Friday, October 30, 2015

Random Friday

1.  The past week has been a bit crazy for me.  Last Sunday I drove into our driveway and through the gate at bedtime, after a marathon weekend of negotiations.  I was exhausted, yet elated, and feeling more than a little bit guilty for leaving Brett to take care of the animals and fend for his own meals.  I dropped my bag in its spot by the counter, thankful that it no longer contained my laptop from work.  Brett was sound asleep, his recliner pushed all the way back, his favorite blanket (covered in pictures of his grandkids), pulled up to his neck and his head phones on - broadcasting a football game.  Kersey looked up at me from her bed in her crate and thumped her tail twice.  Brett woke up, and congratulated me on closing the deal.  As I lay in bed, my head sore and tired, but adrenaline still coursing through my body and keeping me from my much needed sleep, I thought about how much I love this man; instead of snarling about the late hour, or the canned soup he had for dinner, or the chores he had to do by himself -- he said, "I'm so proud of you."

2.   Saturday morning, before I started work, I did help with the chores.  I was mucking the oak pasture when I heard a loud crash.  I looked towards the front pasture and saw a big cloud of dust rising in the air with Mufasa and Flash running hell-for-leather in front of it.  Brett came out of the barn and we went to investigate.  There were a couple fence posts down, one snapped in two, and 60 feet of cross rails and wire fencing down.  The wire fencing was laying in the middle of the pasture.  Flash and Mufasa were, amazingly, not hurt.  We don't know which of them got caught on the fence, or how.  Brett put them in the barn.  Mufasa, in particular, was scared.  He ran to Brett and was happy to leave the pasture.

3.  Brett spent the rest of the weekend and Monday installing new fence.  It is straight and sturdy, shiny and new next to the rest of the old sagging, fragile fence.  Flash and, especially, Mufasa were happy to be back in their pasture.  Mufasa hates the barn.

4.  Sunday, while at work, I was sitting with my team waiting for the other party's counter proposal.  We were talking about what our spouses were doing, and what we were missing out on at home.  I mentioned the fence and was told that I need to get Brett a post hole digger.  Pronto.  I think they are right.  He had to dig all the holes by hand and his body hurts for a good week afterwards.

5.  I'm looking forward to a quiet weekend.  We may even get some rain on Sunday.  A cold rain -- the kind that requires a cheerful fire in the wood stove and a pie in the oven.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Bright Autumn Morning

Sunday morning, Buffy (Pistol's previous owner) came by to visit Pistol and to get apples over on Apple Hill.  Unfortunately, I had to work (yes, ugh, in the office 14 hours on Sunday) so I didn't get to enjoy apple cider donuts and catching up with good friends.

When Buffy and her husband, George, arrived, the horses were working on breakfast.
Lucy, Jackson and Pistol
The sun must have been blinding...
Little Bear
 In almost all of Buffy's pictures, the animals have their eyes closed.


Only Whiskey managed to keep his eyes open.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Brett and Pistol: Clinic Pictures

We received pictures from a guy at the clinic who offered to take pictures of Brett's lesson with his phone.  The quality isn't the greatest, but it gives you a flavor.  These were taken on day two.

Gotta love the chicken.

They worked out on the obstacle course on the last day, Friday.  Pistol  is great with pretty much all the obstacles but she has never liked the "cowboy curtain."  Picture a car wash frame with the bits of felt hanging down that slide over your car after its been squirted with water.  A cowboy curtain is similar: a frame with felt or plastic hanging down.  Pistol rushed through with head high.  Mark watched.  Then he held the plastic streamers to one side so there was an open triangle for her to walk through.  She was A-okay with that.  They kept repeating the exercise, with Mark holding the streamers back less and less each time -- until he wasn't holding it at all.  She continued to be fine.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Random Friday

1.  Here's a link to the apple tart recipe for those of you who requested it: Brown Butter Apple Tart

2. Brett is at the Mark Rashid clinic through today.  He'll be heading home after his lesson, hopefully arriving in time to help with the evening chores.  I asked him to ask someone to take pictures Thursday and he did that.  They will be sending me the pictures and I will share them with you.  The clinic is four hours away and I couldn't take any time off work to go and watch.  I want to see pictures too!

3.  Thursday, Brett and Pistol had another good lesson.  They spent most of their time with Mark working on lateral work: leg yield, turn on the forehand, and turn on the haunches.  Pistol leg yields like a dream but she had some trouble with turning on the forehand.  She couldn't quite get coordinated enough to cross her hind feet correctly as she pivoted around her front legs.

4. The nights are getting cold; it has been in the low 40s when I do the morning chores.  I love this weather; I love the bracing breeze, the mix of colored leaves and acorns on the ground, the golden light, and the first fires in the wood stove.  I roasted a chicken for dinner the other night and made a big batch of applesauce, full of brown sugar and cinnamon.

5. The chickens continue to molt.  How long does this go on?  We've never had chickens molt all at the same time before.  Our egg production is down from an average of 6-7 eggs per day to one or two.  Production typically slows way down in November when the days are short and cold but it is only October and these are young chickens.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Mark Rashid: Day 1

Poor Pistol.  I don't think she's ever worked so hard in her life.  Brett called and told me about his first ride today at the Mark Rashid clinic.

Mark remembered Brett -- and Mufasa.  He said that Brett's decision to stop riding Mufasa was a good one; the right one.  And he thinks Pistol is a good little mare; a bit fat, but a good mare.

They spent most of their lesson working on Pistol's trot.  Mark complimented how smooth her trot is and how quiet Brett keeps his hands.  He wanted Brett to take a little more contact, to keep Pistol from diving low with her head.  Once Pistol figured out where her poll was supposed to be she started working through her body really well.  Brett said he could feel her stepping under and pushing from behind.

They did a little bit of canter work but Pistol was out of gas at that point.  Brett hosed her off and put her back in her stall.  Brett said she was too tired to eat -- and that's saying a lot for Pistol.

The best part was the joy in Brett's voice when he talked about his ride.  I never heard that when he rode Mufasa.  I didn't even hear it when he rode Flash in lessons (at mounted patrol training, yes, for sure).  Flash was very heavy on the forehand and he braced like crazy.  Pistol does neither.  And Brett rides well now, he's not the novice he was when he got Flash.

Pistol and Brett are really good together.  Happy, relaxed and connected. He has two more days at the clinic; two more lessons with Mark.  I'll  keep you posted.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Change in the Weather

And, a change in plans.

The weather forecast for the weekend was cloudy Friday night with a slight chance of very light rain Saturday after 11am.  Our plan was to ride Saturday morning before 11am.

Instead, we were awakened at 3:30 am by crashes of thunder following flashes of lightening that brightened our bedroom like a strobe light.  Between the thunder claps, we heard rain coming down, hard.  At 7 when we went out to feed, the rain guage measured 1 1/2 inches.  I dumped it out and headed into the barn where Brett was mixing up the morning vitamin buckets.  It was still pouring rain and Brett was concerned about the lightening which was still streaking across the sky.

I gave the girls their buckets and brought Jackson out of the pasture to put on his trail boots.  He was drenched -- the girls would not let him in the run-in shed and he wouldn't leave them.  So, he stood just outside with the rain running off his neck and back.  While I put on his boots, I noticed that he was shivering.

I went back to the barn and found his winter blanket and grabbed a towel.  I rubbed him down (felt kind of silly rubbing down a horse while standing out in the rain) and then put on his blanket.  Before going back in the house, I checked the rain guage again.  In 40 minutes we had received almost another half inch.

Needless to say, we didn't ride.

Instead, I made a brown butter apple tart to take to our friends that evening.  We were invited for dinner and I had volunteered to bring dessert.  I was going to make an apple cobbler but since I had the whole day ahead of me, I decided to make the tart -- which involved a lot of time.

After mixing the dough, it spent Friday night in the refrigerator.  I rolled it out between two sheets of plastic wrap and then it went back in the refigerator for another 30 minutes.

Next I took off one piece of plastic wrap and inverted it into my tart pan.  I took the rest of the plastic wrap off, trimmed it -- and put it back in the refrigerator for an hour.  The dough was made with a lot of butter, sticky and soft when warm.

Then I baked the crust; filled it with apples; made a custard filling of browned butter, vanilla, sugar and eggs -- and poured that on top.  It went back into the oven to bake.

After cooling for two hours, I removed the pan and we went off to dinner.  Yum!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Whips and Spurs

I've worn spurs or carried a dressage whip in the past, with other horses.  When I was a kid riding western and bareback, we slapped our reins against the horse's shoulder or butt to get them to go.  Dressage is a bit more refined than the riding I did back then.  The dressage whip operates more like an extension of your arm -- a little tap here or there to help the horse understand where or what to move.  The spurs used in dressage are short, blunt stubby things -- a far cry from the fancy rolly jingle jangle ones worn by cowboys and cowgirls.  With all of my previous horses, I've carried a whip and have not worn spurs.  The exception was Auke, my Friesian.  I used both, at the same time, to keep him going.  He was a big, black, beautiful slug.

In general, I have avoided spurs because I didn't want to inadvertantly poke the horse.  My feet tend to do the airplane thing -- toes pointing out and my heel (and the spur) pointing in.  The position of my leg has improved over the years but I still worried.  And, I certainly didn't want to poke my extremely sensitive mare.  She would have a lot to say about that and I'm sure it wouldn't be pleasant.

When I first bought Lucy, I needed neither.  She's naturally forward and with eight months of full time training with Sandy, she was very responsive.  She still is, most of the time.  The only exception, is when she is in heat.  Then she's sluggish and grumpy and resistant.  A few months ago, I started carrying a whip when she was in heat.  I think I tapped her lightly once.  In general, though, I never had to use it.  She knew I was carrying it and that was enough.

I've always thought that I have quiet hands.  Quiet enough for Jackson or even Winston.  But, as I learned at Sandy's workshop a few weeks ago, not quiet enough for Lucy.  I've been working on eliminating any "noise" -- fidgeting, adjusting, crossing my hands over the withers.  The thing is, when I carry a whip it is hard for me to get everything coordinated AND quiet.  I have much steadier contact with the reins if there isn't a whip in my hand.

Sunday morning, I pulled out my spurs and slipped them onto my boots.  I swung onto Lucy's back being verrrrry careful not to poke her.  I made sure that my toes and heels were correct and we walked off.  Lucy was in a sleepy, mellow mood and not very responsive to my leg.  She ambled more than she walked.  I gave a squeeze with my upper calf -- the response was so small that it hardly registered.  I turned my heel towards her and gave a very gentle nudge.  She flew forward in a big trot.  ...and we continued on to have an excellent ride.  I never used the spur again; I didn't need it.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Evil Kersey Dog

Sunday, Brett and I went to lunch with friends at one of the local wineries.  Unless we are going to be gone in the evening (when Kersey would chase skunks), we leave her on the property and not locked up.  She sleeps on the front porch couch, chews on sticks, and lounges in the barn.  Sometimes, we will find a glove on the front lawn or a tennis shoe in the driveway.  But, she never chews things (other than sticks) so we don't worry about her being out.

While we waited for our friends to pick us up, I sat on the front porch reading a French magazine.  When the front gate opened, I closed the magazine, put my reading glasses in their case, and then set the glass case on top of the magazine so it wouldn't blow away, on the side table by the chair.  I do this often; if I know I will be returning to the magazine or book or my iPad after doing something else.

When we arrived home, we found my magazine in shreds on the porch.  There was a trail of colorful, glossy confetti going from the back door around the side of the house, and over to my chair.  Laying next to the shredded pile of magazine at the side of the house, were my glasses (prescription, of course).  The wire frames were pulled wide and the lenses were smudged from her nose.  When I washed them, I found that two big chunks of the lens were chipped out.  I put them on and all I could see was a big blurry spot where the chips were.

The loss of the magazine was hard to take.  I have a subscription and the magazine comes every other month.  I was barely half-way through the Sept/Oct issue.  It's an expensive magazine; shipped to me from France.  I use it to improve my French vocabulary but I also really enjoy the articles -- current news, interviews, and travel/cultural articles.  I hadn't gotten to the short story or the food section yet.  You understand my despair.

And, she looks like such a sweet dog.  It's a facade, I tell you.  Fake.  She's evil.

Okay, she's not evil and I still love her to death.  This is the first time, in her five years, that she has destroyed/chewed something.  Maybe I should cut her some slack.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

All Over the Place

Last weekend, my ride on Lucy was a weird mix of sluggish mare and
"what was that noise?"
"It's leaf blowers, Lucy, the same as you hear all the time at Marv's house."
"But this isn't coming from Marv's house.  This is different.  It might be a troll with a leaf blower."
We worked on prompt transitions -- most were fairly prompt and a couple were excellent.  Mostly I dealt with a sluggish trot interspersed with high headed looky behavior.  She was a lot of work.
I made a mental note to wear spurs the next time I rode.

Saturday, I fetched Lucy from the pasture after breakfast so we could ride before leaving for Pistol's play date.  She walked calmly beside me but she gave the trailer a hard stare.  It was hooked to the truck, parked in front of the barn, and the rear door was open.  At the tie rail, she wouldn't stand still.  She pooped, she scooted, she pooped again.  She could hear Brett moving around in the barn.
"You're taking me somewhere; aren't you?"
"No, Lucy. The trailer is out for Pistol"
"I don't believe you."  And she pooped twice more.
She heard Brett open a door in the trailer.
"I knew it!  You are taking me somewhere!  I don't want to go.  I don't want to leave.  You can't make me.  Get that saddle away from me. No, I won't stand still." ...and she pooped yet again.
I think she pooped six times while I tried to tack her up.  She scooted right, she scooted left, she pawed... It was exhausting.
I decided to lunge her before getting on.
Holy crap -- I had a fire breathing dragon on the end of the lunge line.  She crowhopped and bucked and carried on for quite awhile.
"I won't go!  I tell you, I won't go!  This is what I think of your stinkin' trailer."
--"but, Lucy, you aren't in the trailer.  You have a saddle on and we are in the arena."
"It's a trick."
I did eventually get her to settle down.  We worked on prompt transitions, we worked until she let it go and relaxed; until she was listening to me and giving me immediate transitions, both up and down.
Then we were out of time so I put her back in her pasture and Brett put Pistol in the trailer.  Sheesh.

Today, Lucy dozed at the tie rail while I tacked her up.  The trailer door was closed.  She wasn't worried in the least.  Our ride was as awesome as could be.  Her walk trot transitions were effortless and executed with a lovely surge of power from behind into my hand.  Since she was relaxed, we worked on canter.  Again, lovely prompt transitions.  I listened and she kept me honest (gotta love a mare).
Head coming up a tad, tensing "Knock it off with the hands; relax already.  I need some room."
--oops, sorry.
And I'd relax my shoulders, make my arms heavy and following -- and regulate our tempo with my seat.
"You're doing it again."
--its not on purpose; I'm getting better - right?
"Yes, but I want perfection; total harmony and happiness.  You with me?"
-- Yes, Lucy.  Absolutely.

We finished and Brett said "That's the nicest canter I've ever seen you have on her."  I smiled and told him we had had a good conversation about canter.  She really is the best teacher.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Pistol's Play Day

Windows to my Soul had a play day today.  The arena was open for volunteers and friends to bring their horses and play.  I packed a lunch and Brett loaded Pistol in the trailer.

They rode in the arena first.  Pistol was a bit bothered by the bright sun -- she tosses her head, involuntarily, in bright sunlight.  Brett had put her sunglasses on (fly mask) but she still tossed her head a couple times.  Other than that (and it isn't much of an issue), Pistol was stellar.  I know.  She's always stellar.

After they were done playing in the arena, the whole group went for a walk around the small lake (very small with the drought).

Brett rode Pistol, Chrissy rode Sierra, and the rest of us walked.

It was a beautiful ride for Brett and a beautiful walk for me.

Even Lance, the resident miniature donkey, joined us.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Random Friday

1.  New siding is up on the back side of the house.  It just needs to be painted.  No big deal, you say, Brett likes to paint and he's very meticulous.  ... except... Brett is afraid of heights and this is a two story house.  He could paint the lower part, no problem, but the top half is going to require help.

2.  We now have a handrail for the steps at the front porch going to the driveway.  They are strange stairs; narrow, steep with a funny half fall at the bottom.  Brett and I have both fallen and friends have tripped as well.  Now, we have a hand rail so we don't have to hold our breath whenever someone goes down those stairs.

3.  The porch extension is finished as well (Brett just needs to paint it).  Brett watched the guys take out the old back door porch -- he thought it would involve smashing and prying.  They lifted one corner with their hands and the whole thing came off.  It felt flimsy -- and it was.  Now, we can go in and out easily, and reach the wrap-around porch with out plonking down to the ground and then scrambling back up to the porch.

4.  We did have an unanticipated repair.  When the workers looked at the electrical breaker box to install siding around it, they noticed that there was a pipe leaving the box, with wire (heading to the barn).  The bottom of the box had been cut so the wire could go through, into the pipe.  But the metal, where it had been cut, was jagged and it had frayed the electric wire.  The wall around the wire was black from sparks.  When they jiggled the pipe, there were more sparks -- and then the wire severed and power was lost to the barn.  Thank goodness they found the frayed wire -- how long had it been sparking in there?  Our bedroom is right above the breaker box.  If it had caught the house on fire, we would have been in a world of hurt.  An electrician came out, shook his head in disbelief, and fixed it.  This repair falls under the category -- "fix one thing, find ten more."

5.  We had a little bit of rain (half an inch) a week ago.  I thought Jackson would be okay without his trail boots so I didn't mess with putting them on in the dark after work.  Sure enough, he started limping as soon as the rain stopped.  I put the boots on at that point and in a couple of days he was walking fine.  I took them off the day before yesterday -- we've been dry for a week now -- and he is marching around, doing Lucy's bidding.
Kerseyf, on the front porch, guarding the kayaks

Friday, October 2, 2015

Random Friday

1.  Rain!  We finally got measurable rain.  We had gentle rainfall Wednesday night and Thursday; a total of half an inch.  The horses all promptly rolled and, Jackson especially, are filthy.  We sat in the house Thursday evening listening and smiling; the oak leaves were wet and fragrant underfoot when we did the chores, and the chickens scratched like mad in their yard.

2.  Rain meant that construction stopped for a day on the new siding.  Remember when we had to remodel the master bathroom due to the shower leaking through the ceiling?  During that constructions, we discovered that water was also leaking and running down the inside of the exterior wall.  When the drywall was cut out to move plumbing around, there was daylight shining through gaps and bulges in the warped siding.  We are animal lovers, yes, but the idea of wasps and rodents taking up residence in the walls was not a happy thought.  The backside of the house has no overhang and it takes a beating from the weather.  The entire backside of the house is getting new, fire resistant (concrete) siding.

3.  Do you see the back door "porch" and steps?  Very small and rickety.  We are replacing them as well.  The wrap-around porch will continue it's wrap from the side of house (closest to the camera but not in the picture), turn the corner and go to the back door.  Steps will lead from the edge of the porch to the driveway.  You can't see it in this photo but the current porch/landing is actually pulling away from the house.  It has never felt safe/sturdy and it will be a huge relief to see it go.

4.  Thanks to everyone for their supportive comments about Lucy and I.  We share an amazing bond; stronger and different from that I've ever had with a horse.  We are friends (is that weird?), we understand each other, we love to be together -- even if it is just hanging out in the pasture.  She trusts me completely and I'm careful to always be fair when I ride her.  She's a great teacher -- I've never sat straighter or been quieter with the aids in my life.  I have learned to be a more tactful rider and she has learned to be relaxed and accepting/trusting of the contact.  When we first started working together, asking for canter was an act of faith.  She always went -- but I never knew if it was going to be a high headed race or relaxed.  Now, it is relaxed 95% of the time.  Soft shoulders and soft elbows have been key; she's a bit claustrophobic so my relaxed, heavy arms give her space in the contact.  I can't thank Sandy enough for teaching me how to ride this "ambitious" horse.

5.  Brett and I plan to ride tomorrow.  The arena sand should be perfect after the rain.  We have a possibility of more rain, beginning Saturday night, so Sunday is a question mark.  Brett and Pistol will be going down to the Mark Rashid clinic in a few weeks and I want to cement everything I learned at Sandy's workshop in my brain and my body.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Clinic Video

Watching dressage is a lot like watching grass grow or paint dry.  It is not the most exciting equestrian sport for sure.  But for you hard-core dressage enthusiasts (like me), here is a link to my evaluation ride -- our first ride -- at the clinic.  It is circles and circles and circles.  Lucy doesn't look as tense in the video as she felt -- except for the canter work at the end.  She really throws her head around and worries in those transitions.  The spook-scoot-buck happens just past the 24 minute mark.

Sandy teaches transitions from your seat.  The idea was for me to ask when one of her front legs was on the ground by squeezing with my calf.  Additionally, Sandy teaches us to never brace; she does not want the supple movement of the horse's back to be compromised.  In the transition, the leg which hangs softly against the side of your horse squeezes with the upper calf and stills -- a pause in the following movement of the lower leg.  Eventually, this momentary stillness becomes the primary aid.  Thinking about the canter aid, we slide our outside leg back -- kind of a windshield wiper movement.  But, we also slide that leg back for leg yield, half pass and other upper level movements.  The stilling of your leg says "transition", your upper calf says "now", and your hand receives the energy with a light ring-finger half halt before and after the transition.

My biggest take-away from this clinic (and there were many) was the expectation of prompt clear transitions between gates.  I had been asking for my downward transition from trot to walk by sitting, slowing my seat, sitting a bit heavier and we gently dropped into walk.  Nope.  Not any more.  We need to transition from an active trot to an active walk and it has to be Bam!  Part of what we worked on in the video was teaching Lucy that when I sit the trot it doesn't mean slow down.  I have her conditioned to think we are going to gradually make the transition.  The same is true for the walk to trot, upward, transition.  A gradual build to a forward trot isn't acceptable anymore.  She's not a young, green horse (all I've ever owned before Lucy).  She can go from zero to sixty in a stride; I need to expect that (and be comfortable with the surge of power).  As Sandy said, Lucy is an "ambitious" horse -- she likes to go; forward is not a challenge (relaxation and patience are).

By Sunday morning, Lucy and I were in sync.  She felt amazing -- controlled power, like driving a Ferrari (well, I've never driven one, but one can imagine).

I love, love, love this horse.  And, the workshop was awesome.  Even with the heat and the stinky cat-pee smelling fly bait dousing, it was awesome.