Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter Wonderland

We are in the midst of a snow storm! Some are predicting that we will get over a foot of snow by tomorrow afternoon. It is currently 28 degrees outside and the moisture is just hitting us. Let it snow!

Happy Holidays

"Audrey Jr."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Christmas Parade

Today, Guinness and I participated in a daylight Christmas parade in a nearby town. It was about a 3 mile route and there were well over 100 entries. We were part of a small "herd" at the end, representing our local Parelli Play Group. (We are in the photo above, from a local newspaper, behind Zippy & Diane.)

First off, I have to admit that I didn't prepare at all ahead of time. I've been swamped with work and the weather forecast wasn't very favorable. When I awoke at 8:00 this morning, it was 14 degrees outside, but sunny. The tractor wouldn't start so that we could unload a roundbale from the back of our truck, so I called Diane to cancel out. She wouldn't let me. So..

My husband pushed the roundbale off of the truck by hand, while I scrambled around try to prepare! He also got the truck & trailer hooked up for me - thank you, honey! When the trailer moved it attracted Guinness' attention, so he was waiting at the gate for me. I put his leg wraps on him while he picked at the frozen grass. Then I loaded him straight onto the trailer where his breakfast was waiting for him. Once again, he hopped forward onto the trailer with his back legs - he still seems to think that once his front feet are on board, he can't step forward with his hind feet..

Guinness & I got on the road by around 9:40 am, and it took about 40 minutes to get to the town. Once we reached the vicinity, I discovered that the main road had already been closed and we had to take a detour in order to back track to the parade staging area. After some anxiety producing squeezes and turns with the truck & trailer, we arrived before our friends did.

I went ahead and unloaded Guinness, so that I could allow him to graze while brushing him. (No brush had touched his body since last week. Thank goodness for a brown horse!) A group of horses was preparing up ahead of us. Just after unloading him, as he was looking around, he tripped walking up a curb and *fell completely down on the sidewalk.* Agh!! Fortunately, his legs were still fully wrapped and he was wearing a blanket, and he didn't suffer any damage. He sure looked surprised.

Our friends arrived and unloaded behind us: a mini pony and his cart, and a 6 year old pinto Arab cross mare. The mini gelding is a parade veteran, however this was a new experience for the mare and she was a little jazzed. Guinness grazed frantically, which I've come to recognize as a stress response. We quickly brushed and decorated our horses. (I discovered that rapidly brushing a dark brown horse produces lots of beige dust, which doesn't make the horse look any better..) Guinness was decked-out out with garland around his neck hung with bells and tiny lights.

The environment was very exciting. Lots of loud band and parade noises in the distance, a boom truck passing us, strange horses neighing & jigging, Zippy hooked to his little decorated cart, plus a spinning street sweeper just behind us! Zippy walked ahead of us, while we led Guinness and Una (the mare). Both Guinness & Una were very "up" at the beginning our our walk. Guinness felt insecure and was obsessed with finding stuff to eat or to put his mouth on, and insisted on crowding me with his shoulder.

Fortunately, the parade was long enough for both horses to work through their feelings and to discover that they were safe with us. By the end of the parade, after lots of "falling leaf" patterns, circles, halts, backing, sideways and other maneuvers, they had mellowed out. Near the end, Guinness had lowered his head to sniff every possible thing on the ground, and was licking/chewing and blowing - all signs of him coming off of adrenaline.

At the end of the parade route, Guinness was tied to a trailer while I hitched a ride to go back to get our rig. He was still tied when I got back to him and appeared to have behaved himself. He loaded right up (with a bit smaller of a hop) and we headed home.

Parades are a wonderful opportunity to practice skills in extreme circumstances and to apply the principle of "controlled catastrophe." The idea being that a successful outcome to a controlled catastrophe helps to prepare us to get through those inevitable unforeseen events! Even walking over cross-walks and exploring manhole covers can be important developmental experiences.

I firmly believe in leading any horse the first few times that they are exposed to the frenzy of a large parade. It not only keeps the horse and rider safe, but also protects the spectators (kids & dogs) and other parade participants. Folks are just happy to see a horse - they really don't care if you don't ride. ;-)

I'm hoping that Guinness will be ready to ride in our next parade opportunity on July 4th. We'll see how it goes!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

One Year With Guinness

On November 21, Guinness and I celebrated our first year together!

This past year has been a very busy one for him. He has grown approximately 1 inch to about 14. 3 hh. He has gained 95 or so pounds and now weighs roughly 770 lbs. (In contrast, Smokey weighs around 900, Cody weighs over 1000 lbs.) Dr. Lamb gave him a "perfect 5" body condition score when she administered fall shots the other day.

Here is a current photo of him standing tied, watching the horse girls playing in the roundpen. Note that he is wearing a bit/bridle and standing quietly. Soon after this photo was taken, he got himself loose and tiptoed up behind us to join the fun.

In comparison, here is a photo of him taken last winter. I think that now his forehand and topline look much more substantial. And his main is noticeably longer. ;-)

Milestones reached during this past year together include:
  • 11/21/08: His first long-distance trip in a trailer, first blanket
  • 3/7: First trip to a friend's farm
  • 5/1: First bath
  • 6/13: First trail obstacle competition
  • 7/4: First parade
  • 7/20: First time mounted
  • 8/15: First ride
  • 8/17: First visit to Fair
  • 9/1: First ponied
  • 9/7: First mounted playdate
  • 9/14: First solo trail walk
  • 11/2: First ride with saddle
  • 11/15: First trail "ride" (10 minutes max.)
It has been a very eventful 12 months - especially considering that I only get to play with him once or twice per week (excluding fussing with him at feeding time).

Next year, we are planning to participate in two clinics: one with Kelly Sigler at the end of April, and another with Carol Coppinger in mid-May. In preparation for these clinics, in January & February I'll be practicing walk-trot-canter at a nearby riding stable (in a lovely covered arena). I'm also planning to take advantage of 1-star instructor Alyssa Elliot's on-line tutelage, and Sierra's "body centered riding" expertise.

My goals for Guinness & I for 2010 include:
  • walk-trot-gait-canter calmly under saddle
  • official Rocky Mountain Horse "Certification"
  • two Parelli Natural Horsemanship clinics in the spring
  • official Level 2 PNH assessment (online & freestyle)
  • riding in the July 4th parade
  • competing in the local fair (halter & trail class)
  • light trail riding
I have to share one recent story about Guinea-pig. The other day, I was handling him with a halter/lead, as my husband worked with the tractor in the paddock. At one point, my husband asked me to open the metal gate. As I did, I managed to push the gate into the electric fence just as I was stroking Guinness on the nose. A big shock traveled through my body, down my arm, and into his face! Guinness stared hard into my eyes as if asking, "What was that?!" I gave a snort (to let him know that I felt it too) and then a sigh (to let him know that it was ok). He lowered his head and acted as if nothing had happened. No sign of fear or nervousness in that spot since. I think that the development of our relationship is the most important thing that we've done together this year.

This last photo is of Guinness on the day that I first met him. :-)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I just love this photo of Guinness and his young friend. :-)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Visiting Our WV Buddies

Recently, fellow Parelli Play Group members Diane B., Sierra, and I traveled horseless from VA to Alderson, WV for a playdate with members Carol L., Tenley, Laura, Vaughn and Jan. Carol & Tenley kindly permitted their horses to be played with by all of us.

Tenley orchestrated randomly assigning us each a horse and various tasks to perform. This was a wonderful opportunity for us to demonstrate how we handled a little pressure!

Sadly, I don't seem to have gotten a photo of Tenley riding her draft cross, Augie, for the first time. I did get some other video that I'll post at a later date.

We had a great time! Thanks guys. :-)

For more about our playdate, click here to read Tenley's blog post.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ridin' the Trail

Today, Sierra, Sara, my son, and I went for another trail ride/walk at our local rec area. Sierra rode her 4 year old Haflinger gelding, Gandalf, Sara rode Gandalf's mom, Persimmon, I brought Guinness, and my son walked his dog, Zippy.

The morning started with my usual routine:
  1. Hook up the trailer and open the horse window & back doors
  2. Put hay and Guinness' breakfast into the manger of the trailer
  3. Beckon Guinness, halter him, bring him out of the paddock
  4. Allow him to graze while I put his shipping boots on
  5. Walk over to the trailer, walk on and invite him to walk on
  6. He loads right up and discovers his breakfast
  7. Tie him using a Blocker tie ring and his lead rope
  8. He stands there and eats while I load up stuff and feed the other guys
  9. When we are ready to roll, I shut the doors and the window and we slowly drive off

Guinness was eager to load onto the trailer, however he is still having the issue of jumping up with both back legs. Once he got on and grabbed a bite, I backed him off and asked him to come back on, which he did much more gracefully. Next time, I think that I'll try putting a ground pole behind the trailer to remind him that he can move each hind foot individually..

When we arrive at the park, we have another routine:
  1. Park (sometimes a challenge)
  2. Open his window
  3. Stand around and talk with friends while G. hangs out the window
  4. Open the doors, putter around some more
  5. Unload and tie him to the trailer
  6. Leisurely grooming
  7. Tack up
  8. Lead him out of the parking area and down the trail
  9. (for more advanced horses, I mount whenever they are mentally ready)

I think that these routines are really important and set the tone for our adventures together. I try to make things as pleasant and consistent as I can for the horse, and try to minimize my own stress level (which also helps to calm the horse).

I'm very conscious that how I handle Guinness' initial experiences will strongly affect what he will come to expect, and how he will react to future events. I don't want him to anticipate that trips will be stressful and that we are going to tack up and go gaiting through the parking lot in a rush to hit the trail. I've ridden (and ridden with) too many horses high on adrenaline from the moment that they get on the trailer until the moment that they arrive back home. This is completely unsafe and unnecessary.

There are some other little routines that we play with while we are on the trail (mostly with me unmounted). Some of them are:

- I whistle the theme from The Andy Griffith Show whenever Guinness looks like he needs to pee! Supposedly, endurance riders do this to teach their horses to pee on command, so we are trying it. ;-)

- I whistle a single time to call him back to me. I do this mostly when driving him ahead of me on the 22' line. He reacts by turning, pricking his ears, and cantering to me! Of course, he earns a treat for this. I figure that it is very much like an "emergency recall" that you'd teach a dog. This behavior is so critical that I treat (well) every time to build in a sure response. Sometime I may really need this on the trail.

- If he wanders off the trail and gets tangled around a tree, I don't immediately rescue him. I try to allow him to figure it out, and if he needs help, I give him hand or rope signals. This seems to be teaching him the responsibility of "following the trail" since he really hates getting hung up on the trees.

- When a jogger or biker approaches, I send him off of the trail and ask him to turn and face whatever is passing by. Once they pass, we often jog after them a little ways in order to build his confidence. (At this point, I usually need to encourage him to *stop* following them!)

- A new idea from today is: backing up into creeks. We've played the games of backing through gates (vs. walking forward through gates) and backing off the trailer (vs. walking forward off of the trailer). Both games encourage to stop and ask me what I want him to do. This works for crossing water as well. I'm really trying to get him to mosey through all water crossings, mud, and for that matter, all obstacles rather than rushing. It is difficult to rush backward through a creek. He did great!! (He will also back over logs.)

Here is a little video of him practicing. Somehow, I managed to turn the camera sideways as I took this. Don't know what I was thinking..

- Sierra suggested an idea that she uses with Gandalf. She has taught him the word "easy" to mean go slow and pay attention (without pulling on his head). We deliberately went out of our way to tackle tricky obstacles on the trail in this manner.

- Also, we've been practicing the words "whoa" and "gait-up." I'll say "gait-up" and run forward a bit, then I'll say "whoa" and then stop suddenly (and maybe back up). When G. does a good job with this, he gets a treat. It gets him really paying attention and very cheerful!

Anyway, we had another great excursion. I mostly led or sent Guinness ahead of me on the trail, until we reached the road at the top of a mountain ridge. We rested for a little while, then I asked him to let me mount up.

First, I tied the 22' rope mecate-style. We were using a bareback pad, so I got him positioned next to a dirt embankment (a first). I not-so-gracefully lurched onto his back and positioned myself. He looked a little miffed at first, but I clicked him as I did it so he stood still. I treated him as he recovered his composure.

I looked over at the ponies and lifted my energy and he moved off in their direction and then passed them to start walking along the gravel road. He seemed really happy and relaxed. It was wonderful! We only went to the top of a nearby hill, and then we all turned around to head back to the trail head. As we walked down the hill, he wanted to walk in the ditch rather than on the gravel, and he started to feel a little unstable, so I dismounted and resumed walking. It was great. We've had our first "trail ride"!

When we got home, Guinness was sticky and smelly, so I gave him a quick bath. Fortunately, it was at least 70 degrees (weird for November). He played in the water and then I scraped him off. Cody came over at Liberty to join us, while Smokey watched from a distance. Then I took G. to the rolling spot and as he laid down, I clicked and treated him, since I eventually want him to lay down on cue. As he was rolling, Smokey came over and rolled too.

When I left the field, Guinness looked like a mud pie and was prancing around full of himself.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pleasure Riding

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to go trail riding with three ladies from the SWVA Natural Horsemanship Club. We explored several lovely trails on private land and were out for 2 1/4 hours.

My mount for the afternoon was "Thumper," a palomino QH gelding, owned by Mickey. I'd guess that Thumper is a solid LBI. The fun thing was that his "whoa" pretty much matches his "go" so there was virtually no need to nag or coax him along.

It was lots of fun practicing trotting, a little cantering, and transitions along the trail.

Thanks ladies!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Start Your Own Rocky!

Dear Readers -

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you've probably come to realize what sensible, level-headed, companionable, useful, and affectionate critters Rocky Mountain Horses are bred to be.

I just wanted to make a pitch for a little guy that is for sale by the folks that bred Guinness, Doug & Alicia Coop of Shelbyville, KY. Here is his bio from their website:

“Coop’s Indian-head Penny”

This beautiful red chocolate yearling gelding (born April 24th 2008) is Sired by “Maple Squirrel’s Legacy” and out of our silver buckskin mare “Coop’s April Morning”.

He was imprinted at birth and is very friendly. He has wonderful bloodlines. He gaits in the field. Very Flashy! He is friendly and respectful. He'll be easy to train. “Indi” would be great on the trail or the rail.

Asking Price - $2,800

If you are thinking about starting a baby of your own, please consider owning him - and spare me the temptation!

If you live near me, I'd be happy to travel with you to Shelbyville to check him out. :-)

For more information, please see their website:

PS - Doug & Alicia have been Parelli Natural Horsemanship folks for many years.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Under Saddle

(Please check back in a few days, this post is a work in progress. I just couldn't wait to get the photos posted. ;-)

Yesterday, Guinness & I participated in a bonus playday - we snuck away from our usual Monday responsibilities and went to a friend's farm instead.

- My friend, Tenley from WV, and her draft horses, Thunder & Augie, spent the night at my house and came too.

- Monday morning, I grabbed Guinness and invited him to immediately jump onto the trailer for his breakfast & then wait for me to finish loading everything.

- Though we hurried a bit to get going, once we got there we took things slow! Good grooming, tacking up, controlled catastrophe with tying to trailer. (Note the "tie ring" to permit rope to slip.) I'm getting him used to my usual plan for an excursion..

- Once we arrived, he was pretty concerned about the scary guinea hens & peafowl inside a huge geodesic dome aviary.

- We all practiced precision leading (holding lead at about 2' length).

- Then we tried a stick-to-me exercise at Liberty with group - just like at Carol Coppinger's clinic. What a great partnership exercise!!

- Lunch break - Guinness to shady trailer with hay and a view vs. hanging with other horses.

- After lunch, we tacked back up and rode. This was Guinness' first time mounted using a saddle! I rode for about 10 minutes (max), at the walk & halt.

- We were having such fun that we didn't leave until dark. Thank you for hosting, Diane! :-)

Monday, October 26, 2009

End of Summer

While downloading photos for the previous post, I discovered these photos of my "horse girls" on my camera and wanted to post them.

How quickly the trees have turned from green to fall colors!

Back Into the Woods

This afternoon, my son and his dog, Zippy, & Guinness and I went for a walk in the woods at the local National Forest recreation area. In the short time since we were there last, all of the leaves have turned and many have fallen. It looked and smelled like a totally different place.

Guinness hopped right on to the trailer - literally since he seems to think that his back feet have to jump up to get on board. Thank goodness for his cheap leg wraps with velcro closures as they have protected his legs innumerable times. They are also wonderful for acclimating horses to having stiff, noisy things around their legs and feet. He hardly notices them any more and has stopped his "moon walking" when they are on.

The park was pretty empty when we arrived, but Guinness seemed to recognize where he was and didn't call at all. We all headed down the same newly-discovered trail that we explored last time. Guinness took the opportunity to sample everything that he could with his mouth: rotting stumps, bark, dead leaves, mossy soil, my pony-tail, etc.

Guinness was a champ. I sent him over lots of obstacles, and drove him often from Zone 5. I seem to be getting better with the 22' line and have discovered that it it is easier to manage it from Zone 1 if I can throw a loop of it up over Guinness' back. That way, the weight of it doesn't confuse him and it doesn't drag the ground. Whenever he stepped off of the trail, wrapping his rope around a tree, I sent him back and then directed his nose around the tree to free him. Eventually, he seemed to get the hint to stay on the trail.

Once, he was ahead of me heading down a slope through a hairpin turn, when he turned his head around toward me and slid not-so-gracefully down the hill. I was startled to hear a mountain biker just behind us! We all pulled over to let him pass, and then Guinness started whinnying for the biker (about 5 times) as he rode away. It was pretty funny. I guess that Guinness thought that the biker had joined our group? I'm lucky that he didn't take off after the biker, dragging me along behind him..

When we returned to the parking lot, we walked right past two ladies enthusiastically hula-hooping! (Why??) It was a very strange sight and my son and I stared (grinning), but Guinness didn't bat an eye.

We have decided that the next time we return, Guinness will be wearing his bareback pad along with the dressage pad with the big saddle-bag pockets in it. That way, he can tote our water & snacks.

We loaded up without any issues and heading home. Guinness was sweaty under his fuzzy winter coat, but none the worse for wear.

Next Monday, Guinness & I will be attending an arena-based playdate along with several other horses, and the Monday after that, we may try a trail walk/ride at another location with our friend, Sierra. I'm hoping to ride him a little bit during both events. I'll keep you all posted!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Discovering My "Horsenality"

In Parelli Natural Horsemanship, we are encouraged to get to know ourselves and to increase our "emotional fitness," so that we can become the best leaders for our horses.

In PNH lingo, I was born a Left-brain Introvert, and I have been rated as an INTJ on the Meyers-Briggs personality inventory. Through a series of life crisis starting as a teen, I started to act more like an Right-brain Extrovert, due to constant excessive adrenaline.

My state-of-being affects my relationships - both horse & human. I tend to get along best with human LBEs because they match my energy, but are calm, and have a plan. Even if they are sometimes a bit blunt or direct-line, it doesn't rub me the wrong way, like it does some other people. (The photo above is of LBE Michelle a.k.a. "arabhorselover1", "Parlay" a RBE mare that I used to own, and me. Notice that the LBE is holding the RBE's rope!)

I also get along well, but am less productive/progressive, with LBIs. They can bring out my "let's skip math and eat brownies instead" frame of mind, which although very relaxing, often gets me in trouble..

My sometimes frenetic energy tends to overwhelm and/or annoy RBI people. However, other RBEs tend to get on my nerves!

With horses, I prefer LB to RB, but do pretty well with both LBI & RBI. LBE's think very quickly and I sometimes have a difficult time leading them. I do the worst with RBE horses - they bring up my fear. Lots of "I'm not OK - you're not OK either" self talk by both parties.

I've learned that I do best with lots of feedback, structure, and opportunity to be part of a team. I don't enjoy being a leader, but relish being "first indian." I enjoy the safety of the herd, and want to fit in and be accepted.

I recently started new job providing technical support via phone. My training class is full of LBEs, with a couple of LBIs. I may be the only RBE in a group of 18. I'm having issues with confidence and performance anxiety (huge adrenaline rush causing me to go blank, freeze, stop breathing, and to want to RUN). Last week, a doctor proscribed beta blockers for me, which help a great deal with moderating the effects of adrenaline.

However, even with the medications, I can still go into information overload. Like my horse, Smokey, if I can't run, than I BALK (shut down). My record button turns OFF, and so I'm having short term memory issues. Funny thing, if I have small accidental successes then I start thinking again. Also, I hate not knowing what I'm doing, especially with folks watching. Fortunately, this is not as big of a problem by phone, where I can fake it, as it is in person.

My pattern is to preemptively quit in order to stop the uncomfortable feelings. All of my life this has halted my progress in lots of areas. I keep telling myself that I'm not going to react that way this time and that they will have to fire me to get rid of me (which I sometimes think that I'm looking forward to).

The weird thing is that even in the midst of a panic, I can still be detached enough to observe my "inner horse" freak out and to think, "how interesting." Also, I've noticed that I tend to complain when I feel unconfident, but I'm much more forgiving of situations at other times. I also tend to look for others that feel the same way as I do, so that I can match how they are coping. ("Should we all RUN away together?")

As an RBE, there are things that I've discovered to be helpful: a "you can do it" message of reassurance from a confident leader, not too much pressure, more carrot and less stick, small opportunities for success, take it slow - time to "lick & chew" over things. If I was having a full blown panic, a firm message of "STOP, breathe, you are OK" would help. (I try to keep myself from going there!)

I'm trying to use the strategies in the book Move Closer, Stay Longer so that I can learn to persist through the bad places long enough to reach the fun on other side (just as I did in this summer's "Joseph" musical production). I need to stick with it until there is a change in my response/mental state.

My goal is to learn to function as a moderate LBE, with more controlled and focused energy, and to teach my "butterflies to fly in formation"!

I think that Guinness and I are a good match. He seems to be a motivated LBI. He actively seeks out new things to play with, but also displays a lot of "you can't make me" with the other horses. He is not domineering and seems to be happy as a subordinate in the herd, as long as there is lots of play. He is also pretty darned unflappable and sensible, which helps to keep me from going RBE. We compliment each other pretty well. The big test will be whether we could survive performing at a Celebration event together someday!

Lots to ponder..