rainy bliss

We had a great week and rode 3X in five days, with alternating days of arena, trail, arena work. A perfect schedule in my humble opinion. I really enjoy both trail & arena riding, most of the time. However that first arena ride was frustrating, at least that’s what my face told everyone. I wear my emotions on my face – without even knowing. I didn’t tell my face to say anything, what the heck! Perfect strangers have come up to me in the past, upon occasion and made (nice) comments about whatever my face was saying at the time. Like it’s got a mind of it’s own or something lol. Guess it wasn’t listening to me that day either. Truth be told, I was frustrated with Koda – or myself, or both. Not sure. I get tired of non-stop correcting him. That little booger makes me work hard! Some days you just want to get on and ride. I know, I know that’s not realistic with a young horse. They need us to help them do the right thing, all the time. We made it through with help from Patty’s coaching, and by the end of the ride he did what I asked. My face must of been screaming frustration, cuz I never said a word. But she knew. Patty reminded me a ball spur was an option, and would make things easier for me. I’m sure the day will come when it makes sense to put on the spurs, but not now. I don’t expect things to be easy, this isn’t just about me – it’s about us…I am determined we’ll get it right sooner, next time.

We’ve had 90 degree muggy weather all week. On our second arena ride, we opted for the outdoor in the rain - it felt plain ol’ refreshing. I’m pretty sure Nemo was the only one who didn’t think so, he prefers not getting wet. But sometimes you gotta ride in the rain, and in this case we all wanted to. We’ll almost all of us. Nemo got over it, he didn’t have a choice. Patty kept offering to move into the indoor arena, but no one wanted to give up the refreshing feeling that only water on a hot day can give you. Besides, I was having the best ride ever on Koda. There is something to be said for repetition. We had our moments, but it was a big huge improvement. Patty was really pleased. I think we all were. Koda’s broken strides were less frequent and he was listening to my cues. He was loping off right away. At one point I was laughing so hard we ran right over the top of a cone. Oops, bad driver - sorry Patty. She laughed too, and said they had been running them over all day. We tried it again, and this time I focused and decided sooner which direction we were going. Good idea, ya think?! Other riders came and went during the rain that ranged from sprinkles, to nothing, to a steady soaking rain, and back to nothing again. By the end we were wet, tired, and happy. I found out after the fact hubby told Patty it was almost like Koda & I were a different rider and a different horse – and she agreed. Whatever, we were just enjoying the rainy bliss!!


first trail ride

Our first trail ride on Koda & Nemo was one to remember, and went way better then we ever expected! I am still in complete awe of how well our boys behaved for allll the firsts they encountered. We are very proud of them! I borrowed my daughters point-n-shoot (hence the quality) and took a few pics to share.
It was a hot 90 degree muggy day, typical August weather. Apparently Ma Nature forgot to check her calendar, it’s only May!! Koda & Nemo loaded right up, along with Sweetie (a 6 year old mare in training), into Patty’s 3-horse slant load. It has a high entry and none of them had ever loaded into her trailer, but they did fine. The only trailer struggle we had was getting Sweetie to back out when we got home, she is used to turning around and walking out. Nothing major. We traveled about an hour to some private land, where
Patty's long-time clients welcomed us. What nice people. Deb and Julie have been Iron Horse clients for 20 years, that’s a long working relationship. While they got themselves ready, we tacked up by the trailer and led our horses through the new busy environment to the outdoor arena to warm up. There were a lot of new things to look at along the way, and we weren’t sure how the boys would handle it all.

Brad & Nemo backing up during warm-up

Our trail group was Brad, Patty, Deb, Julie (Deb’s daughter) and her two young daughters, and I. Julie ponied one daughter, and the other rode double with her on their trusty horses - both trained by Patty. That seemed like a lot for Julie to handle, but she did it with flying colors and the horses were stellar. Into the woods we went, and quickl
y found many new experiences for the young horses along the trail. We passed white geese, maneuvered over and around fallen logs and large branches, had little dogs weaving in and out, saw a deer running near-by, hunting huts etc.

Deb leading on her paint mare Crocus

What impressed us most about Koda & Nemo was that they listened to our lead as they picked their way through the fallen logs & twisting branches. We ran into several "how are we going to get around that" areas. It could have easily been an issue for any horse, let alone young ones experiencing it for the first time. Our many years of Colorado trail riding experience came in handy, as well as those early training sessions desensitizing their legs.

Our trail group, minus Deb who is taking the picture

The ride was sooo relaxing, it wasn’t even hot in the woods. I'm happy to share I have nothing exciting to add to my previous "look at it/look away" post. The only place Koda did anything that resembled a spook, was during warm-up in the arena. He spied something that made him think he should step to the side, and not be as close to whatever. I didn’t make a big deal out of it. We simply spent a little more time down at that end, he was over it with the next pass and one simple leg/rein pressure correction asking him to stay in line.

When we got back from the trail, we all rode down to their barn before heading to the arena again. The horses watched chickens, a four wheeler backing out, ponies and more
close-by. They also practiced waiting as a group, as well as separate. Deb & Julie brought their yearling into the arena so Patty could see it’s movement. I’m guessing it will be in training with her in the future. After a little more arena riding, it was time to head out. It didn't take long to get hot and thirsty, cold water never tasted so good. We were a happy-tired bunch, it was a wonderful first trail trip to treasure!!


look at it or away from it

The past couple weeks Iron Horse has begun working with Koda on trailer loading. Patty mentioned when they started he was truly scared of being in the trailer. Not a surprise. She carefully explained sometimes horses outsmart methods, and Koda had done just that. The gradual “load/backup/reload” method we used to train him wasn’t going to work anymore. They needed to change methods, and were successful using the end of a crop when he would bolt out without being asked. She said it took about three times, and he opted to stand inside instead of getting thumped on his butt. Wouldn’t be my first choice of methods, and it wasn’t theirs either – but, he has to be loadable - for his own good. She was happy to see he respected the trailer butt strap, and moves forward when he comes in contact with it. Now he waits to be asked to back out. Patty said he will likely always be a two person loading horse that has to get unlatched first, door open second, and then butt strap undone with a person inside holding a lead rope ready to ask him to back out. If that’s the worst of it, I can live with it, and apparently so can Koda.
With our first trail ride coming up fast, I asked Patty a question “when a horse spooks at something on the trail are you a look at it, or look away from it person”? Having observed both, I never really understood why/when do one vs the other. I was curious what she would suggest. I think I hit a nerve, and got a very passionate answer. She prefaced her answer by saying there aren’t many things she feels can’t be handled in various different ways, as everyone has their own style, but it’s safe to say Patty is definitely not a forcible “look at it” person! She feels it is really wrong, and has had to fix horses that experience that mentality. Without re-telling the whole explanation, the reason to not force your horse to stand still, and stare at, whatever they think is going to eat them is that it builds adrenaline, and fuels negative adrenaline-type behavior. She didn’t really agree with looking away from the object and pretending it doesn’t exist either. She favors introducing the scary object while mounted a “little at a time” starting at the horses comfort zone, and working the horse closer. I’ve done this, as I’m sure many of you have, and completely agree with this method. It works well. Of course it goes without saying there are exceptions, like when a human thinks that scary thing might eat them both – um, that might be a good time to leave!
Are you a “look at it” or “look away from it” person??


to the left to the left

SO, aren’t you all wondering – was I able to get Koda to lope to the left…or are stronger aides in our immediate future?? Say what? It wasn’t on your top ten things to worry about? Not a problem, I had it covered for all of us – and worry, I did.

My day was for crap at work, and that makes gearing up for a challenge a hard transition. But the “what if’s” slowly and surely melted away as my time with Koda progressed. He was patient tacking, and good during warm-up. Altho he did challenge me some in the saddle. I wanted so badly for things to go right, and by Koda’s reactions – so did he. With every thing that was done well, or fixed, came the answer I was looking for - done well.

By the middle of our ride, I found myself bumping him too frequently to keep him trotting. Patty asked me to try not using my legs for a while, to prove a point. Koda needs to hold his gait, without my constant reminder. If not, my leg pressure will soon become ineffective and I’ll have a hard-sided horse. Who wants that, not me. I loosened my reins, used no leg, and much to my surprise it worked. We were off the rail, actively working even around the cones – until I stopped.

While I was mentally getting ready to put my lope together, Koda decided to toss his head up while jerking on the reins. Patty didn’t like that at all. She said “that’s like your kid swearing at you”. He knows that’s not okay, and had me do a couple tight circles. He never did it again - all from a simple circle, at a key time.

I was reminded young horses need our help keeping their shoulder up at the lope, especially when starting off, by picking up the inside rein. She also explained to me why working the rhythm of the lope isn't helpful, and actually get’s in their way. That was news to me, and contrary to what I’ve learned in the past. I was taught it helped and encouraged them to keep going, although I’m sure I was over doing it in slow motion. I can’t remember what Patty called it, but she had a name for it. Add that and more to changing my lope cue to the outside, and I’ve got a fair amount of unlearning from years gone by to remember NOT to do.

Three things to remember TO do with a young horse: 1) never use/do more than you need 2) keep work fresh (same applies to correction) 3) end when it’s your idea. Hmmm, that could apply to a lot more than young horses!

Brad and Nemo spent a fair amount of their ride loping, or using the rail to turn into to get a better lift off at the lead. On a different note, we found out Nemo might have kidney stones. They called the vet to discuss symptoms,
as long as he doesn’t seem to be in pain and everything remains normal, he wants to check a few things on him at his next visit . Apparently what prompted the call was unusual urination behavior (pee a little, walk around, pee more) in his stall the day before. Patty and staff are keeping an eye on him. Doesn’t help the poor guy got the cough Koda had, and was also put on penicillin to knock it out. Regardless he was a funny tired boy when we were done riding. Nemo made those silly yawning faces that make us all laugh, but still had enough playful energy to pick up the cones.

Oh yea, and I’m happy to say – Koda & I were indeed successful loping to the left, to the left!


the more I learn, the less I know

We had a great ride & lesson Wednesday night. I learned sooo much, my head was still spinning the next morning. I swear, the more I learn the less I know! Why is that?

The barn was busy as usual. We arrived to find our favorite tack fitter and friend Kathye, from Mounds. She checked how our tack was fitting our boys, and tried a new Billy Cook saddle on Nemo. Now that she has seen them in person and things fit well, we just need to make a final decision on the saddle. As you’ve likely read, we didn’t have much luck finding a used saddle locally. I know some folks get good saddle deals on ebay, but we don’t want to take the risk in this case. We reeeally need another saddle (and soon), it’s a necessity, not an extra.

We rode in the indoor arena, do to the string of crappy cold wet weather we’ve had. Warming the horses up was uneventful. It didn’t take long for me to warm-up either. Before hopping up on Koda, I slung my sweatshirt over the entrance banister. Nemo caught a glimpse of the odd black lump that wasn’t there before and found it kinda scary, but that didn’t last long. No obstacles or other riders in the arena for entertainment tonight, just the four of us working our gaits. Patty was please with how well Koda was listening. I agree, altho he was sluggish he was moving right off my leg at the trot. From what I saw, Brad and Nemo’s ride went well as usual.

With my first pending lope on Koda, Patty suggested I split my reins for more control. Not a big deal, I used to ride split reined. There is more positioning to be aware of, along with the added control. I mentioned to her that I may need her to help tell me if I’m on the wrong lead. It’s something I don’t think I ever got good at. Koda & Nemo are trained with a high (to me) outside leg roll cue, and a kiss. She also suggested a slightly shorter outside rein and to cue going into a bend, to help them get the correct lead. Pretty common. And so, we loped. First we loped to the right. Holy rocky horse, I thought I was on the wrong lead. I know it’s been a while, but it felt like an odd lope. Turns out I was on the correct lead (case in point). Patty said it probably felt awkward because Koda was going sooo slow, and the sand is really deep in her indoor. We tried again, and it was better. I choose to start loping in a half circle, and got reminded to turn Koda sooner if he wasn’t turning on his own. It’s important with the young ones. Oh ya, forgot that part - it comes back really quick when you almost run into a wall. We continued on, and I felt put together enough to go around the arena. It was fun!

Then we tried the left lead…and it all went down hill from there. You may recall one of the videos I posted where Patty mentions that Koda is very right sided, well she wasn’t kidding. He kept breaking his stride. Patty said (several times) I had to get after him or it’s going to get worse. We stopped, backed up, and got reminded to not pull on his face when backing up. Old habits die hard. I’ve figured out that Patty uses a lot more leg in her training then my previous trainer. I’m used to working the bit side-to-side on the horses I’ve ridden into collection, forward and back, along with leg pressure. You can’t do this with a young horse. It’s second nature, and I didn’t even realize I was doing it until she said something. Koda would start to listen, and then back to a broken stride…we started, we stopped, we backed, we started, we stopped, over and over. Patty offered to jump on him and show me how hard I needed to get after him, but I was determined. Things just got worse, eventually all I got was a trot. We were frustrated, both Koda and I. At that point it was all eyes on Aurora and Koda, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to out stubborn him and get a lope to the left. Man did I feel like an uncoordinated idiot. That’s a lot to put together all at once when things aren't going your way. Must have been hard for Patty to watch. She is so kind and never raised her voice, or made me feel bad. That’s a refreshing change. Patty truly wants the horse and rider to become partners, and that is why she includes owner training in her program. Brad thanked me later in the vehicle, he said by watching us he better understood some things. I’m glad my struggling was good for something. I eventually realized whatever I was doing wasn’t going to work. I was getting nowhere, tired, and it was long overdue that Koda did what was being asked. He wasn’t going to give me an inch. He was being naughty, and I let him get away with it. Patty got on him, and all she said was “Wow, I can feel his sluggish colty frustration. I’m glad you got off. The next thing coming would have been a buck”. Great. I’m glad I got off too. They have never offered to buck, and we want to keep it that way. Apparently that can manifest itself too. She showed me how she wants me to get after him. If the back-up doesn’t work, then a harder kick with more heel than I was using, and then if needed transferring short reins into the left hand and swatting his butt with the end of the reins, and lastly making him work for a break. It didn’t take but one kick, and one swat, and he stopped breaking his stride at the lope and held his trot for her. That's a good thing about Koda, he will test you but understands the correction. He is a smart boy, it usually only takes once. Koda was a sweaty guy when all was said and done.

We talked about all this, and more. I learned a person can’t out stubborn a young horse. It doesn’t work. She asked me if I was scared to get after Koda. I’m not. She has asked me similar before, when I've seen her need to get after other horses. I understand the difference between abuse and getting respect for safety’s sake, sometimes it takes a stronger hand. Patty isn’t one of those “in their face” trainers. She is very in-tune with the horses, and uses the least amount of pressure at key times and builds from there – but, she means business. How do I know she’s not a rough trainer? The horses love her, you can tell. Watch their reaction when “those” type of trainers walk by a horse. What I don’t know is what to expect after, and then there is the timing and coordination of it all. Now I know, and I hope I can mean business too. Time will tell. Patty’s take is this “ what a person should be scared of is what will happen if you don’t get after him right away and squash the bad behavior before it grows”. Good point. With all that said, we might move Koda into a curb type bit and me into a ball spur. I opted to try one more time before upping things. After all, it was my first time loping a young horse. I can do better. If it doesn’t work next time, we’ll go to plan B. The bottom line is I need to be able to make him listen, or all the training will be for nothing. He doesn’t deserve that, and neither do I. I’ve been processing all this and hope I can put it together…so, that is what we’ll work on next.

We only have one week left, and our 90 days are up. As far as Brad, he continues to feel Nemo taking the occasional extra step at the lope. Patty is going to show him some techniques to keep Nemo reaching. Maybe I'll get to watch? Nemo is a willing learner, and wants no part of anyone getting after him. Koda and Nemo are completely different in how they learn. We pretty much knew that from the days (and days) we went to look at them before deciding they were right for us. We are thankful we found someone who understands all horses are individuals. I have the harder horse to train initially, but in the end I know he will be a rock star. We will likely do a couple more weeks of training, for all of our sakes.


how not to treat a customer

Last weekend we traveled to no less than 5 different tack shops in the area looking primarily at saddles, bridles and bits. The selection at most of the stores left a lot to be desired. It also became apparent that tack shops in this area are hidden secrets, some more than others. Perhaps the sparse selection is a result of the increasing online shopping phenomena. However we wanted not only to look at, but feel, the tack options. It’s kinda hard to sit on a photo of a saddle to see how it feels, you could…but, um, I’m pretty sure that feels flat!!

At our last stop we encountered something that left a first impression, we’ll not soon forget. The name of the shop has been changed to protect the innocent, me. Let’s call it the East shop. It’s a bit of a haul from our place, so we’ve never been. We knew the East shop carried a large selection of new and used saddles, and thought maybe they would have a good used one. We weren’t having much luck anywhere else. It seemed like the perfect excuse to finally make the trip.

When we arrived it was pretty busy, for being in the middle of nowhere. We got our hopes up as we dug out one particular used saddle, from the many stacks. There was no price on it. I asked and was given an excuse, a sales pitch and oh yeah - the price. It seemed too high, sales pitch was pushy and I could have done without the defensive excuse on why the saddle wasn’t priced yet. It wasn’t a big deal to us.

We thought the saddle was too worn for the price, but Brad tried it anyways. The clerk was nearby helping another couple with a saddle purchase/swap, when out of the blue they started yelling at the customer to stop asking them to lie. If they didn’t like the price, get the FU out of their store...more words were loudly exchanged, and the customer left with their original saddle. Can you say awkward? You could have heard a pin drop. We were only a couple saddle rows away from the inappropriateness of it all. We kept busy until things calmed down, and we could get the answers we needed to make a decision. I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. We almost took the saddle home to try on Nemo, until we were given the price again - and it was higher than the first time we asked. Really?? Now you want even more for the overpriced saddle? Normally I would have questioned a price change. Not after what I observed, wouldn’t be worth it. Needless to say we left without buying anything. For them to boast how awesome their business is, they sure weren’t doing it any justice that day. It's too bad, everyone else we dealt with was really nice. Having run my own business for 13 years, I’m pretty particular about treating customers fairly – that obviously isn’t part of their daily business practice. It was a nice drive all the same.

We were so thankful to get sound advice and buy tack a few days later from Mounds. We're still working on a saddle for Nemo. I’ll post some pics when we have it all together, and make sure there is a horse modeling it. We ordered the bits, and I want to get my reins dyed to match my bridle/saddle a little closer. Yep, I like to be matchy-matchy.

When we share our shopping experience, no one is surprised. I’m guessing there is a reason, and the brash behavior at the East shop is common. I think we'll stick to shopping closer to home, the only thing that gets loud at Mounds is the friendly laughter.


the wind is my friend

During one of the hardest times in my life, when I was a single divorced parent with a young child going to college and working two jobs, I ran 6 days a week – just to get through the stress. I ran through the heat, cold, exhaustion, pain – and yes, the wind. I hated the wind the most. I lived out in the country on a hill (and now live on a different hill, what’s up with that?) the wind would whip so hard some days it felt like I wasn’t even moving. After a while I learned to work it to my advantage. I used it to build strength. During the most difficult times, when the resistance was unreal (and I’m not talking just the wind) I would tell myself over and over again “the wind is my friend”…said to the beat of a runner’s pace. My windy encounters made me stronger physically and mentally. I couldn’t duplicate the resistance the wind added, if I tried. I know turbulent winds can do horrible things to people and places, but that’s not the point.

Just yesterday I found myself riding in strong winds, the kind that whips up sand storms. One of which we drove through while hauling our empty trailer up to Iron Horse. We were given the option to ride inside, or brave the wind outside. All three of us riders opted to give it a whirl (no pun intended) outside.

We started with the usual lunging. Koda listened well, but being his lazy self kept breaking his stride. Patty mentioned he was making me work way too hard. She said a horse like Koda does require more active movement from a person, but showed me a more effective approach holding the whip in a lower pressure position. If he wasn’t listening and I needed to whack him, to do so lower behind his legs where it will only take once. I didn’t see Brad and Nemo start out, but heard things went well.

I’m happy to say the boys were both good listeners even tho the wind whipped us and everything else. It was good desensitizing. They earned repeated praise from Patty. She said she was impressed with them and has old broke horses that wouldn’t listen as well, given the strong wind. Patty also thought it was my best ride yet on Koda, because “he looks like he’s really trying hard to do everything your asking him to do” and I agree. He was more focused on me. While riding with the wind, I was reminded of my running days. There is something about horseback riding that is so thought provoking. Both Brad and I rode the boys over the poles, around cones, all over the arena and even over the practice wooden bridge-type square. It was fun! The wind made for beautiful flowing manes, which switched directions at any given time – and yes, it added resistance and made us all stronger.


Harmony has a new home

We moved Harmony to a new home last Wednesday. She will be living at Mandt's Equestrian Center, a very active show barn. Her stall is right next to Bill's, a haflinger that used to live at her former home. It will be a familiar nicker. Mandt's is a huge barn, the largest I've ever seen, and not without it's issues. Bill is owned by our daughters friend, the haffie that unfortunetely got the unwanted haircut (see hitched posts). However, that was an isolated incident and Harmony will be turned out in a different area. Everyone (horses included) seems happy when we've been there. All the shows we've been to are well run, and attended. Lots of fun happening there. We know several super people at Mandt's, including the barn manager, and feel it's in our daughter and Harmony's best interest. We have been suggesting she try Mandts for years. Heck, lets be honest - we've been trying to get her to just plain old move on from the old place, and all it's injustices, for a long while. Change can be daunting, maybe she just needed the buffer of having Harmony at home before trying a new place? Who knows. What we do know is we are excited she'll have new opportunities, friendships to foster, and new friends to make. This was "her idea" and trust me when I say it's better than us forcing a switch.

As for the horse, Harmony has been at our place doing lots of nothing since October. Winter, boyfriend, and no arena got in the way. Winter has changed to spring, the boyfriend is gone, and we are working on an outdoor arena. The mare has been bored, especially since our boys are in training. She needs a job again, and misses her girl. She has lived her life being a 4H, lesson, show girl, with lots of people and horses around. I think she's going to like Mandt's, and will get to do many more fun things with her girl. Harmony has never lived in a stall, but we feel it's the best board option considering the factors. She is starting her daily turnout with a timid mare called Chloe.
So far, so good.

We look forward to seeing them ride together again!!