Baby Steps

I’ve made mention here and there in some posts and touched on some of my own personal fear issues + riding, and how it’s something I’ve really battled since the very beginning of my riding days. I think it’s a cyclical thing, generally ushered in by “something bad” happening (usually a parting of the ways with the horse), and then fading away as “nothing bad” happens for a while.

As much as I would dearly love to just completely vanquish this fear and have it completely go away, I don’t know if that will ever happen…I don’t think it’s in my psychological makeup to be that ballsy and fearless about anything.

But at the same time, I’m also tired of being so careful and cautious that I’m letting that fear control me. This particular cycle seems particularly deep-seated and insidious, and I’ve had enough.

Apparently Mimi had enough, too, last weekend, when she mutinied on yet another session of nice “safe” arena work with some very clear and pointed body language that said “I’m over this.” Once we exited the arena, she took matters into her own hooves and marched us straight down the driveway to the property gate and stood there until I reached over and unlatched the gate, which she promptly shoved open, walked through, and then nudged closed again.

So riding out around the neighborhood at any place I’ve boarded at has never been my favorite thing to do in life. Some early on bad experiences such as parting ways with the pony and going skidding across the pavement left an impression (and ruined my favorite shirt) that’s been hard to shake, and I have a hard time relaxing in that setting. Give me real trail any day.

But around the neighborhood is the most feasible option right now…and what better way to start tackling the fear cycle currently set to “on” than something that historically makes me uncomfortable?

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Overall, the roads are pretty quiet around the barn, and most of them have wide dirt shoulders with lots of room to move over, and 95% of the drivers are polite and courteous. (And for the other 5%? Well, the pony isn’t phased by traffic and vehicles, fortunately.)

Last Sunday was particularly quiet. It was still early, and the skies were overcast, with slightly-lower-than-normal temperatures. With traffic non-existent, it was the perfect opportunity to move out a little bit — Mimi is far less prone to “look” at stuff when we’re trotting along. Only at one point, she got it in her head that she needed to practice to be a Top Ten Tevis horse, a la “cantering through the streets of Foresthill,” and started cantering when I wouldn’t let her power trot.

Ummmm…okay, then. Guess there’s a reason I put boots on her.

We didn’t go far — all of a couple of miles — but as the post title suggests, baby steps. Even those couple of miles served as a confidence booster.

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And today, I was willing to try it again. We didn’t even look at the arena…just went jogging in-hand straight down the driveway, mounted up outside the gate, and struck out down the street…where we made it all of 100 yards before she had to dramatically startle-and-spook-in-place because…horses in the pasture trotted over to the fence.

{sigh}

Actually, points to me because all I did was laugh. I did not turn into a clutching monkey, I did not get all control-freak rein-grabby, I did not get scared. I called her a couple of names, tapped her with my heels, and moved on down the street.

We did some nice, purposeful trotting down the street, explored a aside street we hadn’t been on in a while, chased a vulture and its precious roadkill prize, and worked on the pony power-walk.

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vulture + roadkill in the distance

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do we care about things like storm drains and flowing irrigation canals? nope. just other horses/animals.

Last weekend, I had also pulled out my old Big Horn saddle. It started life as our gymkhana/barrel saddle, then migrated over to be our initial trail saddle. After one too many “ribs meet saddle horn” incidents, I sawed off the horn, wrapped the pommel in leather, and led a much happier existence when it came to climbing hills.

Funny thing, though…I’ve never loved this saddle. I always felt like the twist was uncomfortably wide for me…never mind we managed around 200 competition miles, between NATRC and LD endurance rides, plus upteen training miles…and it’s never made Mimi sore. I was never brave enough to try a 50 in it, despite messing with things like swapping out the original fenders for more flexible biothane ones, and trying to make it as comfortable as possible for me.

But it’s also the saddle that lives down at the barn. Since the tack room is a large metal box, it gets ridiculously hot in there, and I don’t feel like storing my really nice leather saddles in that. I’m also out of room for any more saddle storage at the house, so it’s the Big Horn’s luck that it gets to live down at the barn as my “spare” saddle for when I don’t feel like toting one of the others back and forth.

But it’s also the saddle that has never done me wrong. In all the years I’ve owned it…my butt has stayed Velcro’d to it. And right now, I could use that little bit of mental confidence.

So last week, the Big Horn got pressed back into service…with my knees reminding me the whole time of how much I hate the regular Western fenders, and Mimi not loving the Western cinch set-up. A bit of garage rummaging, plus a quick blitz through Riding Warehouse, and this weekend, the Big Horn got another makeover:

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Biothane English billets to replace the standard Western cinch set-up, which allows me to use one of her preferred mohair girths, and fenders replaced with thin, flexible Zilco English leathers covered in sheepskin fleeces were the two big changes I made. I need to remember to bring one of my fleece seat covers, though, since that seat is not particularly cushy.

Interesting to note: the twist no longer feels as wide as it used to. Theorizing that the last time I spent a significant amount of time in this saddle, I weighed about 50 pounds more than I do now. In dropping the weight, I also dropped inches…all around…so it’s entirely possible that losing a bit of the thigh spread has given me more room to more comfortably sit in the saddle.

Just changing the fenders out made for a much more comfortable ride today, and I found myself actually enjoying riding in that saddle. Yet I don’t feel too guilty leaving it down at the barn, so that’s one less thing I have to lug back and forth.

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snoozy girl

And for another “go figure” moment: turns out Mimi loves the Myler pelham with the reins set on the lower curb setting. She’s super-soft, responsive, doesn’t fight against it at all, and didn’t protest in the slightest when I asked that she not jig home when vehicles were passing us. Okay, then. Didn’t think a pelham versus kimberwick would be that big of a difference, but apparently in Pony World…it is.

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And finally, if there’s another equine on this planet that makes as much of a mess of their electrolytes as this one…I have yet to meet them. Pretty sure she got maybe 40% of the dose, and the rest ended up on her face, her legs, the ground, my hands, my hair (euw), the barn dog, the barn chickens…you get the idea.

So that’s two productive weekends. Maybe not productive in the traditional sense of “look at all the miles we rode”, etc…but productive for me, with where I’m at in life right now and some of the things I have to address. This isn’t going to happen with leaps and bounds or overnight progress…but proactively taking even baby steps in the right direction is still better than sitting around just hoping something changes on its own.

It’s funny…when I got her, Mimi was the pony I needed for me at the time…and 20 years later, she’s still being the pony I need for me right now. I am so, so fortunate to have gotten my Heart Horse right off the bat, and to have her be able to slide into whatever role I’ve needed at whatever time. She is truly my once in a lifetime horse, with a spot in my heart that is permanently hers.

Play Days

It’s summer in Arizona, which means it’s hibernation season. Other parts of the country may hibernate in the winter due to snow/mud/impossibly frigid temperatures…we’re sort of the opposite in that we ride in the winter, and then lay low in the summer. For the most part. Unless you have active ride goals and plans, and then you spend the summer getting up at 3AM to try to get a couple of hours of riding in before it gets unbearably hot, or you ride at night (still hot), or you trailer up to higher elevations (which are still warm but not quite as brutal).

Right now, I have no active goals, plans, or activities…and the part of me that likes sleep is really enjoying not having to get up quite so early. I’ll do it if I need to, but it better be a very good reason.

So right now is just about relaxing, enjoying barn time as I can get it, and trying to find a balance between heat acclimation (it does make Tevis crewing easier) and hugging my air conditioner.

I got a little lax with hoof trimming for the past few weeks, and she paid me back for it with longer-than-ideal front toes. *sigh* I can always tell, because her boots then don’t fit the way they should (long, low toe leaves a gap at the top of the boot shell). Trimming in triple-digits is always fun,but I’ve taken to standing her in a small pan of water as I’m working on one hoof, and doing a rotation around of “nip wall, trim bars/anything dying to some out of the sole, rasp, mustang roll.” This pony’s hooves still kind of drive me crazy sometimes because there are just so many things about them that are “not ideal,” but that’s one of the trade-offs of not having the power to create an “ideal” living environment for her, so until I’m in a position to be able to do that, it means a lot of proactive hoof management. (That I sometimes get lazy/slack off on and then she rewards me with long toes and higher heels. Owner fail.)

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I really don’t get tired of just looking at this pony and spending time with her.

Today was a “good day” in Pony-ville. She actually really likes the warm weather (less-crunchy joints) so she was quite cheerful to have me doing stuff with her today. I also had to miss last weekend’s barn trip due to extra-busyness at home, so I think she may have actually been missing me.

And it was a “let’s mess around with headgear” day…I have a vosal that I’ve had for a number of years that I’ve played around with off and on, but never used on her for competition, mostly because I was never happy with the headstall it was on and that I could never get it adjusted short enough. After eyeballing my tack, I discovered the headstall for her s-hack is sized smaller than the vosal headstall, and that I had more adjustment with it. One swap later, and I was able to seat the noseband higher up on her nose.

Little peahead. My constant refrain when it comes to tack-buying has been “it doesn’t adjust small enough.”

We didn’t ride a ton today (really hot by the time I was done with hooves) but I really like how she worked in it. Super light in the face, which is a Big Deal in Pony-ville. Granted, it was the arena, which is not the most “stimulating” environment for her forwardness…but I liked it enough that I’ll probably keep messing with it. If nothing else, it’s something *different* and she seems to crave difference and change-up, even just in gear.

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In a photogenic mood today and showing off for her new boyfriend. Someone please tell the 22-year-old mare that she’s too old to be that flirtatious?

And after riding, she got a full bath. Up to this point, she’s just gotten water-only spray-offs, but today was a full soap bath. “Yellowtail” is a type of fish, not a proper pony color designation. Plus her hind legs were all nasty and peed-upon from her aforementioned flirtations. And the flies and mosquitoes are out, so she’s itchy. And it was triple-digit temperatures. All good reasons for a thorough scrub-down.

I judge the temperature levels by her willingness to get her head wet — normally she really hates water on her face and it’s a wrestling match to try to get her face as white as her body.

Today, she stuck her head under the hose running at full blast and let me scrub her face and rinse it. Without me even holding her head down to a reachable level.

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I have to say, she does look good for 22-years-old. Maybe a slight dip in her previously tabletop-flat back, and she has a *different* look to her face (more mature?)…but I’m very pleased with how she looks right now. Not fighting trim, but still reasonably fit.

And finally, she got a fly sheet today. The next-door neighbors at the barn train bucking bulls for rodeos, so there are a lot of cattle on the premises…which tend to attract more flies, no matter how good the barn protocol is for stall cleanup and maintenance (and it’s very good). The barn owner is apologetic, but there’s really nothing she can do about it — the downside of an area that has properties in somewhat close proximity to one another — but she’s willing to fly spray/fly mask/fly sheet all the horses as long as we provide the materials.

So one online visit to Riding Warehouse later, I found a flysheet that met my criteria of: belly band, neck cover (for mane protection — she sticks her head through the stall bars to get at her neighbor’s hay and has rubbed the middle section of her already-pathetic mane out), Euro cut, and not completely bank-breaking, since she has a history of being hard on sheets/blankets, and while I’m under no delusions that one will have a long, happy, snag-free existence, I would at least like to not cry when she does inevitably destroy it.

I ended up with the Saxon Softmesh Combo Fly Sheet. I will say the mesh isn’t quite as soft as they make it out to be…but good enough. And I’m guessing wear/dirt/washing will soften it up as well.

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Unimpressed mare is unimpressed by the new addition. The look was definitely a “Really? Are you seriously going to make me wear this?” She should be grateful I haven’t gone off the deep end and gotten leg wraps as well.

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Spotty pony! Her spots have gotten crazy — and you only see it when she’s wet, when her dark skin shows up through the wet hair. Sometimes you can kind of see it this time of year when she’s in her summer-bald coat. But she’s got a crazy Appaloosa blanket color pattern…had she not greyed out, she would have been a flaxen chestnut with the frosted blanket.But as striking as that would have been, I absolutely prefer her as a grey. It suits her. And makes her look even more like the little Arab she tries to be.

Another weekend gone, another week approaches. Monsoon season is starting, with a major dust storm last night and a minor one threatening this evening. Monsoon rain in the forecast…it’s just gotta cool off enough to not evaporate the rain out of the clouds. Summer plans on the horizon, some horsey (Tevis crewing, again) and some not (camping trips). Stay cool, pop electrolytes, and hug an air conditioner!

How Renegades prevented a couple of riders from becoming splats on the pavement

In case you’re curious, I was one of those riders.

And the story isn’t actually as dramatic as the title might suggest.  Except for in a few parts.

And no pictures, because my normally-sane, take-pictures-off-my-back-with-no-reins pony was acting like she was closely related to a fire-breathing dragon, and taking my hands off the reins and fumbling with a camera just might have resulted me becoming that aforementioned splat on the pavement.  I need to get one of the helmet cams that are becoming so popular.

As I’ve said before, I board in a semi-urban area.  It’s a very horsey “neighborhood” in Queen Creek, no official subdivision designation, more like a loose coalition of streets containing horse people who have all migrated to an area free of CC&Rs and HOAs.  The whole area is bordered on two sides by state trust land desert…which is currently “locked gate access only,” and you have to get an access permit to get a key.

After yesterday, I think I’m just going to pony up the $$$ for the access permit so I can ride out on that state land again, versus running the Gauntlet of Pony Death that is riding on the streets around the neighborhood.  It used to be open access several years ago, and that was my training ground for when I started to move into endurance from NATRC and needed some good areas for adding speed work to our workouts.

This being semi-urban and a neighborhood of sorts, “streets” = pavement.

I really hate riding on pavement.  Probably something having to do with getting tossed onto and going skidding across it years ago.  It was probably a minor miracle that the worst casualty of that incident was my favorite t-shirt, and that I came off none the worse than some road rash and mental trauma.

So that sets the stage for why I hate riding on pavement, even under the best of circumstances, so the thought of doing anything that could make the situation worse — such as riding in pavement on shoes (yes, Mimi was shod in the above incident) — really makes me cringe. Slithering and slipping on pavement does not a fun ride make.

Yesterday, I’d had it with arena circles.  Plans were initially in place to trailer out, but enough outside circumstances conspired that it just proved more convenient for Boarding Barn Owner and I to stick around the barn and explore around the neighborhood.  The original plan was to see if we could find access to an unlocked trust land gate, but we nixed that plan partway through after realizing the National Guard was using the runway they have in that section of trust land for practicing helicopter water-retrieval exercises.

(Fire season is approaching, so they’re sharpening their “dip the bucket in the water and dump it in the right area” skills.)

For some reason, sharing space with large helicopters with weird, tire-looking things dangling from their undersides didn’t seem like the best idea.  How does one even go about desensitizing a horse to something like that?  Park a helicopter in the roundpen?

So we ended up just doing a large, exploratory loop around the neighborhood, about 4 miles in all.

I put Mimi boots on when we ride out, no so much for protection, because she can handle the street terrain just fine.  It’s for the grip and traction and peace of mind I get from knowing that she’s not going to unexpectedly do the splits on the pavement if she spooks at something.  Yes, she probably gets decent traction going barefoot.  But since her favorite spooking methods involve very fast movement, usually around and to the side, I’d rather just know she’s going to have the grip needed to stay upright during evasive maneuvers.

It also gives me a really good chance to see how she’s wearing her feet…for some reason, I can read the wear pattern on the boots easier than I can read her feet themselves.  And after yesterday, the boots were telling me she’s wearing faster on the outsides.  Time to reevaluate the trimming.

Barn Owner is also currently testing out an old pair of Mimi’s boots on her mare.  She’s been curious about the Renegades, and really likes how easy they are to put on and take off.  She’s currently got front shoes on her mare, but is bare on the back, and had been looking for a booting option for rockier terrain.

So I’m letting her test out an old pair of Mimi’s.  They definitely got put to the test yesterday, since this mare is young, still pretty green, and somewhat of a “looky” and reactive Arab.  There were several moments that involved some fast maneuvers, spooks, and whirls on the pavement, and when I didn’t have my hands completely full of fire-breathing Pony doing her own spooks, I was able to observe how much traction her boots were providing.  This is a very smart mare, and she quickly figured out how much grip and security she had from the boots, so when she’d spook, her hind end would be securely anchored in place while her front end danced lightly around.

We finished our ride none the worse for the wear, all body parts counted for and no splats on the pavement.  The boots came back with a darker patina of asphalt tar staining on the bottoms, but all fully attached, even through some interesting spooks and antics.

I’ve been a believer in these boots for a long time…and now I’ve got another convert.

Big Bad Arabian Stallion

I’m a little behind, since this actually happened last weekend, and I’ve kept meaning to go down to the barn and get pictures.  Work/life has had other ideas this week.  So you get the pictureless version.

Last weekend, I had the chance to ride the barn owner’s Arabian stallion.  Like, properly ride.  I’ve hopped on him before for a few minutes, with too-long stirrups, and briefly experienced his Western Pleasure jog.  This time, it was with properly adjsuted stirrups, all three gaits, around the arena for a good 20 minutes.

Awesome horse to ride.  He’s 25 years old, and with the exception of his locking stifles after about an hour of work, doesn’t look or act his age at all.  He’s really well trained — Western focus, but with enough cross-training in English to know how to stretch out and offer a gorgeous trot.  If he were 10 years younger, I’d be offering to campaign him on the endurance circuit.

It’s been a while since I’ve ridden that well-trained of a horse (besides my own, who, depending on the day, may or may not remember that she is, in theory, that well-trained) and it was sheer joy.  It took me back to my riding origins and dropped me right back into my show-ring boots.  Old habits die hard and are deeply ingrained, I guess, since I went right back to all of my OCD, show-ring micromanaging.

(Somewhere in the distance, Mimi grumbles, “And I had just gotten that all trained out of her, too…”)

But it’s kind of a different story when the horse likes being micromanaged and told what to do.  Exhausting for 50 miles, but fun for short-term circles around the arena.

But just a little more gushing…you wouldn’t know this guy is a stallion.  He’s so well-mannered and polite, and one of the sweetest horses in the barn.  He truly loves people and is very affectionate about it.  So yeah, despite the post title (and the typical stallion stereotype), this boy isn’t bad at all.  (Or big…maybe 14.2.  But he’s got presence and acts a lot bigger.)

Will get pics this weekend and post them of this gorgeous guy.

(And Mimi actually approves of him, since she didn’t get all crabby and pissy that I had the nerve to ride another horse.)

it’s cloudy and grey but we’re still gonna play

Turns out winter’s not quite done with us yet here in the sunny Southwest.  The supposed forecast was 70* and sunny.  What we got was slightly different.  But I’m not complaining.  I’m rather fond of our brand of winter out here, and wasn’t quite ready to face up to spring-like conditions.
Besides, cooler weather makes for cheerful ponies.
“Act your age” need not apply.  She’ll be 19 this year, and she
still can’t leave well enough alone and stay out of other people’s
stuff.
 Cross-dressing for the horse world.
Blue jeans, cowboy boots.  Helmet, English saddle.
The pony wasn’t feeling particularly photogenic or cooperative today.  In order to get this:
We had to go through several rounds of this:
Drama, drama, drama.
And it’s not spring fever.  It’s just Pony.