. Soon after we met, Amore opened her mouth, looked at me blankly and set her teeth on my arm. Since biting is one of those “cardinal sins” for horses, I shouted, slapped her neck, got big and scary. You’ve never seen a horse so surprised. She literally almost fell down, scrambled to the back of her stall and stood with her face in the corner, shaking. She stood there for quite a few minutes, peeking around to see if I was going to attack her again. She never tried biting again, but I learned that my reactions did not need to be so strong with this horse.

For the next year, I learned a lot about fearful horses. Following every step I knew to desensitize a horse, I taught Amore to lunge, be saddled, lead, learn the aids. She stood with the saddle on and cinched, I flapped the leather around and pulled it side to side, and she had no problem with it.
I planned to let her walk a few steps and lunge her, but that first step was a doozy. I’ve rarely seen a horse that could buck like her. She would twist and put her head between her legs and kick her heels over her head. Over and over and over. Once or twice she somersaulted clear over.

Being extremely stubborn, I thought twice about what was going to happen when I rode this mare but still got on her once she seemed fine lunging with the saddle on. The trick with Amore was that you’d think she was used to something, until one day she wasn’t. This little horse was so willing. She’d try and was so teachable and pliable as long as she wasn’t frightened.

Well, I kept riding. We started in a bosal and Western saddle. We’d ride for a few days and she kept progressing, building on what she knew. Then something would startle her and she’d buck just like I’d seen her do when I wasn’t on her. It didn’t matter if you were riding or leading or if Amore was in her stall. If she panicked, her mind was gone.
After several months and getting bucked off quite a few times, the trainer at the barn where I boarded suggested I might try a six ring martingale. By now I’d had an accident with the bosal and switched over to a simple snaffle, which seemed to give clearer messages to Amore. Later I learned that my bosal did not fit properly, which meant the release was not fast enough, which led to the day I kept spinning in circles on my horse so fast I almost lost my lunch, and decided to change to a snaffle.

The martingale was a great tip. For the first time, I caught Amore right at the moment of panic and stopped the buck from beginning. Hopping off, I was able to calm my mare from the ground. For my part, I was by now taking lessons from the trainer and learning some new things such as long lining, and watching as she trained other horses. I was even managing to stay on sometimes for several bucks, before getting launched off my horse. But they were impossible to ride out.

Now that I’ve ridden and trained many other horses, I understand what made Amore so difficult in the beginning. Her reaction to a stimulus was less than one second, literally. If she saw or heard something frightening, by the time I heard it or felt her tense up, she was already bucking. I’ve not ridden a horse with such a fast explosion point since. If you did the wrong thing, her full-blown panic would happen instantaneously.

The trainer I was working with was an Arab trainer. She was helpful, but she and others said many times in the first several years with my mare that she was lucky to have me. I didn’t see it that way. I felt if my horse wasn’t learning, I was doing something wrong. I felt that there had to be a key to getting past her fear, if I could only find it.
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post #3 of 3619 Old 12-04-2015, 05:08 AM Thread Starter
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Amore: Part Two

Since I am so stubborn, and will not give up on a horse, I kept riding Amore. Once her experiences allowed her to wait a second or two before panicking at every sudden sight or sound, the bucking quickly resolved (well, after I got bucked off a few dozen times). A couple of times she bolted, but soon that became rare. Her spooks were frequent and serious, and often unseated me.

After a few months of riding, we began going out on rides off the horse property where I boarded, and began showing. I’d started taking hunt seat lessons, and showed in English classes. Amore and I went to clinics, and rode out with other people. By now I just expected that I’d be coming off my horse fairly often, and it didn’t bother me too much. Somehow I’d never broken any bones, and after three concussions started wearing a helmet, so those stopped happening too. Many people let me ride their horses, which was a relief since falling off my horse so much made me feel like I was a bad rider. But I found other horses easier to ride and never came off of them. My trainer didn’t care to ride my horse either.

Now came a period of time where we moved to some new locations, had lots of riding experiences, more lessons, shows, and I rode lots of other horses. Something that began happening was that fellow boarders needed help with their horses. So many people around me were afraid of their horses and could not understand their horses’ motivations. I was learning a lot by riding and assessing many horses. Some were in pain, too little exercise/too much energy, bad tack, and some were just being horses. People thought their horses were plotting to harm them, behaved as if they had a magical bond with their horse like the Black Stallion or other fictional stories, or were so afraid of their horse they would only do ground work, over and over until the horse’s eyes glazed over with boredom.

What I saw was horses…each one had a distinct personality, and they all had the same motivations. Food, rest, outlet for energy, curiosity, social interest, run from danger. If other horses are running, you probably should too. Find your place in the herd. Yet each horse was so unique too, and all their life experiences played into who they were.

During this time I put Amore through some serious bomb-proof training with full courses and dedicated some time to lots of exposure training. By the time I’d had her four years, I decided she would never be a solid trail horse, and that she’d always spook and be afraid of going out alone.

When Amore was 16, we moved again and my new barn’s owners changed everything for me and helped my horse life tremendously.

These women boarded horses only because they wanted people to ride with. Within a couple of days after moving my horse in, they asked me if I would go for a ride. I explained to them that my mare was a little spooky and might walk a bit fast, things that had deterred other people from riding with me sometimes.

They launched into stories about their horses and how one of their mares had come to them at age 20, and for the first months riding her she’d rear every few feet during a ride. They said she also sometimes bolted off, but they felt it was fairly controllable by now. It turned out these gals were stubborn like me, gave horses the benefit of the doubt like me, and felt it was the human’s fault if a horse had learned bad behaviors.

We went for a ride, and Amore was like a kitten compared to their hot-blooded horses. She pranced a little, and one of them laughed as her horse began dancing sideways rapidly in return.

For the first time in my life, riding felt like an exciting adventure and these women sat on their horses like centaurs and always asked, “Ready?” before galloping off without waiting for an answer. I wanted to be just like them, so I held on tightly and Amore didn’t spook or do anything at all besides try to keep up with the flying white mare in front of us that she now worshipped as her leader.

Until now, I’d thought I was brave. I’d been riding a horse that was spooky. Big deal. These gals were riding these big, super fit, snorting horses up and down the mountains, jumping logs and bushes and half the time they’d just throw a bareback pad on. It was either fall off or ride, so I rode.

The first time we cantered on a winding trail through the deep sand dunes at the beach, I had ditched my western saddle to ride English like my new friends. I was behind the other three riders, and kept almost falling off while marveling at how they rode so easily through the deep footing around sharp corners doing flying lead changes.

We kept on riding together for several more years. Soon, I’d ridden all of their challenging horses and we’d trained some others together, and next thing I knew Amore was going out and still spooking, but she wasn’t that difficult to ride anymore. I’d transcended her. Now my confidence pulled her along, and we could go along the highway, out alone, over jumps, anything. My friends rode her easily too.

One day I found myself galloping Amore up the mountain, bareback, and I realized things were different and I finally knew how to ride. Now, in my 30s, after so many lessons, and horses, and books, and years. It was a mixture of learning the right techniques, riding the right horses, and being given a push far out of my comfort zone to learn real confidence.

This was when I met my second horse, Valhalla.
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post #4 of 3619 Old 12-04-2015, 10:07 PM Thread Starter
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Taking a break from the summary of my past with horses...fast forward to the present:

Today there was a break from the wind and rain storm we've been having for a couple of days. My current boarding barn does not have an indoor arena. In the past, I've used the winter as incentive to tune up the horses and work on some things that have been neglected during the rest of the year. Recently I've realized that some things have been slipping due to only going out on beach or trail rides, so I decided it would be good for me to show some discipline and try to do some arena work.

We have an outdoor arena that has enough room for cantering. It was placed over a grass footing, which had been churned up and was a bit rough. Recently some wood chips/hog fuel footing was put down around the perimeter, so I decided to try it out.

Valhalla was sick most of last winter and spring. Over those months, I learned many new things. First, we dealt with ulcers, healing them and putting weight back on. After that I learned about Vitamin E deficiency and how it can seriously affect a horse. Halla had severe muscle weakness and uncoordination, which at first I thought might be Recurrent Exertional Rhabdomyolysis, PSSM, or even EPM. All of these are difficult to diagnose from a vet, but we did rule out PSSM and EPM. A high fat, low starch diet did not help, and as my mare deteriorated I thought I would not be able to ride her again and she may even need to be put down.

In all my research, I finally learned about Vitamin E deficiency and began relating my mare's downturn to the fact that I'd stopped feeding vitamins the previous spring, the pastures had been overgrazed and poor all summer, and by the time winter came my mare was severely deficient. As a trial I began feeding a large amount of Vitamin E, and the improvement was dramatic and immediate. A lot of the weight loss I'd been unable to put back on Halla after her ulcers turned out to be muscle loss, and as she grew stronger she filled back out.

For several months I was just happy to be riding my mare. Yet as she grew stronger, all my focus on her muscles and movement highlighted to me how crooked she was (has always been), and I began working on improving her saddle fit. Halla's left shoulder is much larger than her right one, and her left hoof is a bit larger and flatter than the other. The final solution I came to was buying a treeless, Freeform saddle. For the first time in 5 years, the saddle stays straight and her shoulder movement does not affect the saddle.

I've discovered that Valhalla needs to relearn how to use her body under saddle. Over the years and miles I had developed a way to deal with having such a crooked horse. Using my body and aids, I had compensated quite a bit to help her do things such as pick up leads and move in a straight line. Her trot always felt terribly rough, and she preferred to canter.

When other people have ridden my mare, it has been very difficult for them to keep her straight. It has been difficult for me to keep her somewhat straight as well, and some days are better than others. Some of the technique I used became a bit subconscious, but I had a chronic tendonitis on the outside of my lower left leg due to having extra pressure down on that stirrup most of the time. Even the best fitting saddles always tended to slide to the right on my mare, toward her smaller shoulder. It was a process of weight and balance and blocking aids and guiding aids, and then we'd manage to follow curves and straight lines.

Today after we warmed up a bit, we worked on cantering around the perimeter of the arena. There was some humping over/crowhopping and changing leads, as Halla tried to figure out how to use her body. Whenever she got into the canter, it was straighter than it's been, and more balanced. But it was tricky for her because there was nothing for me to counter balance, so my weight was equal in both stirrups. I didn't have to fight the saddle and then counter balance that pushing weight with other blocking aids. I'm sure it feels very strange to her, having been used to cantering in such an odd way, always fighting the saddle pushing crookedly on her back.

I'd tried having the saddle shimmed and flocked to fit her, but that only helped about 20% of the problem on a dynamically moving horse.

We had several laps of successful cantering, and then we went and walked around a large field with a buddy horse. The wind and rain started up again by the time we finished, but it was a good ride.
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post #5 of 3619 Old 12-06-2015, 10:36 PM Thread Starter
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Dusk was settling in. People were hunkered down inside, staying dry and cozy as 40-50 mph winds and driving rain battered around the houses in my neighborhood. Driving toward the barn, the wind buffeted my car, making it feel as if the steering wheel might get pulled out of my grasp.

Turning in to the gravel drive at the barn, shapes began appearing in the gloom.

The horse people were here, pushing wheelbarrows, leading horses, and carrying hay bales. Their faces were cheery, framed by wet hair that seemed unable to decide if it would rather plaster close to a person's skin or fly around wildly. It was as if there was no storm at all; no one mentioned the weather. Not one person apparently minded that while nearly everyone in the county was staying inside, they were all out laboring in the inclement weather.

They behaved like they were the privileged few, and rather than resenting the daily chores that did not go away when the weather didn't cooperate, they acted as if they were enjoying themselves.

For my part, as I gripped a gate with one hand while the gusts scattered the manure off the fork I was holding in the other, it seemed that I was smiling too.

The horses were soon eating contentedly, the rain pattered on the roof, and it felt like I was one of the lucky ones, part of this weird, alternative, horsey world.
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post #6 of 3619 Old 12-10-2015, 10:50 PM Thread Starter
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Valhalla, part one:

Valhalla was an unplanned rescue.

My friends and I agreed to take in two horses for training, a Thoroughbred and an Arabian. When we went to pick up the horses, we saw two horses tied up and thought something was wrong…we were supposed to be getting a 12 yr old and 13 yr old horse, but the horses we saw appeared very old. As we got closer we realized the horses were skeletal, the TB near death.

We took the horses, but our fun little project was now a rescue mission. It became, “Sign over the horses or we’ll report you and there will be fines.” The TB was 16.3hh and the Arab 15hh, the horses were getting a flake of hay to share daily, were standing in a mud paddock and had eaten most of their shelter.

One of my friends decided in an instant she would take the TB. I struggled over getting the Arab, but in the end didn’t know anyone else who could take her on with all the expenses. Both horses had severe rain rot, scratches, and the Arab had a few sarcoids. Large chunks had been cut out of her mane and tail. The TB only had one eye.

When we brought the horses home, we put them on grass for about ten minutes, and the look in the horses’ eyes was as if they’d starved and died and now were in heaven. That look was what gave Valhalla her name…a "found paradise" of sorts was what I wished for her future.

As the horses regained their health, the TB was sweet, mellow.

My Arab began to show her true colors…feisty, excitable, dominant. She was absolutely impossible to catch due to previous poor handling, so that became the first project.

The story was that the horses had both been trained at one point. The TB was off the track. Valhalla had been to a trainer to get started. Then both horses had been turned out for the past 8 years. Meaning they’d been 4 and 5 when all their training had stopped.

The TB remembered and picked everything back up. Valhalla reacted to the cinch, reared and pulled away when you picked up her feet, and both horses had severe separation anxiety when one was taken away from the other.

Beginning with ground work, I started Valhalla over.
I planned to find her a good home once she was healthy and going solidly under saddle. After all, I already had Amore.
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post #7 of 3619 Old 12-10-2015, 10:57 PM Thread Starter
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In the winter, it's best to cuddle up with your buddies for warmth.

My friends say to be careful what you name your horse because they may live up to their name.
Amore is always making friends, and sometimes they find her too lovey dovey for their taste.

Last edited by jaydee; 07-07-2017 at 03:34 PM.
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post #8 of 3619 Old 12-15-2015, 11:15 PM Thread Starter
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Valhalla: Part Two

As my new horse, Valhalla became healthy, I started taking her out on rides with other horses.
My plans for finding her a new home began evaporating fairly quickly.

First, although she gained weight and muscled up, it turned out she was a very hard keeper. The vets said her teeth were good, despite the neglect, and we took care of any worms. But once Halla was out of a starvation state, she began turning up her nose at alfalfa, beet pulp, or any wet food such as oil. I gave her free choice hay, and despite that she was eating 8-10 lbs of complete feed a day just to stay in on the thin side of normal.

Then there was the issue that despite her rapid progress with training, her personality was very hot. I kept her in a snaffle for some time, giving her a real chance to work with the lightest cues possible. Thankfully she was not as fast to explode as Amore had been, and didn't buck or try to bolt. But her energy would build rapidly if you tamped her down too much, and although you could do a slow ride and keep her rate under control, it required some serious attention and detailed, methodical riding. She'd simmer until she came right up to the boiling point, and then you'd better let some energy out before the pot boiled over.

Knowing that horses have to be trained to gallop safely, I tried to keep Halla in a snaffle while going out with other pace horses to teach her to slow, rate and stop while going fast. That worked for a time, but this mare loved running and soon wanted to lead the other horses or even keep running after the other horses stopped. So I turned to a Kimberwicke, which had worked well on other strong horses, and this did help give an element of control when she became very excited or strong.

Valhalla had some interesting traits that I had not yet encountered in other horses. One thing she would try when I would ask her to keep her speed controlled at a canter was doing one and two tempi flying lead changes. We'd be going up a hill, staying nicely behind other horses, and changing leads madly back and forth at such a rapid rate that I felt like I was bouncing up and down on a trampoline.

Since Halla had not been exposed to mountain trails, she viewed changes in light or patterns of light coming down through the leaf canopy as solid objects. We'd be trotting or cantering along, and all of a sudden her weight would shift back all the way onto her hindquarters and we'd stop dead. If you haven't done this on a horse, it is a bit disconcerting and rather difficult to not end up either concussing on the horse's skull, or finding yourself sitting on the horse's neck. A hunter/jumper friend I met several years later told me her trainer taught her to think, “feet on the dashboard.” That describes perfectly how I rode Halla through this time period.

My friends and I had developed an interest in endurance riding. As we put the horses in training, we rode them for many, many miles and it was something both of my horses excelled at. When you ride horses for so many miles, you begin to feel like a part of your horse, and getting on again just feels “right,” as if part of your body was reattached.

You think, your horse moves. You look, and your horse goes there.

I began to realize that out of the 80 plus horses I’ve ridden from various breeds, Valhalla was my absolute favorite to ride.

She was now my horse, forever. She was expensive to feed, I only knew several people other than myself who could safely ride her, and on her best days she was a handful. On her worst days, almost too much to handle.

But Halla is the greatest ride. I have never, ever had to ask this horse to go out. When I get on, I point her nose in a direction and we go. She loves to run like the wind, and if I ever need a serious stress reliever, I can just open her up and she will take off like a rocket. She rides like a big, powerful horse, but she is compact and can turn on a dime. If I want to keep up with friends on their big Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods, we can. But she can also go for a spin with little Arabs, Mustangs and ponies. Halla is so athletic she can do about anything. She has challenged me so many times to become a better horseman and better rider. For those who value a quiet mind, steady temperament, or a relaxing ride, this is not the horse. For me, riding her is something to look forward to every time, and I’ve realized by now she is probably that once in a lifetime horse, that perfect ride and I feel so lucky to have found her.

Last edited by TaMMa89; 07-16-2017 at 09:19 AM.
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post #9 of 3619 Old 12-16-2015, 09:41 AM
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I am really enjoying reading this. You are quite a rider!
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post #10 of 3619 Old 12-16-2015, 11:22 AM
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Valhalla has a lot in common with Mia. Unfortunately, the Sonoran Desert doesn't have many places where running safely is remotely possible. That is why she is now a brood mare in a place where the country is open, they like to ride 20 miles at a time, and like to gallop for 2-4 MILES instead of 2-300 YARDS. I find I miss her, though.

But your advice some years back was very helpful in making Mia a safer horse to ride...maybe because you had ridden Valhalla?
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