Saturday, October 6, 2012

Baby pony trots!

To say that I'm proud of this little guy would be such an understatement.  He's been here about a month, and while progress has been slow because of coordinating schedules, he's growing into a confident grown-up pony.  

I backed him for the first time several weeks ago, but because Grayson was out of town and we were having trouble coordinating our schedules, I didn't get back on til earlier this week.  In the time between the first and second rides we spent each day improving communication on the lunge line, free jumping over stuff on the lunge, and just getting to know each other better.  This pony is freakishly athletic and has a JUMP in him.  I have a feeling he's going to ride like a Ferrari, and he's definitely going to have what it takes to be an upper level horse.  He's got enough attitude but also high rideability and trainability.  He's smart and wants to figure out what I want from him. We are going to be going around in no time!

Joe is doing well too. He seems to be putting a bit of weight on, and although he's 1200lbs right now, I'd like to see him put on 200-300 more.  Last week we did some chiropractic work, acupuncture, and I had his teeth done.  I think it will go a long way in making sure he's comfortable and happy as he goes into full work.  He's getting ridden 5 days a week, and while he still worries a bit, he gets better with every ride. He's starting to understand the difference between the right lead and left lead, and is having an easier time picking each up.  Although he is sometimes tense, this is a horse that has proven himself to be willing and trustworthy.  I think as our relationship develops he will be much more confident that he's capable of being successful in the things I'm asking of him.  I'm looking forward to seeing where he is in a month and in six months. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Big weekend for the kids

What a weekend!  Not only has Joe improved significantly over the four times I've ridden him, but I finally back the pony!  I'll start out with Joe though.

Thursday was my first time riding him, and when I first get on a horse, especially one that I have time to work with (no rush for results) I like to feel out how they go and how they like to use their bodies.  Many OTTBs (Off the Track Thoroughbreds) are strong to the left, weak to the right, and stiff through their whole bodies.  Because Joe was turned out for 18+ months before I bought him, most of his body soreness from race training should be gone.  Living out in a pasture doesn't improve one-sidedness though.  

Since when I watched him be ridden by the cowboy last weekend I noticed he had a tight grip on Joe's mouth (and a corkscrew snaffle- poor boy) I also wanted to see what how he'd go without any support.  As I imagined, he went with his head up, bracing with his lower neck, and using his neck to balance himself in turns.  He also wasn't interested in picking up the right lead at all.  The next day I had the privilege of having a great professional watch me ride, and on the second try, with his tips we got the right lead, and I was impressed by how soft and balanced his canter was!  This is going to be a nice horse.

On Saturday I began asking for a bit more from him.  We spent some time walking and trotting on small circles where he was rewarded for bending to the inside and giving to the pressure. These exercises will help him become much more supple through his whole body.  I also began to ask him to drop his head down and lift through his back.  Right now, because he's not completely accepting of the contact, he is not truly on the bit, rather he's just in a frame, but working this way will help him to build his topline and gain muscle in the right places.  As he learns to understand the aids better he will learn how to carry himself correctly.  Since he still needs about 300 lbs I'm taking it slow and letting him figure things out as we go.  He's proving to be very smart and quiet though, which is exactly why I bought him!  I'm so glad that Janene was around to take some video so you can see exactly why I like him so much.

Afterwards, I went through my routine with Starbucks, and since I had Janene around to help I thought it would be the perfect chance to back him for the first time.  I lunged him til he was pretty tired (did I mention he picked up on how to lunge right away?  He's an old pro now!), and then I went through my routine of jumping up and down, banging on the saddle, shaking everything, waving my hands all over the place - Starbucks just looked at me like I'm crazy.  I swear if horses could roll their eyes, he would have in that moment.  So I had Janene lead him up to the mounting block and I layed across his back several times from each direction, and then I mounted and dismounted several times, and finally we walked off! We walked about 20 ft and then I hopped off and started over with the whole process.  The second time (after the same process of laying across him and mounting and dismounting) I got on and we walked around the whole ring with much less stopping and starting!  He's such a good boy and deserves a ton of treats!  (although instead of treats I just tell him he's a good boy, I hate mouthy horses).  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

+1 this week! Meet Joe.

Its almost time to back Starbucks (that means get on his back)!  He's getting better about all things preparation- he's lunging great, lets me stand above him and wave my arms, and lay across his back.  He's much more comfortable wearing tack, especially with the bit in his mouth.  He's still nervous when there are other horses being lunged or ridden in the ring, he can't seem to figure out why those horses look so different!  He's still reactive when there are noises or anything else going on behind him, but he improves each day.  He seems happy to be engaged in work and learning a job.

There is more exciting news though, today my new horse arrives!  

Joe is a 16.3h 5 year old TB gelding.  He's well bred (Chief Seattle x Outflanker), and although he's 5 he only raced 5 times when he was a 3 year old.  He's a plain bay with a small star and a good mover.  A cursory google search revealed some photos from his racing days, including a conformation shot from when he was a yearling.  He won $5000 on the track, and then was turned out for 18 months until I found him.  Not all thoroughbreds need or get time to decompress after a racing career, but it certainly never hurt any of them.  His body has gotten a chance to rest and recover, and his brain has had time to come down.  The beauty of ex-racehorses, and one of my favorite things about them, is that they have seen so much at a young age.  Horse shows will be no big deal for him, because there is less hustle and bustle there than there is at a racetrack.  He knows how to go (anyone who has started young warmbloods will tell you that 'button' doesn't come preinstalled!) and stop, and he bathes, lunges, ties, loads, clips etc.  All the groundwork has been done, and I'm simply going to have to retrain him to be a riding horse instead of a race horse.  Piece of cake!

I found him in a field about an hour and a half away, watched him get lunged and ridden, then vetted and bought him.  Wait, did I just buy another horse without sitting on it?  Oops!  I'm not worried about it though, this guy is kick-along quiet, and I think he'll make up into a great hunter prospect. He's got a big, slow, rocking horse canter, and as he was lunged over fences he got the hang of it quickly.  He needs about 300 lbs right now, his feet badly need to be done, and his dead summer coat needs to fall out.  I'll get him cleaned up though, and by spring he'll be a different horse.  I will post pictures when he arrives this afternoon, and I'll be blogging about both his and Starbucks progress in the coming months. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Week one

I know I always say how much I love ponies.  They are the BEST.  I've been having so much fun getting to know Starbucks, playing with him, and introducing him to his new life.  Its only been a week since he arrived and we have been working on groundwork everyday.  He took to lunging right away, and is already responding to the voice commands I use.  We work in the roundpen some days, the ring others, and sometimes we go and walk the trails.  I want him to see as much as possible so that everything becomes no big deal. 

 I introduced him to a saddle and bridle earlier in the week, and while at first he wasn't too sure about the whole "bit" thing, the more time he spends wearing it, the more comfortable he gets.  I still had credit at Smartpak so I ordered him his very own bridle, and have him in a loose ring happy mouth snaffle that he seems to like much better than the big rubber D-ring I used on Prince.

Side note: Everyone knows how much I love Smartpak, so I thought I would add a review about the bridle I just bought.  Smartpak has a line of bridles called Plymouth, and despite the fact that the new bridle was only $52, the leather feels like the same quality you find in $100+ schooling bridles.  Its soft, supple and comfortable on the horse's face.  It comes with reins, and in pony, cob, and horse sizes.  I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quality schooling bridle!  I happen to have their flash bridle in horse size, that I used on Aston and Prince, and a pony sized bridle that the Yellow pony shows in.  I love nice tack, and although with horses usually my taste doesn't match my budget, this time I feel like I have a great bridle at a price I can afford!

Anyway, back to Starbucks.  On Thursday Grayson helped me introduce him to ground driving.  I like to have a rapport and language established with the babies before I'm on their back.  I think it makes the experience much better, and the training process becomes much easier.  I like to establish the go and stop (cluck/woah) and steering.  Having a language is important to me when I'm about to introduce them to something entirely new in their life, and I want them to trust that I'm worth believing.

On Friday I free-jumped him for the first time, just over some little stuff, and he was great!  We had a bucket of food so that we'd be able to catch him on the back side, and when Christine had the bucket with her from her post with the video camera, he actually decided to jump the 3' side rail in the chute rather than the cross rail so he could get to the bucket of food.  I think he likes to jump! After that we put the bucket at the end of the ring and he jumped great through the chute.

One of the fun thing about ponies is that they tend to have all the personality of a big horse, packed into a little body.  Starbucks is no different.  He's got a huge personality and I just can't wait to tap into his athleticism and talent.  He's got BIG movement, and a great brain.  He's not as quiet and simple as Prince, but he's got try.  He's going to do big things, I can feel it.

I think within the next week I'll back him.  Once he's a little more confirmed with the ground driving I think he'll be ready to learn how to be a riding horse!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Meet Starbucks

Yesterday a new project arrived, and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to get back into writing this blog. 

Starbucks is a 14.2h 4 year old German Riding Pony, who has spent his whole life living in a field.  He is currently halter broke, and his only trip off the farm he was born was as a foal to go to his inspection.  He was rated gold premium by the RPSI and was the #2 pony foal in the country his year.  He's a fantastic mover and has lots of potential as a dressage or eventing pony. 

He's with me to be started and sold, and this is where I will chronicle his journey from a halter broke baby into a grown up riding horse.  Over the next few weeks he'll be getting his mane pulled, learning to tie, working in the roundpen, lunging, ground driving and learning to wear tack.  I'll be going at his pace and letting him tell me when he's ready to take the next step. If he's anything like his brother though, he'll be going around in no time!
He arrived yesterday afternoon and huffed and puffed as I showed him the farm.  He's a little bit nervous, but who can blame him?  We kept him in overnight since it was wet outside, and didn't want him exploring the fence line in the dark.  He's never been stalled before so it will take some time for him to learn to love that.

This morning I spent about an hour with him in the round pen pushing him around a bit, stopping to play, and even introducing him to a saddle pad.  At first he thought the pad would eat him, but after only a few minutes he couldn't have cared less.  The most exciting thing that has happened so far is meeting the barn cats.  He can't quite wrap his head around the idea of smaller four legged animals, and thankfully both Bob and Tabby are being very tolerant and letting him sniff them and play with them.

Tonight I went back out to work him again, and he was brilliant lunging for his first time, and even wearing a surcingle for the first time.  He tied to the hitching post, and stood to let me give him a bath and pull his mane.  He seemed genuinely interested in figuring out what I was up to, and happy to be hanging out with me.  I worked on tying the same way we taught our yearling, by wrapping the lead rope around the post and holding the other end, so that there is a little bit of give but no loss of control if he pulls back. It took a few minutes for him to figure out how he was still able to move, but after that he stood patiently and hung out while I fussed with him.  He does have ticks all over his legs and belly, so tomorrow I will need to get on those, but I couldn't me more excited to become a team with him, and unlock this fancy little guy's potential!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Do you like your animals? Check this out.

This is a long post, but hang in there.

Raise your hand if you grew up with animals, a pet of any kind.  Did you enjoy it?  You know that feeling when life is getting you down, and you come home at the end of a long day but your (horse, dog, cat, etc) is there to greet you and everything seems okay in the world again?  I do. 

Photo credit: Carriage Horse Cruelty (from FB)
Now raise your hand if you've heard about the controversy over the New York City carriage horses.  No?  To sum it up: there is a group of Radical Animal Rights Activists protesting and making noise in the media about the cruelty that the NYC carriage horses must endure to do their jobs.  These activists would like the world to believe that these draft horses are enduring severe abuse by living and working in NYC.  Apparently "carriage rides make you look heartless".  Well, holding that sign makes you look uneducated.  At least about horses and the issue you are advocating for.  

Wondering why I care about carriage horses? My jumper splits her day between a stall and a field.  She would be appalled at the idea of working for 8 eight hours a day.  She just wouldn't have it.  It takes a special horse to do that job, but they do it happily.

Now I don't have any problem with people taking sides on controversial matters, and I respect people who strongly believe in ideas that I disagree with, so long as they know the facts, have some evidence to go along with their opinion, and aren't speaking simply from stereotypes or prejudices.  I could throw out some examples but I don't want to get off topic.  

So, that being said, do you think that carriage horses should be removed from NYC?  Do you support these radical animal rights activists?  Do you support PETA or the Humane Society of the United States? (You know, those annoying Sarah McLaughlin commercials that make anyone with a soul cry?)  If you have, do you know where your money is going? 

Ok, you say, but I don't drive horses, this whole carriage horse thing doesn't affect me.  Here's the thing, the carriage horses are just the beginning.  They don't want any of us riding our horses.  Or making them work in any way, shape, or form. 

Ok, you say, but I'm not a horse person.  Well don't worry, this affects you too.  These people actually don't want you to have a dog/cat/bird/rabbit etc either.  See where I'm going with this?

Here is what PETA is all about:

"We at PETA very much love the animal companions who share our homes, but we believe that it would have been in the animals' best interests if the institution of "pet keeping"—i.e., breeding animals to be kept and regarded as "pets"—never existed. The international pastime of domesticating animals has created an overpopulation crisis; as a result, millions of unwanted animals are destroyed every year as "surplus."

This selfish desire to possess animals and receive love from them causes immeasurable suffering, which results from manipulating their breeding, selling or giving them away casually, and depriving them of the opportunity to engage in their natural behavior. They are restricted to human homes, where they must obey commands and can only eat, drink, and even urinate when humans allow them to."

Who has seen the movie Buck (the documentary about Buck Branaman)?  Here's what this incredible horseman has to say on the matter in his book the Faraway Horses

"Next on my schedule were a couple of young women from MTV and Rolling Stone magazine. One of them asked, “What about those poor horses in Central Park? Don’t you think it’s awful how they have to pull those heavy carriages all day?”

I had an answer for that question “No, I don’t,” I said, then explained that the Central Park horses are content. Pulling carriages on rubber-rimmed wheels on paved streets is a low-stress job, and the horses are calm and relaxed, not anxiously laying their ears back or wringing their tails. Plus, these horses get lots of attention and affection from passerby. And horses love attention and affection as much as we do.

The horses that people should be concerned about are the neglected ones that, after the “newness” of ownership wears off, live in box stalls all day. These horses have no purpose, no jobs to do. All they do is eat and make manure. Even prisoners get to exercise more than these horses, and the horses have never done anything wrong. If they had the choice, these horses would choose to be carriage horses rather than stand in their stalls."

Just so we are clear here, this is being defined as abuse, and this is an issue taking the forefront:
Photo Credit: Carriage Horse Cruelty. Caption: Does this look like the picture of a happy horse?
I took the liberty to answer the question on their Facebook page (which was promptly deleted), however, I'll repeat it here.  Yes, that does look like a happy horse.  He is in a more than suitable body weight, his coat has a shine, his feet are trimmed and shod, his tack looks to fit him well, and his expression is content.  I then questioned on the photo (again, deleted) whether those writing these captions know a thing about horses? 

Horses apparently belong on the range, in the wild, and nowhere else.  They should not be pets, companions or athletes.  In the land of rainbows, unicorns and butterflies, all the pretty ponies (and kittens and puppies) would be wild and free! Horses are the backbone of the civilization we live in now. They have been our companions in exploring new lands and meeting new cultures.  They have literally changed the way we see and perceive the world.  The world we ALL live in. 

So while those less educated on what horses are all about may think that being a NYC carriage horse is tough, and all those protesting about all the abuse thats happening everyday, think about this:

This gorgeous horse looks very content in his job, and well cared for
There has NEVER been a carriage horse driver cited for abuse of a carriage horse.

There has NEVER been a citation for mistreatment, cruelty, etc.

Three horses have died in traffic accidents while on duty in over 30 years; seven other horses have died while working in over 30 years. That's 10 horses in over 30 years.  That is a remarkable record. There is no other riding discipline that can come close to that number.

The drivers must present ALL the paperwork upon demand by an ASPCA agent or city inspector. The ASPCA performs, on average, about 180 hackline inspections every year (about once every other day, where they check all paperwork, plus the horses). That's not counting stable inspections and individual horse inspections. And that's not counting inspections by the city inspectors.

The New York City carriage horses are some of the most regulated animals in this country. The fact there has never been a citation for mistreatment or cruelty, even with an awful lot of folks looking for it, speaks volumes. 

San Pedro Sula, Honduras, October 2011 © Kelsey Sullivan
Cruelty exists.  I hope one day I can say that it doesn't, but the world I have come to know is full of injustice.  I have seen it on the streets of Honduras where children of all ages must live and fend for themselves because their families can't feed them.  I've seen it post disaster areas where the government fails to respond with aid, and the world forgets the tragedies once the next day's news goes to press. We see and hear about it in countless places across the globe.  We are inundated daily with choices about whether to do something and act, or to keep living our lives, pushing all those thoughts about the world's unfairness to the side. People, children, are dying for no reason beyond simplistic poverty and its implications, and people are complaining about animals with a job?

Abuse, cruelty, unfairness, injustice. They are all very real things in our world.  But who do we let draw the line on its definition, and who's bottom line to we allow it to serve?  

I suppose part of me wants to just shake some of these people and say "Wake up!"  There are bigger things to worry about in this world than the 200 NYC carriage horses that live comfortably, have a job and know when and where their next meal will be!  There are millions of children (human beings) that don't have that luxury. And that's not limited to the third world, its here.  It's in NYC.  Its in your hometown.  Its all around us.  And if humans fall under the category of animals (and I would argue that we do), all those organizations are failing miserably at regulating the ethical treatment of our species.  Just saying.
Everyone needs something to fight for, their own cause if you will.  Not everyone has one, but many are willing to jump on the bandwagons nonetheless.  Look at the KONY 2012 campaign for example.  Despite the "white man's burden" overtone (too blatant to be considered an undertone) of the film and Invisible Children's questionable uses of money, many people are suddenly big supporters of having Joseph Kony pursued and arrested.  Even Elon's Greek life is making each chapter member write two letters to our state government to create pressure to act. (If you'd like to know more, I suggest checking out Uganda Speaks instead of Invisible Children).  I couldn't resist the meme, sorry!

What I'm saying is, when ideas gain momentum with groups of people who are not necessarily educated on an issue, there is a snowball effect and change may ensue.  However, who's changes are we making?  What are their motives and what will be the final outcome?  For all the horse people out there who agree that having carriages in NYC is cruel, what happens when they come for your discipline?  And when they tell you that your pasture puff living his days out in your backyard should be confiscated and euthanized because captivity is cruel?  Think it could never happen?

Change can be created, and these people want it.  What do YOU want?  Are you willing to defend the animals you love?

Many people often forget that Hitler didn't viciously take power in Germany before WWII, he was voted into power.  He won elections.  People thought he would be a good leader.  This reminds me of the famous quotations from German pastor Martin Niemöller following the Nazi's rise to power:

          First they came for the communists,
          and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

          Then they came for the trade unionists,
          and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

          And then they came for the Jews,
          and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

          And then they came for me
          and there was no one left to speak out for me.

You may not feel that this issue effects you, and it may not now, but what happens when they win, gain momentum, and then come for your animals next? 

I know I'll be taking a ride in a carriage next time I'm in NYC, will you?

Related reading:

 Embattled ASPCA veterinarian resigns over carriage horse death "and that she felt as though she was being used as a tool to make a larger political statement in relation to ASPCA's lobbying efforts to get carriage horses banned."

Why is PETA killing thousands of rescue pets? "What PETA does not publicize, however, it euthanizes -- kills -- some 85% of the animals it rescues."
The HSUS (not official website)  "Only 3.64% of the 107 million actually went towards helping out real animal shelters. The Humane Society of the United States is a "humane society" in name only. The HSUS does not oversee local animal care, humane shelters or animal control agencies of any kind. The HSUS is simply an animal rights lobby group."
Carriage Horse Facts - Facebook

Monday, April 2, 2012

The horse show went well!