Saturday, September 30, 2017

Back in the Sandbox & Header Contest!

(Thank you everyone who commented on my Ty post. It has been incredibly hard to see him unable to do the things he loves. Ironically enough, he has been feeling pretty good the last week so he has been able to resume regular walks. We will continue to keep an eye on him and if readers would like, I'll keep updating and sharing photos of him :) ).

The well-needed break from the arena came to an end Thursday evening - I messaged another person who boards their horse in the area and asked if she wanted to join me. We agreed to meet up after I was done work and unfortunately, by the time I got out to tack up Annie R was already waiting for me at the end of the driveway since work had run a bit longer than anticipated. It wasn't a huge deal, so I went and got tacked up.

Post-ride and we were soaked!
Annie was pretty looky when I pulled her out - she could hear Colby's footfalls on the asphalt down the driveway - but didn't do much other than dance a bit when tied. I tacked up in lightening speed, hopped on and set off.

Annie was pretty excited and walked quite fast but stopped dead in her tracks when she was Colby. It was a little funny.

"Wait... what... where did you come from?" -Annie
Unfortunately, mare had only one pace on the walk to the arena - FAST. She didn't try to trot or anything, but just was marching away. Colby, being an older QH, was very slow and nonchalant about the proposed excursion. I kept asking her to slow down and when we ended up getting too far ahead I would halt her and wait for Colby to catch up. I was pretty pleased with Annie, mostly because I hadn't ridden her in a week and we were out with a "new" horse (we've ridden with R and Colby once before) and she was responding well to my slow down/halt requests (aside from a few times where she rooted and pulled against me), AND she didn't come into heat, so that's a win!

When we made it to the arena, it started to rain pretty good, but I figured a good school wouldn't hurt anything. The sand was a bit wet and mushy, but not enough to suck Annie's hooves in or cause any issues. I had to dismount to get into the ring and when we got in there, a makeshift jump out of a piece of wood and tires spooked Annie. We wandered over and she blew hard at it before realizing it was a inanimate object and it was certainly not going to kill her.

Aside from being very forward and kind of running on her forehand, she did really, really well. It took me a few laps to re-establish a slower but more harmonic trot and once we had that, she was responding quite well. Our turning cues have suffered a bit tho - she feels kind of rusty moving off my leg and bending and doing all the things. I didn't really push it - we haven't schooled at all since September 3 and mare has lost a lot of muscle tone/fitness. She's a young lady who hasn't even been undersaddle a year, so I cut her a lot of slack and just made bigger circles or kept asking her to move off the leg. As we get back into the swing of things, I'll start demanding more perfection, but for now it isn't worth a fight and so long as the effort is there, I reward it.

Bending, balance and rhythm? Thanks but no thanks.
We didn't do too much in the ring aside from trying to play around with our leads again - she had a difficult time obtaining her right lead like usual and in true Annie fashion she pitched a bit of a fit when I kept bringing her back down to trot. She was starting to get flustered and frustrated and felt kind of like a dolphin trying to break through a set of waves - complete with one buck that received a no-no spank. She wasn't bad persay - just fresh and anticipating what I wanted from her.

I rode it out tho and just laughed, continuing to ask her to just trot forward while she bounced beneath me. I abandoned the idea of getting a canter for a bit and just rode figures and serpentines all around the arena. Her brain firmly planted back into her skull and when I asked again and she got the lead just fine.

I finished the ride in the ring by patting her for getting the right lead after her brain explosion and went back to do a few more trotting figures. I have been trying to train my brain to finish the schooling session on another gait like walk or trot, as opposed to the canter (which I typically save for the end portion). After that, we walked down to the other side of the arena where Colby and R were riding and I decided to pop Annie over a haphazardly designed jump someone else must have set up. It was a large 2x10 chunk of wood sitting on two tires. The chunk of wood was pretty small, so it made the jump more of a skinny than a regular vertical, so I wasn't sure how Annie would take it. We trotted over it in both directions and Annie popped over like it was a total non-event.

On the hack home, I was videoing her
sans reins and she evidently came to a screeching
halt to grab some green lol.
All things considered, I'm pretty happy for our "first ride" back in the ring. She didn't suck towards Colby, didn't argue with anything (well, aside from being COMPLETELY CERTAIN WE SHOULD BE CANTERING MORE), and felt like she was a pretty broke horse. The last time she had a good portion of time off, it was like I was riding a wet noodle, so it's kind of cool to see she is retaining all of her training and muscle memory.

The hack back home was uneventful - she plodded along on a loose rein and we even did some long-rein trotting on the shoulder of the road where there is sand and she obliged back to a walk when we rounded the corner for home.

By the end of it, both of us were completely soaked from the rain, but I felt really content and happy with her performance. Sometimes it isn't about getting that damned right lead, and sometimes you have little blips of progress, but the overall picture is shaping up to be something I am so excited for.


Sidenote, please do not forget about the contest I am holding for a blogger header! I have received a few entries, but do know quite a few people were trying to get some in. I am going to extend the contest by a few more weeks just to see if I can get a few more to trickle in. The final deadline will be: OCTOBER 21st!

Remember - there is a fully customized bonnet for the winner from If The Bonnet Fits!

And, for those who may not be totally crafty at Photoshop or other programs, SHARE the original contest post for your chance to win a bridle charm from Beka!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

An Update on Ty

While I don't blog about my dogs often, they do make several appearances in my blogging content in the means of pictures or short blurbs here and there. Most days, my blog deeply reflects my horses and our adventures together. Today, it is all about my four-legged best friend.

This handsome guy right here.
For those who don't know - Ty is a Shepherd my parents adopted for me as a gift in the winter of 2004. I've had him for a large portion of my life and he has been a constant companion to me, especially during my growth and fight against PTSD and a variety of other anxiety related issues.

Earlier this year, the Boyfriend and I noticed something was not quite right with Ty. It started out as small things - unwilling to sit evenly on his haunches, occasionally dragging his toes on the asphalt, waking up stiff in the mornings. It was around early April I started to notice all of these things and they begun to compound into a rolling ball of moss.

A large reason we took the dogs on our holiday
was simply because of Ty's mobility issues.
He started to drag both paws on the asphalt - more frequently and much more noticeably than before. He'd walk with this super weird tempo - bouncy steps, but with no rhythm. His nails also started to get worn down, especially the two central toes, from all of the toe dragging.

I assumed he was showing signs of hip dysplasia, so I started him on some anti-inflammatory treatments and arthritic supplements to see if it could help with his stiffness and weird walking.

It didn't.

So, I booked a vet appointment.

The vet at our small animal clinic did a full evaluation and even before sending Ty for radiographs, seemed to know instantly what the problem was. In addition to a few tests (which included walking up and down the curb, trotting out, etc), he found a largely delayed response in a "paw flip" test. Here, the vet disclosed he feared Ty was beginning to struggle with some kind of neurological issue, stemming from his spine.

Severely delayed reaction.
He began apologizing to me, "I am really sorry, but you're going to hate me for saying this... It is tough when our younger dogs get these kinds of issues."

I asked him how old he thought Ty was, as this vet has known him for most of his life.

He responded by asking, "Didn't you just hike him last year on some pretty intense trails?"

Why yes, yes I did.

He was shocked when I reminded him Ty would be turning 13 in October and complimented me on my dog's otherwise excellent health.

Not long after, the tech's came and took Ty for a series of radiographs. Weirdly enough, the x-rays showed no real issues aside from a minor inconsistency between two of the discs. Even more interesting, Ty's hips are completely free of arthritis or any other breed-related issues Shepherds tend to get. The small little blip on his spine was the only indication of a problem.

Which is kind of hard to hear.

Having a perfectly healthy dog with a teeny tiny speck on one portion of his spine. A tiny speck that is going to cause a very intense and incurable set of issues.

It's almost like being so close to something but having an impenetrable barrier in the way - no matter what, there is nothing I can do to fix it. Which really, really sucks.

I stayed quite a while past my appointment time I'm sure, talking with the vet and discussing various options. Without an MRI (which we do not have in this area), we can't exactly determine if this is some kind of degenerative myelopathy, type 2 disc disease, or some other spinal issue. We know for certain it is not trauma related (we re-did x-rays a few weeks later because I am neurotic). All we know is there is some kind of degeneration happening within his spine that will eventually cause him to become paralyzed.

There is no fast and hard time-frame for when complete paralysis will occur and there is no telling how Ty will ultimately respond to the changes his body undergoes as the disease evolves.

And it scares me beyond belief.

The last six months have been a whirlwind of adjusting our lives and our home to fit Ty's new lifestyle. Additional carpets have been installed, especially on our hardwood surfaces where Ty finds it hard to balance and slips. He wears goofy little dog socks with rubber pads on his hind legs for extra grip. He uses a dog ramp to get in and out of the vehicle (which he hates, thank you very much). And he rarely gets walked and when he does, it's short 15-30 minute strolls around the neighborhood depending on how he is feeling.

Sidenote: no one tell my boss I used the work
truck to try it out... 
I have found myself bringing him to the barn almost every time I go, because he loves growling at the horses when they get too pushy for grain, and he loves sneaking a bite of poop when I'm not looking.

I've laid on the freshly cut lawn and cradled his head and kissed his muzzle.

I have let him win so many games of tug of war.

I've cried so many tears into his neck, telling him how sorry I am there is nothing I can do to help him.

The end result is always going to be the same, which is why I find it so hard to accept most days.

"Helping" grain Suzie.
And a lot of friends have tried to be helpful. A family member actually suggested purchasing a cart or wheelchair if he becomes completely paralyzed. And I've tossed the idea around a time or two.

But the more I think about it, it's just not Ty.

He's a very stoic and proud dog. Not unlike my Suzie-mare. He doesn't like us helping him in any regard. And it's not that he is aggressive. He is far from it.

He's a gentleman and pride radiates from him like rays of sunshine. He takes his place in this world very seriously and with the other issues old age brings (lack of hearing especially), he is trying to paw his way through and make sense of what is happening to his body.

Although carts can be really helpful, they are not meant as a means for indoor transportation, especially for a big dog. Paralyzed dogs often are moved from room to room by their owners and without the means of being able to completely feel, some are subjected to wearing diapers or otherwise due to being unable to control their bladder and bowels. This opens a whole new can of worms with bed sores, depression, and a whole myriad of other issues.

It just isn't a life I want him to live.

For now, I'm trying to balance the necessity to pre-plan for the future, but also be guarded about how I make those decisions. Everything is more or less up to him and the rate of this disease. Both of which are out of my control.

So, I continue to bring him out to the horses so he can pretend he's a real herding dog.

I continue to shuffle along the street with him, smiling as he gets quiet bursts of energy to frolick like a half-drunken goofball.

I continue to let him sneak the last piece of chicken.

And I will continue to do these things for as long as we are able.

Monday, September 25, 2017


I've been bad about keeping this blog updated, especially on Annie, but rest assured things are chugging along quite nicely and I've been chipping away at putting more miles on the mare. Aside from a very short back-yard schooling, we've kind of exited stage left re: the whole schooling thing and instead, have put the focus on something else entirely. Trail riding!

Hacking out onto the road.
My motivation to school in the arena has dwindled, and with the lack of light past 8pm, I've found myself without enough hours in the day (especially on work days) to get an appropriate school in. So, we toodle.

She's had more days off in the last three weeks than she has had since riding season really geared up, but neither of us are seeming to really mind. Monsoon season has reared it's ugly head and on days where we don't ride, I do some light grooming or in-hand work just for kicks. And some days, I just feed her her mash and am on my way.

With all the trail riding and toodling, I'm really proud of her though. After our silly road-hack on September 11th (wherein she jolted forwards after I had mounted and asked her to walk on), I came out the next day and she was as agreeable as pie. I rode her in the front patch of grass by the barn and although she was super excited about cantering and "shouldn't we just canter whenever you put your leg on?" she seemed to settle pretty quickly when I ignored it and just kept asking her to trot. The ride was short, followed by some impromptu "jumping" of a 2x4 I laid on some buckets.

The small amount of green-space I have to ride in at the barn.
I swear. One day I blog about anxiety and fear, and the next day I am trying to jump my mare over a 2x4. Spoiler alert: she didn't even jump it. She trotted gingerly over it and no amount of convincing could get her to lift her feet. Oh well, I don't necessarily blame her for that one!

Once I had finished establishing a leg yield during the trot (without hopping into canter), I patted her and toodled down the driveway to cool out. Since I had the dogs with me and Ty isn't able to walk as far as he used to (another blog topic for another day perhaps), we just went around the block and about half-way around I dismounted and walked the remainder of the way home. Sitting in an office chair during the day and then climbing in the saddle sometimes is a bit of a pain in the.... well, you know. I took liberty in walking astride my mare and worked on some in hand stuff.

Sometimes I feel like these short 20min rides are useless, but I kind of shake my head and remind myself that any time in the saddle is better than none!

I also lunged her last week primarily for the purpose of
desensitization. Mare couldn't care less - she was more
happy to lay out some rather pathetic bucks when I
asked her to canter tho.

A few other things happened over the last two weeks - photographer friend came and snapped some pics of me and the ponies, a neighbor came and helped move a manure pile and re-level the one part of the paddock, fixing fences, going to pick up a new roundbale, farrier appointments (which Annie was REALLY good for), and working on the whole saddle fitting thing.

Add in the whole school and work thing and it becomes pretty busy. Plus, we are in the process of Winterizing our house and property, so that's taken a bit of preparation.

Spud supervised while the girls grazed in the front.

She was VERY good for the farrier, considering this
was her second time being hot shod.

So, we toodle.

Heading home from a 7.5k ride with N and AJ. I
tried to convince her to gallop down one of the dirt roads and
she obliged for a good 20 seconds and then her engine died lol.
Our tracker said she hit about 25km/h, which is really terrible haha.

Our version of "barn door vista" for Emma.
She has been much better about tying alone now, which
is good to see!

Another toodle with AJ and N - stopping for a snack break
during a 9k ride.

Toodling on her own - she was very snorty, but was a brave
baby. This was just a short 3k ride since I had the dogs with me.

Still not understanding this whole eating grass thing.

Are you ready? Let's go!

She held onto this gob of grass for a good 5k.

Good rides are made better with good friends!
 I'm sure we will get back into the groove of a regularly scheduled schooling plan (or maybe we won't), but I am enjoying my time just meandering around the wilderness and paved streets with my mare. We've both worked really hard this year and it has been such a breath of fresh air to have a horse I can just wander around on. Sure, each trail ride had a moment or two in it that wasn't great, but it's been pretty fun just gossiping and enjoying the horses beneath us.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Three Years with Spud

It's kind of hard to believe I've had this fluffy potato for three years - in a lot of ways it feels like I've had him much longer.

His role from Expert Driving Pony changed gears this year and he became a Good Friend for Annie to hack out with and a Quiet Buddy for other baby learning moments.

It has been kind of cool to see him be an integral part in shaping Annie's future, not to mention lending some confidence in being a good baby horse.

He is forever being ponied

But I don't think he minds

OK, sometimes he minds.

Poor guy, always putting up with her shit.

I don't think I ever uploaded the pictures from the photoshoot
my best friend did. She had a model and needed horses... so I lent mine lol.
Spud and the model are posed exactly like that - no photoshop ;) 

Miniature horses have this knack for being incredibly naughty and borderline Satanic, but Spud is the sweetest and kindest little mini I have ever met. His moments of sass and naughtiness are triumphed by his willingness and aptitude to try anything I put in front of him.

I am excited for 2018 and all the driving fun we (hopefully) will have together.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Learning to Co-Exist with Anxiety and Riding

I haven't been able to ride much the last two weeks (a grand total of twice, to be exact), due to inclement weather and insane work hours. The horses are enjoying the break, I think, and I've been able to do more ground-work related things with Annie that I may have been skimping over in the last few months.

It's been kind of eye-opening in a way, to start piecing together different parts of the puzzle that don't necessarily apply undersaddle. I still have a lot to learn and still have a lot of patience to give to Annie and her learning abilities.

And growing abilities?
It can be a pretty bumpy road tho, especially when things don't go to plan or you find yourself falling a few steps back.

My readers and friends will know I am a chronic worrier. It's just who I am and who I will always be. Anxiety disorder and PTSD are something I live with and it affects not only my working life, but it also affects my riding and training.

Some will remember how borderline obsessive I became with the whole trailer incident debacle and how I immediately labeled myself as inept to bring along Annie and expand her training.

It's unfortunate and it isn't a progressive way of thinking.

"Those voices in your head? They crazy."
I have been blessed to have a lot of wonderful friends who listen to me rant and ramble about things that are affecting me and in a way, I am shocked none of them have grabbed me by the shoulders and told me to calm the f down.

There has been some developments on the Annie front (some not necessarily new) that have left me both  curious and a bit flustered. The thing is, though, that the measurement of a horse's behavior doesn't always directly reflect the handler. Horses are horses, and even the most well schooled and trained can have "off" days or little annoying issues.

Riding Buddy is the direct receiver of all my unfortunate tirades and anxiety-fueled meltdowns and during a standard "Calm your shit" reply, she brought something to light that I really resonated with. She basically said that there are all these little things that Annie has that are "issues", but the difference between me and someone else who has a horse that won't stand at the trailer or pulls back when tied is that I am currently addressing the issue to potentially eradicate it from Annie's behavior.

This lady on left has been a large source of inspiration for me - she
is mine and Annie's biggest cheerleader and has been on the
perpetual receiving end of my worries about ruining the horse since Day 1.
The unfortunate part of that is that behavior can only be changed through lots of repetition. It won't magically be cured after three days, or even three months. And add stress into the factor and you may have a horse that reverts back to it's old behavior. It's a cycle and it will slowly work out in the wash - wet saddle pads, good preparation, and repetition are the only things a young horse needs.

I feel incredibly lucky that I have a pretty chill horse - for as young as she is, and as inexperienced as she is.

I put a bareback ride on her a week ago after we had finished with some desensitization stuff (tarps, flying whips... all the fun stuff) and she was lovely. We worked on sidepassing and yielding her haunches - she got a bit sticky a few times in the sidepass and instead of moving over, would throw her head up and stiffen a bit. I just took my time, opened my rein to direct her nose to where I wanted her to go and asked her to move over. One step here... one step there... reward and walk off. It was a good thinking ride, especially since we were in the back paddock where the ground is uneven. We were able to put in some great trot work, which included her actually moving off my legs during the circle (sometimes our circles still look like potatoes).

And yesterday, I put a ride on her after snapping some photos for a saddle fitter and I found she reverted back to her old tactic of bolting  (bolting really isn't the right word for it... but she kind of leaps? rushes? braces into?) forwards and trying to jig down the driveway. She is a interesting one though, because she waited for me to adjust my stirrups, adjust Spud's leadrope, watched a dog and owner walk by and waited for the exact moment I squeezed to ask her to go and then BOOM. Lurching forwards, back tense, head up, jigging all the way. I let her go a few steps before asking her to slow down with a squeeze of the rein and she immediately slammed on the brakes. I asked her to walk on and she repeated herself. It's hard when ponying tho, because it left me unable to really sort it out on a higher level.

Striking a pose.
Actually, she enjoyed the stretch I gave her
that she held it for a few seconds. What a weirdo.

I'm sure a lot of it can be attributed to lack of riding, fresh Spring weather, the increased wildlife activity (a young boy stopped me on my ride and told me a bear had just wandered down the next street), and just the fact it's a bit of an old habit (here , here too...)

The thing about the behavior is that it will die down into the ride and she won't necessarily keep jigging after a few steps. She just kind of settles into this super fast walk. As we went about our ride, I started to slow her down with my seat and kind of laughed at how annoyed she got, because she noticed she was slowing down and wasn't sure how to get past it since I wasn't using the reins.

She didn't really mellow out much on the ride. She was walking, which was good, but still felt really "up" and bracey in my hands. So, I figured we'd walk back to the barn and drop off Spud. So I dismounted, chucked him into the paddock and went back to remount.


Wouldn't you know it.

Good lady.
She walked off like a trail pony - calm and quiet. She was a bit behind the leg because, "We were just home... didn't we just finish??" but complied with walking up and down the streets, leg yielding across the road and halting at the end of the driveway and waited until I told her she could go again. All without questioning and all without resistance.

This ride kind of highlighted to me just how much riding a young horse can vary - within the same ride I had two very different horses and I had to almost sigh and laugh at the whole thing.

She's a good baby horse. The waves will come and as they do, I've just got to learn to ride them out and not take them so damn personally.

Horses, am I right?