Friday, March 30, 2012

I Get on a Horse and Sherm Gets Pretty

Today was a horse day again for the first time in a long time.  I've let other things get between me and my equine time quite a bit these last few weeks; the usual laundry list of things-- work, family commitments, wintertime airborne illnesses, etc.  Of late, I have had a good bout of tendinitis in my right elbow, which has manifested in elbow pain, shoulder pain, wrist pain, neck pain... you know, the usual compensatory shift that takes place when one joint goes down... they all start hurting sooner or later.

But this pain has been a real nuisance just as we hit shedding season-- using a shedding blade and or curry on the beasties has been excruciating, and so, frankly, I've just not done it.  The thought of going through the entire grooming and tacking routine and then having enough arm strength left to actually hold the reins on a frisky spring Morgan?  Oy, fuggetaboutit.

But today I forged ahead and did it, getting in a good depilation on Uncle Celby; he was half the pony after the grooming that he was before it!  We had a nice ride, and I'm sure I'll be sore in the loins tomorrow, as we did quite a bit of toodling around without stirrups.  My legs were certainly longer after the ride than before.

I discovered late in the afternoon that my wrist/elbow/shoulder/neck didn't hurt any more after two hours of work on Celby than they had any other day this week, so I forged ahead and grabbed Sherman for a little beauty session.  The pictures I posted on Wednesday are sitting there, showing him at his scraggly, shedding winter coat, long goat hair worst.  Tendinitis be damned, it's time to get the boy pretty again.

So I got him out, and what a pisser for grooming.  Every other horse in the barn leans into the grooming this time of year, just begging to have the itchies addressed.  Sherman, well, he has different ideas.  He's a swinging baboon in the cross ties, and cannot stand still...

Winter coat, 4" of tail, various whiskers
...until I start the clippers.  The minute the electric clippers go on, he listens attentively and looks at them longingly.  Apply them to his muzzle, and he drops in to an instant coma.  For no reason known to man, he is sedated, soothed, and satisfied by the buzz of the clippers on his muzzle, at the edge of his folded ears, along his jawline, down his fetlocks... the boy just can't get enough clippering.  He sometimes zigs when he shouldn't, and ends up with a nick or woobity spot here or there in his coat, but not because he's jerking away, rather because he's leaning too deliciously into the clippers and they dig deeper than I meant them to.

Stop clippering, go back to a brush or a curry?  Wigglebomb.  Start the clippers again?  Sleeping baby.  It's fascinating.
I swear he's asking me to roach his mane...

And my right arm is feeling like all this non-mucking/non-water-bucket-hauling work was good for it today, so maybe I'll give that some thought...  

Just a few stray whiskers...



Yes, yes I am handsome!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring Again

Two weeks ago, and through last week, it was 75-80 degrees here.  Inappropriate for mid-March, but of course we got used to it.  So when it was 20 degrees yesterday morning, on the way to a high of 40, we were all miserable.  (Okay, maybe the horses weren't miserable...)  Today it is 60+ with a steady breeze, spring again.  Unfortunately, the black flies are out with the sun...

His Bay-ness Approacheth

Dang black flies in my ears!

Maybe Moon can give me a grooming...

Dang black flies again!
Hey, how about a snack?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sherman in Love

Well it has finally happened... the Bay Boy Wonder has developed an interest in girls.

Gelded a full month before his first birthday because he could not handle testosterone, Sherman has never really shown much interest in the ladies on the farm, try as they might to attract his attention.  He has always been up for a game of bite-face, or a good race around the pasture, but once the girls stopped running, or made it clear that their faces were not what they wanted him playing with, well, he rather lost interest and wandered off.

Now, though, a certain 4 year old Standardbred filly has his full attention.  She came off the track to board with us last summer, and has been struggling to re-establish a regular, normal heat cycle after the two years on hormone therapy her racing lifestyle had required.  She is often cycling, and cycling hard, so she seeks attention nearly all the time.

At the same time, she is experiencing her first spring on green grass, and a daytime routine where she is left to her own devices, and not on a trainer's schedule.  The combination of spring weather, green grass, and the filly-sillies has her running and bucking, jumping and frisking in a completely Sherman-luring fashion.

So they began about two weeks ago, running up and down the fenceline between their pastures, Sherm delighted to have someone closer to his own age and fitness level to play with, much closer than the two 28 year old grouchy geldings with whom he pastures.  Running led to stopping and nuzzling (well, with Sherm it's still a bit more a game of grab yer halter!, but even he has slowed down and started nibbling nicely) and just kind of hanging out, grazing near one another.

Tonight it was clear that the Boy is smitten.  When I went to the gate and called for Celby, who gave a buck and a kick and came a-runnin' at turn-in time, Sherman waited at the fence, at the far end of the pasture, with his girl for a long, long time before giving her an apologetic glance and then barreling up the pasture to the gate.  He was so far behind, he didn't (for once) catch up to (and pass) aged Celby, who thought he was pretty hot stuff, leading the herd in for the evening.

So the Bay Boy Wonder has a girlfriend.  The baby is growing up...
Big Bay Boy Wonder only hangs out with me when I have carrots...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sherman C.S.I.

Very nice lunge and long-lining session with Sherman today.  (The boy does like to be in front; driving is going to be a blast with him!)

He did find this, however, buried in the arena sand:
Right hind foot and tail of some large rodent

It was pretty creepy, and it didn't want to come out.  Originally, I thought it was a full carcass, some burrowing animal that had burrowed in the not-frozen arena sometime recently and died there.  

After our work was done, I went back with a shovel and discovered it was only the back half of a carcass. (Muskrat? Possum?  Without a head and discolored from the stone dust, it was hard to identify...note: further research reveals it to have been, almost certainly, a muskrat.)  So I suspect Mr. or Ms. Rodent of Uncomfortable Size was deposited in our arena for safe-keeping by some clever canid (Coyote?  Fox?  Wild dog?) sometime fairly recently.  Sorry, Fido, your snack has been relocated.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

@*$#! Morgan Saddle Fit

Yeah, so I found out what might have been at the root of Sherman's temper tantrum the other night... he has changed shape (and grown, again) over the winter, and the saddle I struggled all last summer to find and finally got him is now bridging in the middle.  Shermy don't play that, and he told me so in no uncertain terms this morning, but with a level of quiet communication that I actually heard-- he flinched away from it as I set it on him, tipping me off that something was up.  Friday night, he was quiet through the tacking up and didn't flip out until we started working, which wasn't clear enough for my dense head.

Sherm has grown over the winter, growing withers for the first time in his life, and extending at the neck, revealing his UVM breeding-- now, that's "Saddlebred pollution of the gene pool" to some Foundation Morgan enthusiasts, but I kind of like the influence, being somewhat partial to the breed.  All the purist discussion aside, what has emerged is a bit more wither, a long neck, and an ability to parade about like a peacock.  Park horse people would be bonkers over this fancypants, but we aren't going there.

In addition to growing, he has lost some of his fitness, as have they all, over the winter, and he has managed to develop a bit of an inverted topline, due both to a lack of work and a lazy postural adaptation to his changing frame.   So instead of the coffee-table back he has had his whole baby horse life, he's now got this slight TB wither and exaggerated (for a Morgan) curve behind it.  Thus, the saddle that once sat so happily on his flatter back today bridges enough for me to slip some fingers under it in the middle.

I have faith (blind faith, out of an attempt to ward of panic/despair/suicidal thoughts) that the saddlefitter can make some adjustments to the stuffing fore and aft, and fill in the panels right at the low spot enough to meet us in a happy middle.  I must believe this, or I will probably give up on ever having a Morgan saddle horse and turn all my attention to driving.  Not that driving is a bad thing, and not that Sherman won't love it (he will; I am certain), but I have enough going on right now; shifting gears this hard this week is going to break my brain.

For today's work I put a sheepskin saddle pad under the saddle, and that seemed to take the pressure off enough to keep him happy for some pretty good lunge work and a bit of light riding.  The saddle moves with him well enough at the walk, but when he lifts his head for balance at the trot (which he needs to stop doing anyway-- more lunge work with side reins is already on our to-do list), it bridges and then he braces to get away from it, making the bridging worse.  So on the lunge we worked on good, through trot work with his neck long and low, and we stuck to a walk once I got on.  For this, the sheepskin pad moderated things enough for him to find a comfortable middle ground.

In addition to my faith in the saddle fitter, who will be here the first or second week of April, I have faith as well that I can put the boy back on the lunge (and use the surcingle rather than the saddle that doesn't fit) and begin to get him fitted back up some, developing more of that topline that he's missing right now.  It is my fervent (read: desperate) hope that between my work with him and the saddle fitter's work with the saddle, that we will meet in the middle and avoid a complete nervous breakdown on my part.

Either that, or I'm going to start shopping training harnesses, for I am most certainly fed up with shopping saddles...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mama Said There'd Be Days Like These

So that was awful.

Due to the morning rain and a pile of course prep work I needed to get out of the way in order to cruise in to a nice weekend, I didn't get Sherm out first thing.  That is nearly always a mistake, and tonight was the penultimate example of said mistake.

I brought him in about an hour earlier than everyone else to let him get some hay in his tummy and then took him out for grooming while everyone else was just starting in to their dinners.  He was fine with the grooming, quite happy with it, actually, as it was 75 today, and his winter coat is still hanging in there.  Itchy and full of dinner, he was quite happy to let me scrape away the loose hair and dust.

Tacking up was good, too.  He even sought the bit when I put the bridle on his face, a new willing eagerness this season.  All good so far!

But the lunge work went straight to hell.  He bucked; he dug deep holes as he bolted into the canter and then out of the canter into a gallop (a cow-gallop at that) and so on...and so on. Usually the trick with Sherman when he's got the ya-ya's is to push him on just a bit, make him work harder at it.  Well, tonight he had the stamina and the balance to work as harder as I could push him, and then the inevitable happened-- he got sweaty.

Very sweaty.  Lathered, actually.  And once he was sweaty, he got cranky.  And once he was cranky, it was the end of a long day, and though the lights were on, nobody was home.  He was merely 900 lbs of sweaty horse flesh, no brain, no soul.  Just angry.  So that didn't go anywhere good.

I quit the lungeing once it became clear that he could run all night, but with nothing good to come of it.  I pulled off his saddle and left it on the rail, knowing I'd need to take it into the house (right by the ring) for cleaning, and so didn't need to have him carry it back to the barn just so I could carry it back up to the house.  This ignited the slightest flicker of his attention.

Then we worked on in-hand manners.  Walking, trotting, halting squarely in hand.  It was enough challenge, and cooler enough that he seemed to grow back if not a brain, then at least a brain stem.  He was polite and correct, if neither thrilled nor all that brilliant.  It was a reasonable finish to a session that had all the hallmarks of absolutely worthless disaster.

Lots of factors here, a whole list of things we did out of the ordinary that may have been at play:

  • 75 degrees on March 16th, and a young horse with most of his winter coat still on
  • Didn't lunge in side reins, a tool Sherman has shown great confidence in and reliance upon (just lazy; I hadn't gotten them out, and by the time I realized it, I figured, "meh, he won't need them"-- wrong)
  • Working at the end of the day; not our usual time, and most certainly not my best; maybe not his, either
  • Feeding before working; I figured this was about the same as our usual summer routine, where he works right after breakfast, but perhaps he figured differently
  • Another young horse working in another ring; all the other horses in for the night-- distraction?  Paranoia?  Cougars in the bushes?  Vorpal rabbits if nothing else.
So, there are factors, shit I did wrong.  But there's also Sherman, who is almost five, and may just have been having an almost five day.  Sometimes that's just how it goes.  It goes this way so rarely with Sherm, though, that I guess I'm spoiled.  

Mama said there'd be days like these, but I have to be honest-- there aren't very many of them.  So I guess I'll count my blessings and try again tomorrow.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Eight Weeks to Season's Start

And here it is, the announcement of what has come to be an annual event for me-- the Michelle LaBarre Clinic at Fingerlakes Morgans.  Two days of butt-busting serious equestrian education... butt-busting not only for the 45-minutes in the saddle each day, being pushed to my limits (for I've not yet met the limits of one of my Morgan steeds at this clinic; my own are met soooo much more quickly than theirs), but also for the hours of spectating on bleachers meant for butts much younger than mine.  I should get up, walk away, and go do something else before and after riding, but Michelle provides such interesting instruction, tailored specifically to each riding pair, that it's impossible (and ridiculously wasteful) to leave the room.

Michelle teaching me on Celby at the 2011 Clinic
Riders and horses of all levels of experience and training offer the opportunity to listen in on work years above my level, or to get good, solid reminders about some of the basics for both horse and rider.  In years past, I've ridden different schoolmasters; this year, it's Sherm's turn.  So it'll be green-green-green.  But I'm from an Indycar background, and that green-green-green is a good thing, a positive thing, an all-clear signal, let's go, let's get back to the action.

So, we've got eight weeks, Sherm.  Let's go!



Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Think-Think-Think

Fifty-plus degrees and sunny out there this morning, so it was most definitely time to get Sherman out for something-- grooming, longeing, maybe some riding... something.

The grooming alone was not going to be satisfying since he was being a bit of a wiggly pain-in-the-butt worm.  He was clearly bored and ready for something to do, which, in Sherman parlance, translates into wiggle-wiggle-wiggle... There's none of the satisfying, soothing, easy communing side of grooming when it's Sherm in the cross ties.  It's a lot of brush-brush-SMACK...curry-curry-WHACK...untangle-untang-STOPIT!  The only thing he stands still for is having his tail brushed  (primarily out of vanity, I think-- he enjoys swishing it, and I think he likes the sound and cool cascade look of it being run-through with the mane and tail brush) and having his feet picked (this, I think, because he enjoys standing on three feet, and periodically tries to show off that he can stand on just two).  So, the grooming is work.

But, once the saddle is in place, and particularly once the bridle is on, he begins to grow a brain.

Today's longe work was particularly satisfying, as it was nearly self-directed. Sherm was working hard to find his own balance and to maintain good, through work for longer and longer periods of time.  He seemed to ask for more to try and appeared satisfied in his accomplishments.

The under-saddle work was a little less spectacular, due primarily to my absence from the saddle for too long.  I wasn't so hot, so he lost his focus pretty quickly, but we soldiered through to some mediocre work, which I can't complain about after a month off. 

But what impressed me most today, and usually does tickle me every time I work with him, is just how different he is in the cross ties after some work.  He is calm, quiet, and quite mature.  He has a majestic look about him as he is clearly thinking about the work he just did, thinking about what he liked about it, and what he wasn't happy with.  I am certain this is what he is thinking, for every time I take him back out within 48 hours of a session like this, he is better, as though he has been working it out in his brain while nibbling his hay.  He digests, and produces, and if we get back out there tomorrow or the next day, I know our work will be 50% better again.

So it is this moment that I work for, this transcendent moment with this adult horse stranger Sherman suddenly becomes after his workout.  He stands quietly, appreciates the grooming, and gives off an amazing aura of wise, generous horse.  It is remarkable and worth waiting for.  Someday, this will be how he is most of the time, but for now, I'm enjoying the snippets.

And then he tries to grab his lead rope all the way back to the pasture, and the moment is gone.  But I know he's out there thinking right now, in between rounds of Biteface with Moon, and I look forward to next time.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Shermaninja

Jake, the new Treeing Walker Coonhound adoptee, had been doing very well with his horse acclimation, keeping a safe, pleasant distance from the horses as we moved them around the farm for turnout and back in again.  He looked quite handsome, trotting along proudly with his equine friends.  The horses adapted to him quite well, also, and I was secretly ecstatic about this-- Jake could be the desensitizing influence to accustom Sherman to what, maybe, possibly, in some far-off future, could be his winter sport-- riding to hounds!  The long, lanky tri-color Coonhound bears a great resemblance to the Foxhounds that lead the field.

It was all going wonderfully until last Tuesday.

Jake got a little sassy, and a little too curious, and elected to trot up behind Sherman and sniff a hock.  Sherman, very calmly and matter-of-factly, suggested that no, you don't and swatted him away.  It was a gentle swat, not a full-on kick, or I'm sure the hound would be dead this week.  To the contrary, Jake came away without a scuff, a scrape, a swelling, or a bruise to anything besides his ego and equine confidence.  He came out fine, if humbled.

What did not come out fine was the electronic collar that keeps him contained inside the invisible fence.  Somehow that wily, handy, fleet-of-foot Sherman managed to just peg the 2" wide radio receiver box on the collar, deftly smashing it apart, like so:


Hiiii-YA!  One swift, light kick to the right spot, and we're $160 poorer to replace our knock-off collar. 

Thanks, Sherm.  You've got mad skills.  Expensive mad skills.  At least the hound made it out okay.  So much for desensitizing...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Right on Cue

...and I had no sooner finished the very first post on The Bay Boy Wonder's new blog when Sherman goes zooming by the window, playing with his friend, Moon, in the wind-driven snow.  I thought to myself, hey, snow... horses...that'll make a nice picture, and grabbed the camera.

Sherman, however, seemed to be saying, Snow?!  Come on, this is my blog-- let's give the people what they came for!  and gave us the following sample of his fancy footwork:

Sherm showing his balance and grace...

Perhaps it is just my imagination, but I do believe the Boy has inherited my sense of theatrical timing.  The dance moves he got from his dam.

Welcome to the Bay Boy Wonder

Spring riding is just around the corner, lurking there under the changeable skies and muddy footing.  Knowing that this is it, the first full season with Sherm the Germ started and working, I decided that it was time to give him his own dedicated blogspace.

And doesn't he deserve it?  He has known from the minute his feet hit the turf that he was destined for stardom, for his own fanbase, for a following.  His approach to life from day one has been HELLO!  I am SHERMAN!  You will want to KNOW ME!  Let's have FUN!

So, here it is, a place to share his triumphs and my own attempts to keep up with him.  His friends and family, his home and homelife will all continue to be chronicled, but he will really be the main attraction.  So here we go; let's have fun!