Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Neck Reins and Pole Dancing

Duke, I have discovered, is not very good at neck reining. He seems to have more trouble reining to the right than the left. However, we managed to get past the habit of trying to run me into the tree next to the jogging track. That, as it turns out, may not be a reining problem but a focus problem on my part. My new theory is that Duke rides in the direction I'm looking. If I stare at the tree as we round the bend, Duke heads straight for it. Today, as I galloped him around the track, I looked in the direction I wanted to go. Duke made the turn without any problems. I will have to experiment with this some more before I decide if my theory is correct.

I also learned today that Duke is very light on his feet. I took him over some cavaletti poles (poles laid on the ground in a parallel pattern so a horse has to concentrate on hoof placement as he steps through them) to see how a gaited horse handles them. The first couple of times at a walk were kind of brutal. Duke hit most of them with his feet. However, when I picked the pace up to a trot he stepped right through without hitting a single one of them. We went through several times to make sure it wasn't a fluke. He was very light and collected as he trotted through each time. This bodes well for jump training later.

Photo by Ty Holland

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Saber Dancing

I got stuck in the office for too long today dealing with budget wrangling issues and other nonsense. The cool thing about my job is when I start getting frustrated with administrative matters I can jump on a horse and take my mind of my problems and focus on completely different set of problems. Today, I jumped on Duke to work on yielding to the bit and not being afraid of the saber. We started out working on the horsemanship course to teach him to respond to rein and leg cues. He was doing okay. He was pacing instead of trotting a lot of the time which complicates matters but he was reasonably responsive to the cues and making good progress on transitions. He stands beautifully during mounting and walks relaxed which are both big point-getters in competition. After that I pulled the saber and tried to desensitize him to a piece of sharp metal waving around his face. He wasn't bad as long as we were moving. I had him trotting and cantering past some hay bales on the ground so I could stab them as I rode by. He did pretty well but sometimes gets his wires crossed and moves in the opposite direction he's being cued into. I still haven't figure that one out yet. The next task was to try and get him to stand still while I drew the saber. He did not do that very well. As soon as he heard the sound of the saber sliding out of the sheath, he moved away from the scabbard (he did not understand that it was attached to him). Not much movement, mind you, but enough to annoy me. We tried this for a while using different techniques to get him to stand still but he just wasn't getting it. Therefore we went over to the jogging track instead to work on his physical conditioning. He continues to get stronger and seems to like galloping (although he is slow by golly). He still tries to run me into that damned tree though. There just has to be some wires crossed somewhere in that horse.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Teeth Floating

We took all the horses up to the vet clinic today to get the horse's teeth floated. We do this once a year to help the horses chew their food better. The vet grinds their teeth down to even them up so the horses can better chew their grain. The horses are sedated for this as they generally object to having a rasp stuck in their mouths. I decided to take them up in two batches using the 8-horse trailer. Before loading them I went around to each trooper's shed to get his horse's halter. When we released the horses into the vet clinic paddock, I left the halters on the horses with the lead rope tied around their necks. This seemed like a good idea as I didn't want all the halters getting mixed up. Different horses use different sized halters. Unfortunately, this idea turned out to be very bad. As the horses bent down to eat the grass, the lead rope slid up on their neck and created a loop in which they could get their legs stuck in. Some did, some didn't. One horse, Zeus, stepped through his but decided to just walk around that way. My horse, Apache, stuck his leg through and managed to complete at least two backward somersaults before the clinic staff could get him untangled. Duke, our new horse, didn't step through his lead rope but did decide to take a tour inside of the vet clinic. The paddock is behind the clinic surgery and the staff brings the horses inside to work on them. Duke saw the door was open and decided to explore on his own. They eventually found him in the small animal clinic. Despite all the absurdities associated with our horses, we managed to get them all back to the stables without any injuries. Maybe next year I'll just buy them all giant toothbrushes.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mustang Mountain Trail Ride

I hosted a trail ride from my house yesterday for the members of B Troop and had a big barbecue after. it was a strange day as far as the weather went. It was reasonably warm out until the sun went behind a cloud and then it became instantly cold. I lead a group of eight riders from in front of our house to the west toward the Mustang Mountains. We followed an old road that once ran from Tombstone to the Empire Ranch. Part of the road crosses our property so I described the network of roads in the area and proposed that it might have been used during Wyatt Earp's vendetta ride in 1882. The road once led to the springs up in the Whetstones where Curly Bill Brocious was surprised by Earp's posse and gunned down. Climbing up to the base of Mustang Mountain I described the rich history of the Babocomari Ranch and the valley. The recorded history of the valley goes back 470 years with the arrival of Marcos De Niza in 1539. The terrain east of the mountain is flat and soft and many of the guys took advantage of the terrain to gallop their horses unencumbered by fences or obstacles. As we turned east toward Whetstone one of the local riders who had joined us had an accident. Her Tennessee Walker tripped and went down on both knees spilling her to the ground. The horse stood up, looked around, and trotted off toward home. The troopers seeing the potential for some fun split up into two groups and surrounded and captured the confused horse. The guys had a great time bringing the horse back to her. Fortunately, neither horse nor rider were seriously injured in the accident. Once we got back to the house, we turned the horses out to pasture and then went inside for the barbecue. It was too cold and windy outside so we set up our tables in the interior courtyard. More people arrived to fill in the empty chairs and we soon had a pretty good party going. Everyone brought side dishes for the barbecue or apples and carrots for the horses. The horses would occasionally hang their heads over the fence for a treat and then wander off to explore the pasture. Once everyone had their fill of food, drink, and conversation they loaded up the horses and returned them to the stables at the fort. It was a lot of fun to be able to combine riding with a party and not have to leave home. No doubt we will be doing this again some time.

Photo courtesy of Martina Peters

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Brown Canyon Ranch

Yesterday B Troop appeared at the Brown Canyon Ranch Open House as they do every year. The ranch is not far from Fort Huachuca and once supplied beef to the fort. It is no longer a working ranch but a group is trying to preserve it for historical reasons--similar to the Empire Ranch but on a smaller scale. We traditionally park our horse trailers at a trail head near the ranch and ride through the back country to get there. Now there is an easy, flat trail from the trail head to the ranch but we, being stud-hoss-hombre sort of men, like to take the worst possible trail. This trail is about two-feet wide and is about as steep as a cat's back. One step off the trail and you're a goner. It is also overgrown with oak trees requiring the rider to simultaneously duck under branches and steer his horse down the narrow trail. Our photographer, Ty Holland, recorded the whole thing. He asked us to meet him at the grave marker along the trail which none of us ever noticed in the years we've been down that trail. But, sure enough, when we found Ty, we found the grave marker. We're not sure what is beneath the stone--probably some cavalryman who failed to keep his horse on the trail. Ty would take photos of us and then ask us to wait while he scampered down the trail to set up the next shot. After a few minutes of waiting we'd hear his voice way down in the canyon informing us he was ready. Then we'd urge our horses down the rocky trail. The horses kept their heads down to better pick a path down the loose, rocky trail. I was carrying the colors, naturally, and was simultaneously trying to steer the Wonder Horse while laying back with the guidon to keep it out of the tree branches. Once in a while I'd miscalculate and the spear point would get hung up on a limb. A horse in motion tends to stay in motion so if your guidon gets hung up in a branch the forward motion of the horse combined with the rearward action of the branch slowly pulls the spear out of your hand. If your lucky the spear point breaks free, of not the branch launches the spear into the man behind you. More than one trooper in the past has caught a flying guidon spear as it catapulted by him. This time, fortunately, I was able to recover the guidon each time it got hung up. Finally, mercifully, we managed to get down onto flat land and arrived on time at the ranch. We put on a little show and then spent an hour or so answering questions from the crowd. The weather was perfect and Ty took a bunch of great photos some of which are posted here.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Reluctant Jumpers and Hyper Jumpers

We had an interesting horse training session today. We had made some progress last Wednesday night with one of our reluctant jumpers, a horse named Chili. He has a phobia about any kind of object on the ground including his own shadow sometimes. I had pretty much given up hope of ever getting him to jump anything. However, last Wednesday one of our troopers was able to get him to clear a 12-inch jump after about an hour of gradual encouragement. Wanting to capitalize on this achievement I set up some more obstacles to work with today. I also brought the wonder horse who, unlike Chili, does not refuse the jumps but prefers to rush them. Starting with cavaletti poles, Martina was able to get Chili to duplicate his achievement from last Wednesday. However, we kicked it up a notch and had him go through a regular jump with striped, crossed poles set at about 12 inches. Martina was not only able to get him to jump them but did so at a gallop. This was a remarkable achievement and we have no idea why he is suddenly able to jump. Apache, meanwhile, had to be slowed down. With him I'm not concerned with the height of the jump but rather that he is controllable after clearing it. To slow him down I would take him over the cavalettis after the jump. He soon realized he would have to slow down to get through the ground poles that were set for trotting speed. This worked great and I found I barely had to tickle the reins to get his speed down after the jump. We will pursue these techniques do more to see what else we can get these horses to do.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Crosswired Horse

I rode Duke again today. I rode him last Friday but was not happy with the results. I had introduced him to the saber which he apparently didn't like. He sniffed at it suspiciously the first time I strapped it to his saddle and he was probably irritated by the clanking sound it made when he trotted. When I extended the saber forward as I would in a charge, he tried to run away from it. Today went much better but probably because I didn't bring the saber. We worked on some dressage stuff that he was doing fairly well at even though he isn't really accustomed to direct reining. He bends nicely enough in a circle but is heavy in the mouth and isn't collected. However, he had good impulsion and transitioned reasonably well. Afterwards we worked on the jogging track for a while. He was trotting normally and I was able to post with him which helped. He seemed to do better on a right diagonal than the left one for some reason. He tried to go into a "pace" a couple of times but I brought him out of it and he trotted normally. He is also getting stronger which makes galloping more fun but he still has a strange tendency to run toward a tree on one of the curves in the track. As we approach the curve at the gallop I will apply a little pressure to the right rein to get him to move around the track but instead he runs directly at the tree. The harder I pull on the rein the more he runs at the tree. It is like having the rudder pedals on your airplane cross wired so that when you push on the right pedal the plane yaws to the left. I'm starting to get paranoid about the tree. Accept for the tree problem everything went well and he was pleased with himself when were were done. While Duke is a very safe horse he is not the easiest horse to ride. It will be interesting to see how he fares with the cavalry stuff later.