Saturday, October 3, 2015

Formally Introducing: Tookie

By now, you may have noticed the handsome stallion who lives in my backyard. For those of you who haven't put two and two together, this is Tookie:

Tookie belongs to our landlord, and I have been drooling over him since before we moved in.

Let's see how many reader questions I can address at once!

Who and what is Tookie?

Tookie is nine year old Anglo Arabian. He was bred by Pam Weidel of Boxwood Farm. He is by her well known stallion, Barkon, out of a Two Punch mare whose name I would have to look up.  Pam specialized in breeding endurance horses and Tookie's bloodlines combine some of my favorite lines from two breeds I love. He is well built, a beautiful mover, and smart, sensible, and friendly to boot. I am not a fan of keeping horses in tact in general, but he's an example of a stallion I would consider not cutting if he had any sort of performance record.

So why hasn't Tookie done anything in nine years? Why is he still a stallion? Is he breeding? Are there plans to breed him?

Our landlord is in his 70's. He got Tookie as a baby.

He believes in letting colts mature before gelding them, and even though it's an old school way of thinking, I actually agree with it. I like the way a horse looks when he's allowed to keep his hormones until he matures. Plus, stallions tend to have a little more substance and be more compact. I know big, leggy horses are trending right now, but I'm not a fan of these tooth pick legs and the giant horses that look like they'll snap if you blow on them.

So Tookie got to grow up, and then our landlord started to work with him. He installed ground manners, taught him to tie and pick up his feet, etc. He even planned to start him under saddle and began to lay the foundation for that. Our landlord is a very experienced horseman, and his super-broke gelding, Oreo (who you saw Mike riding a few weeks ago) is a testament to his ability to produce a reliable, sane, responsive mount.

But then our landlord got hurt (not related to the stallion) and spent a long time in the hospital. As far as I know, he hasn't been on a horse since, and Tookie has sat since then.

As for the gelding aspect of it all...
Turns out it's damn near impossible to get someone to do the gelding at home any more. Due to liability reasons and the proximity of several hospitals, vets prefer to do it in a sterile clinic setting these days. This seems bizarre to me since I grew up at the track, where the vet would come in and go down the line, gelding one colt after another right in their stalls. However, I can understand how these less than sterile procedures can pose a liability issue, and nobody wants to get sued.

Getting a horse gelded at the hospital would be cost prohibitive for many people, but it turns out that having one done at home, if you can find a vet to do it, isn't much cheaper in these parts! A former client of mine just got her new four year old colt gelded and it cost her $800 and over two months of planning to get it done at her barn!

(Moral of the story... buy a gelding.)

In the mean time, Tookie isn't bothering anyone, has good manners, and lives with a gelding with no problems to speak of. I can totally understand why my landlord never got him cut.

No he's not breeding. No there are no plans to breed him.

So where do I come in?

Aside from the fact that I've been itching to play with this horse since I first laid eyes on him over two years ago, we have a deal worked out with our landlord. When we moved in, we did not pay a security deposit on our apartment. Our lease states that I would put 60 days on Tookie in lieu of a security deposit, with the stipulation that Tookie would be cut first.

Mike and I moved here in February 2014 and, quite simply, I haven't had the time to do a damn thing with the horse since then. After all, I have bills out the wazoo, and paying clients take priority (which our landlord totally gets). I didn't feel too bad since Tookie hadn't been gelded so I wasn't legally obligated. Still, this nagging part of me wanted nothing more than to play with the pretty dappled pony.

I did manage to get one mini session in last fall, in which I caught Tookie to determine what he knows. The short version is pretty much nothing. He is halter broke and leads quietly and respectfully. He is fine with being handled all over. He is generally not a spooky horse and tries hard to please. He is smart and a quick study in general. With the help of our gorgeous round pen, I was able to get him lunging pretty well in just one session (though he seemed a bit offended that I would dare come chase him!)

With Booger out of commission and Jupiter moving on to the next step in his journey, I suddenly had free time again! Still, I didn't want to start torturing Tookie while it was blistering hot out. In my head, I set September 1st as the date that Tookie would begin training.

Of course, the universe, the weather in particular, has this way of ganging up on me any time I try to put a timeline on anything. We have now been in a state of monsoon all week, and doesn't appear to have any plans of clearing up until Hurricane Joaquin does or does not make landfall.

Still, I got five very productive sessions in this month.

During the first session, we worked on the basics of round penning. Disengage hindquarters. That was easy. Disengage forequarters. Less easy, but we got it done. Circling on the lunge line came along pretty quickly as well. I let Tookie go at whatever gait was comfortable as long as he went forward in the direction of my choosing. Check.

So we tried some free lunging. As I figured, Tookie started off pretty sassy.
"I am a wild stallion! You cannot tame me!"
The cool thing was that he totally respected my space, and any time I stepped in front of his drive line, he would change direction. Granted, he was doing it by veering out towards the fence, but I quickly made it very clear that I did not want to see his butt pointed at me. Ever. It only took him a few minutes to figure out that the correct way to change direction was by turning towards me. Smart boy! After that, it was like a light bulb went off, and he suddenly joined up and was super in tune with ever request I made. To be fair, I know my landlord did some round penning with him back in the day, so these were most likely not entirely new concepts.

I finished up with some very basic desensitizing, which went over without a hitch. I had a feeling it wouldn't be a big deal since I'd casually thwapped him with a grocery bag a few weeks prior, and he seemed more interested in figuring out if I had a treat than anything else.

After our session, I hosed Tookie off. I don't think he's ever officially had a bath, but he took an immediate liking to it, and stood quietly while I rinsed him off. The nice thing about working with a clean slate is that it doesn't have random holes in it.

During our second session, I introduced the saddle for the first time. I had asked my landlord how far he'd gotten with Tookie and he replied, "Just treat him like he's never been handled." When I specifically asked about the saddle, he said that he's had one on his back, but had never been girthed.

With that in mind, I went back down to the round pen with the stallion in one hand and the saddle in the other. I rubbed and patted his girth area, then tested with my lunge line to see how he responded to some pressure in the general vicinity. He didn't seem bothered.

I flapped my saddle pad in the air, and Tookie didn't even blink. This was a good sign. The first time Booger saw a saddle pad as a two year old, she almost flipped over (I wasn't anywhere near her with it.)

I waved my saddle in the air, jangled the girth, and thumped the stirrups. Tookie, in a rope halter on a loose lead, still didn't budge. I placed the saddle on his back. He cocked a foot. I fastened the girth on one side. He actually yawned.

After walking around to Tookie's other side, I passed the girth under his belly, holding it loosely in my left hand and waiting for a reaction. Nothing. He had puffed up a bith, and I told him, "Exhale. I know for a fact that you are not bigger around than Ozzy is." I kept testing the girth with a little more pressure each time, until I was able to reach the bottom hole on the billets.

I quietly fastened the girth on its loosest setting and took a step back. It was clear that Tookie was in fact going to react to being girthed for the first time. His eyes were growing wide, and I silently unclipped the lead rope and stepped to the middle of the round pen, while he stood, rigid, at the edge.

Once I was safely out of the way, I clucked and swung my whip.

Tookie was off like a shot, and as soon as he broke into a canter, he started bucking, which is what I figured he would do. He went around and around the pen, throwing his feet way up in the air while I thought, "Gee, I hope he doesn't do that when I'm on him." I'm pretty bummed that I didn't think to wear my helmet cam. He's an athletic bugger...

Not from the same session, but he is pretty...
Tookie tried to dislodge the saddle for several minutes. Then, the bucking gradually lessened, and eventually stopped. As soon as he realized that the saddle was neither hurting him nor going to come off, he quietly came to the middle and looked at me as if to say, "Ok, now what?"

We resumed round penning just like we had before. Tookie was on point with all his cues. We revisited yielding his shoulders and haunches (and even took some baby lateral steps), going in the chosen direction, stopping on command, and changing sides when I requested by coming through the middle. Awesome!

That day, I also hosed his face, and he actually seemed to enjoy it.

Next up was introducing the bridle. I was able to put it on him easily, but he was instantly not thrilled. It's pretty clear that he's never had a bit in his mouth, and he rolled his tongue and gaped his jaw for several minutes before settling down. I will say that he looked very handsome in it.

This time, he only bucked once or twice when I put the saddle on him. By this point, he was really doing a great job with all the round penning and free lunging basics.

I wish he would stay dark like this.

Watching my hand signals.

Totally not bothered by the girth any more.

Leg yield!

Love his body language in this one.
I also stepped up my game with the desensitizing during that session.
As you can see, he's more bothered by the bit than the whip.

Our fourth session was more of the same, with a few new concepts thrown in. We worked on tying in the barn, and I tacked him up restrained for the first time. He didn't care. I girthed him up like an old pro, and there was exactly zero bucking that day. He willingly took the bit, and fussed less with it, though he's clearly still not a big fan.

In the round pen that day, I started to work on associating voice commands with the various gaits. Trot and canter were easy, but Tookie was clearly frustrated with the patience it takes to walk. Typical half Arab.

Then I introduced bending and the parking brake. I have not asked him to bend with the bit yet, and I won't do it until he's completely comfortable having it in his mouth. (I also switched him to my preferred full cheek snaffle instead of the D-ring.) Still, Tookie quickly figured out how to give to the pressure of the rope halter and was a bendy noodle by the end of our session. 

I think my favorite part of working with Tookie that day was the fact that Oreo didn't stop watching us the entire time we were out there. His expression was a mixture of, "Hey, I know how to do that, let me!" and, "Better you than me, bro. Just do what she says."

By our fifth session, Tookie was really starting to get it. What I like best about him so far is that he seems to really have a work ethic. The entire time we're working, he is completely focused on me. He tries very hard to please, and even when he doesn't understand something, you can see him trying to get the pieces to fit. Good man.

That day, I cross tied Tookie in the barn, groomed him, and tacked him up. We walked quietly down to the round pen, where he lunged like a saint in both directions at the walk, trot, and canter. He changed directions quietly and obediently.

His mouth was quiet and still.

I brought him in the middle and practiced bending. He nailed it. I flexed him both directions, first towards me, then away from me. 

Then I introduced what I call my 'untangling exercise', in which I teach horses to follow pressure to unravel themselves from the lunge line. The horse has to learn to give his head and neck, then yield his hind end and shoulders to perform a 360 degree turn. The exercise is great for assessing a few things... softness, ability to listen instead of guess, willingness to move off pressure, calmness... It's also the basis to steering with a rider on board as well as some more advanced ground work. Tookie had no problems with this either.

With all the basics in place, it was time to introduce the mounting block. As always, I tossed it unceremoniously in his general direction. Nothing. I stomped all over it. Nothing. I stood on the mounting block and repeated our bending exercises. Tookie stood quietly. I repeated everything on the other side.

The chances of me ever actually mounting from the right are pretty slim due to my own range of motion and coordination issues, but I still believe every horse should be fine with being mounted from both sides. In fact, I teach everything equally in both directions every time.

Since things were going so well, I decided to lean across Tookie. I didn't think this would be a problem either. I've reached across him while sitting on the fence several times over the last year and a half, and he does. not. care.

So I did my usual thumping the stirrups from both sides and brushing flanks and hindquarters with no warning.

Then I just simply laid across his back. 

More thumping stirrups and flailing limbs. Still no response on the stallion's part. 

And that's how I ended up sitting on Tookie for the first time on our fifth session together. I hadn't planned on climbing on board just yet, but there was no reason not to. As usual, it was a non event. I firmly believe that if a horse is started correctly, he should think nothing of it by the time you swing a leg over. 

The first time, Tookie did walk off a few steps. He was totally fine, but I hopped down anyway because I want horses to learn to stand totally still by the mounting block before they ever learn to walk off. So we tried it again, and the second time it went perfectly.

There are still several things I want to work on before I'll actually ride Tookie, but I think he's off to a good start. I want him to really be comfortable with the bit (one or two more sessions should do it). I want him to learn to bend from the bit instead of the halter, and then spend some time ground driving him so he really gets steering and brakes before I'm on him for real. 

Now you guys are caught up though!

So there you have it. My newest project.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Jupiter Finale

The end of the summer each year is like the closing of a chapter for me. As someone who works primarily with young, green horses and remedial equines, I almost always reach a point where the horses I train move on, either with their owners or with higher level trainers in their chosen disciplines. This year, I had an especially full schedule, which means I have a lot of wrap up posts coming up.

Jupiter came to me in May, and I thought I would have him for 30-60 days. Instead, he ended up staying in training with me until halfway through September. After my last update, we put in six more weeks together. I am happy to report that those last six weeks went smoothly and uneventfully, preparing him for his next step as a saddleseat horse.

Training-wise, we did much of the same. Jupiter moved past his rebellious youngster phase and really started to come together nicely at all three gaits. We rode indoors and out and incorporated some patterns into our rides. His transitions continued to improve and I started to play with his headset a little bit.

His canter remains my favorite gait. 
Along those same lines, I incorporated a ground work day to our weekly repertoire. As a saddleseat horse, Jupiter is going to need to work in a lot of different equipment. While I did not put him in any action devices (chains, stretchies, etc.) I did introduce him to side reins and an overcheck. The overcheck is not a piece of equipment that I have much use for in my day to day travels, but it is something I am very familiar with because of my harness racing background. In fact, I even have one hanging in the barn. Just as it would with any other discipline of horse, lunging in the proper equipment helped Jupiter start building the muscles and balance that he will need later in his career. The difference in his carriage was immediate, and I wish I had photos of this part of our training.

We also started to work on parking under saddle, a concept that Jupiter grasped almost immediately. Towards the end, all I had to do was shift my feet forward, and he would park out and square up. What a good boy.

Jupiter's owner rode him a few more times, though her work schedule this last month didn't allow for much time at the barn.

More important than this last bit of training, however, was the decision on where Jupiter would go from here. I was hired to resolve Jupiter's fear issues and behavioral problems, specifically his trailer phobia, tendency to fly back in the cross ties, and hatred of all things related to bridling; and to start him under saddle. Those things all fell into place, but I am no saddleseat expert, and I don't plan to become one. Finding a reputable saddleseat farm can provide quite a challenge, especially in this area.

I enlisted the help of my friend, Amy. She has an extensive SS background, and was delighted to come to the barn to meet Jupiter and assess his potential. We both agreed that Jupiter is probably best suited for a career in country pleasure, and I hope to see him doing just that in the future. Amy went above and beyond, and offered to talk to his owner directly and reach out to some of her connections.

In the end, it was decided that Jupiter would move to the barn that Amy grew up riding and showing at. She spent some time as the assistant trainer there before her riding was put on the back burner, and she had a lot of nice things to say about the way the horses are ridden and cared for. Additionally, this barn features a friendly atmosphere that is welcoming to those new to the saddlebred industry. It seemed like a great fit for both Jupiter and his owner.

It just so happens that this farm had an opening, and Jupiter moved in on the 19th. I was away, but his owner emailed me to report that he had loaded onto the trailer without so much as batting an eye, and arrived at the new farm completely calm and not the least bit sweaty.

Both the farm owner and the head trainer have years and years of training and showing experience. They are extremely accomplished in their sport and have a wealth of knowledge between them. I hope that they will guide Jupiter and his owner towards their goals, and that I will have photos to share of them as they progress together.

In the mean time, I will miss seeing this face on a regular basis:
Good luck, Jupiter. Be good!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

[not so W]W: Booger

Just posting some more photos from the last time I took pictures of Booger. A few people have asked so here's the update:
There is no change in Booger. At this point, I have walked away from the situation for the foreseeable future. There have been no further diagnostics, and her owner seems to think it's her stifle (even though x-rays proved otherwise). I have been up to visit a handful of times because Mike feeds over there during the week, but that's about it. Booger is gaining weight and seems bored, but is otherwise doing fine. There has been some talk of giving her a job in the future, and I would not be opposed to hacking her out or trail riding her at some point. Someone suggested driving as a solution, but there is no reason not to ride Booger (she doesn't fall or pose danger to her rider. She just has an atrocious canter that won't be improved with conditioning or regular work), and I'd like to avoid a situation that would involve her owner trying to take her out herself.
So, for now, Booger is a part of my past. I miss her terribly.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Lake House Weekend

Last weekend, Mike and I did something that we almost never get a chance to do. We took a long weekend and went back up to the Adirondacks to meet Andrew and Amy for a trip that didn't feature any cell phone service, internet, horses, or cats! It was the closest thing to a vacation that we've ever taken, and it came at the perfect time.

After working a full day on Thursday, we fed and watered the horses and packed the car for the weekend, marveling at how little we had to pack since we weren't going camping or riding.

We hit the NY Thruway in no time flat and made excellent time to the lake house. The fact that there was no traffic at that time of night helped. Not taking the wrong exit in Albany was a contributing factor as well.

On our way up, I had a moment where I thought I was hallucinating. We came up behind a rig pulling a trailer. I squinted into the darkness, trying to make sense of what I was seeing in front of me. Was that... an udder???

Turns out we had caught up to the Turkey Hill Giant Cow... I didn't get any photos of my own, but this is too good not to share:

"Babe, I think we spend too much time on interstates late at night..."

We arrived at the lake house around 1:30am, and despite the fact that we had all had long days, we were up for quite some time after that, catching up and concocting four gallons of sangria for the weekend. (Did I mention that I tried sangria for the first time this year, and cannot understand how I went 28 years without knowing what this magic potion was?)

Eventually, we went to bed, and when we woke up in the morning, Andrew had made amazing breakfast sandwiches. And so commenced a weekend of stuffing ourselves stupid, drinking way more than we needed to, and having zero obligations to the outside world.

After getting the Sea Doos in the water, we were off to McCauley Mountain to do the one thing we never got around to last time, the scenic chair lift. I think we were a week early for the fall colors, but the view was stunning anyway (and, for six bucks, you really can't get a better deal!) I'll admit the creaking and shaking over the giant boulders was a bit unnerving, but I was too busy snapping photos to really care. We stopped at the top of the mountain and took even more pictures before heading back down the way we came.

From there, it was back in to Old Forge. There, we stopped for lunch at Slicker's, which is Andrew's favorite restaurant up there. We started off with pulled pork nachos as an appetizer. They were mouth watering and sweet, and would have made a great meal all on their own. After we finished stuffing ourselves yet again, Amy and I paused to get our picture taken with the sad looking fisherman up front.

After making our way back to Big Moose and taking some time to digest, we spent the afternoon out on the water. It was my first time on a jet ski (Mike's too). Since Andrew and Amy were the experienced drivers, I rode with Andrew on the big, new one (Team Safe Driving!) and Mike and Amy went on the small, unstable version (Team Lunatic!) They took us over to the North Bay section of the lake, which was absolutely stunning.

Mike and I had packed our snorkeling gear, but didn't think to bring it out on the Sea Doos, which is too bad because the water was sparkly clear and relatively warm. We all took turns driving and riding the jet skis. Amy took me out and drove like a mad man, which left me shrieking like a little girl. I took the little Sea Doo out for a spin by myself, and felt much better when I was in the driver's seat. (What can I say? I'm a bit of a control freak, apparently.) Mike and I got to ride ever so romantically together as well.

Then we beached the jet skis and spent some time swimming and goofing off. We figured out that the only thing funnier than an under water selfie is a selfie taken through the surface of the water.

Mike's was the best one. 
We also did our best to replicate the Lift from Dirty Dancing.

This is what it's supposed to look like:

This was the reality of the situation:
Personally, I like the look of horror on Mike's face.

Hey, we got pretty close.
After some chicken fights and uncontrollable laughter, we got back on the jet skis and took a tour of the entire lake before heading back in as the sun went down. Mike and I shared the small jet ski, which led to some pretty interesting moments, especially when we tried to cross slowly through the narrow, shallow mouth to North Bay. I actually put some of my old sailing knowledge to use and told Mike what the buoys in problem areas signified. I have to say, this lake has some pretty tricky spots. There are rocks and cliffs and trees just under the surface in some areas, and there are shallow spots that come up unexpectedly.

Still, I would consider living here:

I took a ton of photos, of course, but I'll save you the scrolling. Here's a slide show for those who want to see more:

By the time we got back to the cabin, we were all pretty worn out, so we decided to nap like grown ups do. It's a good thing we set alarms because I think we all would have slept clear through the next day.

Once we were up and ready to go, we wandered just down the street to Duffy's at the Glenmore for the fish fry. We started off with an appetizer of chicken cordon bleu balls (affectionately called Blue Balls on the menu), then each got an order of the fish fry. The fish, which had been swimming around in the lake waters just earlier that day, was delicious, and so were the fries. By this point, I think we had all reached the perma-stuffed phase in our appetites, but we chowed down nonetheless.

We waddled back to the cabin after that, where we were up to all hours of the night playing board games and card games and drinking tons and tons of sangria. We rediscovered why the four of us are not allowed to play Go Fish together (it gets way too cutthroat). The dogs were not complaining as they got lots of love and free hand outs.

Some time before 4am, we crawled into our respective beds and fell asleep. When we woke up, it was only Saturday and we still had plenty of time to spend together. I'm not sure how much actual resting we did on this trip, but we sure had a good time.

After a bit of a slow start the next morning, we stopped back in town to get breakfast pizza (yes, this is a thing) and pick up spark plugs for the old Sea Doo. We were greeted with fresh new shipments of snow mobiles. There's something I wish I had the money to really get into!
Lazy morning.

Boxes and boxes of snow mobiles...
 While Andrew and Amy went across the lake to gas up the jet skis, Mike and I spent some time playing in the water with the dogs. On Friday, I had managed to get Herbie to cautiously dive off the dock to get her tennis ball. I was surprised because I figured Julio, the water lover, would have been the first to take the plunge. It took Herbie a while to muster up the nerve to do it, but her form kept improving over the course of the weekend. Of course, it helped to have her beloved daddy being the one throwing the ball. She'll do anything for Mike. Julio did jump in a handful of times, but mostly spent the time watching Herbie with a slightly alarmed look on his face.

A little while later, Amy and Andrew came back with the Sea Doos. By then, the dogs were pretty well worn out, and we put them back in the cabin to nap, while we went back to playing on the water. I took some time snapping photos of Andrew and Amy on their toys, and then we decided to try something new.

The something new was knee boarding. Amy made it look easy while I sat backwards behind Andrew to spot her. She was whipping through the wake, catching air, and doing 360's.

It didn't take much convincing for me to give it a try. Let me just say... this is much harder than it looks! You start on your stomach, holding onto the board, which is this tiny, flimsy thing that flips over if you look at it the wrong way. While getting dragged behind the jet ski, you try to get up on top of it, but you have to be perfectly square or you do a somersault. Then there's the fact that you can't tip too far forward or you do a face plant, and you can't tip too far back or you go off the back. It's unlike anything I've tried to do before, and I had some seriously impressive bruising for days to follow. I also learned the hard way that it's very important to let go of the rope once you fall off the board. I think I inhaled about 20 gallons of lake water in about two and a half seconds. Ouch! But, I persisted and managed to actually get up on my knees a handful of times before I was completely exhausted.
Go me!
Once I was worn out, they towed me back to shore and took Mike for a spin. By that point, the camera on the battery was completely dead, and we were totally photo bombing a wedding a few docks over (not on purpose!)

I think we were all game to keep playing and trying new things, but by the time Mike got back to shore, the skies had darkened and the temperature had dropped. Before we knew it, it was pouring down rain, and we abandoned our outdoor plans.

We spent the afternoon playing Black Jack and poker, and teaching Amy all about the latter. The sangria was almost gone and we'd made a significant dent in the beer collection as well. We took a break long enough to go back to Duffy's for dinner, then resumed playing games and being silly. Amy and I didn't last as long as the boys and snuck off to snuggle with the dogs until they were ready for bed.

Sunday came too quickly, and none of us wanted to head back to the real world as we packed and cleaned the cabin and parted ways for the drive home. Mike and I took the scenic route back, through the Hudson River Gorge and surrounding areas. Despite some mild traffic on the Thruway, we made good time on the way back, and returned to an empty farm with the horses grazing peacefully under the trees in the back.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend getaway. It was great to have three full days of being left completely alone, and while we didn't do much actual sleeping or sitting around, I for one felt refreshed at the end of it. I wish the lake house wasn't six hours away, because I think all of us would enjoy spending a lot more time up there...