Posted tagged ‘Riding Lessons’


October 14, 2012

Last night was the final auction at Crowley’s Auction in central Mass.  Crowley’s has been in business for decades.  A lot of good ranch horses came through their auctions over the years.

Jigs came through Crowley’s when he was three.

I hadn’t been to a horse auction since the 70’s when I went a few times with the 4H Club. That was a small auction tucked next to a drive in. It is long closed. I remember the cheap tack and sorry looking horses.  A Club member purchased a horse from there. He was beautiful but had a tendency to buck at the canter.

I picked up an older Aussie Stock Co. saddle for 85 bucks last night. It’s in okay shape and I’m hoping it fits Jigs. If not, I’ll flip it. I once owned a newer model but it didn’t fit Jigs so I sold it for $900. This is a lower end model but at least worth a few hundred.

The end of Crowley’s Auctions is not surprising. The economy is poor. Horses are luxury items. Keeping them is expensive. Boston to Springfield is one giant development. Farms are rare and taxes on land are high.

The town where I grew up has very little open space. There are walking trails for suburbanites and their dogs, but I doubt horses would be welcome. Lots of parks and forests are limiting or banning horses outright.

When I was a kid every day the sound of shod horses would call me to the bay window. I would jealously marvel at the horses plodding by. When I finally had my own horse, I proudly became one of those riding down the street to hook up with friends on the trails. We would disappear for the day coming back only to avoid the dark.

Earlier this summer I thought I might trailer Jigs to my parents’ house to see if I could find any of the old trails, but in truth, they are now all McMansions. There’s no place left to ride, so I never got around to it. Gas prices are too high for trailer joy rides.

Apparently Crowley’s will remain open for private sales, but they are selling a lot of their equipment. I wonder how long it will be before they close?

Horses were run through the way I remembered from my youth- jockeys driving them forward with loud slaps, spins and stops. I think the most expensive horse sold for $2800. It was a really well broke sorrel that looked like he’d been chasing cows most of his life.  I saw two nice broke QH go for $1500.  Probably more horses than I could safely ride but really nice.

I won’t speak to the ethics of auctions. They have always been part of the horse industry and have their place. In recent years, Crowleys was one of the better ones.

Jigs came through this auction. I am thankful he did.

Fear = What if?

September 13, 2012

Jigs and I have been working on cantering.

My fear started years ago- in my thirties when, Mary, a crazy 17 hand appy-thoroughbred cross dumped me at the canter. And dump me she did.  I did a double summersault flip in the air before landing on my hip. It was not broken but badly bruised. 20 plus years later, my hip still aches when it is humid or if I don’t exercise.

Before that, I really didn’t fear falling. Yes, I fell. Fell from Princess. Fell from Freedom. But I was never a daredevil; it just seemed like part of the riding thing.  You ride; you will eventually fall.  Part of the deal.

It took me months to get the courage to canter Pepper. He had so many other problems, I didn’t worry about it. I figured it would happen. Then he spooked, bolted and bucked.  Off I went and my ankle broke.

I didn’t canter for months after that, but we eventually figured it out. My last (and best) riding memory of Pepper is cantering down snow covered rail road tracks. I can still smell the crisp snow and feel the cold on my cheeks. He was gone a week later.

Jigs was different. About six months into our relationship we were cantering on the trail and he spooked. I slid down his side in slow motion. I remember him looking at me as if to say, why are you on the ground?  The folks behind me thought it was hysterical. It was, and I was, fine.

But it was months before Jigs would canter with me. Even though I asked.

It was as if he knew I wasn’t ready. I probably wasn’t.

We got though it, but my cuing was bad. He’d canter, not canter, when I asked.  But then, was I really asking? Signals mixed with fear are not proper cues.

And if I held the reins too tight, Jigs wasn’t above a crow hop to let me know. Still isn’t.

I needed lessons “improve my seat”- to get through my fear.

Last year we learned to canter small circles in an indoor area. But I still had to run him into it. And it was too fast. No control.

This year we have learned to canter from a walk. It’s been fun. My confidence got better. Our canter improved. He’s starting to slow down.

Then tonight someone moved a barrel behind us, he spooked and bucked. I didn’t go off; I didn’t panic. (Although there was air between my butt and the seat.)  I made sure we cantered afterward. He was tired when we finished, head low, but clearly tuned into me.

But now the doubt has returned.

What if I am too old to do this right?

What if his saddle is pinching him? And it wasn’t the noise that spooked him?

What if it happens again?  What if?

The old fear has surfaced.

Breathe deeply.

We can start again tomorrow.

Trail Ride

July 3, 2012

The late afternoon rain has stopped,
but its scent still hovers
Above pine needles, leaves and dirt.
The floor of the trail curves around the hill
lazy and aimless. The sorrel’s tail swishes
with the movement of his rump,
as hind hooves push off the ground.
My hips match his- we walk as one.

Despite clouds and breeze,

deer flies circle and follow.
It is like this, when rain

moves off late afternoon, into early evening

and the sun is too low in the sky.
Neither day nor night,
we ride in-between.



Look Ahead, Breathe, Release…..

June 18, 2012

It was Versatility week at Bear Foot.

Practice at started Thursday night with the DREADED teeter totter. Jigs hated it last year- hates it this year too.

But after two nights of working at it, he not only crosses it, he’ll stop and patiently wait for me to complete the red solo cup exchange of the poles before stepping off.  (Yes, all the while humming the Red Solo Cup song….)

Saturday we headed over to Spring Willow for the real deal.

My grandson, Caleb, did awesome on the kids’ lead line course, taking first and second. During round two Jigs, nailed the soccer ball into the goal with his nose!

Caleb and Jigs Spring Willow Versatility Challenge June 2012

The grown up course was not so easy. No teeter totter (bummer, had that down) but there was an unusual obstacle that simulated crossing mud. It was put together quite cleverly- brown tarp over a squishy mattress with real water in the middle.

Even on the trail Jigs prefers to GO AROUND the mud.

Round one, did NOT go well. Jig freaked at the log pull.  Huh? That is not usually an issue for us. Worse, Jigs would not even STEP on the mattress. We timed out.

Round two I was so nerved up I forgot to breathe and release when he did step on the mattress. We opted to skip the obstacle so we wouldn’t time out.

One of the other competitors kindly gave me some pointers. “When he steps on it, keep looking ahead, release and breathe.” She was so right.

Round three started off smooth. The sorrel and I were in a rhythm until the mud hole. He stopped to sniff it. I exhaled, let up on the reins, concentrated on looking forward,  and he stepped his front feet onto the mattress. I breathed, released, and asked him to move forward again. He did. One more time and we were over!

It took all of 30 seconds.

We picked up the rhythm again and flew through the course.

Good enough for third place. WOW! And I expected nothing!

Not only did we get a yellow ribbon, I learned that I was a big part of the first few failures. Best to remain calm, look where I’m going and breathe.

Seems like that applies to non horsey areas of my life too!

Equine Counselor

May 4, 2012

Mexico City is 2,800 miles from my house.

Planes never take off from Logan on time.

Flights get missed.

Stuck in Atlanta there is an emergency at home.

I can’t be there.

But Home is 2,800 miles from Mexico City.

Popocatepet disrupts air traffic and there is another delay.

Long lines at security in Atlanta nearly make me miss my connecting flight.

But a miracle, I get to the gate just as boarding starts.


Nothing is right.

I’m crabby?

Who wouldn’t be?

Three days of travel.

My dad’s in a nursing home, for rehab, we hope.

I don’t want to talk.

I don’t want to listen.

I’m more than cranky. I’m the “B” word.

My mother to me:  “Will you just go see your horse? You’ll be in a better mood afterwards.”

She was right.

I came home refreshed.

Imagine that?

Jigs can add counselor to his resume?


Sweet Spot

January 1, 2012

2012 started with Jigs recovering from an abscess. He got better for a few days, and then today was off again. So we are continuing the soak, diaper, duct tape ritual. I actually found some black duct tape with red and yellow flames-looks kind of cool in a 9 year old sort of way.  Jigs could care less, but I think he looks stylish!

Today was, unusually warm (hit 50 at one point) and the sun was bright. Since we couldn’t hit the trails together, I hand walked Jigs down the street, hoping the pavement would speed along his recovery.

He seemed to enjoy our meandering, staying respectfully behind me and stopping when I stopped. Not that I would expect anything less. It’s just that he is so easy going. I know not all horses are and I appreciate him.

The one thing that perplexes me is where Jigs’ sweet spot is. You know that one spot where horses love to be rubbed /scratched? It puts them into ecstasy.

Even Pepper had one. If you scratched his withers he would stretch his neck, tilt his head into a nod and curl his lips. He entered a different zone.

It was the only time Pepper acted like he liked me.

Jigs does not seem to have a spot like that.

Oh sure, he enjoys an occasional a scratch behind his ear. After a sweaty ride, he lets me rub on the side of his nose because it itches- if I don’t do it, he’ll rub it on the fence himself- but there is no place that sends him to ecstasy.

I got to thinking about it as we walked.

Strange.  He’s such a gregarious creature.

Jigs’ personality is as bright as his coat in the summer sun.  He enjoys playing jokes on the humans at the barn. What fun to walk through the aisle and pull various halters and lead ropes off the stall doors then watch the humans pick them up? Is that Apple someone’s lunch? Not anymore.

He is easy with the babies and toddlers, always careful not to be overbearing.

He loves to play tag  and is gentle with the kids.

His heart is large and generous, funny and trusting.

Maybe that is it!

His sweet spot!

It’s his heart!

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……

A Good Thursday Night

December 9, 2011

I canceled Jigs and my last riding lesson last night. It’s been raining and there is mud. The trailer’s left blinker is not working.

The real reason?  I just wasn’t up for the conversation about the draw reins.

Am I a coward?


But the instructor knows a lot more than me.  She’s a successful instructor and well known in the area for Western Pleasure.

I do like her. She has taught me a lot and I respect that. There may come a time when Jigs and I are ready for lessons again.

But I do know what feels right for Jigs and me and that is to learn collection without heavy aids.

It will take a long time. But we are in no hurry.

Last night Jigs hung out by the barn gate looking for attention. He had a quick grooming. He had eaten. But there were humans, even the small ones, still in the barn. He wanted to be with them.

When the humans ignored him, he reached into the barn and grabbed one of the blankets off the stall door and shook it.

The humans all stopped and looked at him.

I swear, he was smiling underneath the blanket hanging from his mouth.

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.

Lost in the Woods on a Sunday Afternoon (or Humans Can’t be Trained)

August 3, 2011

The Plan: Get Deliriously Lost on Sunday and See Where We End Up…

We packed lunch and trail halters. We had our smart phones. Endomondo and My Tracks were turned on. We knew there were lots of trails we had never ridden before.  We were going to find try them, or at least a way to get to Upton State or somewhere between.  It didn’t matter where.  We had all day.

The horses had other ideas. They know where the grain is kept.

We headed out around 10. It was hot, but once we got into the woods, the temperature dropped comfortably. The bugs were numerous but both Willow and Jigs had their fly hoods on, so they didn’t seem bothered by them.

We cut out of the pine grove by the cell tower and up Stowe Road. It was early enough that the shooting range was silent. Except for one crazy, want to-be monster truck driver, there was little traffic. After a nice canter behind the field of Christmas Trees we were in the woods.

I had a route in my head that would take us behind Hillside Equestrian, parallel to George Hill Road and over to the High Tension Wires. Beyond that was pure chance.

We got there, despite a wrong turn that brought us back to the road, and started down toward Mechanics Street- virgin territory.

After a turn back to the woods and some bushwhacking and we found the Blue Trail. It was perfect. Just the kind of trail I love, narrow, challenging and winding.

Unfortunately the direction we chose came to a dead end for horse traffic. The narrow foot bridge was not safe for all eight hooves and the chasm was too deep and rocky for safe passage.

BOTH horses perked up when we turned. Willow actually managed a trot. That should have been our first clue.

We took the other direction. Eventually the trail came to a fork with three wide paths. We decided we were lost enough that the horses could choose the way.

Ten minutes later we were back behind the Christmas trees. WHAT? How did that happen?  So much for being lost.

We ate lunch before tackling the trails across from the Christmas Tree Farm. I’d gotten lost on these trails before.  One time we ended up nearly cross town. Cool.

Humans have short memories- again, we let the horses choose. They brought us out to a field which we skirted around until it came to a road. George Hill Road. HUH? The entrance was blocked so we road back to the woods. This time Humans choose the trail.

It doubled back to the road again. We gave up.

As we walked by the field again both horses turned and looked at the blocked entrance and sighed.

“Stupid Humans” they just don’t listen.