Archive for the ‘respnsiable horse ownership’ category

Heart Human

June 6, 2015

We all fall. It’s an inevitable part of riding.

Last night warming up for a versatility run Jigs spooked and I went off.  He spooked at, of all things, a board in a tire rut in the grass.  The rut must have seemed like a canyon to him. The board?  Who knows what he thought.

We were trotting- a medium trot, not fast, not slow. He stopped short and jumped back. It wasn’t even a massive spook, but I tilted sideward and off I went.

I’ve ridden out bigger spooks.  I should have stayed on.

Surprised by the ground, I mentally checked for injuries. Fat does have a purpose.  I got up and walked it off.  Jigs stood there stunned.  He didn’t move or try to run away, despite all the lush green grass.

This has happened before. He stays by me when I fall and seems confused I am not still on him.

The first time I went off we were cantering up the trail and he jumped to to the side. I didn’t go with him.  He stopped and looked down at me. “What you doing down there?”  He was extra careful with me for months.

I got back on last night and did our two runs before going home. I was a bit sore and distracted. We didn’t do well time wise, but he did the obstacles without fuss.

When I fell off Pepper, he didn’t stay by me.  One time he ran back to the barn causing everyone to go out and look for me. They found me walking back, muttering to myself.  When I broke my ankle Pepper ran off to a patch of grass and began eating.  At least he didn’t go back to the barn.



On his back or not, Pepper wasn’t interest in humans.

Not Jigs. Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing but Jigs genuinely seems upset when I fall off. He is my heart horse. A part of me suspects I’m is heart human.

Versatility - wagon wheel.

Versatility – wagon wheel.

Of Horses, Competition, and Deflate-Gate

January 24, 2015

This year I have made the decision not to “compete” with Jigs and focus on having fun.  I expect if all goes to plan, there will be lots of trails and general fun messing around.

2010 Dec 31_Winter Fun Dec 2010_0259

It’s easy to get sucked into competition, even at the backyard level where Jigs and I live.  I woke up this morning thinking about it because, of all things, the New England Patriots.

First, I need to explain that I love football and the Patriots have been my favorite team since I can remember. I didn’t have a choice.  Dad was an avid fan even before they were in the NFL.  He took a great deal of grief from his brother-in-laws for it.  In those days the Patriots were the bottom of pro sports.

Then came 2001.  Dad and I had great fights about Brady versus Bledsoe. I was still innocent enough to be excited about the romance of a young man from nowhere beating out the star veteran for the starting spot. He said Brady was a “one hit wonder.”

I had a few years to rub in how wrong he was.  Then he got sick. In the last few years of his life, Dad wasn’t interest in football, the Patriots or much else.

Mom and I still watch NFL games every Sunday during the season.  For me, it’s a way to stay close to the father I miss so much.  A Patriot flag flies over his grave.

Back in March I was convinced this was the year the Patriots would get to the Super Bowl again.  Brady is getting older and frankly, the game is changing.  His style of play is a bit outdated. Mom and I still feel the sting of two losses to the Giants. This may be our last chance to see the Patriots and Brady win another one.

My belief in them was strong, even when they were beaten badly by Kansas City.  Mom will refute this, but only because I expressed my fears to her and kept my sureness they would figure it out secret so not to jinx them.  Isn’t funny how fans think they can change the outcome?

I went to bed last Sunday night elated my confidence in them was justified.  I was planning a Super Bowl party for my grandsons, two of whom, play football themselves. They were going to see history being made and perhaps the best Quarterback of all time play in his sixth Super Bowl. Then the next morning I heard the report of deflated balls on the local sport station.

It made no sense to me.  The Colts were no threat to them.  Why would they cheat? Yes, there was Spy-gate, but it is common knowledge all the teams do that. One of the teams this year is being investigated for using camera phones on the sidelines.

And there was Brady. He has always projected the clean cut, boy next store aura.  He wouldn’t cheat in football or on Gisele. It felt wrong.


But as the week progressed, my faith waned with every new report.

It still makes no sense.  He played better in the second half when the balls were properly inflated.

Did he do it?

I doubt we’ll ever really know what happened.

I don’t even want to watch the Super Bowl now.

There is cheating in all sports.  Lance Armstrong. Steroids in Major League Baseball. Soring of Tennessee Walkers. Suspended race horse trainers. Hyper flexion and rollkur in Dressage. Even an endurance rider who switched horses in a race.

Everyone tries to find the edge. Some go over it to win at all cost.

There is a line between doing things to be better, like getting a good trainer, better equipment, practicing every day, and crossing the cheat line.  Some don’t care.  The Win is everything.  Ribbons and Millions are at stake. But rules are there to make an even playing field.  And in the horse world, more importantly, to protect the horse, who easily can become victim to the human will to win.

And what does the horse think? Does he enjoy competition?  I think some do, especially those who are bred for it.  Cutters cut cows naturally.  Race horses love to run and will continue even when injured. Remember Charismatic?


But it is up to us humans to protect them- and to listen to what they like too. Not every cutter bred wants to cut.  Not every descendant of Seattle Slew wants to race.

Jigs enjoys versatility.  We may do a few this year but not to compete- just for fun.  And he LOVES trails.  We will do lots of trails this year. The goal is for both of us to have fun.


As to whether or not I will watch the Super Bowl and cheer for the Patriots…. I don’t know. It was a small and petty cheat. Still makes no sense to me.  And I suspect all Quarterbacks try to gain similar advantages.  Aaron Rodgers already stated he tries to get away with over inflation. But it does not make it right.  If they did it; it was wrong.


I still have the secret hope they will find a non-cheat reason for the deflated balls.  And deep down inside, I harbor the hope of one more Super Bowl win.

What would Dad say about deflate gate?  He’d say they did it, watch the game and root for the win.

Best Trail Pony

February 9, 2014

Let's go

A recent thread on a local equine message board centered on what qualities make a perfect trail horse. It was a good discussion and got me to thinking. What do I really want in a perfect trail partner?

Here’s what I wrote:

My ideal trail horse- Goes out alone or in groups, is content to lead, follow, or stay in the middle. Does not take off when the other horses do and waits for me to tell him to go. Goes, stops, and stands as requested. Ties patiently. He (prefer geldings to avoid potential hormone issues) must be brave, goes over water, bridges and other obstacles but is smart enough to let me know if something is too dangerous to keep going. Is able to compete in judged trail rides and obstacle courses. Comes when called. Doesn’t run off if I go off. Picks up things and hands them to me when I drop them (gloves for example). Enjoys learning new things – including tricks.

I finished with, “My current guy is almost there.”

I’m not sure the last statement is fair to Jigs.  After all, I can hop on him saddled or bareback, go out alone or with others, and feel confident.  Sure he is a little on the lazy side, but the truth is, with my limited riding skills and age, this is okay.  In fact, it is desirable.

I meant what I wrote about knowing “if something is too dangerous to keep going.” More than once he has stopped me from going forward when it was not safe. The few times I forced him forward, we got in trouble. In 5 years I have learned to know the difference between a lazy baulk and a NO IT IS NOT SAFE.

Today’s ride is a good example of the former. We took a three mile spin around the Pine Grove.  There’s about 8 inches of snow but the footing is pretty good.  Both glad to get out, we went around twice, enjoying the warm February sun.  As we approached the third round, he tried to turn and go back out the trail head.

“Jigs,” I said, “one more round.” He stopped and looked toward the road. I nudged him forward the other way, back into the woods. He sighed and moved forward.  The whole episode took less than 3o seconds.

There was a time when it would have been more of an argument, but Jigs and I have grown to understand one another. He was being lazy and I knew it. He understood by my response to his refusal that I was not going to accept it.

Someone on the message board commented on what I wrote about being smart enough to let me know if something is too dangerous to keep going. They likened it to selective disobedience in guide dogs. That makes sense.

When Jigs refuses because he senses something dangerous his demeanor is different than from a simple baulk. He gets stiff and unmoving. Not disobedient, but unyielding. I’ve learned to recognize it over just a simple no I don’t want to.

At the end of the day it is about our ability to communicate and trust each other. And it is about feel.

As for the other stuff about obstacles and the like, well, I want us to get there, but for simple trail riding, Jigs is the best trail pony I could  have.

Winter Trail

Getting Old

February 6, 2012

My body is aging. I’m getting that thick in the middle look. Belts don’t work for me any more. They make me look like a sac of oatmeal. Not pretty.

Some Most mornings it hurts to get out of bed.

The past two Thursday nights, Jigs and I attended practice sessions for barrels and poles. We trotted sedately around them saving a light canter for the ‘run’ to the finish. I had a blast. Jigs couldn’t understand why we couldn’t gallop the patterns.

After all, the young ones ran through at a gallop, using the indoor walls to stop.  Jigs made it clear he wouldn’t mind that.

Yesterday Jigs and I were warming up at Versatility and he tripped at the trot. He went down on both front knees, nearly somersaulting with me on his back. He had to kick into a lope to get righted. I stayed on but, I admit it, it frightened me. I’m still wondering if I looked down and caused him to drop his shoulder.

I spent twenty minutes pestering everyone whether he was ‘off.’ He wasn’t, and when I asked for a lope he leaped into a fast canter. It felt like he was going to  buck but it wasn’t a buck. He really can move off when he gets his hind end under him.

We managed a solid 2:28 through the obstacles- enough for 4th place.. It’s as fast as we can go at a trot.

The ‘pros’ go through the course at a canter, their horses stopping, high headed, open mouthed with frustration at having to stop.

I really don’t want to put Jigs through that, but a soft lope and quick stop would be okay. A bit faster would be better. But not too fast.

I’m getting old. My body is no longer able to hold its own. I worry about breaking. So we go slowly and T-R-O-T.

Poor Jigs. He really wants to go more than a
bit faster.

Getting old really sucks.

Chrismas Eve

December 24, 2011

My Hoof Hurts

Jigs has an abscess.

I just returned from the barn from soaking and wrapping it. He doesn’t want to move. I probably should have turned him out, but he really seemed to want to stay in his stall.

The call came early morning in the midst of scrubbing the dining room in preparation for tomorrow’s Christmas meal.

“Jig’s was lame when we turned him out this morning” the voice said. My throat caught.

An abscess in December? Not likely, I thought. “I’ll be right there.”

Jigs was picking at his hay when I got to the barn. He turned to greet me but stopped when he put weight on his right foreleg. His eyes were large and, pardon the anthropomorphizing, sorrowful, pleading.

There was swelling above his fetlock. None of his past abscesses had swelling.

I was alarmed. A few weeks ago his right hind leg had some swelling but no lameness. Over the phone, the Vet told me not to worry. “He probably banged it. Call me if it gets worse and I’ll come out.” (She’s known me long enough to know I panic easily.)

As I felt Jig’s fetlock, all kinds of visions danced through my head- not one of them contained a sugar plum fairy.

Emergency visits are expensive, especially the day before Christmas.

I called without hesitation; her associate was on duty. “Please come,” I whined.

She examined his leg. There was swelling behind and above his fetlock. His hoof was warm and there was a digital pulse. She got the hoof tester out.

“Abscess.” She concluded. I’m sure, there was an ‘I told you so’ in her thoughts.

I asked about testing for Lyme’s. After all, this was his second time in as many weeks he had swelling. She looked at his hind leg where there was still a bit of a bump. “Broken blood vessel,” she tusked, “he must have whacked it– see it all the time. Nothing to be concerned about.”

No need for a Lyme’s test.

So today I have been faithfully soaking, diapering, and duct-taping his hoof. I will continue this ritual until the abscess pops and drains.

Jigs’ hooves are hard, healthy, so like his other abscesses, the Vet said it will work its way out the coronary band.

“Be patient.”

I will wrap and wait for as long as it takes. I would do just about anything for Jigs.

Jigs is the horse I waited my whole life for.

Granted, he wasn’t the one I was looking for, rather he presented himself to me as big as life and as red as a fox a week after Pepper was euthanized.

I hadn’t intended to get another horse so quickly. (And I never liked sorrels or chestnuts.) But there he was, J-I-G-S. How could I not take him home?

As a kid I dreamed of being the one rider for a magnificent, ebony horse. What girl didn’t, after reading every Black Stallion book 7 times?

Jigs is certainly not Ebony, and, if only Alec could ride The Black, anyone can ride Jigs.

He’s calm and careful. It takes a lot to rattle him. Often he is lazy, so he’s not always easy to ride. He hates ring work. But he loves to have a job, to play games. I suspect he really enjoyed chasing cows  last week.

I am blessed to have him in my life.

Christmas morning, I will gladly get up early, pull on my muck boots, and head to the barn to soak, wrap, and duct tape Jigs’ hoof.

I will even make him a bit of warm mash for a Christmas treat.

And I am so relieved, it is just an abscess!

The barn was quiet and cold tonight. I could hear the horses moving slowly behind the gate as they moved their hay around to get the best piece. When I turned the light out I could hear Jigs sigh from his stall.

All was at peace. I felt blessed.

Merry Christmas

Muddy Saturday

December 10, 2011

You know it is way too muddy when your clean boots leave tracks across the floor.

It’s quite strange to be in your 5o’s and have your mother scold you for this.

I’m no longer allowed to come in the house with boots on.

Can’t say that I blame her.

(This was after rinsing them off)

Jigs’ left hind is slightly swollen from his pastern to just below his hock. It is barely noticeable and he’s not lame. He acts the same as always.

I thought it looked funny last night but with all the mud and dark, it was hard to tell. The morning light made it more noticeable.

I’ve been hosing it with cold water. He got some bute and a homeopathic remedy. It’s not serious enough to call the vet, though I was tempted. Past experience tells me she would tell me to do what I am already doing, minus the homeopathic piece. If it gets worse tomorrow, I will call her.

We walked the trail loop this afternoon and it seem to lessen the swelling. He’s moving fine.

Tomorrow’s plan was to trailer over to Douglas State Forest to ride the trunk trail. We were hoping it would be drier. I’ll wait and see how he is in the morning….

The cow clinic is next weekend. I’m really hoping we won’t miss it. It’s what we’ve been working toward since June……

No Quick Fixes

December 5, 2011

Last week I hit a true wall with the riding lessons and have done some soul  searching about what I want for Jigs and me.

In fairness to Jigs and the instructor, I haven’t had much practice time in the evenings because of work. But Jigs has been getting a bit of riding time without me. One of the kids have been hacking around with him. It’s been good for both of them.

When I arrived at 4:30 Thursday afternoon to get Jigs for our riding lesson, I was rushed. I was late because I had forgotten to get gas in the AM. Not a good start.

Jig was more girthy than usual getting tacked up, which I do before loading him since it is dark early now.

When we got to the lesson, I parked behind the second indoor where we’ve been riding. The trailer was a bit at an angle, but nothing major. Jigs did not like it and did something he had never done before- he jumped off the trailer. I had to grab him. We were too close to our barn and I was afraid he would take off home.

He was wound tighter than I’d ever seen him.

When we got in the area, he was full of himself. They were set up for a trail class on the weekend and the obstacles were decorated with plastic pinsetters and Christmas decorations. Lots of foil and wrapping paper.

Jigs was not having any of it.

This is a horse who finished third in his last versatility with Halloween decorations and flashing lights.

Not a good start to the night.

He refused to step near the pile of wrapped boxes and ribbons. He acted like the mailbox was going to eat him and jumped back from it letting out a loud fart. “It wasn’t me” I said laughing but perplexed.

Everyone ignored me.

We trotted around but he refused to collect. The instructor decided to try draw reins.

I was now too nerved up to think straight and I let her put them on.

It was hard on Jigs. It was hard on me.

He got his head down, but it was not comfortable for either of us.

Jigs was tucking but didn’t feel collected.

By the time the lesson was over, Jigs was dripping. I was a ball of nerves.

It just didn’t feel right.

Someone asked me if it was the first time in draw reins. I nodded. She said, the first time is the worst. “It gets better.”

I wasn’t thinking clearly and just nodded again, not knowing what else to say.

When we got out to the trailer, Jigs was so upset he flat refused to load. After twenty minutes, I had to get the instructor to walk behind him so he would load. He got on but was shaking.

I spent the next day thinking hard. Was putting Jigs through this worth it? I want a partnership where we communicate. The draw reins felt like I was forcing him harder than he and I were ready. It felt wrong.

I contacted a friend who shows/trains jumpers and  has a dressage background. I trust her.

She offered to come out and ride Jigs.

After a few minutes riding him she said, he’s not ready for draw reins. She took time to show me how to collect him with reins and leg.

We worked for a while so he could get used to the way I was asking him.

He started get it for four or five steps.

He can get it without draw reins.

She said they have their place. She uses them when it is appropriate. But this was not the way to teach Jigs or me to collect.

It takes a long time. Jigs is 9. So it will take a little longer. His muscles need retraining.

She said it is like learning a new yoga move. It takes time for your muscles to learn. They ache while they are learning.

We are not in a rush.

Jigs is my partner, my friend. I don’t want to lose the trust we have created.

This week will be my last lesson for a while. I’m going to take my friend’s advice and work slowly, thirty minutes twice a week to teach him and me to collect.

We’re going back to having fun the rest of the week.

I’m confident Jigs and I will get there. We have time.

There are no quick fixes.

Worth his Weight In Gold

November 21, 2011

Jigs took my 7 year old grandson to an old time show yesterday. Both the 7 yearold boy and the 9 year old Jigs were fabulous. So much so that I trusted Jigs enough to let Caleb ride off the lead line despite the fact we don’t have a kids saddle and he can’t use the stirrups.

Jigs was slow. Jigs was deliberate. He made Caleb work to get it done.

With me he was just Jigs. We moved fluid and placed in all four classes. It felt wonderful after all the maudlin boo hooing I’ve been doing of late.

Someone came up to me and said, “A horse like yours is woth his weight in gold.”

I was beaming. Sometimes we just don’t realize what is in front of us.  We don’t realize it might be enough. Better than enough.

Jigs got an extra apple!

He may also get a new saddle- one that Caleb and Zachary can learn to ride on.

Making Peace with the Time Change

November 17, 2011

Got to be the time change. Light depravation. Made me a bit crazy the past few weeks.

Hate that it was dark at 4:30 today.

Hate that I’ve been sniveling and whiny- a maudlin mess the past few weeks.

Hate that I wimped out and canceled our riding lesson.

Okay, I’m not all that sorry about the riding lesson. I really didn’t want to mess with the trailer in the dark in the rain after getting the trailer stuck in the mud a few weeks ago. And the truth is, I’m not sure I can learn without practice time.  I should have stopped the lessons a few weeks ago before the time change.

I’ve been second guessing myself of late about everything thing. My riding ability is just one of a list of many.

But it surfaces more vehemently because it’s important to me. And it’s not really about riding; it’s about being a partner with another being. To flow together in a single purpose with grace and selflessness is akin to reaching nirvana. I want to feel that continuous motion of mind and body.

Watching the professionals do it is deceiving. It looks easy.

But the reality of achieving it is different.

It’s hard.

It takes muscle, guts, skill, and softness. You must communicate with a creature whose consciousness is unlike your own.

The horse has its own mind; its own desire. One that likely doesn’t involve rocking horse loping or lead changes. Someone told me a while ago, “The horse just wants to be left alone to eat and sleep.”

Our human will keeps them from that. We interfere with their instincts.

And yet, we bond with our equine partners. We find ways to connect. When it happens, it’s like nothing else in the world.

I have felt brief flashes of it with Jigs. More than any other horse I’ve lived with. It’s addictive, you want more.

I think taking a break from the lesson tonight was good for both of us. I got to fuss over him. And we got to hang with no pressure to push or perform.

The dark doesn’t really matter when it is just two friends hanging out after work, watching the light drizzle fall lazily through the night.

Still dark

November 16, 2011

Still dark.

Still stuck at work late enough that it’s been impossible to get to the barn. Tonight will be the same.

But Jigs and I will go to our lesson. Unpracticed. I’m viewing it as some time to ride. Time I wouldn’t get if there were no lesson.

The instructor ignores me anyway.

It may be time to stop the lessons.

But then again, it’s a chance to ride. And that is a good thing.