Sunday, February 7, 2010


I have a lot of them. On a daily basis. Some of them are good!
Examples of good ideas:

Home-made saddle pad rack

Spinach dip to eat while watching the Super Bowl

But some of them are not-so-good ideas. In fact, sometimes, I have bad ideas. Okay. OFTEN, I have bad ideas. In my line of work, Bad Ideas always require a helmet.

They often require a protective eventing vest.

They ALWAYS require Anita (the Queen of Southern Promise Farm) giving me "the look" and asking about my health insurance coverage and usually spark a conversation about life insurance and how I should maybe think about getting it.

So, you're wondering... what was today's Bad Idea?

Well, let me just start by saying I ride 16 horses a week, at minimum. These range between rock solid trail horses and silly greenie beanies and low level event prospects.

Often, my rock solid trail horses are involved in my Bad Ideas. Today's partner in crime? Dancer.
Me and Dancer hating the cold, together!
Dancer is one of the few horses who have been at the barn longer than me. I've been riding her once or twice a week for nearly three years. Suffice to say, I know her pretty well. I obviously trust her pretty explicitly (see bridle in above photo.) She is the one I know I can climb on and go gallop mach 10 across the farm and ALWAYS have brakes. I know she will never spook, buck, bolt. She is also 100% reliable to neck rein. (This is important.)

She has her heifer moments, though, as most mares do. She will toss her head and pin her ears and is horribly girthy. She has to be caught with cookies and tears away from you as soon as you pull her halter off- stall or pasture.

She has belonged to her mom, Nancy Jo, since she was weaned and NJ did everything from the ground up with her as a total novice. I can ride her with a rope around her neck. She's a pretty cool horse. And I can ride her with one hand. Any guesses where this is going?

Dancer and Mom, Nancy Jo, at Spring Desensitization clinc

Well, you see, today's Bad Idea involved not only my trail buddy Dancer, but one of my other "favorite" horses. Gracie. 

Yes, Gracie. Gracie belongs to Jessica, the heiress of Southern Promise Farm. You'll notice that "favorite" is in quotes when I'm referring to Gracie. Gracie and I have a love-hate relationship.

It started when Anita and I went to look at Gracie for Jessica. Jess found her on a craigslist-esque site called Kijiji and sent the link to Anita and I. The ad showed a good grasp of the English language, a horse who was shiny, clean and at a good weight, wearing recently set shoes and the price was right! Whats not to like?

So we went to look at her. She was standing tied when we got there (she ties!), she rode very nicely, walk, trot and canter (woo! Three gaits!), she stood still for mounting and seemed pleasant enough.

HA. Things we didn't notice- She is red. She is a mare. She has smooshy white feet. She is the devil incarnate (okay, this wasn't apparent, but the first three things in this list should have been enough.)

So, we brought her home and put her in training. She thought contact and going forward were horrible, horrible things. We had her checked for all kinds of pain issues, had her adjusted. Floated. Xrayed. Special shoes. Finally we just said "Horse? Its time for work." and on she went. Luckily, she liked jumping. That may be the reason shes not dead yet.

So, slowly we made some progress. She has always been a "light in front" horse. If she gets angry, she threatens or half rears. I hate rearers. Hate. One day, I asked Gracie to canter. She was sullen, behind my leg, no real forward to be had. I cued for the canter, she flipped. No, not like "had a tantrum" flipped, she flipped. Over. Backwards. On top of me. It was deliberate. Not a rear and lost balance flip. I cursed her up, down and side ways and then resigned her to learn FORWARD. FOR REAL.

She is also a kicker. People, horses... whatever. She would like to kick you. This is being reformed, but once a kicker...

She is actually making some real progress, but she has always been wonderful for Jess, honest to jump and definitely a teacher. Hilariously, I often tell Anita she that Gracie reminds me a lot of Arizona when he was younger. This usually warrants "the look" as well.

Gracie continues to wear special shoes and because of her AWFUL white feet. As a result, she has limited turnout when it is wet so she won't tear her shoes off and her feet up, which also means she gets limited riding when its wet, because shes a clutz and pulls her shoes while working. I try really hard to get her enough exercise when she's cooped up in the "corral" as we like to call it, but I can't always ride her due to the footing.

So, I took her out on Thursday, just as it started to rain. She walked out calmly, trotted nicely up the hill and then started this sideway, light in front, head tossing, crow hopping behavior I've become familiar with. I put her to work, asking for flexion and moving her shoulders and haunches and just trying to get her attention. She fussed and fussed and ended up doing what I refer to as her "lethal freeze." When she does this, she has HAD ENOUGH and is getting ready to either fight or flight, and you'd best be ready for the ride.

In the best of footing, I'll stay on, redirect her and gently work her out of it. On the side of a hill, in the middle of a field, in three inches on mud? I remove myself from the situation by dismounting and tapping her with my dressage whip to get her attention. This resulted in her striking, rearing, bolting... exactly what I didn't want to be on board for. I hiked back to the barn with her, put her on the longe line, let her get some energy out and then got back on to ride her and end on a good note.

Fast forward to today. The Bad Idea.

Gracie needs exercise. I don't want to be on her back. The longe isn't cutting it, given the footing. Dancer can be ridden with one hand.

Have you caught up with me yet?


Ponying. I require all my horses to know how to do it. Pony or be ponied, preferably both. As long as the steering is fairly reliable, if you can keep both horses thinking about what they're doing (like going forward) they usually leave each other alone and do just fine. Point in case- I used Arizona to pony Lyra all last winter. Two excitable TBs with attitude. Never had a problem.

Anyway, I walked into the barn and announced to Anita my plan to use Dancer to pony Gracie and have her let off some steam. Remember the look in the above picture? It was worse than that. Much. Much. Worse.

Oh well! I tacked up Dancer, put her in a running martingale so she wouldn't break my nose with her head flinging, put Gracie's bridle on, clipped on the lead rope and went off. They spent the first five minutes trying to decide who was in charge, both being bossy mares. Luckily, between me and Dancer, we got Gracie pretty well buffaloed into thinking we were bigger and stronger and meaner.

We walked. Life was good. Gracie started to get animated. We trotted. Gracie trotted sideways... she cantered in place... she turned herself inside out bucking and snorting and trying her best to convince me she was feral. I kept trotting. Luckily, Dancer is half thoroughbred, so she can out-trot a grumpy paint who is trying to turn herself inside out. We trotted until Gracie quit showing me her best Lipizzaner impression. By then, we were half way across the farm in a huge hay field. So we cantered. Gracie looked really surprised and then laid on the speed- Dancer, never one to back down from a challenge, showed her what galloping really looked like. I prayed.

I prayed that we would
A) stop, one day.
B) not slip in the mud (the footing was great in that particular field, but still).
C) not go into a bucking, kicking frenzy.
D) live.

But you know what? Nary an ear flicked back. No craziness ensued. We lapped the field and then came calmly back to the walk. We jogged back to the barn and I dismounted, untacked, turned the girls out and walked over to Anita to show her that I was still alive and had all my limbs.

What? You thought something bad was going to happen? That maybe I was a little insane?

I told you it was a Bad Idea... not that it had a bad ending. ;)

1 comment:

  1. If you keep up with this, it is a WINNER.