Thursday, October 13, 2016

Finding the Joy in it

Crimson and I have hit a few bumps in the road. It was bound to happen. And yet, they always find new ways to challenge and surprise us.

You see, being under saddle continues to be Crimson's happy place (believe me, for that I am grateful), but a week or so ago, things started to go awry on the ground.

Before I get any further, the first clue that something was not right was that, although we had tripled his hay intake and added 3 quarts of haystretcher to his diet, he took a turn and suddenly started looking ribby.

Along with his shitty appearance came a host of undesirable behavior when tacking up. Crimson definitely hates confinement of any sort. He hates to be stalled and we won't even talk about the trailer. But up until a week or so ago, he was really good on the crossties.

Suddenly, he went from a horse that was generally easy-going, to dancing, pawing, biting his girth and half-rearing. It got to the point that last week, it took two people to tack him up. During that time, he moved his bowels FOUR TIMES and peed TWICE. He wasn't being bad (well, yes, he kind of was) but his anxiety level was through the roof. I felt terrible for him. It seemed like if he could have, he would have crawled out of his own skin.

The thought had already crossed my mind, but Heather voiced it. The dreaded U-word. Ulcers. I immediately formed a plan to make dietary changes and picked up ulcer meds.

But, in the meantime, I was incredibly stressed myself that my horse was so unhappy. I had visions that I was permanently creating bad associations with myself, stalls, and barns in general.

That is when I had a conversation with my friend H. She said "You have to help him find the joy in this" and "Change the conversation".

Armed with this new way of thinking, I schemed ways to make tacking up and being in the barn a pleasant experience, not a fight or a struggle.

I was so excited/anxious to try out my new plan that I could barely wait until the end of the day to get to the barn after work.

First, I had Heather give him 1cc of Ace about a 1/2 hour before I got there. Some might not agree with that. I think of it as giving him a cocktail. A horse margarita, if you like.

When I got to the barn, I put Crimson's favorite horsey friend in the stall next to the cross ties. I brought all my tack and brushes in, so I wouldn't need to leave him to grab anything. I filled my pockets with treats and turned on the radio.

I grabbed Crimson from the field, brought him in and put him on the crossties. I brushed him, sang to him, and fed him and his buddy treats. There was no pawing, dancing, biting his girth or rearing. I fed both horses handfuls of hay. I just generally tried to make it a fun, pleasant experience for both of them.

Once Crimson was tacked, l led them both out of the barn and put his buddy back in the field, then proceeded to go have a good ride.

My plan is to repeat this for a few days. Crimson won't always need his hand held on the crossties. But for now, I want to make this enjoyable and fun for him. So, for now, I am romancing my horse.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Baby Horse Process

I am enjoying the young horse process far more than I thought I would.

Although Crimson has the basics down, from what I understand, he is pretty limited in terms of life experience. He was born in April 2011, grew up on his breeder's farm in Massachusetts and at some point was sent to a farm in Western Mass to get broke. In the meantime, the nearest track, Suffolk Downs, closed in November 2013. At some point, he was sent to Finger Lakes to train. He was there for 4 months, his breeder had a falling out with the trainer and brought him home, where he then sat for another 10+ months.

Lest you think all has been perfect thus far, we have had a few baby moments. Crimson definitely has claustrophobia issues. He doesn't like to be in a stall or on a trailer. His go-to response is to get light in the front end. He half-rears and flails around like a giant orange marlin on a fishing line.

Luckily, I have the guidance of an experienced trainer, who has started and re-started many babies and greenies of various breeds and backgrounds and currently has 5 OTTBs of her own, with another two in training. I jokingly call her the horse whisperer, because she has a lot of 'feel' for horses. She has good timing and understanding of the whys of horse behavior.

Our first experience with Crimson objecting to anything was the farrier. I feel very strongly about my horses being safe to handle by the farrier, vet, etc. No one should have to sacrifice their safety to handle my horse - ever. Crimson has been barefoot and it is pretty clear his feet haven't been done in some time. I had already ridden that day, he was standing quietly on the cross-ties. I wasn't expecting his reaction to the farrier handling his feet, but we were in for a surprise. When my farrier picked up his hoof, we were treated to the rearing and flailing that I have now come to know is his signature move. I took the cross-ties off, put the chain over his nose and we tried again. This time with more violent flailing. At that point I called Heather for help. She came in, we put on a lip chain, and he stood quietly to get his feet rasped. Heather noted he was shaking and was genuinely scared.

Through all this, I wasn't upset, angry or nervous. I was surprised by his response, but I was interested by the puzzle this represented. My assumption is that he has had some negative experiences with having his feet done in the past. I already have some ideas on how to work with him on this and I'm confident that we can make this a more pleasant experience for everyone involved.

I'm kind of surprised by my own patience, how fun and interesting it is to work with such a clean slate. Of course, I enjoy it mostly because he is such an easy baby, and it helps tremendously that his happy place is under saddle.

Overall, this is not the experience I expected to have -- giant, green, young, TB -- but it is one I am enjoying a tremendous amount. I like that I am doing 98% of the work myself, with occasional guidance from my trainer.

I feel like Crimson already trusts me a lot. He comes to me in the pasture, is interested and engaged in what I am doing, feels more secure in the barn when I am there - even if he has the company of other horses and people.

I'm planning on taking things pretty slow with him. We don't have anywhere to be in the next six months. I want him to know that when I introduce him to new things, that they will be fun, that he is always safe with me, and that I am his person. I'm sure we'll have our ups and downs along the way, but this is definitely the honeymoon stage.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

My Baby Horse is Insane

...As in, insanely good.
Guys, I am really bonding with this young horse. I think this might be the beginning of something special. I just really enjoy being around him. We already have a lot of trust and I continue to be impressed with his decisions.
We don't actually have a ring where I am currently boarding. Just a grass field and a lot of wide open spaces. Some people aren't really comfortable outside the confines of a ring, but I happen to feel most at home there.
We started our ride last night in the grass ring, but it was such a gorgeous night, I didn't want to stop riding. So I unlatched the gate from his back (surprisingly easy to do when your horse is a giant) and we went for a wander.

Not my large orange beast - photo used for perspective

We rode down to the last field on the right, I unlatched another gate, and we took a cruise around the field, chased some Canadian geese, and checked out the neighbor's hay field. I kept it to a walk, because I don't want Mr. Orange to assume that trail ride = speed. That can come later.

He was so good on his own - marching along, interested, confident, excited, in a positive way. I was so happy with his evident enjoyment of a new experience. I have been wanting to ride in the super giant hay field at the end of the lane pretty much since the moment I got there. Luckily, my instructor had a lesson fail to show up, and she had a horse tacked and ready to go, so we decided to head out there.

Not me - photo used for perspective.

I needn't have worried about my baby horse needing company. Even though twilight was falling, he marched around the field, taking in all the sights. He even broke in to a happy trot a few times, but easily came back to me when asked. We were supposed to be cooling out, as we were quickly losing daylight. My trainer's horse couldn't keep up with his marching walk - I don't think he even knew or cared that she was there.

It was another great ride on my giant beast, and I am excited we can ride out in the field with our brains in our heads. That will be a fun place for future hacks and conditioning rides.