Monday, April 30, 2012

Beating the Wind

Between June of 2008 and August of last year, I rode every day that I could, and always before 8:30 a.m. I learned relatively early on in my years here at the Farm that the weather is generally most stable from 7-9 in the morning and about the same hours (maybe a bit earlier) in the evening.  After 11 a.m. for certain, the winds pick up, and conditions change rapidly thereafter, not usually settling down again until after the sun has been past its zenith for several hours.

This weather pattern is shaped entirely by geography. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my memory are the 9th grade Earth Science terms to describe what we experience, but I can't quite bring them up, though I know I learned them.  Basically, the Farm sits on a wide, flat expanse between the river flats at 600' above sea level and a 1600' hill to the west. When the sun has been up for a few hours, and has heated up the earth here at bottom of the hill, the warmed air above the Farm starts to rise.  As this air rises, cold air from the mountain elevations sweeps down across the Farm, creating a pretty steady breeze from west to east.  This happens regularly, independent of any larger weather patterns sweeping through the region.  Add any upper-level disturbances or moving fronts, and things get wooly around here!
Google topo map.  Note the steep eastern face of the hill 200 meters to our west.

So, the only way to be certain of getting a ride in, even in quiet weather, is to do it early in the morning before the localized geographic weather situation starts rolling.  For a variety of reasons through the fall of last year and into the spring of 2012, I'd let myself forget about this.  I took that extra 30 minutes of sack time and dozed through Morning Edition until it was really time to get up and start the day.  I've been doing horse chores and school work and other silly things in the mornings, thinking I'd get some work in later in the day.

And I've been rained out/winded out/pooped out a good 87% of the time.

But this morning I hauled my buns out of bed and into the shower at 5:30, had my breakfast, did some stretching for my 40-something body, and got myself down to the barn at 7:00.  I was on Celby and enjoying the fantastic early sunshine and crisp, frosty footing in a quiet, non-windy atmosphere by 7:45.  It was heavenly from beginning to end, a perfect morning for a ride.  By 10:30, after I'd cleaned stalls and while I was filling pasture troughs, the wind was whipping, the sky clouding up with evaporated moisture from the warming Earth, and we were clearly losing the best part of the day.

I'm still planning to try to get Sherm longed later this afternoon, after some school work and other silly things, but I am so, so glad to have beaten the winds by working first thing.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

That's Right... He's a More-gan...

Between the weather and my first semester back at the college teaching grind, it's been tough this spring to get started working with the Bay Boy Wonder on any sort of consistent basis.  The week I really did get serious about things, I discovered that his saddle isn't fitting anywhere close to satisfactorily, a realization that really took the wind out of the sails of my training plans for the spring.

Tacking up as the sun set after dinner
Last weekend, after another month had gone by without hearing back from the saddle fitter, I elected to bail on my plans to take Sherm to the clinic with Michelle LaBarre.  It breaks my heart to miss it (from the saddle; I'll be there auditing), but I'd much rather postpone LaBarre-level work until I know the BBW is comfortable and has no legitimate excuse to object to any requests I make of him.  Our back-up saddle fitter was called this week, and we have an appointment for a full fitting/adjustment/flocking on May 14th, but that's a full week after the clinic.  So I will attend as an auditor, take lots of notes, and after that, we'll get to work.

We workin'?  I'm ready.
Until then, and as an intermediate step, I did get Sherm a Mattes pad, and have adjusted the shims to fill the gap where the saddle is bridging adequately for light walk work.  For trot and canter, he's back on the longe, without a rider.  And even this isn't easy right now-- I'm dealing with a wicked case of tendinitis in my right elbow, something I've let get ahead of me through the winter.  As I've tried to accommodate it and change the way I work with heavy things, I've strained about every bit of soft tissue between my shoulder and my fingers on my right hand, while seriously over-working my left.  So managing the longe line in one hand and the longe whip in the other has proven really difficult; managing with any semblance of correct timing and authority (both necessary in training) has proven impossible.  I have had to modify my approach to something I'm calling Natural Classical-- I'm working in the longe ring (round pen) instead of the arena in order to prevent bolt-away ya-yas from yanking my lousy elbow.  I've got him on a longe line, which I find useful in communicating the half-halts necessary to move him off his forehand.  I'm driving him forward with a 42" dressage whip and body language.  (Any more whip weight hanging off the end of my hand is ridiculously painful.)  So we look a cowboy, redneck mess out there.  But hey, some work is better than no work, I think, so I'm giving it a go.

Between yesterday afternoon and this evening, we worked two days in a row for the first time all spring, and wow, what a difference. I am happier this evening with his work than I have been in months.  I feel a complete tool for having forgotten three things:
  • This is his first spring coming back to saddle work after a winter off; while his body will come back to fitness and balance, he doesn't have the experience to trust that the way the older horses do, so he's been a little frustrated and distracted by his own lack of coordination.
  • He's a Morgan.  They're not, ever, once-a-week horses.  I should know this after four years of Celby making me pay for every lapse in our work.  Work every day, and I have an amazing, steady, will-run-through-fire-for-me horse.  Let three days go by between sessions, and he's never heard of me;  I have to earn it all over again...
  • He's Sherman, so more work is always the better bet-- it is a very rare experience to have backing off / asking less / taking a break be the proper remedy for whatever is ailing him.  Push him harder through it, and 95% of the time, he drops the silliness.

Twilight with the BBW

So, we worked yesterday, and it was meh.  We worked again tonight, and within 10 minutes, he was engaging, driving from the hind end, and working through his back.  He had regained much of his fleet-footed balance, even to the right (which is so hard for him), and he was happy and attentive in his work (compared to yesterday's frustrated and temperamental).

It's been a long, intermittent winter and spring, with many bouts of frustration and doubt.  Tonight I see light again, and it's all worth it all over again...

I done good; I know how!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Abstract Shermanism

Lookin' at me

Still Lookin'

Untying my shoe...


Gimme kiss!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Go Fly a Kite!

We have been complaining for over a week now about the ridiculously windy weather.  While March felt a lot like June, it seems April wants to be a lot like March.  Steady winds, gusty winds, tree-breaking scary winds-- we've had it all.  Today is another day too windy to enjoy outdoors, so I've been driven inside to do some spring cleaning.  While rooting through the tote full of "vacation camping supplies" (which I may never use again) I came across our beach kite.  Well... wind... boredom... and viola!  I literally went out and flew a kite!

And what, you ask, did the Bay Boy Wonder think of this?

He thought it was cool.

He thought it was colorful.

He thought it made an interesting crinkly sound.

And after about ten minutes of humoring me, he thought it was time to light out for the territories.

All in all, a fun diversion on another windy day...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

For the third day in a row, it is spectacularly beautiful out there-- bright blue skies and plenty of sunshine-- but wickedly cold.  The wind is coming straight out of the north at a steady 10mph, with occasional bursts of 15+mph.  It's cold: bone-chilling, hand-chapping cold out there.

So I'm not on a horse today...or yesterday...or the day before.  I've played with some, and spent a good bit of time grooming Sherman (twice) yesterday.  But I'm doing so in the barn, out of the wind, and (if I'm lucky), in a spot where the sun is shining through.  I took some video today, and you can hear the wind in the microphone when I turn towards the north:

(I used youtube's "image stabilization" editing feature to eliminate a bit of the camera-shake caused by the wind.  I see now that it does unnatural things to horses' legs.  Sherm is handy, but he's not quite this physics-defying!)

The best place to be today was here, on the leeward side of the barn, lying low in the sun-warmed grass while I filled the pasture #1 water trough:

I sat here quite happily watching the horses nap and/or graze for about 15 minutes.  I can't express how tremendously satisfied I feel when a horse comes over to get a drink from the freshly-filled trough.

Sparky goes for the fresh water.

And even happier when she stays to visit...

Sparky visits.

Maybe tomorrow it will be a bit less windy, and I'll get out there and enjoy a different aspect of these amazing creatures.