Saturday, July 30, 2011

Trail ride success

Last Tuesday I rode Chico and met up with my neighbor, B, riding one of his Tennessee walker mares, named Belle. We went on a pretty long ride (about 2.5 hours) on the trails around our area. I have permission to ride on a couple different properties, so we were able to stay on trails most of the time. Our horses were pretty well behaved. Chico was pretty interested in the mare, but he wasn't aggressive and he listened to my cues whenever I asked him to back away or turn away from her. The mare was pretty nervous, but she settled down alright. My neighbor trains his own horses and he has 7, so they haven't been able to get them all out on a lot of trail rides. They've been out, just not with other horses, and very seldomly on the road. We did ride on the road for a bit and the mare was pretty leary of vehicles. I've been riding Chico most of the time when I go out because my dad expressed interest in riding him along with me. I wanted to make sure Chico was behaving himself alright before I let anyone else ride him. No one else has EVER ridden Chico besides me. I'm not sure why...I guess because he's always been very sensitive (responding really easily to cues) and sometimes he's got a mind of his own. He's also really quick, and he rarely spooks, but when he does, he can spin and take a few strides before you have a chance to react and pull him up. And I guess he is my baby, so I always rode him. But really, Chico is very steady. He listens well. Usually I just have to talk to him to get him to change gaits when we ride. He remembers his voice cues really well from when I started him. But he also knows what squeezing legs mean. And he's not a naughty horse. I also knew my dad really likes him. When I moved the horses to WI back in fall 2008, I went back to ID to finish work before I moved in the spring. My dad took care of my horses for me and he took Chico out a couple times to mess with him. He got him to climb on top of a round bale, and he rode him bareback with just a halter. He also led him inside our rustic cabin in the woods. And Chico did everything he asked. So, I've been riding him just to make sure he's ready for another rider.

Today, we went on our trail ride. It would have been nice for just my dad and I to ride together with just my horses first so that him and Chico could get along without distractions, but I had already mentioned to my neighbors, B and his wife, J, that I wanted to ride, so there were four of us! I was so nervous. I actually had butterflies in my stomach and my hands were shaky. I just was so worried that something might go wrong and I really did not want my dad to get hurt. He grew up riding, but hasn't ridden much at all in the last 20 years. My dad and I used to ride together when I was a kid, but it was so different then. This was my horse, that I horse that came from the wild. Did I mention that I trained him? Does it seem like maybe I lack confidence in the job I did? Well, only a little! When I ride him, I am perfectly comfortable. I was just so worried that my dad and him wouldn't speak the same language. My dad knows how Chico works, steers and all that...I just couldn't let go of my apprehension...for no reason really. Chico was wonderful. Look how good he stood for my dad while I was mounting up and getting ready to go. I rode bareback because I only have one saddle that fits both Chico and Cody.

I didn't take any pics on our ride because I didn't bring the camera along. I should have. We met B and J down at the pond on my dad's property. J rode Belle, and B rode Honey Doll. Cody was a little nervous about the new horses at first, but Chico could have cared less. Our ride was very nice. My dad kept scaring me by trotting Chico. He cantered him a couple times. Then he wanted to canter him through an open field....Ahhhhh! I was so nervous! I almost didn't want to watch, but they did fine! Honestly, I should have been more worried about the horse I was riding. I rode Cody and I used her old snaffle bit (I figured I felt more comfortable maneuvering her in it if she was funny about the new horses we rode with). She was so heavy with the snaffle! She's not usually that bad. I think she was a little worried about the other horses, even though she had relaxed quite a bit, that she was more concerned with where Chico was going than with my cues. She just lugged on the bit when I asked her to stop or slow down when Chico was in front of her and the new horses were behind her.

When we got back from our ride, we all rode through the pond and the horses thoroughly soaked themselves. Cody tried to lay down and roll with me on her, but I kept her up. She did manage to fill my boots with water though!

All in all, it really was a great ride, and I really gained a lot of confidence in my dad's ability to handle Chico. Even though I really didn't want him to go fast on him...I just wanted everyone to be safe! It's amazing how much more I worry now than I did when I was a kid, and it is all because of how much more experience I have now. I've seen wrecks with horses, I've been in a few, and I've learned to be very careful and always take things in steps. So my ideal first step would have been a successful ride of everyone just WALKING the whole way. But, we skipped a bunch of steps and went straight to the cantering and everything was fine! I should have more faith in my horse and my dad.

My dad had a good time, and he couldn't stop saying good things about Chico. He is familiar with mustangs - his aunt and uncle adopted and trained a few. But this is the first horse his daughter trained! I think maybe he's a little impressed with both Chico and I. I think I need to have a little more confidence in my abilities...or maybe the problem is just that I think too much when I'm at home and not around my horses. Since I've taken my break from riding while pregnant, I have a lot more apprehension...but only when I'm at home thinking about riding. I can't help thinking about all the things that could go wrong. Once I actually get out and get my horse out, all that goes away. I just need to quiet my mind about it at home.

Wren was glad to have her mama back. My mom watched her while my dad and I rode.

The horses were quite tired when we got back. It was warm out and they are out of shape. I decided to set Wren up in Chico's saddle and see what she thought.

This picture pretty much sums up what she thought. She was very very unsure about it. It was so high up, and mama was below her, and even though mama was holding onto her, she felt uncertain.

I tried to get her to slap the saddle horn or at least grab it. She did relax a little bit and look at it, but she was frozen up there, so I took her off.

But she readily reached out and touched their noses when she got back in my arms. I love this picture of Chico's one ear watching her.

I've thought a bit about Wren liking horses or not...and I really wouldn't be upset or offended if she has no interest in horses. At least I won't have to worry about her with them then! Probably she will like them though. She likes all our animals...dogs, cats, horses, cows, chickens, turkeys....

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bits and Bridles

A while back, Linda at Beautiful Mustang, posted about the contents of her tack room. I filed her idea away thinking it'd be a fun post for a rainy day. Well, guess what. It's raining today! I'm not going to post about all the contents of my tackroom today, just about my bits and bridles.

I love horse tack. A few years ago, when horses were my main focus in life (aside from my schooling), I spent a lot of time acquiring, trying, then rehoming horse equipment (saddles, bits, headstalls...). I was finding what I like and getting rid of stuff that didn't work for me. Ebay was a treasure trove of used items and I perused it regularily, and also sold stuff on it. Now I don't have time to do that anymore, although I still like browsing the tack area of farm stores. Thankfully, I've pretty much narrowed down the items in my tack room to things I truly like.

So, my favorite bridles all have browbands and throatlatches. They look balanced (as compared to a one-ear headstall) and they just seem more stable. If you are riding a rugged trail, I think you'd like a tough well-attached headstall that can't be pulled off if something happened to take you through thick brush (and yes, I've gone many a places I'm glad I had well-attached tack). But mostly, I like the way they look. I don't like flashy bridles with a lot of bling, but a little decoration is okay. My favorite bridle has a buckstitch browband headstall made by Martin Saddlery. I lusted for it for quite a while and then ended up getting it as a graduation gift.

Most of my bridles have rope reins. I love rope reins. They are thick, easy to hold onto, and if you drop them, they fall on the horse's neck instead of on the ground, like split reins do. One bridle I own does have split reins (Cody's new bridle), and I am still getting used to them after riding in rope reins for years. My rope reins are attached to the bit using slobber straps. They are a neat looking attachment, but they can be bulky at times. My horses are fine with them, although I have experimented with cutting my own out of leather and making them less bulky. That was quite a while ago, and I remember being pleased with the results, but I ended up giving them away to a friend rather than keeping them in my tack room. Last I heard, she uses them, but I'll have to find out if she does still.

I have very few types of bits compared to some tackrooms I've seen. At one point, I only owned two types, having gotten rid of all the others that I don't like, however I have recently acquired a couple new ones.

First off, I started using a full cheek snaffle bit on Cody as a 3 year old.

I chose the full cheek snaffle for the jointed mouthpeice (supposedly gentle) and the full cheek peices that would help with teaching a young horse to steer. It worked fine and I had success with it on Cody. When I started preparing Chico, my first mustang and first horse I trained solely myself, I struggled with whether or not to use a bit. I'd been doing lots of reading and came to the conclusion that snaffle bits really aren't so gentle. Sure, you don't have any added leverage, but if you pull back on the reins, the bit breaks in half like a nut-cracker, poking into the horse's palate and pinching the tongue. So, with Chico, I really considered going bitless. I taught him everything with a halter. But my first time with riding him off the property, I took him to the neighbor's indoor arena as a new controlled area. He did fine, but he was definitely distracted and I found myself having to use more strength on the halter to get him to respond. Plus a halter can slide back on their face a bit, so you are pulling farther away from the end of their nose, which is where all your leverage is. I know that if you intend to ride bitless, you have to really condition a horse to respond to the cues, and that using a bit is no substitute for training. I mentioned to the neighbor how I was struggling with deciding to use a bit or not. Being an endurance rider/trainer/breeder, she told me that she always uses a bit on her young horses because she likes the finer communication you get with a bit. And she showed me the bit she used on her young horses. It was a very wide-barred double jointed loose ring snaffle. I thought about it for a while and decided to get one. I tried a couple types and settled on a D-ring double jointed snaffle with a very round smooth centerpeice. The bit that I have is JP Korsteel Hunter Dee - Copper Oval Link (in case you want to look it up).

I like the wide D rings to help with turning cues and also to prevent the bit from sliding through a horse's mouth in a sticky situation. The smooth center-peice and joints don't gouge a horse's palate and it can't pinch the tongue. This bit is also contoured to fit right in the horse's mouth so they can comfortably hold the bit.

It can apparently give more tongue pressure than some other bits, but it's also thought that a nervous horse can be settled by the extra tongue pressure (not sure if that is true, but I've never had any restistance to the bit). I used this bit on all three of my horses, but now Cody has graduated to a new bit. Chico has a slightly narrower mouth than Cody and Catlow, so he had his own bridle, while Cody and Catlow used to share another bridle.

Last summer, Cody went to training and my primary goal was to keep her being ridden, and also have someone work exclusively on teaching her to neck-rein. The trainer said that at her age (7 year old), she should know how to ride in a shanked bit. She said it is just the next step in training. Showing horses, I'm sure that's true, although I don't necessarily believe that a horse needs to ever leave a snaffle if you are getting what you want out of it.

So, Cody was trained to use a Tom Thumb type bit, a broken mouth-peice with shanks. I purchased a simple one last fall to use with her after she came back from training. She also got her own bridle with split reins.

I was still concerned with the broken mouth-peice though. I feel like it is kind of harsh, and I've also read a bit about how a broken mouth-peice with shanks can give a horse conflicting pressure signals on their mouth. The misbehavior of many horses can apparently be attributed to confusion from this type of bit. It makes sense to me. So I started looking for a solid-mouth curb bit. I was looking for a specific shape, because I don't want a curb bit that will push too hard on the horse's palate when the reins are pulled. This is what I've found so far.

I like the mouth-peice shape, but I don't like how long the shanks are. I'd prefer them be shorter because I don't need that much leverage. I'll keep looking for another bit, but our local stores don't have a ton of variety and I don't spend much time shopping online anymore.

And you may have noticed that most of my bits have copper on them. That is not necessarily on purpose, it just seems like a lot of the nicer bits have copper. Copper is used in bits to encourage a horse to salivate, which is supposed to make them work their mouth and keep it soft, ultimately relaxing them and making them more responsive. A horse that is uptight, or withdrawn will often have tight, clamped together lips. A thinking, responding horse licks and chews. I don't believe in using an artificial tool to make a horse relax and think. I think that comes with your training methods and being a responsive rider. So, I don't think that the copper is necessary and in fact might even be uncomfortable. Have you ever tasted the copper? It's kinda wonder they salivate with a copper bit. I'm not sure that's a good thing. But then again, I'm no expert. I'm just a person who thinks and often overanalyzes stuff, but if it doesn't make sense to me, then I won't believe it works, and then it doesn't work for me.

So, there. These are my bridles in my tack room!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Colors galore

I visited with the horses for a bit today. Pumpkin and Chico followed me asking for fly spray, but I couldn't because I was holding Wren. I'd just sprayed them down yesterday, but the repellancy does not last 14 days like the bottle claims.

A while back I posted about noticing that Pumpkin had a very poor hair coat and took forever to shed out last summer, which was her first summer with us. Over the winter, her coat was lush and dark. I said we'd see how long it took to shed out this spring. Well, I learned something between then and now...donkeys shed out much much later than horses, and mules (because they are a cross between donkey and a horse) also shed out later than horses. So, this spring, long after the horses had unveiled their bright summer coats, Pumpkin was still shaggy. But, her shaggy coat was not quite as dull and rough as it was last summer. And now that she's all sleek and shiny, she has dapples galore! The dapples are new! I've been told that dapples on horses that are capable of getting them (usually the sooty colors) is a sign of good health and nutrition.

Click on the picture to view it large to get a good look at her dapples.

I have been calling Pumpkin a chestnut mule, but on closer inspection, her mane and tail are faded out, while her legs show a darker brown color. I think she might actually have the silver dapples gene. The silver dapples gene dilutes black, so that would make Pumkin a bay with the silver dapples gene (mane and legs diluted). It's a color gene that is common in some pony breeds, and Pumpkin definitely resulted from a cross with a pony given her size. Regardless, she is quite beautiful.

And another color question. Has anyone else seen these white spots pop up on their horses? Kachina has a few white flecks on her face, her neck, her sides and her hip...pretty much all over her whole body. They are small, and not very noticeable. The ones on her neck are the largest. She seems to have a few more this year than last year. What could they be from? Are they from injuries? Insect bites? Ringworm? She hasn't had ringworm since I've had her, but I'm pretty sure she had it while with the BLM - when we adopted her 2 years ago, it looks like she has healed ringworm spots - the hair was shorter in some circular areas on her body. But of course, I don't remember if these were the areas. The scuffs are bite marks from either Chico or Griffin (don't feel sorry for her - she generally asks for it).

Maybe she's an appaloosa?!

Got to ride again!

I got to ride again this weekend. This time I took Cody out. I was tempted to ride her in her old bridle (double-jointed snaffle) just because I felt like if she was nervous or herd-bound like she was back in early spring when I last rode her, then I'd be able to control her a little better, but I ultimately decided to stop babying her and just ride her in her new bridle with the curb bit. The curb bit has some long shanks which give a lot of leverage when pulling back on the reins, but I don't feel like it gives me better control. It certainly makes her respond quickly if I happen to pull back firmly, but I think it also gets her a little uptight...and my way of dealing with unexpected spooks and misbehavior is to pull her head to the side (direct rein-style), and that can be awkward with a curb bit.

But, I used it. She was a little rusty with it, added to concerned about why we were heading away from home (she's always been like this when ridden alone - you have to keep her mind very busy when going away from home, other-wise you are constantly nit-picking to keep her forward and from looking back toward home). But she wasn't nervous like she was back in early spring when the snow crunching and wind rattling through brown oak leaves still holding tight to dormant branches just set her on edge. But, because she was too busy looking back, it was difficult to get her to respond appropriately to neck-reining - she took some reminders about it, and some firmness. About halfway through our ride, she sort of relaxed about being out alone and we were far enough away from home that she wasn't gawking to see if she could look back home and then she became very responsive. All in all, she was pretty good on our ride, although I'd expect an 8 year old mare whose been ridden since she was 3 and just last summer had 2 months of professional training to be a little better. Normally, I'd give her more slack since she has had quite a bit of time off from riding, but my 7 year old mustang whose had 2 years off from riding was way better than she was on his first time back on the trail! But, they are two very different horses. Chico has always been ready to go out, alone even, and he likes to explore. Cody would rather be home lounging with her buddies. When we ride out with more than one horse (usually I pony one along), my horses are much better. Cody then isn't looking back concerned with leaving the others. The only exception is when I am out with both of my mares who are both a little herd-bound. Then, occasionally, instead of boosting confidence in eachother, sometimes they'll feed off eachother and both be concerned with home and then I don't have such a relaxing ride. That's only happened a couple of times though. Usually they are doubly good riding out together.

The ride I went on this weekend was about an hour an a half long. I went in the morning, but even so, it was pretty hot and humid. I didn't push Cody too hard because of that, we only trotted a couple of times for very short distances. Despite our gentle ride, Cody was still soaked with sweat by the time we got back. Horses just don't dry when they sweat when it is that humid (sometimes I really miss riding in Idaho). She enjoyed being rinsed off with the hose when we got back.

I'm hoping to go out for a ride with my neighbors tomorrow. They have Tennesee walking horses. It should be an interesting ride.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fence buster

I love this horse, but sometimes she can make me so mad! Catlow is quiet and cautious, but she is also the one that tests the fences. The burdocks have grown up into the electic fence and so it wasn't very powerful. Of course it didn't take Catlow long to figure this out and crawl through the fence again. She doesn't go anywhere - just grazes the lush grass just outside the fence and walks through my grandma's garden once in a while, but she doesn't really want to get caught, so I have to persistently follow her around and cut her off from where she wants to go. And of course, she bags out the fence, so we had to fix it AGAIN!

Needless to say, we cut the burdocks down today using a saw attachment for the weedeater. It worked awesome. I was so impressed with my wild horses for how they handled the noisy saw. Kachina especially was right on our heels investigating the cut foliage and as I pulled it out of the fenceline and tossed it behind me at her feet, she didn't flinch or shy at all! She's really calmed down a lot since we got her.

And hasn't she filled out? You should go back to this post if you want to see what she looked like when we first got her. Of course, she is still a small petite horse, but she is a great weight. And I daresay she has grown a bit. She's 5 years old this year.

Kachina's dorsal stripe is thin and light brown, compared to Griffin's whose stripe is thick and black (not pictured).

I really do love my horse. Today I rode Chico again and this time we went to a new area I've never ridden on before. We walked, trotted and cantered and aside from being out of shape, he was great. And he loved walking along the field of oats and snatching mouthfuls as we went.

It sure is nice to ride a horse that is not herd bound. It makes a ride very enjoyable when the horse's mind is forward with your's instead of back home (always wanting to turn around and speeding up when aimed toward home).

In this picture you can see the scar on his hindleg where he was cut all those years ago. You can see the old cut here in this post, and this post, and this post. And then this post shows it starting to actually heal up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Curious ponies

We had to fix fence yesterday and all the horses had to come over to investigate. Catlow leads the pack. She always leads the horses from place to place, to water, to salt, to graze, to the barn.

Kachina was the most inquisitive of all. She watched my husband closely as he messed with the wires.

This is Chico this summer. He is glossy and lovely, but a little overweight. I tried a grazing muzzle on him earlier in the year, but within 3 days, he figured out how to rub it off and now I can't keep it on him. He rubs it off his nose and then it dangles around his neck like a necklace as he grazes to his heart's content. I'm sure if I start riding him, he'll slim down. He didn't get fat until he had a whole summer off from riding.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer ponies

I realized I haven't posted any horse pictures lately so here are a few from last week of the horses grazing in the pasture. This is my view from the deck. I love my view. And yes, summer did finally come to Wisconsin. It was only about a month late.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I can't believe how much my bottom hurts after the short little ride I did yesterday! My legs don't hurt, but my poor seat bones must have lost their riding calluses!

Friday, July 8, 2011

I love my horse

I haven't ridden my horses much the last couple years. I rode Cody once last fall and once this spring, and none of the others for almost 2 years! And I haven't done anything with them other than trim hooves and vaccinate/worm. So, when I pulled Chico out of the pasture today with the intent to work with him and see how rusty he was after almost 2 years off, I didn't have high expectations. But boy was I surprised! Chico was calm, accepted saddling without batting an eye, and lunged paying close attention to my cues. I couldn't quite believe he was so good, so still taking it slow, I decided to lead him through the woods first and work with him a bit away from the others to make sure this wasn't a side effect of being at home. He was awesome on our walk through the woods, following me respectfully. A couple times, he stopped to look at something he heard (squirrels) but otherwise, he showed no real concern for the fact that we had left the herd behind. We ended up at my neighbor's and visited for a bit, while Chico waited patiently and grazed part of their lawn. Then, while still talking to them, I got him ready to ride (tightened the cinch, slapped the stirrups, bridled him, flexed him to the bit - all of which he accepted readily). Then I climbed on, made him wait a bit more while we finished visiting, then took off on a ride. I didn't make it a long ride, since it was already almost noon and a hot day, but we did ride for a bit, then headed home. He was so good, I didn't see any need to drill a long ride into him. Really, he rode like he had been ridden every day the last 2 years instead of having that whole time off. In fact, I think he may have even mellowed with age over those two years. He's 7 now, and he had been ridden extensively his 3, 4, and 5 year old years. I was really just so pleased with my horse. I can't believe it took me this long to just go out and climb on him. I guess I was avoiding him after his long break because I didn't know what to expect from him after giving him such a long break (having never done it before), but all that did was make his break even longer. Although it doesn't matter. I'm so pleased to have a horse that I can let stand and still go out and ride him whenever. That will be very important over the next several years!