Saturday, December 10, 2016

Hello winter! It's been many moons since I last posted. I do miss blogging, but, my old Dell laptop is pokey and miserable to work on. And I've had little luck trying to post from my phone (any tips?) Facebook is much easier, and I have started a Facebook page for my new horse, call Zara: A Mustang Diary if  you'd like to follow our adventures.

Yep, my new horse! Last summer I adopted a black brown 6 year old Mustang mare named Zara, from the Jackie's Butte HMA in Oregon. It is a long story.....she was a competitor for the Extreme Mustang Makeover in Nampa, Idaho. I had picked out other mares to bid on after the finals, but this mare was on my short list. She was on the short list because she wasn't as far along in her training as I wanted. However, a voice of reason stepped in and I panicked and bid on NO horse that night, missing out on some amazing mares at very reasonable prices. I regretfully, I cried the whole way home the next day.


Fate would have it, the mare's buyer backed out that night and she was homeless, going home to Oregon with a young gal who had competed and finished 6th on one of the mares I had wanted to buy!! I started the ball rolling to adopt Zara, and a month later they brought her to me as they drove their daughter to Montana.

Zara is quite the character! I have been having help from a trainer with lessons/coaching. She is on the lazy side, but can be forward under saddle (she loves to trot!) She has a mind of her own at times- putting it nicely, she can be pretty stubborn. She tries to convince us at tacking up time that she's never been saddled and is afraid of the saddle. We struggled the last year riding her in a bit, and finally switched to bitless this fall. I think she will do much better (and her Makeover trainer had only ridden her in a sidepull.) Now the snow has fallen and I didn't find a place to board her, so any productive training will be on hold. But in general she has been a good challenge for me. I have had to step up my confidence and be a good leader for her. I think in a few years, she will be great. She wasn't touched until age 4, and it just takes time to get these previously wild horses physically and mentally to a good place.

My Boy Riley is doing fine. He's had less riding this year because of all of the training with Zara, but he is happy when he gets out on the trail. During a clinic I hosted this summer we went on a group ride to the river. The clinician rode my Mustang Zara, and on the way back, My Boy started being naughty with me, having separation anxiety from Zara. So the clinician got on and boy did he make that pony work! The fun part I got to ride my Mustang back and she was a rock star!

 I also did a local play day show with a friend, and My Boy and I showed in all of the English and western pleasure and equitation classes.  He won his over 20 yrs. halter class, and we didn't place in the others but it was a blast, even at the end when the sky opened up and we did western pleasure in the pouring rain!

Other than that, I am working for a small company's Ebay store, and enjoying time with my 3.5 year old son and 10 year old stepdaughter, she loves to ride her Mustang/Paso Fino mare, Pepper. I am already looking forward to summer and riding time! For those of you reading this, thanks for sticking with me. I hope to post more often!

Happy Holidays!

Ranch Girl

Saturday, April 11, 2015

My Bitless Journey

I am going to be honest. Bitless is not for everyone. I am not one of those horse people that says "my way or the highway" or "this is the way everyone should do something." I am of the belief that a good horse person is constantly growing, changing, and modifying the way they are riding and working with horses in ways that both benefit and create success for both horse and rider. I like to talk about the things that I try or do, because I am excited about it. I am in no way saying "that is what you should do."

{My Boy in his fancy western style bit less bridle. I don't ususally bring the lead rope with me on rides, but as I was riding with my 8 year old stepdaughter this particular day, I wanted to have it just in case. I got my bridles from, the western one is a Nurtural but is from because it was on sale.}

That being said, I do like people to keep an open mind. It is people who shut down instantly, "Oh, my trainer would never let me ride bit less" or "my horse would surely never stop without a bit, I'd have no control!" All I ask is to just ponder about the whole concept of riding without a bit. Expand your thinking about it, research it, and read up on it. You never even have to try it. But don't be one of those horse people that won't keep growing or learning. Someday, in your life, you might encounter a wonderful horse that for some reason or another, can not wear or work in a bit. Or maybe you are watching a horse event and see a rider performing freestyle dressage without a bit. Maybe your mind and heart will open a bit. It still doesn't mean you have to ride bit less. But recognizing that many horses do BETTER without a piece of metal in their mouth has been an interesting journey for me. I did not come to ride My Boy bitless out of a vaccum. I've heard about it and have been curious, but what is funny now is that after riding bitless, I now seeing gaping mouths and all kinds of crazy bits and mis-handling and I just cringe at even how I have pulled and ridden with bits in the past!

{My bitless black leather "english style" bridle.}

Enough lecturing. I have found something that works for My Boy and I, and my next horse might very well need to be ridden in a bit, but that's okay. Let me tell you how it came about.

When I got Luna, my intent was to try her bitless. I had read up about Justin Dunn and his Mustang Horsemanship, and how he rides all of his horses in side pulls (which he designed.)  The trainers I were considering said they started horses in rope halters (similar to Clinton Anderson style) but that eventually the horse would be ridden in a snaffle. I resigned to this approach because of lack of trainers in my area and my limited funds for training. I wouldn't ask a trainer to attempt bitless training on a horse unless it was their belief, in lines with their philosophy and interest to do so. (After getting to know her better, I do think I could push the trainer I ended up using to try bit less with my next Mustang, as she would honestly tell me at some point in the training that horse was suited for it.)

{Photo of Justin Dunn from his Facebook page, Justin Dunn Mustang Horsemanship.}

I gave up on my bitless journey. Then, this past winter, I decided My Boy had been sitting long enough while I learned to be a mama and Luna got all the work and riding as she learned to become a saddle horse. I moved him to a local boarding stable to have use of an indoor arena. I moved him on a Tuesday in time for a teeth float appointment on Wednesday. But the vet had so many horses to do, he didn't get to several horses, including My Boy. We rescheduled for a week out, but then that got moved a month out because they were offering a special. I kept that appointment because it also meant I could share the farm call fee with others and being on a budget, a discount is definitely a necessity!

I could have just ridden My Boy in his snaffle, he had been ridden in it a few times during the summer. However, I felt guilty about it knowing he was overdue for a float and remembering that one of the trainers that borrowed him for a trail ride had told me she could tell he needed his teeth done by the way he was in the bridle. So I decided to just ride him in a double knot rope halter with reins. I had the use of a round pen and indoor arena so it was a great, controlled space to experiment with.

He did well, as I knew he would. I knew this because this horse is 21 years old and broke. That does not mean he gets naughty or silly sometimes- but he is not a bucker or a bolter. As a reining trained horse he pretty much prefers to whoa in most instances and he does not spook. He also moves very well off of leg, seat, neck rein, and verbal cues. So where the rope halter failed is that it was that the fit was a little sloppy on his head and the reins would slide down underneath his chin, making it a little difficult to be as clear in any direct rein cues. After several rides inside, the weather turned spring-like and I was itching to get outside and ride. There is no outdoor arena, but the stable it on a long, winding dirt road in the woods. We did a few hand-walks out and about first, then one day I saddled him up and off we went in the rope halter.

I have never looked back. I got online and ordered a proper bitless bridle because I wasn't happy with the fit of the rope halter.  I really wanted to have better lateral flexion and direct rein when and if I needed it. No matter what kind of stretching we've done, even in a bit, My Boy does not have good lateral flexion. He is just stiff in the neck, I don't know if it's his build, age, or what but he can not whip his head all the way around to my ankle like I see some trainer's do with colts.

I had one bad ride on My Boy. I was invited to go on a trail ride with some other ladies at the barn including the head trainer and her assistant. The minute we started out the arena gate My Boy was completely out of whack. He was jigging and generally not listening to me. He had never been out that gate, had never been ridden with these horses, and had never been on those trails. Regardless, he should not have been acting that way. I wanted to chicken out and say, "Um, guys, I think I'm going to stay home!" but sucked it up and went forward. Sensing I was having trouble they had me move him from our place at the back of the line up to the front behind a calmer, older mare. That helped a little. But the whole ride was a bit crazy. Most of the horses were good, albeit "spring fresh." We had three large dogs with us that kept running and bounding through the brush and water and crossing in and out of the woods and the trail. The first part of the ride we were basically trail blazing through overgrown brush. Once we got to the real trail we encountered a lot of marshy areas and water to go through. We flushed about 15 turkeys and had a roaring river down an embankment through the trees on one side of us. All of this- I did on a horse that was edgy, and in a ROPE HALTER. Good lord. When we made it back and posed for a photo, I finally breathed a sign of relief. I wasn't happy about the ride until later that evening, when I began to reflect. I needed to give My Boy some credit. He didn't try to dump me, and at times he was not listening to me, but considering how he handled the dogs, other horses, general ground footing, he was pretty darn good for his first group ride in months. He would have been like that (and has in the past) even if he'd been in a bit. And I was not helping the situation at all, even the assistant trainer suggested to me one point to stop hanging onto the reins so tight, I was completely trapping him in his own anxiety.....well, it did help a bit to relax the reins, for sure.

  {This is where Ranch Boy and I got married! My Boy is standing right where the guests sat on benches.}

It wasn't so much about the bridle that day, it was about a variety of dynamics going on, my tension and fear about it, and so on. This horse is a great trail horse and I knew that, but I was not helping him to be his best that day.

I am continually impressed by how responsive and nice My Boy has been in his bitless bridle. We have yet to do any arena work in it, so that will be the next test, to see what kind of softness and collection I can get out of him going in circles in the arena. This is not my favorite thing to do anymore, so I won't be doing it often. I'd prefer to be out riding the lovely country I live in!

There are two great Facebook pages to follow if you are interested in reading about others' journey's with bitless, as well as alternative bridle options, etc: Bitless Believers and Bitless Horse Equitation.

Ranch Girl

Monday, March 23, 2015

Trust Your Journey

"Be Patient 
Trust Your Journey."

I saw this quote somewhere the other day and it has not left my head since. It is so meaningful to me with some of the things I have been through the past few weeks.

You can read back a few posts about how I decided to sell my mustang mare, Luna. I am here to tell you how in after doing it, everything about it felt completely wrong.

 I can't even pinpoint why. I am battling my heart and my head and the emotional and analytical side of myself and it's driving me insane. All I can do is trust my journey. For some reason, the series of events that led me to the moment of her driving away in a trailer were meant to happen, just like every other series of events in my life to this point. Most people don't put themselves in the place to worry about it all so much. Unfortunately I am one of those sensitive types to think, and think, and think about it. You can tell me not to, but I'm still gonna. So this post is mostly about me convincing myself, justifying to myself, why I did it. I will share that with you now. Maybe you have been there before.

{Before she was loaded in the trailer to her new home.}

When I originally made the decision, I had battled it for a month or more. I talked to someone who I knew had been interested in her last summer, and told her we'd talk after the holidays. That gave me more time to think about it. I came to terms with it, I grieved, but I came to the conclusion it was the right thing to do. I thought I had found the perfect place for her, and I wasn't even overly sad when she left on trial with the new family. In fact, I was sad when it didn't work out and she came back, because I so wanted it to work for her.

A month later, I decided to try again. This time I advertised her publicly on a few Facebook pages I'm part of. I was fielding several inquiries. I could tell right off the bat if someone would be a good fit for her or not, depending on what they were looking for. I was very selective. At some point in the process I had two very interested parties who had not seen her yet, but were planning to. Then I got an email from a gal and I just felt like it was the right person and situation. Everything about our communication was great, everything they said made me happy. I never questioned the process.

{My trainer riding Luna.}

I had my trainer come put a few rides on her to work out the "spring fresh" before the prospective new owners came, as she hadn't been ridden since January when the other family tried her. The first day didn't go so well, but the second day she was more relaxed and acted like the awesome horse I remembered from last summer. I even climbed on and rode- we even loped! I think a little part of me began to wonder why I was selling her. But I had no last minute changes of heart. The couple made a long trip to see her, the showing went well. They fell in love and took her far away. And my heart broke into a million pieces.

I really like the family that has her. They love their horses, dogs, and goat like they are their kids. They are so, so happy with her and beyond thrilled they found her. They aren't trainers, but good riders who are willing to keep learning by taking weekly lessons and have signed up for a clinic this spring. They want a horse they can grow with and learn. They ride, ride, ride. A lot. Exploring the countryside they live in, camping almost every weekend with their horses. I could think of no better life for a Mustang, and for Luna. I really think it is what she is meant to do. So why did it hurt so much when she left?

I can only think it has to do with my sense of being a mother. I felt like I gave away my own child. You always have that feeling that nobody will care for your horse or love it the way you do. And I battled the thoughts that maybe I failed her somehow (oh, that guilt is an evil thing.......) that maybe the fact she was green and I couldn't put enough miles on her right now would be okay, and that she could sit and wait it out until I could, and that we would figure the future out together. The what-ifs. They can really mess with your head, can't they?

So yes, I sadly cried off and on for days. I am still an emotional mess if I let my thoughts settle on her. So far, she is doing well in her new home and they love her. That does make me happy to hear, but it does not really comfort my sadness. I can only reason that her journey into my life brought something else. She came into my life as an awkward yearling and taught me so much, she began to open up my confidence with a younger horse. Then I became a real mama to a human child that took up a lot of my physical time, so she got to grow up into a lovely horse with the help of a great trainer she started her career as a saddle horse. She was to the point she was ready to rock and roll. Or that is what my head told me- "she needs a home where she could be ridden"..... "what if I got pregnant this winter, IF, ......then I wouldn't ride her. She is a good horse, but still too green and unpredictable to take the risk...." Those thoughts swirled in my head. This would have meant she basically would have sat for another year. Would that have been fair to her? But why is about what it is fair to her? Maybe it should have been what was fair to us both. Maybe a break from riding and some ground work, more grow time, and just being a horse time would have been fine for a year. Yes, she would have needed a little tune-up down the line, but with her disposition I'm sure it would have been an easy transition to make.

It is not that I didn't have good intention, but I just didn't handle the transition from singleton to motherhood very well. Yes, I started my family late in life and yes, I was a pretty consumed mama for a while, as I should have been, and should still be. But I didn't have to let the guilt about that prevent me from stealing time away from the hubby, child, work, or family commitments for time with my horses. There is no reason that can happen. It must happen. I have realized now that I need "horse time" for my sanity even more now that I have a toddler running around.

I can only come to terms with this over time. And I can only look forward. I have grown more in the last few months as a horse owner than I have in years. I have found new confidence, new emotions, new ideas and thoughts, about what I want to commit to, what I want to do differently. It reminds me of dating in my 20's and 30's. You slowly begin to grow and figure out what you want and need. Like any relationship.

{ I miss my LuLu! She was just a 3 year old here.}

{Luna as a 3 year old. I wish she would have stayed small like this. She really got huge, bigger than this 5'3" incher needs. But she did finally grow into that head!}

I can only wish Luna good luck and love in her new home. Luckily we agreed that I could be offered first to buy her back someday or she could retire here, if they wanted or needed her to go. And I plan to go visit and ride her sometime next fall. Maybe Luna's journey is to make Mustang lovers and converts out of these people, who might never have considered owning one of these wonderful horses.

That is what she did for me.

Ranch Girl