Monday, May 30, 2011

Save The Drama For Your Llama

Easier said than done, since I don't have a llama.

The run-up to Carriage House was fraught with much angst and turmoil. It all started with a well-meaning attempt at trailer loading. As I have alluded to before, trailer loading is not one of Royal's strong suits. Especially because of his tendency to freak out in the trailer, which causes a self-perpetuating cycle of doom. To wit:

1. Royal nervously gets in trailer
2. Royal freaks out
3. Royal does something that results in him removing hair or skin or both
4. Royal is even more nervous of trailer
5. Royal more likely to take more action that removes skin/hair/both...

And so on.

Saturday illustrated this concept clearly. Royal got in the trailer - and immediately wheeled around. Unfortunately, he forgot to avoid the head divider and smashed the right side of his face into it, and he looked like this:

Ouch. But, no blood and he wasn't particularly sensitive about it. And I created a new rule: he only comes out of the trailer if he's calm. Of course, if he absolutely freaks out and starts backing out, I won't stop him; doing so would only escalate the nervousness into panic, sheer bloody panic. Which I have experienced, and it is fun for no one. But otherwise, he has to do something like blink or sigh or lick his lips before I lead him out and I don't allow him to charge out. We walk out in a sane manner.

Spent about an hour at this and Royal was significantly calmer about the whole thing. Went to turn him out when the barn owner asked me check up on the young horse (Q) who has been Royal's buddy the entire winter: it was his first time with just Royal and another gelding and no mares. I find the Q soaked with sweat and the older gelding, mostly dry, at opposite ends of the paddock. All of a sudden, Q takes off, going for the gelding's throat. Now, this was a horse who was too submissive to be turned out with other horse besides Royal and all of a sudden he's starting fights. Royal trotted up to him, all loose and friendly, when Q tries to bite Royal's face. Okay, I think while standing by a tree, that was jerky. Royal tries to run away and goes on the opposite of the tree as me. Q chases after him and comes at me with teeth bared and everything. He changed direction to do it. So, that's when my thought process changed from "Jerk." to "Oh hell no!" I was able to catch Q and bring him into the arena to show my BO what happened, and Q went into a different paddock.

To be clear, I don't think Q is a mean horse. I just think he got himself overwrought because he saw the other gelding and Royal as competition for mares, even though none were there. I think he still has some maturing to do.

Sunday dawned bright and early, with me getting up at 5am in order to get everything ready and be at Carriage House by 7am. Well, my truck and trailer had other plans. I pull the trailer with a 17-year-old truck, which I found has a tendency to die in reverse if it isn't going fast enough. I thought it was totally broken, so I had to call my dad to help me. We were able to get the ball under the nose of the trailer, but the cement block we used to prevent the jack from sinking was too big; we couldn't get the trailer low enough to lock on the ball. It took a while to get that out and after connected everything else, we were ready to go. Royal, to his credit, loaded like a champ and we drove to Carriage House.

But the mishaps didn't stop there. I went into the wrong driveway at the show and got stuck in the mud. They ended up pulling me out with a tractor. I drove to the right place, turned in my registration stuff, walked my courses, and got Royal out of the trailer. Royal was his usual self: freaked out, yet curious. Which I could work with, and we had a nice warm-up. The jerk trainer who called Royal a "nag" last year was back, and parked himself in front of the vertical I was trying to warm-up over for a while. Finally, he realized other people needed to use the jump and moved into the open space between the jumps. Royal gave me a few deer leaps, but mostly good jumps.

So we went to the jumper ring, got in line, and did our first course. In a magnificent show of flaky-ness, I did the second course. I was supposed to be following the white-on-black numbers, but did the black-on-white numbers instead. Whoops. Didn't matter, since Royal saw a lot of demons in the jumps and we ended up having four or five refusals. The judge was nice and let me continue since this was a schooling show. The second course went a lot better, with no refusals until the second-to-last jump. You had the option of going up a bank or over a grey flower box covered in shrubbery. Royal doesn't have a lot of experience with banks so I went for the box, which Royal ended up not liking. It looked really weird, especially with the shadows from the shrubbery. Three refusals there, eliminated. But we had a strong finish over the last jump so I was more than happy.


Round 1:

Round 2:

All in all, a good day.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Pond Comes Back

And Royal and I go back in it.

We've had a bunch of rain here and the pond that Royal and I went swimming in came back. On Wednesday I went out to find it was quite big, twice the size of last time. I hopped on Royal bareback, and tried to ride him in. It took some approach and retreat, but eventually he walked in. It was a really shallow part, so he didn't need a lot of effort to get through it. We waded back and forth a couple of times. Then we went to the deeper part, which Royal was somewhat suspicious of. For good reason, as I found out, as the water was up to his chest and my jeans got very wet. He's a 16.1H leggy Anglo-Arab, so that means the water was around 3.5-4 feet deep. He didn't care; he started splashing which got me even more wet. A couple more passed in the deep water, and we were done for the day.

Today, I decided to focus on jumping and if there was time later, try for the water. We had a pretty good jumping session: Royal was mostly relaxed with a few rush-y jumps here and there, but it was good. If the weather holds out, we'll go the the Carriage House schooling show on Sunday. However, if there are thunderstorms, we'll stay home thankyewverymuch. But right now, I'm prepping like there won't be any storms. We'll see.

After the jumping was done, we went out to the pond. All saddled up and everything. Royal hesitated a bit, but walked straight in to the shallow part. Then the medium part and finally the deep part. He splashed us silly a few times, shook himself dry like a Labrador, and had a good time. I was able to film a couple of passes through the medium-depth part (thanks in incredibly flexible and sturdy camera stands):

Yes, this is the same horse who used to be afraid of his own urine and the same rider who used to be too scared to ride him. We've come a long way, baby.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Public Perceptions of Parelli People

I don't often tell people I'm a Parelli student. Not even the vet clinic I'm interning at.

Not because I'm embarrassed or anything, but mostly because I don't really see it as a good "political" move. When Parelli is mentioned in a "normal" horse context, it's almost never in a good way. It's often "those Parelli people are so stupid and gullible, paying $500 for a halter" or "That Parelli method is too soft. They just let the horse walk all over them; you gotta show 'em who's boss" or "The Parellis are abusive!" So, gullible, wussy, or abusive. None sound good.

None of these, of course, are true. None of the Parelli halters (or any other equipment for that matter) cost anywhere near $500. They teach people how to be effective without losing their tempers, and reject smacking/jerking as a one-size-fits-all correction. And the abuse charges are incidents that were way over blown by people who already hated Parelli. One "case" was an old video edited to look like a 4 minute Phase 4 with no release. I have the original video: it was part of the level 1. In the real video, the horse is running over the top of his owner, refusing to stand still, and not respecting the owner's or Linda's space; but Linda gives the horse plenty of release and time to come off the adrenaline. But, for ten minutes, the horse absolutely refuses to calm down and keeps doing the behaviors listed above. All of which make a dangerous horse, one which would caused many people to flail on his halter screaming "HO!!!!!" while he barged into them. I've seen it many times. The Catwalk thing was also way overblown: the horse was being dangerous to the point of knocking Pat's microphone off and was evaluated by a veterinarian afterwards, with no evidence of abuse found. As a side note, it was very interesting to see how many people leapt off the "Parelli is for pansies!" bandwagon onto the "Parelli is abusive" bandwagon in a very quick manner. So, what? Are we pansies who let our horses walk all over us or abusers leaving welts on their sides and breaking their jaws?

But, the damage is done and it gets done further every time a Parelli horse is not completely perfect behaved. Anytime a Parelli horse acts up, even in the tiniest manner and/or in ways that many "normal" horses act up each and every day, it's seen by many as a failure of the Parelli program. Is that fair? No, because horses aren't robots. Given the right circumstances, any horse can be dangerous. And for many horses, getting them to the point where they don't randomly explode (like Royal) or stand mostly still for the vet or farrier is a huge accomplishment. But it's a lot funner for the haters to focus on the fact that the horses aren't perfect, therefore Parelli is an expensive waste of time, Q.E.D.

In my short time with the clinic, I have already seen a few Parelli students. Most are people who have decently behaved horses. A couple have been "bad" but I have seen much worse, both from the people who hadn't touched their horses in a year and couldn't get halters on them, to the person who hadn't trained her horse or had its feet trimmed in two years. So, in that respect, the Parelli horses have been mostly good and well behaved. Not perfect, but not horrible.

But Parelli students are in a bind. We are a minority in the horse world, and a largely disdained minority. Every time a Parelli horse is a bit naughty or a Parelli student doesn't have all the answers, is seen as a mark against Parelli. However, less-than-perfect "normal" horses are not a mark against "normal" horse training. Jerking on and screaming at a scared yearling is considered okay, but a wary Parelli horse is not.

What do we do about it? I don't know, but I suspect the answer lies mostly in continuing to do Parelli and do it around other people. I don't mean telling every single horse person I'm a Parelli person, but simply doing it without any fanfare. Not "lookee here! I'm doing Parelli!" but "Yes, I do Parelli. Any other questions?" When I take Royal to shows, I won't hide my Carrot Stick or use a non-Parelli halter. Hopefully, people will see that while my horse and I are not perfect, we are happy and we enjoy doing things together.

Because that, really, is the truth. :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Renee Says Relax... and Royal Listens

Oh what an interesting few days it's been.

Friday was my last final (O Chem) so what did I do? Of course. I went riding. And it was not a good one. Royal was very hyper and distracted, and I just could not hold his attention. He seemed fine on the ground, but not in the saddle. I spent an hour trying to get him to synchronize with me, to no avail. Partial disengagement, figure-8s, transitions, nothing worked. This depressed me greatly, and I could just see all of my summer goals fading away.

Saturday, winter came back for a visit. An unwanted visit, but not we could do about it. I was working at the clinic all morning and a good part of the afternoon, despite my finger's protests. I ran into a Parelli student, and made some observations about perceptions of Parelli vs. "normal" people that I'll talk about later. But I had no idea how I was going to be able to re-kindle my synchronicity with Royal. What to do.

Today I went up of the farm intending to do whatever it took, as long as it took, to help Royal relax. And, wouldn't you know it, a bit of partial disengagement turned the hyper block of wood into butter. Royal was so soft and relaxed, so I started trotting. A little excessive speed, but not a lot. We do some more PD, and he gives me a trot that could win a Pleasure class, both directions. Right lead canter, no problems. Left lead, a little fast for two strides, but then he settled into a nice relaxed canter.

I had no idea what to do with myself. Here'd I had the intention of spending hours helping my horse relax, only to have him relaxed in 15 minutes. So, I did something I've been aching to do for months: jumping. I set up our favorite starter grid (pole to cross-rail) and that was no problem. After three passes, added another cross-rail 18' away. Three more perfect passes. Turn the second cross-rail into a 2' vertical. No problems.

At this point I was feeling confident, so I did something I have never done before: I raised the vertical to 2'6". Now, I had never jumped 2'6" in my life. 2'3" a few times, but never any higher. Royal's jumped higher plenty of times, but with my feet firmly on the ground. After mounting back up, we tried the grid again. I felt Royal add more power, which felt quite cool. He seemed to jump in a more "heavy" manner: I could really feel feel him land, which is not usually the case. At 2' and below, he seems to float over the jumps and land like a duck. I didn't know if the heavier landing was due to the increased height of the jump or the short distance I was making him take. But either way, we had many wonderful leaps over that jump and I hopped off a very happy human. Royal got a nice roll in the dirt, the crumbles from the cookies (which he loves), and a nice long grazing session.

Oh, and the field boots are currently doing very well with the addition of the gel ankle bands. Felt very comfortable today and didn't get in the way of jumping, unlike other tall boots I've worn. I think they're keepers. :D

Royal in Bayfield, 2006.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Saga Of The Footwear

Mine, for once.

I have two recent additions to my (small) footwear collection: toe shoes and tall boots.

The toe shoes were something of an accident. My friend Fran Latane has worn Vibram Five Fingers shoes for a while, and has told me to try them more than once. I was both skeptical and short of cash. But I have a bum foot that was broken a long time ago and still feels odd every once and a while. I also want to take up running and the concept of barefoot running intrigued me. So, I went to REI to try them on and walked out with a pair of Komodo Sports.

So far, I really like them. I haven't tried running in them yet, but wearing them all day on campus has been comfortable. Will try running in them and see what happens.

The other new piece of footwear is a lot newer than it should be. I bought a pair of Mountain Horse Supreme Field Boots and got them at the beginning of March. The zipper broke on the first day. No problem, I figured. Just a defective pair; send them back and get a new pair. Well, two months of frustrating e-mails later, Victory Canter finally sent me new boots, which arrived last Monday. I tried to break them in the slow way, but figured they would not be okay by the Carriage House Schooling Show. I turned to the fountain of wisdom that is the Chronicle of the Horse Forum for suggestions and learned of what I lovingly referred to as the Tub O'Water Dunking Method. It's simple: you get the boots soaked completely through, and wear them until they dry. People have used everything from hot wet towels to dowsing with a hose in a wash stall. I went with warm water in a bathtub for 20 seconds, put the boots on, and wore them for three hours.

And it worked. They're more comfortable, although the ankles still poke into mine. I've ordered a pair of gel ankle bands and see if that helps. I'll probably be able to ride in them tomorrow or Friday after my final. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, May 6, 2011

I'm Aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive!

I'm not dead, just been busy with finals and crap. This past week has been crazy. I had a worksheet due and the Organic Lab practical on Tuesday (84%! W00t!), two finals (Equine Physio and Anthropology) on Wednesday, a HUGE lab report and another worksheet due yesterday, and an Anthropology paper due today. Woof. I'm exhausted and still not done. Organic lecture final is a week from today, but I'm feeling okay about it. In the meantime, there will be playtime with the Fuzz.

Funny (or not) story though: the lab check-out procedures are very stringent, and if you don't do everything right, they will charge you $25+ for the privilege for rifling through your drawer. I was one of the last ones to get checked out, and just as I handed the desk card to the stockroom dude, I thought I saw that my TA hadn't signed it. I was about to say something, but decided that it wouldn't be a big deal. I got my yellow confirmation slip back, gave it to my TA, and left. I was walking to my favorite cafe (The Tea Garden) when a horrible thought occurred to me: what if they go through the desk cards, see that mine isn't signed, and go through my drawer? And charge me $25+ for it? Crap!

So, later, I e-mailed my TA, asking if they could look into the matter. I figured that since they had an office not too far from the lab, they could just go over and ask. Plus, I didn't think the stockroom would let me check it without some higher approval, because I might do something nefarious. Like, I don't know, say that I have four 50ml Erlenmeyer flasks when I really have three. Mwahahahaha! But my TA's response was that I needed to go to the stockroom, get the card, bring it to them, have them sign it, and bring it back. Well, I was already at home, 20 miles from campus, when I got this and had no time to run back before my farrier appointment. And the stockroom wouldn't be open today, so no dice there. We played e-mail tag for a while until I was informed that they wouldn't have given me my slip back if everything wasn't perfect. I highly doubted this, since I am well-informed about all the cognitive errors humans make on a daily basis. A missing signature falls into the "easy to overlook" category. But, at the same time, I was well aware that I could be mistaken, but had no idea how to find out.

I then got the brilliant idea that I should have had in the first place, which was to call the stockroom on my way to the farm. I had to go through a few other people to get there, but eventually got through and left a message seeing if they could check on my desk card. Well, they checked the wrong desk card, but assured me that they don't make mistakes and if I had gotten my yellow slip, that was the end of the matter. I thanked them for their time and when I got back home, e-mailed and told my TA that the matter was settled and I was sorry to be a bother.

Of course, if I do find a "lab drawer check" fee on my student account, there will be hell to pay.