Monday, June 30, 2014

Sheza Saddle Filly!

Two months ago, not long after her third birthday,  I dropped my first born filly Sheza off with good friend and horse trainer April Moore of Moore Horses. When Sheza was born I would have been put off at the notion of getting her under saddle at 3, but I didn't know near as much then, and if you aren't willing to revisit decisions when new experience and facts come to light, then you aren't evolving in my opinion. Sheza is the third Haat Shaat Arabian I've owned and there is a definite consistency in the bloodline. With their blowy dramatic spice and sharp brains I am now firmly convinced that they do much better with lots of handling from early on. I'm very aware of how late maturing Arabians are and certainly don't advocate working or riding youngsters hard, but having seen the mindset of Haat Shaats left to their own til devices until 6 or 7 or later (think explosively spooky, mistrustful), I've been more and more of the opinion that the more exposure and training uploads to their brain that you get done while they are relatively young, the smoother the journey through the rest of your lives together will be. 

Sheza has lived up to the snorty, expressive habits I've seen in the others but thanks to her extensive handling and a carefree first few years full of positive experiences but a very definite line of discipline, she is 110% a human horse, has a wonderful desire to please, and her investment in being dedicatedly spooky and dramatic is already so much less. Still, at 3 years old she is already 14.3 hands and has those moves like Jagger as they say, so ever since I became aware of the training wonder that is April, I've been sure Sheza was heading her way for saddle training. 

Sheza's first day at training w April, 2 months ago
April was wonderful about updating me nearly daily with photos and progress. Sheza is a clever girl but had a few things to work through, like her dislike of having her ears handled, and behaving herself properly when she'd rather be a rushy snarky fiery filly. April and I discussed where she was in her training at the end of the first 30 days and we agreed that Sheza could use another 30 days with her to cement what they had going and get some other experiences of various kinds--and lo, not a week or two later she managed to bang up her leg at April's and got to experience being hauled about in a strange trailer, left overnight at a stranger vet's, and ultra sounded! See, horses are so obliging. ;-) 

fresh ouch
April took great care of Sheza-patient!
in to the vet the next a.m.!
 Clear ultrasound! Take home this cranky filly, two weeks rest and come see us again
 Two weeks rest and a revisit for the all clear, woohoo!
 I certainly never want my horses to get injured in any way but I must say that the silver lining to that incident (aside from it being minor!) was the great exposure Sheza got to a new trailer, strangers, overnighting at a strange place, etc. For an "expressive" filly as they delicately put it at the vets, all these things are vital to channeling her into that happy safe buddy who *enjoys* the world experience.

Sheza's leg looked great long before the two weeks was up but we weren't taking any chances, so after the prescribed rest and the all clear from the vets, Sheza returned to work for a week or so for a brush up before I went up to get her. Finally though, this past Thursday afternoon, I arrived and got to see my big red filly girl in person again!
I was immediately struck by how much she looked like her mother in the head, and how much smaller she seemed than I remembered. To be clear, she looks fabulous and fit, but in my head she is a big fire breathing red dragon filly and here she was, so mature looking, a wonderfully conformed but quite regular sized Arabian! 

(of course, she still has 3 or 4 years of growing to do..)
As you might expect after waiting since the moment she was born, I was ready to hop on Sheza the afternoon that I arrived, so after watching April work her through some brief ground work and blow off some steam under saddle in the arena, I took a deep breath, put my foot in the stirrup, and up I went! My heart was in my throat with excitement and a little nerves but luckily this was old hat to Sheza:
From there it was awesome. Sheza is young and green, and I am green in various ways, but April has installed such a fabulous base on this filly in this relatively short time, that the buttons are there to press if only I configure myself and my asking and my filly correctly! Having recently accepted the fact that my Rushcreek gelding, while very trail broke, is not truly *trained* (as in, to him leg means GO and bit pressure means GIRAFFE) having my three year old come up under herself and give to the bit at the lightest sponge of the reins, yielding gorgeously off my leg, was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. 

first ride on my girl!
Sheza is very forward and of course likes to lookey loo like her mother, so on our short trail rides during the few days that we were there we worked on going back to our arena circles/figure 8s when things got rushy on the trail; for the most part Sheza was just fabulous, clearly happy to be out there and all for stopping for snacks whenever given the chance. If you ride an Arabian or rushy horse in general I'm sure you can appreciate how amazing it is to just *sit still* leaning on the saddle horn while your spicy filly with only 2 months training calmly grazes. It's not voodoo or trickery, it's the correct base work and time spent patiently by April, but it does have a bit of a magical feel to it all.

first trail ride
Me on Sheza, April on trainee Spirit
I'm pretty solid in my riding and responses to shenanigans while in the saddle so I found my main challenge with Sheza to be the ground work at liberty. I spend approximately zero time lunging or ground working anyone at this point, and it shows. Blaze round pens beautifully off the lightest body language but he doesn't *need* the round penning so I don't do it. Scrappy will soon be spending quite a bit of time in said round pen, but hadn't yet. SO, my body language working in the round pen was quite rusty and I managed to confuse myself and Sheza, but only briefly. Once she realized my directions were correct(ed) and had intent she went from disrespectful to polite working filly on the circle quite quickly. 

April had some other horses in training as well as her own lovelies in her herd, so I got to have some fun riding Quarter Horses and helping her out a bit as well. Again I wouldn't have thought to desire a QH offhand but I must say after a few days I saw the infinite value of a big, solid bodied, handy horse for teaching youngsters and getting shit done. I pony off my guy Blaze at home but at 14 hands/maybe 700 lbs he doesn't have a lot of oomph or solid pull if a ponied horse gets silly.

ponying April's long yearling Arabian filly Tori from a nice QH mare also in training
<3 her confo <3
The second day I kitted Sheza out in her mother's bridle and my treeless Sensation, since she's been working in April's tack and I needed to figure something out for her. She went quite nicely in the beta bridle and simple jointed snaffle April sent with me, and while she was a very comfortable ride in my heavenly sheepskin setup I've recently dialed in for Scrappy, the Sensation is definitely too wide for every day use on her. Yep, you read correctly, I figured out saddle fit on one horse just in time to puzzle over another! 

back on the trail with trainees

 We match our truck so well :-)
 The temptation to stay at April's learning and playing forever is strong, but Sheza filly and I hit the road for home yesterday morning. It was gorgeous up in Humboldt county for our stay--and 5 1/2 hours later, it was 102 here at home in the foothills of the Sacramento Valley! Fortunately Sheza is well used to our charming summers and she seemed quite happy to be home in her big pasture.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tack Update: Sensation Treeless Saddle (mostly)

I had a notion upon purchasing Scrappy that a short backed, round, not super wither-y horse would be easy to sort saddle wise, but that hasn't been the case. In the last calendar year since I bought him I've ridden Scrappy quite a few conditioning miles and 140 AERC miles-- in a Specialized Eurolight, Abetta western saddle, Frank Baines English all Purpose, Specialized Trailmaster, and now finally the Sensation English Trail treeless saddle. The Specialized were difficult to get shimmed to level without rock on him (and I traded the Eurolight for the Frank Baines), the Abetta didn't fit once he lost some fat, the Frank Baines seemed wonderful til he shed out with matching hairless spots behind the shoulders...and we now have 40 miles in the Sensation treeless saddle, with a rating of So Far, So Good.

My mini journey with the Sensation has thus far included multiple adjustments of course. I have no experience with treeless saddles or pads with inserts previously, so I was mining friend's experience for pearls of wisdom but figured I'd start with the Sensation pad the saddle came with. My initial impressions of the Sensation pad were that for all that I was hearing that firm foam (or some foam) was the way to go with treeless saddles, the pad was quite lacking in the foam department entirely. Also I thought the multitude of seams on the underside didn't look very friendly for rubbing about for many miles on a horse I know to be sensitive skinned. But what can you do but try!

Scrappy in Sensation with Sensation pad
underside of Sensation pad, post ride. See all those crazy seams?!
After a short test ride Scrappy had a decent sweat mark but you could see every seam reflected in it and there was just no way I would want to go 50 miles with that under there. Also I didn't get much wither clearance with that set up and friends agreed to go to a non top loading pad with some firm foam. If you've looked into Skito, Haf, or Equipedic pads at all you'll see that there is a decent price tag attached and since I was trialing the saddle, too, I hoped to find a firm foam pad that I could borrow to try out before committing. Riding buddy N came through again with a Haf pad with firm foam inserts that she met me with at the trail head just a day or two later. The ride was cushier than ever and the sweat mark post ride was superior.

regrowing hair spots at the shoulders+goop pre-ride, that's why it looks mussed, but quite even sweat mark in person, with good spine clearance shown for a super sweaty horse
Sensation with Haf pad with firm foam inserts
My other issue has been the stirrup set up. The first time I rode in it as it came, with this interesting stirrup attachment that effectively buckles your stirrup to the bottom of your saddle flap. The notion is stability but being short legged and metal ankle-ed I immediately discovered that where I needed the stirrups to be put the buckle digging directly into my ankle at the top of my Terrain, something not taken care of with the simple addition of a fleece tube (I tried). I also found the artificial stability to be a bit constricting, maybe because my ankle likes a wonky angle. Fortunately the saddle had the open stirrup bar attachment so I just took their leathers off, tucked the now extraneous strap at the bottom of the saddle flap down where the girth billets go, and put my Webber leather with composite stirrups on.

In that set up I mounted, settled, Scrappy walked off, and I nearly fell on my face! I haven't mentioned yet but I have discovered that treeless saddles really make you *ride* the horse, not the saddle, if you want to stay top side and centered, that is. To me it feels like riding in a really bitchin bareback pad, in that you can feel everything in the horse's movement and have to ride with your seat but are super cushioned and comfortable at the same time. After each ride in the Sensation I have been sore as if I've been riding bareback, for sure. Those seat and quad muscles that you forgot that you had say HELLO, how are you? Oh, you thought you could walk? I also gave myself shin splints or some equivalent by hiking 3 miles steep downhill on a ride last week, hobbled for a few days after that one. So as for the falling on my face, attaching free swinging leathers (underneath a full saddle sheepskin, ah thank you) after I'd ridden it with stirrups previously  attached at that base strap provided me an even freer free riding experience--and I nearly toppled forward until I got my seat properly under myself and rode the horse, not the saddle or stirrups. Once I got acclimated I no longer had buckles digging into my leg, my seat was EXTRA cushy, and oh yes, I could see doing 50 miles in this! I've been making myself check and retighten the girth multiple times as instructed, something I'm generally guilty of not doing.

So, I feel like it's improving my seat and giving me a *good* soreness, and I really enjoy the ride of the treeless. I'm certainly not fool enough to think that 40 miles of trail proves much of anything about long term saddle fit at this point, but I did feel it was promising enough to purchase the used Sensation from a fellow endurance rider. Following the advice of endurance buddies with a lot of miles riding treeless in all temperatures and geography I opted to go with a Skito saddle pad which I've just now ordered. ~*Squee!!*~ (I choose to be excited about a quality long lasting product rather than appalled over the cost of said product!) Skito has a great service on their site where you can submit a form detailing saddle fit issues and attach photos of the horse you're trying to fit; they emailed me back in about a week with advice on what inserts and foam to use and I just had to choose fabric and color and away we went. I'll be updating you all with the pad's arrival and performance of course.

current incarnation of tack, with full bridle and Myler full cheek snaffle, time for some work ON the bit instead of avoiding it, eh Scrappydoo. The saddle set up is like a memory foam bed <3
The treeless does highlight our only other real performance issue, which is a real enough one--Scrappy was essentially just cowboy trail broke in a hackamore when I bought almost a year ago, which is great, but once your fat lazy gelding gets fitted up and gets out on a chilly race morning turns out he channels Hi Ho Silver, and a hackamore with no lateral give just doesn't do the trick anymore. He carries himself well naturally but wasn't trained to giving to the bit and collecting, so he doesn't have a great idea of what to DO with a bit in his mouth at this point, besides point his chin at the sky and play Hollowback the Giraffe. We've got some work to do on that, and I look forward to getting some pointers from my trainer April when I go north to pick up Sheza hopefully next week. Sheza, by the way, got cleared by the vet on Tuesday to return to work and has been dishing up some sass to April but it's nothing she can't handle.  Here she is at April's on Tuesday:
Finally I just have to add that my husband took a nasty spill the other day and my dogs have been in and out of the vet for various reasons; I can't stress enough to readers both constant vigilance re: animals (and re: adventurous husbands, apparently) AND a seriously well stocked med kit. That may be worth another blog post actually, as I have recently discovered that some of the "fully stocked" kits that you can buy can be sort of a joke and I'll be rebuilding my own kit very soon after using up most of the supplies in the last few weeks. 

Another time! 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Spaces In Between

I have loved endurance since I trotted my way through that first LD as a junior 12 years ago. It was a fitting introduction to a die-hard sport, as my sponsor and I, along with most of the rest of the field, got thrown at what we can only assume was a mountain lion crossing; I caught our horses and my mentor ended up with a concussion and was done at the halfway vet check, but another kindly rider took on myself and my angsty Appendix mare and we finished the ride in fine style on the correct side of our horses. That day I won a grain scoop that I still use to this day, and that first vet check card is still in my drawer. That day, I found my passion for horses channeled into a sport full of wonderfully wild people with hearts full of adventure. 
In 12 years and with that professed love of the sport you might expect that I have some sort of impressive AERC record to throw at you at this point, but I assure you that isn't the case. With 355 endurance miles and 400 LD miles on a couple of different horses, I'm just an average joe with my foot in the door of AERC. In those 12 years though I have ridden thousands of trail miles on uncountable horses, and oh, the things I have learned. 

for instance, mini horses make good supervisors, who knew?
One big lesson has surely been the acknowledgement and appreciation of what I have; I'm a redhead so I have fuming down to an art form, but has anyone else found themselves frustrated or totally disappointed that they can't go to a ride/the tack isn't fitting right/the horse found that one rock in the trail? All that work and time and money for nothing andandand!!  I find myself occasionally mired down in these details and then have to stop and reassess. It generally goes something like this:

So let's get this straight:

1. I have a horse?! (How lucky am I!)
2. I have the time or $ to even think about let alone get to go to an endurance ride? (How lucky am I!)
And finally, no really--
3.I have a horse?! (How lucky am I!)

Scrappy does Handsome in the full DD bridle and full cheek Myler snaffle the other day, Oolala
no better way to see country than from a horse!
Still, I have goals in endurance and higher dreams of what I hope to achieve. I've spent the last year with Scrappy getting to know him, changing every single piece of tack, trying to get it right, regrouping and trying again. At some point along the way my busy brain must always kick and remind me that while we'd all love to be kicking back in the after-glow of some fabulous success, with a delirious grin and perhaps a buckle to boot, the reality is that most of the time we're all just grubby folks in tights and t-shirts doing the in-between and life work trying to make those moments happen. I hope that we can all remember that those miles, those moments or hours or years, those attempts and failures--those spaces in between--are what get us to those bigger crowning achievements. Hug your horse, remember why you started this craziness in the first place, and enjoy the ride! 

A job well done, says supervisor Napoleon
Happy trails, however long they may be!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Summer Horses

First of all, officially summer or not, it's been *hot.* Weather woes are all relative to your locale and personal preferences, but as a redhead raised on both coasts I think I can safely claim 100+ degrees for the last 5 days adequately hot! These are the days where all outdoor work is done very early, or very late, and in those hot afternoon hours there is nothing to do but take advantage of California's generous geography--not 50 miles away it was 25 degrees cooler and totally gorgeous:

Meanwhile, back in the foothills, Rushcreek Aurora (Rory) has been blooming in the hot weather. Her new favorite activity is lying down in her hay pile and eating, but she is also game for mad evening gallops, whether anyone joins her or not.
foal hops
Why aren't you running and galloping too, this is FUN!
In saddle news, Scrap has done about 40 extra sweaty miles in the last week, in the used treeless Sensation English trail saddle that I was trying out. His back has been very happy and I've been enjoying it though am definitely adjusting my riding a bit--and I've decided to buy it.  I sent in pictures and fit info about Scrappy to the Skito saddle pad people to have them set up and send me the appropriate Skito pad; I've been assured by treeless endurance riders that this is the best way to get the right pad for your saddle and who am I to argue, as a first time treeless saddle owner. I'll keep you posted on how that all goes, of course! 

Some photos from yesterday's slightly less hot but still appropriately sweaty 16 miles. Scrappy was working his dog done tired angle after it, he is so funny. If I hadn't done the rides on him I'd never believe he could have gone on and finished a 30 or 50 easily right then. I think I'm discovering that he even counts me dismounting and walking on foot for a mile or two as someone else doing the leading, and he appreciates the mental break. I've had him for almost a year now and it's been entirely about figuring him and us out, with various small frustrations, but what a good time it's been.

Rushcreek love <3
noble boy in his "new" Sensation English Trail treeless saddle
shady trails are the best
Will ground tie for water..
 Scrappy loading himself :-)
Plenty more horsey hijinxs to get up to in the next week with cooler weather forecast, the state Horse Expo going on this weekend, and some Scrappy hair salon time on the docket. Stay tuned and stay cool!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Happy Trails, Rambo!!

He came home scrappy looking and limping in January and leaves us fat, glossy, and in leg swinging style on this appallingly hot June Sunday. I am so grateful to Back in the Saddle Project for connecting us with a great, experienced, multi-generational horse home just a few hours away. Rambo clearly vibed well with J and her kids and I look forward to hearing updates from them on Facebook in the future!

Rambo saying hey to Rory this morning, he had a grooming & last walk & mash

Leaving with his happy new owners this afternoon! :-)

 Scrappy was left alone on that side of the property with Rambo gone so I moved mini horse Napoleon in with him. Scrappy was confuddled by this tiny spotty thing that zoomed around hollering for "his" mare he had left across the property. Picture a pissed off mini galloping around hollering, being followed slowly by a puzzled Rushcreek--and you might get a fraction the laugh that I got watching it happen!

Happy pasture/trails to our dear Rambo boy!!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Rushcreek Sunday

Rushcreek Tracer (Scrappy) and Rushcreek Aurora (Rory) have the same grandsire and beyond that, for pedigree analysis, here, fend for yourselves:

Scrappy was born and raised at the Rushcreek ranch in Nebraska, while Aurora was bred by and at Rushcreek, but born off it at another ranch in Nebraska after pregnant broodmares were bought in the dispersal sale. Her first 9 months were spent with a couple of Rushcreek siblings in a paddock in a Nebraska summer and winter, then 5 weeks ago she stepped off the bus to sunny, green California:
 She's had a lot of groceries and ripping around her gradually sloping paddock since, and I think it shows in this photo from this evening:
 They certainly are of disparate ages and childhoods, but of very similar ilk. There is a calm, self possessed bravery in both of them that is both undeniable and a pleasure to be around. They are curious, willing, interested, and sensible, but just quirky enough to never be boring. I better move on before I start composing a sonnet..

So before Rory got to shove her adorable nose in that bowl of noms--which, by the way, she is now a major convert of--I trimmed up Scrappy's hooves this morning and tried the borrowed Sensation treeless saddles on him.

Scrappy, willing but dubious, when told to "STAY!" and model the Sensation English saddle
Both saddles seem like good fits and are deemed acceptable to try on longer trail rides. Scrappy's saddle rubs have healed and regrown hair wonderfully and I'd say he's now ready for those saddle test rides! Ahh, can't wait to hit the trail, and also can't remember the last time I was doing that and *not* testing some new piece of gear, whether large or small.

looking pretty for his mash <3    he has shed out SO fleabitten this year! 

After my Scrappy session I had a lunch and movie matinee with a friend then scooted back home to spend the evening with Rushcreek Aurora. I caught her up in all of 60 seconds this time around and she marched eagerly out the gate at my side to do some more exploring around the property. You may notice she is wearing a different halter today, she has officially outgrown the foal halter she came in. :)
Auroras hanging out

 good filly having her hooves handled & cleaned

And what better way to end a lovely Sunday than with those promised Noms. From scorning mash to licking her bowl clean in 5 weeks. Clever filly <3