Sunday, January 31, 2010

Farewell to Another Old Friend

I got word on Friday that Big Louie, a former cavalry horse, finally died. He had retired from B Troop back in 2003 and went to a the ranch in Texas that belongs to the father of one of our former troopers. Lou was well into his 30's. He was a legendary horse who's heart was as big as he was. Everyone loved to ride Big Lou as he was both spirited and gentle. When I was badly injured in a riding accident in 2002, it was Big Lou who helped me get back into riding shape. He was the only horse I trusted enough not to throw me while my bones were still knitting. Big Lou had served the Army for more than 10 years. Several of us "old timers" got together at the stables Friday night and reminisced about Lou over a few beers. He was a good horse.

Good Weather Finally

Martina came out to ride on Friday like she usually does so I asked her to ride Duke while I rode Apache. Apache was wired since he'd been in his mucky pen all week but things got worse because Duke was out also. Apache and Duke fight like brothers sharing a room together. We tried to ride them on the jogging track side-by-side but there was all kinds of chaos involved. Apache was sending aggressive signals to Duke who was trying to keep his distance. However, it was Apache who became agitated to the point where I had to take him away. I let Martina work Duke on the track and I took Apache over to the dressage area. Apache settled down right away and we had a pretty good session working on circles and transitions. Meanwhile Martina was learning all about gaited horses with Duke as he tried his different gaits on her. After Apache had galloped most of his aggression out, I rejoined Martina on the jogging track and we were able to get the horse to ride side-by-side without incident. It was great to get out again and the horses seemed to like it too.

Next week I will be at the Army Equine Conference at Fort Sill so I should have some good things to report after I get back next weekend.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Still Raining

I still haven't been able to do any work with the horses due to the weather. I was trying to interview a new recruit for the Troop today but wasn't able to complete the riding portion because of the rain. I like to talk with each person who wants to join the unit to make sure they really know what they're getting into. Mostly I just try to find out what their personal schedule is like since being in the cavalry takes so much time. After I grill them on their commitment to the Troop, I have them do a little ground work with a horse and then have them ride. I don't do too much at this stage, just have them ride the horse at a walk in an enclosed area. You'd be surprised how much you can learn about a man by just watching him ride a horse for five minutes. The biggest concern is that the individual is afraid of the horse. Most people aren't afraid because either they are long-time riders or have never been on a horse and just don't know any better. Some, though, have been on a horse before and unfortunately have had some a bad experience that they suddenly remember once they get back up there. These people will try and bluff their way through the riding school but sooner or later, they have to resign. It is better they don't start because once you have that fear, you can't get rid of it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Muddy Horses

I haven't been able to do much with horses this week because of the rain and wind. Yesterday we had a brief respite from the weather so I tried to shore up some of the horse pens. The winds are supposed to be pretty strong the next day or so and I didn't want any loose metal flying around.

The horse pens are pretty muddy so I have been cleaning out their hooves twice a day to try and prevent thrush from forming. Apache already has a touch of it so I will have to watch him closely. Duke rolled in the mud today so he looked like a dun. No sense in grooming the horses when the weather is like this since they are constantly wet and muddy.

I moved their feeders beneath the shelters so they could eat without being in the rain. If they stay beneath the shelters they have a reasonable chance of staying dry. The Army Corps of Engineers has finally started on our barn renovation project so maybe someday I will be able to keep horses inside when the weather is like this.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Unmovable Horses

Photo by Ty Holland

After riding Apache in the morning on Friday, I still had enough energy left over in the afternoon to try and work another horse on the lunge line. I chose Wyatt, since he is a school horse and one who might do well on a lunge line. Bad choice. I took Wyatt to the round pen to see how he did and it started out okay. Wyatt was a little lazy but did what he was supposed to do including changing directions when asked. It was going well enough that I decided to go ahead and hook up the lunge line. Suddenly the game changed. Wyatt was no longer willing to move. He just stood in the center of the round pen looking at me. I shook and snapped my whip at him but he just stood there. I began flicking the whip closer and closer to him until it was licking the backs of his legs with it but still nothing. It was clear I was going to have to go to extreme measures to get him to move. Although Wyatt had no fear of the whip or the sound it made I knew there must be something that would motivate him to move. Horses are afraid of certain predators but I didn't think I'd be able to tie a wolverine to the end of the whip. Instead I used an item that all horses have a mortal fear of---the plastic WalMart shopping bag. Once I had that fearsome item on the end of the whip it was game over. Wyatt still required a lot of motivation to keep moving (unlike Monte or Apache) but since I was ultimately able to get him to move, I chalked it up as a victory.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More Horse Lunging and Other Matters

I took old Monte out for some more training on the lunge line today. He did much better than he did last week. He was much more responsive to my cues to change gaits both up and down. I used primarily voice commands supplemented by flicking the whip when needed. He got it right most of the time. The more subtle my cues, the better he was. Either I've gotten more clear with my cues or he has gotten better at reading me. Maybe both. I did have a problem when I asked him to gallop. He had a tendency to buck and kick when I did that. This behaviour would not be good with a new student on his back so maybe I'll just stick to walking and trotting.

Last Friday, Martina took Sabre out for some training. However, Sabre was acting very strange. He starting bucking at the tie up post. We got him settled down a little and took him out to the training area to work on jumps. I ran him over some ground poles while waiting for Martina to arrive with another horse. He was okay so I tied him to a tree and concentrated on training for the other horses. When Martina finally got around to riding Sabre he was very agitated again. I asked her to take him around the jogging track with another rider to settle him down but eventually we decided it would be best for her to dismount and let me work him a little. I took Sabre to the round pen and worked him for about 10 minutes. He was more controllable after that and I was able to walk him back to his pen without incident. Today, during horse checks Debbie determined he had a sore back. Possibly an arthritis flare up. We gave him bute and gave him the day off. We will check him again on Friday. He is not a young horse and is believed to be about 20. He was very mellow after getting the bute.

Worked with the group tonight on bomb proofing the horses. Using a .22 starter pistol I had them ride in an oval pattern while I fired the pistol at various ranges. Once the horses got used to that I had the riders take them over to a small jump course I had set up. Taking their horses through a few times until they were comfortable, I had them ride through again but with the pistol. At first I had them fire between obstacles but later had them fire as they were crossing the obstacle. If the horse had problems I had them start over without firing the pistol. It went fairly well and all the horse were eventually able to go through the jump course with the pistol.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lunging and Round Pens

I started lunging horses this past week to get ready for the riding school that starts next month. We are going to incorporate a different type of bareback training into the program and need to get the horses ready. In past years we started the students bareback but with a bridle. Unfortunately, the students have a tendency to use the reins for balance which is bad for both them and the horse. So this year we plan to have them ride bareback on the end of a lung line to see if they can learn balance without using the reins for support.

Of course, only a few of our horses have ever been on a lunge line. I tried with Monte first by taking him to the round pen and putting him on the lunge line in there. Most horses have experience with the round pen so I was hoping the natural tendency for them to run in a circle in there could translate into lunging in a circle. Getting the horse to trot in a circle is easy enough but it is hard to get them to change directions both ways for some reason. Monte would turn in one direction just fine but not the other.

I then moved him out to an open area and tried some more lunging. It worked okay but he had a tendency to try to run back to his pen when at the gallop. Note to self: wear gloves when lunging a horse.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Running Away from Pistols

I didn't get much riding in over the holidays due to weather, and well, the holidays. Even though I had both Duke and Apache home over Christmas, I only had time to ride them once each. I did some work with Duke and the cap gun but he has the same reaction to the cap gun as he does the saber. That is he tries to fade away from it while I have it in my hand. He's not violent about it and he'd never rear up like the Wonder Horse would but he is clearly not liking me holding a weapon in my hand. He just kind of drifts off to the left. Anyway, I'll be taking Apache back to the fort tomorrow so I can work with him during muster but I'll keep Duke at the ranch so Debbie can do some gun work with him. She promised not to teach him to stop and wait for a cookie every time the gun goes off.