The Summer Speeds By

Summer is just cruising past me this year! I feel almost disorientated with how the weeks are slipping away, so many amazing progresses have happened the past two months. I have been riding 5 days a week, usually Wednesday-Sunday. Every Monday since the first week of June (excepting two) it has rained massively- no barn day, and Tuesday is my weekly Camp Staff meeting (but I usually go out after to just play with ponies and brush them).

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Among the many milestone markers in TJ’s education have been:

  • Our First Show! Granted it was a pleasure show and I want us to be dressage, it was still great exposure and a test to see how TJ reacts in chaotic atmosphere. He did not disappoint me. From loading up in the trailer, unloading, warm up, showing, reloading- TJ was a gem! We showed in four classes, two walk/trots and two walk/trot/canters. Each class TJ relaxed more and more. We didn’t ride as well as we do at home, but I had low expectations for the show. I just wanted to avoid meltdowns. TJ offered a slightly more space cadet version of himself, but I was happy with that. He listened, was looky but not spooky, tried to be good and handled all the new craziness with class. I was told many times how beautiful he was. We didn’t place and he got rattled when all the horse were cantering with us (Mob-herd mentality). Oh and are right lead is a figment of our imagination, I guess. But we counter-cantered the crap out of our competition! But honestly, I couldn’t have been happier with our first time out. I wouldn’t have changed anything about that day. We also experienced riding with mirrors for the first time. He wasn’t sure about what was going on with that big grey horse looking at him weird in the glass, but he got over it after a few laps. Here is the video to TJ’s first class!
  • We got our first chiropractor/acupuncture experience. TJ had been very back sore behind his saddle/loin area a few days prior to our show. The chiro was coming out the day after the show, so I alternated between liniment solution and Bute/DSMO solution rubbed down his back leading up to the show. The Chiropractor ended up determining his kidney/liver function was struggling and did some acupuncture/ strategic B12 injections to reboot his inners. TJ also was put on a liver blend powder mixture of various roots and herbals to support his system. His other issue was his sciatic joints/nerves and was adjusted properly. The chiro showed me how to realign his hips myself, but because TJ is all legs/I am vertically challenged; I showed my 6’4 significant other how to fix my pony (much to both of their chagrin!) TJ also had acupuncture work done along his hips… he looked like a mutant porcupine. Little cigarette looking joints of  stuff were burned on the needles to intensely heat them for additional pain relief. During all of this TJ was so still and calm. I know some of the work was uncomfortable for him, but he locked eyes on me and stood as best he could. “Mom, this fucking sucks. But I’m dealing with this shit because you said so.” That was the baby Arab’s mantra as he glowered at me. Such a champ.
  • Finally, we have been doing a lot of trail riding on the roads and in a pine grove/camp ground around our farm. He is golden in a group or with another horse, like a seasoned veteran. Alone he is a bit worse, not terrible. He reverts back to Mr. Fidget and I must use all my calmness and patience. TJ thinks the world is scary when you are alone. He does try to be a good boy, though.

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We just need to put on miles and build strength/endurance before we raise our expectations. I don’t really ask him to be in a frame/collected, but I don’t let him run around like a lama giraffe either. I take what he gives me and usually if he is balanced and I ride well, TJ naturally moves into a collected frame. We are taking our time building him into his full potential. I’m focus on gaining experiences, skills and building a motor. All the fancy things will fall into place easily enough. I’m looking for a solid trusting partner before a flashy show prospect. He needs to last me the next 20 years.

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10 Days In, Now Two Weeks Off

I am amazed. TJ is the kind of horse that only comes around once in a life time. We have been working under saddle for 10 days- well, more like 7 days of actual ride time (I gave him two days off during the week and then went home for memorial day weekend).

We have accomplished:

  • Being amazing at the mounting block, and not walking off until asked.
  • all hoofies are controlled by me on and off the horse.
  • our walk quality is amazing and 90% self-collected
  • We kick ass at w/t serpentines.
  • Circles are less wonky- maybe 15% of our circles are proper 20Ms, 30% are ovals, the other 50% are just… roundish squares. We’re working on it. 😛
  • SIDE-PASSES! Yes…you read that right! In two sessions TJ can sidepass with a forward thinking brain at a walk.
  • Leg yielding! Because of our work with side-passes, leg yielding is “easy” and falling in place wonderfully at the walk and trot. He is far to green and butt-weak too attempt at canter. I wager once he has his canter figured out and strength it will be an easy modification done in one session.
  • No more balance bucking! Our canter departs on lunge and under saddle are buck-less. I am so happy! I can ride out bucks just fine, but I would rather not. TJ threw one buck on Friday out of being pissy, complete with slashy tail. He was just mad I made his stand up around a corner. He’ll get over it.
  • Transition quality, over all our transitions are prompt and balanced… the dreaded canter is still a little ran into, but with strength we will be more reasonable.
  • Half halts… some days we got ’em on point, other days TJ thinks half halts are imaginary figments of an addled brain pretending to be functional.
  • We rode outside! Twice. TJ was a super star. After our workout I walked him around the farm and driveway… during feed time! I just had to keep a slightly looped rein and relaxed seat. TJ will make a lovely trail horse in addition to his training program. I felt quite safe on my green bean.

Those are our main accomplishments as of late. I have noticed TJ is back sore after 3 days of work in a row. I liniment his back, stifles, hocks, hip bones and hip points liberally after every ride. He also gets 2 30c Arnica Montana after every other ride to help with pain. TJ just doesn’t have the cushion of back muscles to absorb my impact in the saddle. I try my best to manage my weight distribution and hold myself to avoid slamming into his spine. He also lacks the hind motor to power underneath himself.

Hopefully the next two weeks (I will be at a residential staff training for the Summer Camp I work for) will be filled with him just getting fat. His tummy has rounded up nicely from my barn’s 24/7 round bale and 5 LBS complete grain daily. I am hoping that 2 weeks of sitting a mowing down on spring grass/hay/grain will do him good and coat those ribs of his. I feel terrible every time a new person meets TJ, I feel obligated to say “I didn’t do this! I’m trying to get him fat, I swear!” Depending on his condition when I come back June 5th, I will either up his grain poundage or incorporate beat pulp. My Barn Owner has a 50 LBS bag of beat pulp that her show mare doesn’t like, might as well use that up!

Over all, I am so proud of TJ. I will be interested in seeing if TJ retains his skills after his vacation. I certainly hope so! I have a schooling show I am anxious to attend with TJ; even if it is just for exposure to the atmosphere. 🙂

So We Begin The Game Plan

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A bunch off hoof, seven months worth. The bottom left photo is a before and after: the left is trimmed, the right is not.

After TJ got a much need trim, was introduced to Apache (the two had a sleep over in a private paddock), and on day three at the barn was introduced to the herd; We began our training program. Since TJ is very green and has gaps in his fundamentals, we are generally starting at square one to solidify his uber-basic skills before advancing.

Because I am going to school to become a teacher, I generally think in terms of lesson plans. So, I will sketch out what our lesson plan today was. It consists of 4 sections: Pre-work (before schooling skills), warm up, schooling, wrap up. Within the sections are skills we focus on- typically these are things that either annoy the piss out of me and I want them stamped out, or important preliminary skills that will prove beneficial in future development.

PRE-WORK

  • Ground tying skillsminimal nervous fidgeting! Yes! But still forgets that the head can turn without feet moving.
  • Hoof handling- quick to give hind legs and supports himself, fronts are still sticky and quick to attempt to jerk them away.
  • Bridling- Good at putting head down with nose pressure. Still goofy about taking the bit past canines (I think it is habitual for him, since he was used to his canines being too long and getting hit). Excellent at dropping his head immediately after conniption.
  • Notes: TJ is very easy to saddle promptly, not girthy at all. Very pleasant to groom- no touchy spots and loves his face handled. SUPER with fly spray!

WARM UP- on lunge line

  • Prompt walk to trot transitions on vocal cue. These are quickly improving! Sometimes he is a little lazy about being sent off at a walk and occasionally needs a wiggle of the line to enforce downward transitions.
  • Prompt direction changes. TJ is very responsive to this, as we have really worked on this particular skill in the last week or so. My standard cue is a leading rein/point in the direction I wish him to go, followed up with a swing of the rope to drive him in that direction. Now I am beginning to phase him out of the driving swing. My goal is for him to alter directions by a suggestive point.
  • Whoa. I expect prompt halting from any gait. Mr. TJ however is not that skilled yet. He halts from a walk beautifully, the trot may need a wiggle of the line to enforce the vocal command. If TJ is being a space cadet or energetic, I may need to firmly pop him- but generally only once.
  • Cantering. This is just sucky. We are all over the damn place. Rushing into the canter, inconsistent rhythm, breaking gait. He’s just a severely unbalanced grey blur with scrambling legs. We are breaking this gait down. Our focus for now is: (a) canter departure from a steady not-spazztastic trot and (b) not breaking gait until instructed to do so. We did have one loop of this in each direction- so it possible, TJ! Baby Pony needs to be able to handle himself properly on the line, before I ask him to canter when I’m on his back. Unbalance is the source of his bucking issue, not misbehavior. This gait may take a month or so of solid work to be acceptable. That’s ok though… we have time. 🙂
  • NOTES: TJ was very respectful on the line. As soon as he halted after commanded to whoa, he would drop his head submissively and lick his lips. I love that body language of relaxation and cooperation. I usually wait ten seconds or so before going to him and giving him a face rub. He is a great balance between attentive and desensitized. He is learning my language and I do my best to be consistent.

SCHOOLING

On Thursday we had worked primarily on standing still while I mount up and remaining stationary under saddle until asked to move forward. We worked on that for about 30 minutes while there was quite a lot of activity in the barn- other boarders, horses being fed, even a show Saddlebred mare being bit rigged/lunged with side-reins in the arena with us. I would mount up, wait for him to stand quietly for 30 seconds, walk to the far side of the arena, stand for a while, dismount and repeat. TJ did fantastically, considering he has never been handled while another horse is in the arena with him, his old barn was very quiet with limited distraction, and (even though he is six years old) he has a baby brain.

Today, our previous session paid off and he stood like a statue as I mounted, waiting patiently until I clicked for him to walk forward. Yaya patience and consistency! We rode for 40 minutes. Since TJ does not know any of your standard arena/dressage figures i.e. circles, figure eights, serpentines, etc… we schooled two at a walk, and once I was satisfied with his ability to correctly negotiate the figures, we trotted them focusing on maintaining a consistent rhythm and introducing leg aids (while minimizing direct reins).

Serpentines: Squiggly baby is learning how to go straight like a big boy horsie. He is also learning a cool skill called inside leg/outside rein- it helps us make beautiful half circles at the top of our serpentines, in which we stay balanced and use our itty-bitty tootsie to cross under ourselves. When ever I would correct him with leg pressure to keep him straight, he would swish his tail. It reminded me of a teenager who scoffs at their parent when told to take out the garbage: “Yeah, I KNOW, mom. OK!” It was cute, his little protests. They faded as our schooling continued.

Circles: Big boy ponies also need to learn to make circles and not distorted amoebas. We didn’t do too many circles, because we are still learning to track straight and sometimes with circles he becomes super bendy- not in a good way. We focused on making nice even 25m circles while staying relaxed and forward at a consistent pace.

NOTES: As I have mentioned before: when I ride properly, TJ is sensitive enough where he carries himself correctly and everything goes smoothly. It has made it clear to me that if I don’t want to F*uck my horse up, I need to get some lessons. I am not a bad rider, I was once fairly good and accomplished. But riding the same horse for 11 years, and going to university where I took maybe 3 lessons a summer while I was home on break, has left me with some rather bad habits that need to get beat out of me. I drop my hands (especially my left), like all jumpers tend to do.. oh, and I ride on my crotch in a relaxed 3-point if I am not consciously telling myself “SIT UP! SIT UP!” I started my career as a jumper, so I regress back to those days in my comfort zone- especially if I am riding defensively. What I need to do is find some mean old bi-atch of a dressage trainer, who I will positively hate, be plunked on a level three horse who expects clear directions, and get my act together so I don’t frustrate my green bean TJ.

WRAP UP

When I was happy with our work on serpentines and circles, I had us walk an old training level test; just so we could integrate out straightness/bending/ turning skills. TJ did really good at halting on X and waited patiently for my cue to proceed. After we tooled around, I halted him at the far side of the arena, gave him a good rub, hopped off and loved on him more for being a super star and trying his best today.

TJ really is a nice horse. He has handled the move, a new environment, new herd and a change in lifestyle amazingly well. I know that having clear rules for simple things like leading and ground tying, have helped him feel there was  a consistent in the upheaval of his life. He has really bonded well to me and I can tell that he genuinely does want to try to do as I ask. In the beginning stages of the game, to succeed all he has to do is try.
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The Grey and The Bay

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After what felt like months, TJ finally came home to my boarding barn. Having not been trailered in a year, or at another facility in eons, TJ was a super star. He loaded into the trailer with a bare hint of hesitation. He was slightly pushy when I went to unload him, I reminded him that the rules we have established still apply. My expectation reaffirmation seemed to give him confidence and TJ was calm… curious… but calmly absorbing his new turf.

TJ continued in a collected manner when I put him on individual turnout, brought him in to explore the barn and be brushed (ground tied!), and practice with clippers- he has Friesian feathers, I swear! All the while horses were being fed, a lesson was happening, and other boarders were about.

Finally, I put Apache in the individual paddock next to TJ, so they could get acquainted over night, before we put them together. They sniffed for 20 seconds and did their own thing: no squeals, no kicks, no biting. Apache wanted to gorge himself on grass. And TJ wasn’t fussed about being blown off.

I could not be happier with TJ’s first day home. I see a very happy future illuminating the horizon. 🙂

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Dentist and Gatsby

Over the weekend, TJ got an intensive education on ground tying, more haunch yielding and lateral flexion. I am not riding and haven’t for quite sometime because his feet are too bad and honestly I am trying to keep his exertion to a minimum. There is a seemingly huge shortage in farriers in my area and it has been a real b*tch to schedule an appointment before the end of June. Thank god the stars aligned and TJ is scheduled to move to my boarding barn on Wednesday, and our barn’s farrier worked it out to come on Thursday. I will be writing up a full farrier post later this week with pics!

But as I said, TJ and I have been bonding, grooming, and working on more stationary skills. Good news! He is now yielding his haunches to me consistently on the ground, backing readily (although not as prompt as I would like), and picking up all hooves! The back hooves were our tricky ones, but now he is perfect about them! It’s the front ones that are being troublesome. He does a stupid walk step thing when I pick up his foot… don’t worry soon we will knock that habit out!

Today, the equine dentist came out on a pseudo emergency  call- I swear there are almost ZERO equine care professionals. Last week I FINALLY tracked a reliable dentist down. I am adamantly against using vets as dentists for my own personal reasons. I was not disappointed! B was a fantastic individual to work with and I will definitely make a note to use her again! She felt TJ’s face and jaw musculature  thoroughly, watched his mastication as he ate grain, and got to work on teeth floating. All the while, B explained to me what she was doing and how TJ’s teeth will change after the service. She told me his 6s- the very front molar set- will always overhang slightly because of his jaw conformation. She said she did not want to file them down because it would change the alignment of his jaw and would need to be almost all the way to his gum. I said if it doesn’t cause him pain, do what you deem good for him.

We found a lump under his tongue that looked like a calcified puncture wound or a scarified hematoma- I should have gotten a pic while he was knocked out. But I didn’t. B said that this scarification won’t affect his eating or performance. If it does cause problems I can get it surgically removed. Of course I think cancer… but I will keep an eye on it over the next month to see if it enlarges or changes pigment.

After rinsing TJ’s mouth, B and I had an excellent conversation about equine dentistry and Arabs. I am very grateful for having found her, and was more than pleased with her work and interaction with TJ and myself.

After she left, I guided doped up TJ to the arena side where a lovely gentle cross breeze would hit him. He was very sweaty from the sedative. I gave him a long brushing, braided his tail, and read to him for 45 minutes. We read The Great Gatsby  by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Even when I was certain the sedative had worn off, TJ stood calmly. He only began to fidget when I stopped reading for whatever reason. It was a nice feeling to glance up and see TJ watching me intently. It made me feel that in his world, I am important.

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Baby TJ and the Family Tree

Now that the bulk of my final projects/papers are completed, I finally have some time to write a quick post before I have a publication release party tonight- three of my poems were featured.

The other week I was introduced to two very exciting people. Because I am a storyteller by nature, and am obsessed with life stories/memoirs; I decided to fill in the more foggy sections of TJ’s history. I knew I am his third person: J, his breeder had him for 9 months, Then C bought him from J, and I bought him from C. For whatever reason various details of TJ’s family never bridged over to me. Being the expert English Major researcher I am, I went to Google! (Librarians who love EBSCO now want me dead). Easily enough I found his breeder’s website and called the number on the bottom of the page- yep… I’m a right Ol’Sherlock and purdy dern insightful. The cool thing is her farm is a stone throw from my hometown!

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Prowlerr- TJ’s very handsome Daddy

The following day J the breeder called me up and we had a lovely hour long chat about TJ’s sire and dam, buying and selling, training, and Arabian Pedigrees. It was great!

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Zoe- very preggy with TJ. She was actually bought by J at an auction out of pity. She came from a Pintabian ranch that moonlighted as a PMU Farm.

 

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Krewe and A- aren’t they just beautiful!?! He’s 16h of Russian Arab like TJster. Hopefully in 6 months we will be at this level!

J also told me about TJ’s full brother, Krewe, who is one year younger. J put me in contact with A on Facebook. I sent A a friend request; hoping she wouldn’t think I was one of those weirdo people who add random individuals. She accepted my request and we had a right ol’ message fest and picture exchange of the two brothers.

We had great conversation about Arabs and dressage, manners, and saddles. It was wonderful for me to see how educated Krewe is and all the things A has done with him. I was getting a feel out to see how much the brothers had in common, and it sounds like they are almost identical in stature and personality. I also found out the TJ has a full sister as well as a few half-siblings- but I don’t know anything about them. I know that you can’t judge one sibling based on another, but it was intriguing to know of certain “family” traits.

I just was fascinated with the whole piecing together of TJ’s “family”. I hope that next time I go visit my parents, I may be able to swing by J the Breeder’s farm and see TJ’s.

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Dually PJ was TJ’s registered name before I decided to switch it.

Because I don’t know anything really about bloodlines and pedigrees, anyone with knowledge want to comment: have at it! I’m from the school of “you ride what you got” and “bloodline don’t mean *ish if your horse can’t work. But it would be handy to know TJ’s genetic potential. 🙂 Random Fun Fact: TJ’s sire’s full brother or dad (don’t remember which J said) is actually at the Princess of Jordan’s royal stables. Guess she’s big in endurance riding.

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Brand new TJ!
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He looks like this still when he is being an air-head.
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Such a goof!

Ding Bat and Grumpy Old Man

I had every intention of riding TJ this morning. I woke up early so I could ride TJ and visit Apache (who lives on opposite sides of town at the moment) before my classes. I don’t know if the surprise of seeing me so early/he didn’t have breakfast/breakfast was being fed right as we started our work out…. I don’t know… must have sent him into a state. But TJ was not mentally on the same wave length as me today. So instead of hopping on him and riding through the distractions- which I would have done except I am trying to build up positive experiences and I was alone with a bolty Arabian.

I chose to work on our lunging and voice cues, which we are successful at and I could utilize the distractions to see if the skill was concrete. It was- for the most part. Every time I chewed my gum a little too loudly or had too much energy in a body movement, TJ used that as an excuse to act up. It wasn’t bad- he would just jump into a canter and zoom around. We used this opportunity to re-establish that whoa applies at all times, and all that matters is what I am telling him. Not his friends calling for him. Not the hay. Not the cat who wheezes with a severe respiratory infection. Me.

After 30 minutes of schooling upward/downward transitions, practicing whoa-ing from all three gaits, we were mentally back in sync. I ended the lesson by practicing picking up our hooves. He doesn’t think his front knees can bend, and gets touchy about having to pick up is hind legs. I actually added getting TJ comfortable and prompt with picking up his feet and me handling them on our groundwork goal list. I want to be able to his feet myself and to do that, he must cooperate.

As I played with his feet, we were also practicing intro to ground tying: Just standing with his rope across his back, while I am less than a few feet away. He was very level headed about this task and fidgeting was reduced to being looky. During our after work bonding time(usually a complete cuddle-fest), TJ actually groomed me with his lip! I’m happy that he was attempting to bond with me. So was this the day I planned? No. But we still accomplished schooling some skills. At this stage of the game, that is fine with me.

On a side note: Apache is now relocating from his stall and private paddock to living in the gelding’s pasture 24/7 with two geriatric Saddlebreds and a paint. Isolation and controlled turnout wasn’t making his injury heal any faster and he hated being stall bound. Funny thing is, when we introduced him to the herd, Apache flagged his tail and was floaty trotting and playing for a good 10 minutes… before he remembered his leg can’t take that. Before I left him, I gave him some pain reliever and left him munching happily on the remnants of a round bale.
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