Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Listening to Pashka

So Pashka became mine last August (2015). He has been wonderful, and I have been struggling to find my "game" or my confidence.

Sometimes as riders and horse owners we get caught up in what we want for the future - wanting that partnership, that amazing time on trail - that we forget to listen to the horse in front of us. And to listen, really listen to our gut - our instincts. 

I'm concentrating here. 
He is 5 years old. His birthday is in April. He was started well under saddle before I got him, but lived in an area where I don't think he was exposed to many hills or rocks. WE live in Southern California. We have some considerable hills and plenty of rocks. I should also say that  I am not the type of endurance rider who wants to do a lot of training at a competitive ride. I want a solid trail horse when I go to a ride. Who I know has the confidence to get over the terrain on the trail before him, so that we can have fun! 

He was 15 hands approx. when I got him. And while I have not sticked him, folks tell me that he is almost 15.3. He is not done growing yet. 

First I must say that while I think of myself as a decent rider - striving for balance, light hands, good connection with my horse, I have never trained a horse, nor experienced riding a horse that is still learning how to carry a rider. I have had to learn what I should expect of him, and what I should not expect of him. And I have learned what I feel under me, his body trying to figure out the rocks, the down hill, the weight of me, is totally normal. And that 3 second delay when I ask him to move back to the center of the trail - is not him being naughty, it is him being 5. 

He's even learning to pose for photos
And most importantly I have learned to recognize that the silly things he does, like wanting to back up into bushes, is again just his 5-year-old mind being totally unable to cope with his sweaty itchy inner hind legs. But even when he backs up a three foot incline and is itching his legs, he is totally calm, and eventually complies with my laughing requests to get back on trail. 

So before I learned those things, I was having a confidence crisis. Pashka had done nothing wrong. I was just experiencing fear about the unknown. And I was working myself into a state of anxiety before every ride. I was working with a wonderful, skilled and kind trainer where I board. She is not an endurance rider but she has a lovely way with horses. She helped me a lot. We spent a lot of time in the round pen, and I felt his smooth trot, his lovely canter - and every now and then a buck. 

My gut began to whisper something - "I want to be on the trail"

But my fear kept us in the round pen. The universe provided an opportunity for me to send him to a trainer. And i took advantage of it. 

He went down to Heidi Helly in  Valley Center. She is a skilled endurance rider/trainer and is great with people too. A friend of mine has just gotten her horse back from a few months with Heidi, and was so happy, I just knew I had to send Pashka. 

Happy to be on the trail. 
I went down and rode him twice. The final time was this past Monday & Tuesday. Both of us found our mojo. We trotted on trail, he did the little "I'm a happy arab" neck twist, and we kept on trotting. Me with a big ole smile on my face. He has this amazing "old soul" mind and demeanor. Calm and steady as can be. 

We easily coped with a small spook at a runner, a stand still spook. We got a little frisky when a friend trotted up behind us, but calmed right back down. 

He comes home in a couple weeks, and I am so excited. We will be doing lots' of long and slow rides. Building the distance in over time. We will work on the uphills (he is very good and digging in and pushing from the rear already), the tougher down hills and continue to get to know each other. I will endeavor to only ask of him, what I know he can do, and if we find ourselves in a tough spot, to remind him to go slowly and think. 

Now when I ride him I hear a whisper in my belly saying - "YES, finally. We are on the trail!"

Pashka always enjoys the contents of his hay bag. 

Keep an eye out for us at a "fun ride" at Sesente Anos (PS region), and maybe a slow LD this winter or spring. I'm building a long term partner, for many adventures (Grand Canyon, Badlands and other amazing trails are on the bucket list). 

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Sound of a Bull (or two)

My endurance adventure also just gets me out into nature, out on the ranch and well, around cows and bulls now and then.

Here are a couple fun videos I took leaving the barn a couple weeks ago and two bulls across the canyon from each other were talking. It was starting to sprinkle rain on us, and I was sitting in the trunk of my car. They are parts I and II. Same bull, the first video at the end you'll hear me say I'm signing off cause I was not sure if the bull was coming toward me (there is a fence there, hard to see in the video) and I didn't want him to charge the fence etc. But then I realized he was either putting on a show for me, or ignoring me. So I shot a second video to capture the wild sounds.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Patience With Pashka

resting in the round pen
First thing you need to know is that it is pronounced PaW-SHH-Kah. Say it with a Russian flair. It is a Russian word and his new name. The name Pierre just wasn't fitting. I asked a friend (Hi Ellen!) who is a translator and just happens to be married to a man from Russia, for some suggestions for a name for a horse, they had to start with P. It has a similar meaning to Pierre, if I understand correctly... it can either mean stone, solid (Pierre has that meaning) or I found something saying it means "from the sea." Well I like it, I like the Russian heritage, he is from Russian lines. And it fits.

You can see his Canadian coat here. 
Pashka is playful. He is also smart and curious. He is also strong willed. I am not using the word stubborn, because that's not the energy behind it. And I like a strong will. Just have to be truly worthy of trust. He has put on weight well, and you'll see his thick Canadian Winter Coat. He is laughing at El Nino. I think he decided to reinvent himself (yes I know that horses may not decide things like that) when he came here. I was told he was a bit of a picky eater. So far he loves everything I offer, maybe he just likes California hay better than Canadian. He even gobbles up the beet pulp. He also is asserting himself in the pecking order a bit, and is competitive on the trail with other horses. He makes me smile.

A little backstory: Pashka is just four and a half (coming five in April), he has been under saddle since April 2015.

On The Trail

So the last time I wrote I had ridden him a few times out on the trail, by myself and with a small mellow group. Then I joined a group of three other riders one lovely Sunday morning. All good riders, and good horses. We were going to do a nice trail, just walking, with a good hill climb. The plan was for me to hike up the hill. And for one of the riders ( a great rider, search and rescue, mounted posse horse and rider) to pony Pashka up the hill. Why you ask? Well cause in my mind Pashka needs to do some of these big hills without a rider FIRST, before he starts carrying my butt up it. And this was a good hill. I was very winded at the top after hiking up. I got back on him and off we went.

We came upon a cluster of cows hanging out under an oak tree. Pashka has been around some cows, and they are fed not far from his paddock, but I did know that he still has questions about them. But he does just fine, we walk by them. Then some more cows were clustered to the right of the trail. All is fine until one little black guy starts to run toward the rear of our group. Pashka throws one big rodeo buck. Just one. It was a good one. The lady riding behind me laughed and said "all four feet of the ground, that was good." But he was fine. Yes I was still in the saddle. So we walked on.

But now we were heading downhill a little, Pashka was wanting to rush it a bit, and I don't think he really like the side-pull bridle attachment. He was not really paying attention to me and I could just tell his mind was elsewhere. I kept at it, keeping him off the horse in front of us as best I could. But then he got away from me, creeped up on the horse in front and bit his butt. Next thing I see is a underside of a GIANT draft horse hoof almost making contact with Pashka's chest. I shouted some name at my horse. The rider of the horse in front of us didn't even know he kicked out, but it was totally warranted. At that point I decided to get off.
Pashka being playful

He was not listening to me.

Thinking back I think he was a bit fried at this point. He had a big hike up a big hill, we were in a group of four riders, the cows, the down hill. And at that point we had been on the trail an hour. If we had been at a good spot for trotting I probably should have broken away a bit from the group and worked his butt a bit. But I didn't do that, I was a tad fried too.

So I hand walked him all the way down the hill. He was ponied through a big herd of cows. Then I got back on him. I told the group I was going to let him walk out in front, we were with horses that have a much slower walking pace. So we walk out in front, and we are headed toward the barn. Maybe a mile and half from home. He throws a couple more bucks.

I jump off him, take off his reins, and grab the lead rope (I was in trail mode with the regular lead rope around the horn of the saddle) and work his butt. He bucks, and pulls away from me. But I get him back, trotting well around me.

So we get back to the barn and I decide we need a month of training/lessons with a trainer where we board. I don't have the cash to send him off to a trainer and I would like to do it myself, with support, if I can.

I had one session a week, the first was groundwork, the last three were in the saddle. Here is what I know: That I can ride out his bucks, that he is young and has a very very very nice trot. He needs more wet saddle pads. It helps me tremendously to have a coach guiding me when I'm working him in the arena. And I'll probably want that support too as we head back out on the trail.

I have never once been afraid of him, but I am afraid of being afraid. If something happens while I'm in the saddle that scares me, I'm worried that will ruin something. I'm totally playing mind games with myself. So I need to have patience with myself and patience with Pashka. Do what is comfortable.  For now I want to build a solid trail horse, that I'm confident and comfortable on. I know Pashka and I will get there, no need to rush.

(note: you can click on any photo to see them large)
copyright K.Rivers 2016

Monday, October 19, 2015

First Trail Ride - or the story of my confidence crisis

The time between horses is interesting. Motivation shifts, you sleep in on weekends. Yah, you can ride other folks horses, but really, you are just waiting for your horse. And yes there is some weight gain.

And then the new horse arrives. It’s fun, you focus on him settling in, putting weight on him. Moving into the big paddock, finding a saddle that fits, getting along with the other horse. Going on nice walks, hand walks.. in the stinking heat. Oh it's real nice. 
We walked up that canyon. Pierre enjoyed playing with the algae.
I wanted to swim in the water trough. 

And then people start saying, 
“Wow, he’s just a baby. Is he under saddle yet?” or 
“When are you going to ride him? Don’t wait too long.” Yep.

And your mind plays tricks on you. When you are not used to riding green horses (at least not as someone in middle age) and you bought a four-year old sight unseen, your mind creates stories of all sorts of horrific scenarios. Involving broken bones, blood, concussions. You get the picture.

I was having a confidence crisis.

So one day, you put on the saddle. Go into the round pen, hop on and let him walk around. He’s an endurance horse, doesn’t really know what to do in a round pen. So he walks really slowly. He mouths the snaffle bit, you walk around a little. This borrowed saddle is too small for you. Way too small. It feels like if the horse did anything other than walk quietly forward you would eat dirt. So you hop off. Good, a successful first ride. If you’d count it as a first ride.

Then you borrow a nice western saddle. Made for a narrow Arabian. It fits the horse well. You decide you are going to ride for one hour in the big arena. So you tack up, walk over there and get on. The saddle at least is perfect, for you and the horse. The sand is a bit thick. And both horse and rider are bored in the arena. But you pick up the energy. Decide on the plan. Practice the one rain stop. Disengaging the hind end. Doing some circles. Then another rider comes in, trots across the arena. And Hello, a couple bucks. Nothing major it’s not a bronc ride. But you smile and think “Ok, now we’re seeing something.” So we walk off again,, and a couple more bucks. One rein stop. The stories in the mind start to whip into a frenzy. Ok I should be pushing him. Making him move, showing him that if he bucks he’ll have to work. But he’s green, I’m unsure of myself. What if he rears? Flips over? But he’s such a calm guy. His mind is not like that at all. But you never know, right?

So we had some conversations in the round pen. He pushed into pressure a bit, ok gonna work on that. It got better.

So that was where I was at with Pierre. He'd been here about six weeks. We’d several miles of hand walks, exploring some of the flatter trails in the 90 degree heat. And I was ready to ride. I'm not in any hurry, we don't need to be ready for an endurance ride. I'm going to let him finish growing, let us get to know each other. And at some point in the next two years we will kick it up a notch. But for now, no rush. But I do want to ride him of course. 

I was having a confidence crisis. The horse had done nothing wrong. But I was just unsure of myself. I needed to see him pushed. Remember I bought him sight unseen, yes from a trusted breeder but still, I had never seen him under saddle. So I needed help. It can be hard to ask for help. Especially for us strong female types. I’m lucky I have several skilled horsewomen as friends and trainers. So I contact a trainer, she’s a few hours away, I can send him there. There is the cost involved, but he’s far away. I want to see what he does. My gut is telling me I just need to see what he does when he is pushed…

So I ask another friend to come ride him. Yes, I just get over the silly idea that I will be the only one to ride him once I own him.  So my fabulous friend comes down. Watches me in the round pen with him. And hops on. They walk, trot, canter…

We move into the big arena. And quickly realize the commands from the bit are unclear for him. So we switch to the rope halter. That is better. He moves around. And I see him get pushed up into a canter.  He seems to be a bit gate sour. Maybe longing for the trail? Or dinner? But we note he offers a buck, or a halt at the gate and drifts that way. 

I can tell he’s got a nice trot and canter. I smile.

He offers a little buck, she stops him to ensure she’s got control of him with the rope halter. Then moves him up again… making him work.

We need some more work on circles, bending, steering with the hind end.

My friend riding him. We are good to go. The confidence I got from
just watching her ride was just what I needed.
So then I arrange for Pierre to get ponied out on the trail with another trusted friend on his mounted posse/search and rescue horse. He’d ponied my other horse too.

I woke up that morning and as they say "Cowgirl'd up." I decided to saddle him up and ride him out on the trail instead of him being ponied. He'll get ponied on other days, I gotta get over this confidence issue, and today is the day. He’s got a great mind, he’s not crazy. 
Just get on the flipping horse Kim!

It’s a gorgeous cloudy early Sunday morning. The cow barn is quiet. I arrive before the morning feeding. I love this time of day, and it takes a horse to get me up this early.

I saddle him up. Let him eat his breakfast from the hay bag. Wait for my friends and we head out. He’s great. I start smiling and I don't think I stopped smiling for an hour. He’s still learning how to carry a rider down hill so I get off and walk down the first steep downhill, and then have to hold him back a bit on the next down hill spots as he wants to dash down them when I'm on his back… but I can tell the trail is where he wants to be.

Pierre and Me on the trail. 
He doesn’t do a thing wrong the whole ride – just a short one hour loop – but he is sweating.  

What is it they say about most car accidents happen within a mile of your home? I think they say something similar about riding, cause you are at ease, maybe not paying attention…

At the end with the barn in sight he spooks at a cow. Just a few steps of a sideways trot. And he turns right back to face the cow of his own accord. I’m smiling. It’s the stuff I want to see. I want to see all he can dish out. And learn that I can handle it. We are gonna get along just fine Pierre. Better than fine as they say.

My friend is going to ride him in a lesson this week, and I’ll do the next one. I learn a lot by watching other people figure stuff out. And seeing how he responds builds my confidence.

 But we are on a good trail now. The images in my mind are of the open trails and us trekking along.  I wake up the next day with a smile, ready for the next ride.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

First Day Home

Whew he made it. Someday I will write the story of the twists and turns of his trip here, but for now focusing on him being home.

He needs some "groceries", a bit typical after the long haul. So that is our focus. And transitioning to different feed. But I love him already. We got a quiet moment alone when I first saw him, and he came right up to me, head in my chest. Sigh.

Today we will have a little round pen play to make sure we have good boundaries , and he'll get some good turn out time in the BIG pasture - with his hay bag full and water, while I sit nearby and read and write. Tomorrow I plan on a very short, ten minute ride in the big sandy arena, and we have some visitors or "Welcome Committee" coming tomorrow too.

A few details: We had short training session with fly spray. It all went well. And today I'll find out how he feels about a fly mask - the flies on the eyes are terrible right now and SWAT just ain't cutting it.

He is eating up all I put in front of him, and we are on 2 hand fulls of 3Way or Alfalfa along with his "all you can eat" timothy and Alfalfa pellets.

If you click on a photo you can see it BIG.

You wanna spray what? And where? 

Look at the crazy style here, Goofy Californians. I won't have to wear that stuff will I?

Munching away. Note the towel in the background - my nap spot. 

Short walk in the round pen. 


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Emptying My Cup

First Leg

I know Pierre has made the first leg of the journey, and as I write I’m not sure whether he is still waiting in a box stall in Minot, ND or is on the trailer starting the 1700 mile journey to Santa Paula, CA. I will know soon.

These final days of waiting create a wonderful space.

In the space between horses I have mourned and said goodbye to Ozzie. I have cleaned, inspected and prepped my tack and supplies. The small tack room I have created in my garage has some lovely timothy hay – Oh there is nothing quite as delicious as the spring, green smell of good Timothy hay – a bag of alfalfa pellets, and other stuff waiting to be moved to the new tack room where I board.

As the days neared for Pierre to begin his journey from Canada to California I got a gentle reminder from an incredible horseman, who just happens to be a woman. She reminded me that this new horse is an individual. Is not Ozzie. And I must be wary of comparing him to all that Ozzie was to me - what an important reminder, and perfectly timed.

And while reading a book just now, a thought shot into my head.

I was placing all my hopes, all my dreams on Pierre - before I had even laid eyes on him. He is on his way to me. Being handed over from the breeder, to a barn, to a hauler, then to me.

And here I was imagining all the things we would learn together, all the miles of the trails we would explore. Wow.  What a lot of pressure I was placing on him. He had a lot to live up to. For a four year old horse.

I need to empty my cup.

My cup was so full it was overflowing with ideas, thoughts, things I think I know, things to learn, to do – there were moments where I would center myself, and remind myself of the unknown aspect of what was to come – but then the excitement again would kick in… that is ok.

A new horse is coming. I can be excited.

But then and there I dumped my cup out. I want an empty cup when I look upon Pierre for the first time. No expectations. Just curiosity.

Openness and space.
For whatever comes.
Open heart.
Open mind.
Hands open and soft.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Saying Goodbye to Ozzie

As unbelievable as it may seem, I had to say goodbye to Ozzie.

Isn’t it wild this ride these amazing creatures take us on? But even when the story reaches an unhappy turn, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The richness such a loss brings creates a feeling of being in the world in a unique way. It is the stickiness of the rich, sweet, dripping honey that is this life we live. Especially, I think, when we share it with horses.

I call this photo TRUE OZZIE. He was not
flashy. He was beautiful. He loved to eat.
and in the winter months he was fuzzy.

Last Thursday morning Ozzie coliced. For those of you non-horse folks, colic is a sort of catch all name for any number of stomach and gut problems. They can range from a small impaction that will usually clear in a few days with some basic treatment all the way to a twist in the intestine, or sort of “hernia” of the small intestine through a tear in a ligament. This is what Ozzie had.

He was transported to the equine hospital around 9:30 am. He looked all right when we got there. The veterinarian found a large impaction in the large intestine. But she expected it to clear, maybe two to three days.

photo by Elizabeth Spruill
When she called me at 4:00 she was very surprised by the turn of events. He was in tremendous pain, and he should not have been in that much pain for the type of impaction he had. I approved a couple tests. She called me back shortly to tell me the bad news. The tests indicated tissue damage in the small intestine, surgery was recommended.

When I decided to buy a horse, over a year ago, I had to be willing to accept that we could not afford such a surgery. Colic is fairly common. The other option was euthanasia. 

A wise friend had me bring my husband (he had not been super enthusiastic about my horse adventures so it had not crossed my mind to have him come), because I would need a ride home “after” she said. Of course my husband needed to come.

It was very surreal. I cried the whole way there. Folks who know me, know I’m pretty private about my feelings, and cry rarely around other folks. My husband saw my distress openly and unabashed. He cried with me at the hospital as I said goodbye to this sweet horse. (The next day we learned from the necropsy about the tear in a ligament between his stomach and spleen and the nine feet of small intestine that passed through that tear. It is unlikely that he would have survived surgery)
Photo by Elizabeth Spruill (cropped by me)

Ozzie was not perfect, but he was perfect for me. I know in the horse world many of us feel that way. We could handle each other. He took good care of me on the trail. And taught me so much.

He taught me to trust my gut, how to rehab a horse with a radial fracture, how to doctor a necrotic spider bite, and care for a leg stuck through a fence, twice. No three times. Sigh. He taught me about round pen work. He taught me I can ride out some pretty good bucks. He gave me back my confidence in the saddle. He taught me I can make my dreams come true.

He taught me to treasure and feel grateful for every moment with him, and on his back. Last year when he fractured his leg, I hand walked him for 7 months. Rode him at a walk for 30 days. After that I enjoyed every second on his back. And I felt a joy whenever I was with him. Working him, brushing him. Even when he was being "pushy." My tip for all horse owners: treasure every moment. Even if you aren't riding, treasure it. Notice the blessing it is. And if you think you would enjoy having gorgeous photos of you with your horse, get them today. (The pics shown in this post were taken by  photographer Elizabeth Spruill who needed to take some shots of a horse a month or so ago. I volunteered and I did not see the photos until the Sunday after Ozzie was gone. What a treasure.)

He revealed to me the type of life I want to live. I want to be in big open spaces, go down miles and miles of trails. I want to explore parts of this land that are only accessible by horseback (or maybe on foot by some crazy backpacker types). I want to share my life with a horse. Always.

He taught my husband how important horses are to me. My husband wants to come look at horses with me as I begin to look for my next partner.

Photo by Elizabeth Spruill

There was a song I would sing when Ozzie and I were alone on the trail. It is a native American (I don’t know which nation) “welcome” song I learned at a doula (Google it) training at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico several years ago. The main purpose of singing the song was to alert any wild animals we were coming down the trail. There are mountain lion and bear where we boarded. But the great effect of the song was that it made me breathe. I have a bad habit of holding my breath when I ride. Obviously not a good thing when you are going to be in the saddle for several hours. The song made me breathe, relaxed me, and in relaxing me, relaxed Ozzie.

I sang it while I said goodbye. I let my tears flow and be absorbed into the earth, the soil. A native American story tells about how the earth mother is meant to carry our sorrow. We are not meant to carry it for long, we are meant to shed our tears, to let them flow down to her so that we can continue on our life journey free of the burden of our tears. She accepted a lot of my tears over several days, and surely will continue to take them.

My close friends come to know I am a very visual person, and I enjoy watching movies and great shows. As we drove home that night I held some of his tail hair, and smelled it. A scene from a movie popped into my head. Stick with me, it will seem like a divergence, because the movie does not have ONE horse in it.

Have you seen Top Gun? The fighter pilot movie with Tom Cruise from the 80’s? Well, Ozzie is my Goose. For those of you from another planet, who have missed that movie (when Cruise was young and fresh) Goose was Cruise’s characters friend who flew with him. Goose died after an accident in which Cruise’s character, called Maverick, was piloting the plane. The scene I recalled was after that, the flight instructor talking about Maverick, he said, “Get him up flying again, and soon.”

I need to get up flying again, and soon.

Ozzie and I FLYING last month at Bar H 50 mile endurance ride.
PHoto by Lynne Glazer