Thursday, November 20, 2008

Happy birthday mother

It's my mothers birthday to day and I felt it appropriate the I send a special birthday shout out. And throw out a "very sappy post" warning.


Confidant and guardian
Caretaker and friend
Shelter in the storm

Held my hand in darkness
Loved me when I erred
Raised me in faith

Encouraged my creativity
Pushed for my success
Taught me of valiance

...Managed to put up with me for twenty-one years...

ahem...poetry is not one of my fortes. But I hope she knows I love her and appreciate her, despite my sappy bad poetry.

Happy Birthday Mom!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

It's A Groom's Life/ A regular saturday update.

Well our ride went well, no massive blow ups this week. And being in a saddle that fits me appropriately has done wonders for my position, and I'm much less sore, which counts for something. The group lessons are fun and at the end of the R has us do a little mini class, then gives us all a placing. Fame and I where next to dead last...for the second week in a row. But those gals have much more experience on me, not to mention that they are not riding Fame. My posting is good, I stayed in the saddle at the canter, it was tough walking but we worked it out. I feel like I'm steadily improving, and getting more and more control on my horse. My biggest weakness is rating that horse. He will do what I tell him with enthusiasm but he just does it at a million miles per hour.

I have also decided to use this blog to launch my old/new project. A Groom's Life. It will kinda be a series of pictures/comic shorts about the horse world as it relates to being in a show barn, and quirky horse behavior in general. I hope to do one weekly.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fame's Story: Thrills and Spills

Before I begin, I put this blog together as an excuse to write. It would be easy to only write about the good stuff. To make it all seem like sunshine and berries, ponies and rainbows. I could have made myself look good but, it was more important to me and my own reflections on the matter to include the less sparkly moments. So...

Thrills and Spills

I was not a smart rider, I was not a good rider, but I was stubborn, and continually compelled to get on my stiff, jiggy horse. I didn’t know any better. After R had cleared out of the barn I took my horse out of his stall and tacked him up, lunged, and climbed aboard, at this point I was feeling confident(way over confident) in my riding and had begun asking for a little sitting trot. His sitting trot was like riding a jackhammer. But since his "pseudo walk" was like that too I wasn’t to bothered by it.
"You are going to ruin that horse," I heard from behind me. It was R, he had forgotten something and had come back to the barn. Where my attention had been on the horse I had not noticed when he had come into the arena. "If you insist upon riding this horse you at least need to make him walk. Not that nasty jiggy stuff he’s doing for you now. You have to remember that your horse does like to be ridden. We stopped riding him because it made him insane. The driving was the only thing we could get him to relax enough to preform and be competitive."
I hadn’t remembered halting my horse but we were stopped and I was staring blankly at Fame withers, unable to meet R’s gaze, but I knew he was staring right through me.
"He’s your horse, you’re an adult, you can do what you like." R went about his business. Defeated I slid off my horse.
We put him in the buggy for the first time since he’d been back. He hooked up like a real gentleman. He stood there half asleep as we strapped the cart to him. R swung into the cart and took up the slack on the reins. Fame transformed from sleepy to YEEHAW in about two seconds. He danced, he backed, R waited patiently, once Fame settled stood still and backed on command in a straight line R had him walk off. Fame jigged, R bent Fame’s head to the wall Fame stopped his jerky hoppy walk, R released. Bend release, bend release. If Fame wouldn’t walk he’d be back into the bend. If Fame was good he was rewarded by being allowed to carry his head and neck straight. Satisfied, R cued him for the trot...maaaannn... I had watched the other show horses work, and was always a little bit jealous of their horses fancy extravagant motion as opposed to Girla’s. And there was -my- horse, fresh off the pasture, out of shape and his knees popping level. I had myself a fancy one.
R came to a stop next to me.
"He’s pretty," I managed.
"He’s pretty cute," he replied. R swung out of the buggy and handed me the reins. "All yours."
I inhaled deeply and put my rear on the back of the buggy seat then twisted myself around to face forward. I choked up on the reins, searching for Fame’s mouth. Fame knew contact meant it was go time, and started to dance.
"Lets just start with a little walk , collect your reins a little more and ask him to walk. Watch that right front foot. Pull. Release. Pull. Release. Very good Janell. Light steady hands if he’s being good."
Fame had a lot more forward that Girla. Girla was easy to drive, but Fame was just plain fun! I loved his energy, I loved that I never had to ask this horse for more. If I did need more it was there and it seemed that I merely needed to think in this horses direction. We trotted about that arena a few times, we reversed and went the other way. It felt beautiful. I had originally sat in the buggy expecting the spazz-bot that I had been warned about instead I had a fantastic drive.
"Good Janell. Bring him down to a walk. That’s good for today. We don’t want to over work him while he’s out of shape."
Fame and I obliged, and slowed to Fame’s almost walk. We "walked" around the arena twice then R helped me unhook my horse.
"Good driving today."
"Thanks," I said patting Fame’s shoulder. I led my big ol’ critter back to the cross-ties, removed his bridle, offered him an alfalfa pellet, and slipped the halter on over his nose, and took off the harness. I led him back out to the arena and let him roll. I then took him outside to on unoccupied paddock, where happily he tore into the green spring grass. I beamed with pride.
I gave Fame the weekend off. On Monday I justified an afternoon ride, after all it was only a walk day. I took R’s advice and actually thought about the horse, and sought to find my horse’s walk. For the first time, I rode with a mind to teach my horse something.
I did find Fame’s walk.
Susan was impressed. Susan was one of many people at the barn that had owned Fame at one point, she also taught riding lessons in the afternoons. Knowing that I was an armature on a hot horse I typically chose to ride when she was there. It was an assurance that if I did come flying off my horse that someone would be there to catch him, and perhaps call an ambulance if needed. She also understood my insane desire to ride the horse, that I was told I could not ride. She did not look at me with the same critical eye that R did. Susan was always soft spoken, she looked at Fame and I with quiet understanding eyes. She had taught me my first riding lessons and had confidence in my ability in the saddle. Her confidence and belief in me was truly encouraging.
Fame and I were improving by leaps and bounds. I was getting a hold of his walk in both the saddle and the buggy. And walking was the most difficult thing about working with this horse. He was a dream at the trot.
Confidant that I had a reasonable handle on my horse R and I took our lessons out side. We would trot up and down the back path, and I could imagine Fame and I chirping along some beautiful English country side. A real high born lady and her fancy horse. Fame was strong and beautiful, regardless of how mussed my hair was or how many holes my pants had, or how many stains where on my shirt, and regardless of my size and unfortunate complection, I felt the same way when I was with him. Strong and beautiful.
R took me aside after one of our lessons, "If you want to get serious about showing this horse you need to stay off his back. There is a reason we -had- to stop riding him. He got to crazy under saddle, driving was the only thing we could get him to be relaxed enough to be competitive, and riding was making him to crazy to even drive. I’m not going to force you. He’s your horse you can do whatever you want, I don’t care if you want to ruin him, that’s your business."
I stopped riding Fame.
Fame became more intense in the shafts, and getting him to walk was more of a battle. He was great on the straightaways. The reverse at each end of the path was the difficult part, we would come down to a walk, walk through the round about and pick up the trot on the straight. The problem we were incurring, was that Fame was building prematurely. He would stiffen through the neck and begin to jig. Braced against my hands he became unresponsive to my pull release. Holding him would only cause him to prance in place, and occasionally to rear. I now came to my driving lessons with the expectation that Fame and I would get to fight it out on the reverse.
It was the third of June, a bright sunny day, and the traffic hummed by on the interstate across the fence. I had come down to the last patch of paradise left in suburbia for my driving lesson. Things were looking good and Fame seemed to be in a pleasant mood, which probably meant I was in for the work out today. We hooked up the horse and started out on the path. R put Fame through his regular warm up then handed me the reins. He chirped along, hooves beating out a steady rhythm. I was confidant. We hit the round about. I brought Fame down to a walk.
"Good boy!" I praised.
It was a great walk, until we hit the corner of that dreaded hedge that marked the beginning of all our fights. Fame began to build. R had me attempt to bend Fame to stop the build, but my horse had the bit and would not yield to the bend. To my credit he did not go forward, but he did run us into R’s hedge and backed into the fence. R was barking things in my ear, trying to talk me through this. Fame was prancing in place, the back path open in front of us the sheer energy generated by our combat seemed to vibrate the surrounding air.
R’s black working gloves appeared on the reins. Fame reared, once his front feet where on the ground he backed rapidly, sideways, threatening to jack-knife the cart, a move which could have potentially damaged him, the cart, me and my trainer.
"YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!" R yelled at my horse, and with more anger and upper body strength that I possessed took one rein and pulled Fame’s head off to one side, nose on the shoulder. Fame was in trouble now. The horse stiffened his neck, R waited for Fame to yield. Muscles taunt, the beast surged forward, and with the cracking of the shafts Fame collapsed.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Another Saturday at the Barn

My new job allows me to have all my Saturdays off. Yippie! So I typically will end up spending the day at the barn, just so I can wallow in the humble, natural, simple, down to earth scent of horses. I find nothing more calming and therapeutic after a long hard week than spending and entire day, sun up to sun down, working with horses.

I also like to take pictures. I got some real gems today, like this one.

Not that it's a great picture, I just find it funny.
It's ground week so I didn't ride. I did take him out and play with him, and got to groom him and turn him out in the paddock. I love watching the horse play and roll when you first let them out. There is little that compares to the beauty of horses at play.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fame's Story: Getting Acquainted With Fame

I didn’t put Fame into training right away. I wanted to give him time to acclimate to being back. In addition he arrived in the middle of April and would have been on the "daily training rate" which once I added the remaining days of the month, would have cost me about as much as paying for the whole month. Most importantly I wanted some time to get to know him myself.
At this time I was sorta working for PetSmart. When I say "sorta" It means what they had promised me was going to be a full time position was in truth not even part of a part-time job. This gave me a lot of time for mucking around. The first week I mostly spent grooming him, walking him everywhere on the grounds, hand grazing in the paddock, more grooming, and lots and lots of petting and snuggling. I was around nearly every day, for most of the day, and longer than R was on any given day. I lunged my horse in the afternoons, R had given me approval, and had told me the pattern that I was to work on the lunge line. 1 complete circle at the walk, 8 trot, 8 canter in each direction. All his horses lunge like this.
Before I go much further I feel that I should tell you that while R is a fair and competent horseman, he also has OCD.
Lunging Fame was not difficult. I clipped the line to his halter, I stood, Fame walked a complete circle, trotted 8, cantered 8, I stood holding my line. Oh what a brilliant horse I thought I had! After several of these lung sessions I was quite convinced that all the warnings I had received about the nature of my horse were false. They told me he hated being ridden, that he was spazzy, that he was nervous, wasn’t good for amateurs, etc. How could they be true? My horse could lunge himself. He was a genius!! I had also convinced myself that all of his previous riders were certainly not like me, and I wouldn’t know if I could ride this horse until I tried.
I wasn’t totally stupid in the way I approached riding Fame, I made my roommate, who is by far a more experienced rider, risk her neck first. She put him around the arena a couple of times before sliding off and declaring, "You’ve got yourself a rocket!"
Now it was my turn. Knowing that I was a novice rider, that this was a horse that had only been driven for the years pervious, and that I knew very little about him, I decided to take it slow, at a walk. The motion was more akin to a typewriter than a true four beat walk, but at least it was kinda slow. I couldn’t keep him in a straight line, but I was up and not dumped in the dirt. It was a start, and gave me the confidence to keep getting up.
We had several other rides like this, Fame did his hoppy walk and I poked around on his back, experimented with my seat, my legs, just trying to figure out what worked for us. But I was a driver, this was the first horse I had ridden in several months, and driving has very little to do with seats and legs. Mostly I drove him from his back, at least we both understood that.
May had begun and it was time for Fame to officially go back in to training. By this time I could keep him in a straight line, and turn him. I wanted to be there for his first official training session since he got back from his year long vacation, unfortunately it was one of the few days that I actually had to work.
Monday’s are walk/lunge days at the barn. Hunter horses are lunged and the saddle seat/driving horses are put in harness and are driven from the ground(no cart) at the walk outside.
I may have missed it but you can be sure the second I got off work I was twenty over the speed limit on my way to the barn. I got there around three o’clock. R was just putting away the tack and cleaning up.
"How was he?" I inquired.
R laughed. "Naughty."
"How naughty?" It was mind blowing that -my- perfect horse could have been bad.
R went from sniggering to seriousness, he answered me honestly, "About what I expected from him. He wouldn’t walk and he was stiff in the poll."
"He has never liked to walk Janell, it was main reason I let him go. He’s a lot harder than Girla. Girla is good even on her bad days, when your horse is good he is excellent, and when he’s off...well I’m sure you’ll get to see some off that for yourself."
For the first time since he’d come from Oregon, I felt doubt, fear, perhaps a bit of and ache. The news of his clubbed foot on my second day of ownership hadn’t even hit me this hard. What if it didn’t work out? What if Fame wasn’t my perfect match? What if I couldn’t succeed? What if I had ended up with a dangerous horse? I was already crazy in love. The concept of possible failure hadn’t crossed my mind. I brushed my horse, let him stand half asleep with his head on my shoulder, then I went home.
I was at the barn bright and early the next day, five in the morning. I breezed through my stalls and my duties. I spent a small eternity grooming my horse and, when Jacq arrived at 9 I helped with groom duties too. The faster the chores where done the sooner they could work horses, -my- horse.
Tuesdays are driving days, most of the saddle seat horses are being cross trained to drive but only a few are far enough along to actually be hooked to the cart. When we first introduce a horse to the concept of driving they must first be able to be ground driven in full harness. Phase two involves them being able to tolerate confinement, and pressure on either side. To teach this we start with two lunge lines attached to each side of the breast collar, and a "volunteer", usually me, holding onto them at the end out of kicking range. R drives from the ground. Once the horse tolerate the lunge lines at his side the volunteer starts adding resistence teaching the horse to pull. The volunteer also pulls the hip in on the corners teaching the horse to yield it’s hip like he will have to when he’s actually in the cart. If the horse is okay with the lunge line he will be upgraded to the PVC pipe. If the horse will do all the aforementioned this with the pipe, then we have more volunteers take items like trash can lids and mucking forks and pretty much anything on hand and scrape them against the wall. We call this the nerd parade. If the animal tolerates that we bring out the buggy, we walk it beside the horse, if the horse is not concerned we will bump him and rub him with the shafts. After this he is ready to hook up. The whole process is done over the course of weeks, maybe even months. R is big on not putting the cart on the horse until the horse is ready. Buggy accidents are bad news, for the horse, the cart and potentially the driver.
Since Fame had done all this before and had been driving well when he left, we started with the PVC. R struggled to get him to walk, but he would pull and he would yield his hips without any fuss.
Wednesday is a day off.
Thursday is a riding day for most horses unless, like my horse, he was in for driving only. We did the nerd parade. We looked nerdy, Fame jigged.
"R, I think he may need another day at the walk," I said as a strained, digging my heels into the dirt, providing as much resistance as I could.
"He hates walking, he’ll be better in the cart. We’ll hook him tomorrow."

This is a little driving video from back in Augst. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

It's Been A While

Since I backed Famous. This August, a month prior to the show and this September, the month of the show, I stopped riding so I could focus and put the spit and polish on my driving. Once the show was over I put my boy on break. Today I rode. I had a few butterflies fluttering in my stomach, evil butterflies with great big fangs. As a matter of history Fame has a tendancy to get spazzy after a long break.
Due to the construction we are short on set of cross ties(3) which were being used to groom horses being turned out and tack R’s bunch of babies. Famous was polite until I left him to pack my tack to the other end of the barn. Head over the stall and calling after me in a "What gives lady!! You are supposed to take me with you!!" fashion. I shortly returned to his stall and was greeted by a nicker. I clip the lead rope to his nylon halter and lead him to where and unoccupied cross-tie awaited. He lunged at the treat buckets only once. I poped his halter and give him a great big "LEAVE IT!" He snorts but leaves the goodies alone. It took awhile to teach my little cookie monger what "leave it" meant. He’s usually pretty good in the cross ties, but he was doing a little dance today. I flop my old hunt seat saddle on my old saddle seat horse(I keep telling myself that I’m going to buy a new saddle). To his credit I have never had problems tacking Fame.
We walked around the grounds a lot before I was brave enough to mount. I have this great box that I use as a mounting block. Very sturdy and with nothing he could catch his leg on(I’ve seen some horrible accidents at the shows regarding horse and step stools), plus I can keep all my grooming stuff, boots(his and mine), lunge line, and my extra bits in it. My head stall fits in there too and it’s a nice size for a saddle rack, if I have to carry all the stuff at once I can...
Anyway once I am up he settles instantly, which is a nice change, since he used to do a whole lot of hopping around. Em sets my magical box off to the side. In to the arena we go. I was pleased with how good he was. W/T/C inside the arena and on the path outside. It was a beautiful ride. We nearly got ran over by a couple of babies but overall I felt good about it. We'll begin lessons again in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fame's Story: In the Beginning

Last summer the same summer I turned 20 my entire family went on vacation and left me to my own devices. I decided to look into riding lessons and I found I fabulous show barn right in my town. They offered apprenticeships, stall mucking in exchange for lessons. I began riding lessons there shortly after. The owner and trainer noticed that I was a person of promise and after only a couple months my apprenticeship was extended to the groom room where I learned the in's and out's of being a groom. But these are not just any horses. These are show horses, national level show horses. My days were full of wonder, amazement and horses. However I was doing much more work than I could be compensated by lessons alone and my trainer purposed a lease.The horse I ended up leasing was a pure-bred Arab mare named On My Miend(pictured left). Everyone just called her Girla. However I didn't ride Girla, I drove her!! I discovered country pleasure driving and fell in love. I drove Girla and maintained a full lease on a horse from September to March. We were doing very well and my first real show was looming on the horizon. Then the man who actually owned Girla called. He had bought a breeding to Baske Afire (a stallion which auctioned for 2.8 mill a the Scottsdale show) she was to be artificially inseminated, and while I could have continued to drive her I wouldn't have been able to show her, I was paying for a show horse, so I terminated my lease. It nearly broke my heart. But the loss of the mare had cemented the idea of purchasing Fame which had been bopping around in my head for months. Fame was first offered to me as my new show prospect by my trainer. Fame belonged to a former client of his and was for sale only to a good home. My trainer had trained this horse since he was young and knows him inside and out. He thought that Fame an I would be a perfect match. He dug out old show photos of him and I began a lengthy e-mail correspondence with his former owner, arranged to have a vet look at him and even found a local fellow that would make the drive up to get him.After weeks of waiting my new baby boy had arrived. He is a bay, half Arabian, half saddlebred gelding, 17 years old and 15 HH. Another gal that works at the barn called me that afternoon to tell me that my horsie had arrived. I rushed down to meet him! I still remember the anticipatory drumming of my heart. I walk into the barn and my trainer smiled at me."You look like you are looking for someone."
"Where is he?"
"He's not here yet."
"Jacque just called and said he was."
"He's here." He walked over to Fame's stall and called his name. Fame abandoned his snack to see who was talking to him. I opened the gate and steped in.

Fame was hairy, covered in caked on mud, a little underweight but to me he is the most fantastic looking horse in the barn.
I extend my hand, he sniffs it and snorts at it, then lips it. I dare to touch him and I stroke the white star in the middle of his forehead. He then rested his lovely head against my chest. I was smitten. "Love a first sight," My trainer teased. My stall work went slow, I had to stop every five seconds to go look at him again to make sure he was real. Once finished with my duties I took to the task of mud removal. I got most of it off him and gave him a good grooming, and wrapped his tail, gave him a handful of pellet treat and put him back to bed. He sighed circled and layed down in his fresh pile of fluffy bedding that was mounded in the center of his stall. I let him rest, after a very long ride from Oregon he deserved it.

Well it's 5:30 I think I'll make myself some breakfast and get ready to go down for my morning ride.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


"Famous" Who this blog is ultimately going to be about...

Blogging about you horse seems to be the in thing right now among the horsie people of cyberspace, so I thought, why not? The blogosphere is filled with blogs about rescue horses, "fugly" horses, western pleasure horses, working cow horses, hunter horses, eventers, dressage horses, but I haven't seen any blogs on saddle seat horses or pleasure driving horses. So why shouldn't I add my mega bytes to the online horse community.
To begin, I'm 21 years old and I got into horses only last July(2007). Yes I am a newb to this whole horse thing. I've only owned my horse for 7 months(since April) and have only shown once. I've made this blog to share the joys and trails of first time horse ownership. Hopefully my experiences will help some other new horse owner and provide a chuckle for you veteran horse owners.