Thursday, September 27, 2012

All you do is slow me down

On Tuesday I thought it would be nice to take a few photos of Sovey while I rode. He has been going in his halter all summer with no problems whatsoever. Just as I pulled out the camera and shot this picture, a deer popped out at us and Sovereign took off cantering.

Whoa doggers!

Looks like I fell off...but I didn't - luckily!  He side-stepped a few more times on the rest of the ride. I think it might be time to put the bitless bridle back on him!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

And the people passin' by just stare in wild wonder

Oh, sunshine-y September! You have been so good to us. Shadow shot of the big boy, Pie, yesterday, and my foot. The wind was whipping and the road crew was working close by, but all the horses kept their cool. I've said it before - our farm, close to loud trucks on the turnpike and the annoying auto auction has given me three, steady quiet police horses. They are unflappable.

Wild mane whipping in the wind!

Foggy looking rounder!

Three cutie boys after our ride. I have better photos than this one, but I'll save them for another post. Pie, far right, is giving me the worried look about my phone, "Julwee, what is that scary thing you are holding there?" I rode early in the morning and then ran five miles with Brian. The Appalachian Trail was bathed in golden light and Brian and I felt sad for Maizie stuck in that airtight school building. Last evening, Brian, Maizie, my mom, and I joined friends and went roller skating. I fell on my knee when a little (heller) kid plowed into me! I am fine and kept right on going but I cut my knee and will be stiff in a few days. I posted before about how much I think staying loose and relaxed while skating is similar to riding a horse. The good thing about riding, though, is that there aren't little kids flying into you, knocking you off your horse at every turn!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

he did not have a care

The general state of affairs in my regular life and horse life right now is one of absolute bliss. This view of my ride on Foggy yesterday in a field of goldenrod and tree seedlings illustrates what is going on in my brain and soul this September. I mention this idyllic sliver of time with slight worry and guilt. The worry is that the bottom will drop out because "when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door" and the guilt is because I am not sure why it was decided that I get to drink all this up. Mostly I am extremely grateful.

Oh, there are icky, annoying things going on right now in my life too, but for some reason, the euphoria coursing through my veins doesn't make much room for the bad stuff. I don't take any mood altering drugs or anti-depressants. I never have. I am wondering if aging in general just makes me forget my worries or at least makes them blurry, less edgy, less crisp in my mind. 

One thing for sure I have learned to do as I age is prioritize my day. There are a few certain activities that I try to do FIRST that make all the other stuff that I have to do and think about just not seem as daunting. When I can't do the good, fun things first, I promise myself that I will do them and I keep that promise. The day is long and can get gobbled up if I let it. There are 24 hours in each day and I try to sleep for 8 of them (on clean, crisp, sunshine-line-dried-sheets -see #4 below). That leaves me 16 hours to do both the things that I love to do and also the things that I have to do, but don't enjoy. 

Here are the things that I love to do and their corresponding time requirements:

1. Ride at least one horse  - minimum 2 hours to leisurely groom and ride. I sometimes ride three horses so this can be much longer, but I have to ride at least one horse a day to have a great day and feel complete.

2. Run - 30 - 50 minutes - this activity is best done on the trail, but 30 - 50 minutes of running anywhere, even on streets, ensures blood flow to my brain and body and makes me relaxed and calmer. Endorphins are released and euphoria is practically guaranteed no matter what life is handing me.

3. Coffee and talking with Maizie and Brian - minimum 20 minutes although we have been known to talk for hours on weekends. 

4. Hang out/bring in laundry - I have timed this - a daily load of clothes for the three of us with very active, dirty, sweaty lifestyles takes me 4 - 7 minutes to hang out on the clothesline and 4 minutes to bring inside. The weather is a factor here, but sunshine dried laundry is a secret weapon against time and the horridness of the world. I hate to do laundry and I used to think it took too long to hang out, but I've learned that the payoff is worth it. This is a simple activity that has magic qualities for me and I am honestly not sure why. 

Four activities that take less than four hours a day to do. And, because I know how long these fun activities generally take, I don't wear a watch when I do them. I just let them flow and they miraculously stay within their four hour time frame. That leaves me 12 hours to do the work and obligations that aren't so terrific. If I can't make time for myself to thoroughly enjoy four hours a day of the 16 that I am awake, then I am not sure that life is worth it at all. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Learning to jump properly - helpful every ride!

Don't let the post title and this photo fool you. I do want to explain about jumping, but I haven't been jumping this stump! There happens to be an interesting apple tree near this stump on the neighbor's property that grows enormous apples that taste like golden, juicy pears. I call them "Papples" and they are as big as Osage oranges even though the tree is not sprayed or pruned by anyone. The tree's boughs hang super low and I have to slide off the side when the boys take a dive under the umbrella of limbs to get some papples. This stump has become my new favorite mounting block after the gobble fest under the tree. All three boys are good about me getting on here. Sovey stands perfectly anywhere, but Pie and Foggy stand way better for the stump than any of my man-made contraptions. Makes you wonder! 

Today I rode all three bareback and during each ride I was reflecting on how fortunate I am to have learned to jump. I am currently writing and editing a passage about the importance of taking riding lessons in general. Let me just preface this idea with the fact that I do not believe anyone has to ride to experience pure horse joy. Some of the greatest horse people have never been on a horse. But, if you ever plan to ride, then taking riding lessons from a conscientious instructor, above all else, is the most essential, respectful thing you can do for your horse. Learning to ride has nothing to do with cleaning a stall, or emptying a water bucket or being a kind, loving horse owner. But trying to ride a horse in a considerate, joyful way without truly learning how to ride is like putting the cart before the horse. In fact, that is my chapter title, Putting the Cart Before the Horse. I haven't written one word about the importance of learning to jump a horse, because I never really thought of that knowledge as necessary before today. 

Learning to jump a horse surely isn't imperative, but there are definite shifts in weight and body positions I inadvertently use each day that come from my jumping knowledge. (Important to note - I never learned to barrel race or a zillion other equestrian disciplines and I am certain those pursuits also pack secret advantages for daily rides too.) But, heading a horse into a jump with impulsion while correctly keeping contact and keeping them centered and balancing over them at just the right time is something that I can feel and understand and today I suddenly realized that I use my body similarly in daily rides on the flat.

The motion of leaning forward and directing them with my seat and legs while keeping my upper body parallel to their neck in order to avoid branches is very similar to the way I ride into a fence. When I am bareback I have so much better contact and my horses are super attentive to my body position. But even in a saddle, I know that I get into this type of half-seat when I am in trouble - either I have to avoid a low branch, a close tree or fence post or when a horse is nervous and jumpy. I actually documented this position before on my blog back in January of 2011 when Pie was quite a handful to get home. 

I often write about "giving my horse the reins" when they are rushing or getting fussed up. I previously didn't really know how to describe what I was doing when I was in trouble and needed to diffuse the adrenaline, but it is the exact sequence I use when I jump that I believe I am describing. Shies and bolts are explosive and the anticipation of one coming up makes me attentive. I use my body and my brain as if I am going into a fence or line. I stay seated and alert ready to balance parallel to their neck and give them their head while talking and soothing. I am sizing up the problem as if I am riding the strides into a fence but I am also breathing and relaxing my own body. My mind is thinking of keeping the horse going exactly in the direction I am asking. As I ask with my body and my mind for my horse to move this way or that, they do! It is a focused few seconds, but the balance of being in the saddle pushing forward, ready to not be in the saddle and hover above is so similar to lining up and going into and over a fence. 

I am so glad that I did learn how to jump properly, although I don't have any real desire to do the type of showing I once did. 

That brings me to two funny stories. (Mrs. Honeychurch says, "Just in time. How dare you be so serious!") One story is about showing and the other about jumping. Today I met a lady when I was riding Pie over at the church. She was walking two dogs and when we got near her, she asked me how old Pie was and if I show him. I told her that he was seven and I think my showing days are over. I explained that I am working on just riding this retired racehorse safely each day. She paused and then said, "He is the fattest Thoroughbred I've ever seen!" That made me laugh right out loud. 

The other story is about jumping. You don't really know my adorable husband, Brian, so maybe you won't think this is funny, but my mom and I think this story is hysterical. Brian is one of those amazingly intelligent people who has a tendency to get totally absorbed in thought and not notice anything that is going on right in front of his face. In 2002, I decided that he should take riding lessons in case I ever wanted to get back into horses. I took lessons with him and we rode together in a big outdoor ring. Brian has a great seat, but to say he has soft hands is an understatement. In reality, he has zero contact with a horse's mouth (head in the bitless). He learned to walk, trot, and canter but no amount of encouragement from our instructor convinced him to move the reins up through his fingers. He rode on the buckle. The gate was often left open and I was certain his horse was just going to leave the ring as Brian cantered around blissfully unaware of anything. 

I knew the instructor fairly well from riding a green large pony for her years before. So, while she worked one-on-one with Brian she just had me warm up, wtc, and then ride a course she had set up in the ring. I was having an okay time, but I am just not really turned on by ring work. I never was. All I could think about was getting outside the ring and walking around the property after our lesson. Driving home from one of our last lessons, I said to Brian, that I wasn't sure it was necessary for me to be jumping. I had Maizie now and I had no desire to show and to ride this mare each week around on this course seemed silly to me. Brian said, "Well, honey, if you don't want to jump, just tell her that you are not interested if she ever asks you to do that." I just looked at him in disbelief. "Brian, I've been jumping the whole time!"
"You have?" He couldn't believe it. He was so focused on his own riding that he had zero idea that I was also in the ring riding around and jumping right in front of him. I think he knew I was in there with him, but other than that, nothing. Once, he had crossed over in front of me as I was heading into a fence and I just assumed his typical long reins prevented him from turning his horse. In reality, he never even knew I was jumping that or any other fence! 

Never a dull moment in our life! Here is Sovey in his bridle, but if you click the photo there is a 48 second video of me riding him in his halter yesterday.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nothing out there you haven't seen before now

I LOVE my horses. Of course, this isn't news, but the past two weeks have been exceptionally good for us and I just can't get enough of them. We are in that safe and happy comfort zone where everything works and we trust each other no matter what. 

Last Thursday was the only day I didn't get to ride. Instead I rode the mower. I decided to make a "track" around the outside of some of my pastures. 

The horses can't be turned out there yet because the grass was so long when I cut it. I have to wait a week until it dries and is safe for our little Foggy. He is prone to choke. I have been riding the horses on the new paths and I love them, but the horses all think that pasture riding is boring. They make me laugh how slow they go in there - nothing new and exciting in there for them. Pie especially says, "ho hum" and requested a long adventure walk out through the town after the pasture ride. He walks over to the road and sighs and stands and waits for me to look both ways and then we cross over to a small side road. One motorist stopped and smiled and said that the borough should build us a bridle path. Oh, I agree!!!! 

Yesterday was fall shots day, only this year I gave them myself. Even Pie was good for his nasty bee stings. My veterinarian has increased her prices - in May our spring shots for three horses was $600! I remember riding in the veterinarian truck back in the day when inoculations for three horses might have cost $60. Am I really saying this? I sound like my relatives from the Depression - get out the violin because you know, I also walked to school both ways uphill...but, $600! My husband wondered why she doesn't just make it an even $1000. 

After our rides yesterday, I left the horses in the barn to snooze while I scrubbed and refilled the outside water buckets. When I came back inside to turn them out I found Sovey's lower lip like this:

Horses make me giggle with all their silly, wonderful ways. Sleepy lip is one of the cutest things. And Foggy's fuzzy bunny ears, and Pie's head lower to look in my eyes, and the way Sovereign stuck his head in a car window yesterday on our ride, and Foggy's fast, determined stride to anywhere, and Pie's head turn and pocket nuzzle for carrots, and Sovereign's statue pose so I can mount out on the trail...I LOVE my horses.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Baseball, hot dogs (veggie), Apple Pie and applesauce

It rained all night Monday and the forecasters were calling for more rain all Tuesday. I got to the barn by 7:15 and saw some clear skies so I tacked up Pie. Here he is looking at the wet tennis court as we head out on our ride.

We rode for 53 minutes. Recently, I've added in more trotting and cantering. I think Pie's belly is coming up and his cresty neck is starting to return to proper dimensions. Mostly, our program is made up of long walks. 

Pie is good-natured about everything lately. Foggy has wiggled himself like a sandwich filling into a middle place in the pecking order. Foggy still listens to Sovereign, but he plays his way out of any altercation with Pie. Therefore, Pie is not truly above Foggy. They share that role and because of it, Pie isn't as bossy to Sovey. Sovereign is above Foggy and below Pie, but the lines are blurred now and the three seem very comfortable and happy together.

I opened the noseband on the bitless bridle and Pie gobbled apples after our ride. Click the photo for the sound effects and hilarious monster gobbling noises that he makes. I have never witnessed a horse eating apples in such a way. He creates an applesauce-y sloppy mess that flies everywhere when he moves about or bites at flies. Hysterical!

I groomed and rode Foggy next. It rained on us a little, but not too bad. Sovereign was last. He is a bugger, completely aware that the low branches are full of water. He runs me under them and we both get drenched. I can't tell if he is doing it to be annoying to me or to get wet himself because he loves water. Probably the latter since I don't think horses are vindictive. At least other horses. Sovey, hmmm, well, I don't know about him. We walk along so nice and then he wheels around to the side and ducks under a low branch and I get all the leaves and water full in the face!

Rainy and wet again today. It is September - last year's record rainfall month.

I just walked Maizie to the bus stop. She told me that she can tell that she is maturing because the Yankees lost again last night to Tampa Bay and she is still able to smile today. Oh, to be so young!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Crimson ball sinks from view

Today's ride was almost entirely off the property. Foggy is the exploring boy. Here we are at the church across the street in their new soccer field. If you click the photo, above, you can see a video. 

We walked right down the street this morning. I rarely ride on the street, but it was a sleepy Saturday morning and I only took him on a small side road. Still, not perfect - dreaming of miles of trails. 

Last night's huge moon over the pastures.