Evil, evil pony

So let’s talk about that little chestnut pony there.

That’s Shorty. He has the dubious honor of being the first horse I fell off of, the only pony I’ve ever fallen off of, the only horse I met at two barns, and the last one I wanted to see again.

He was super-cute; he’s a little muddy in that photo, but he had a blaze and four white socks – picture-perfect. The story went that he came to the barn I was riding at after getting kicked out of a theraputic riding center because he’d decided he hated having people walking on each side of him. The night I came off, he’d been there all of a week and hadn’t yet been ridden in the covered arena at night.

Guess where my lesson was!

Everything went relatively OK until we started cantering. He’d been a bit flaky about a flower box that was in the middle of the arena, but it wasn’t a big deal. At the canter, though, he’d canter around the arena to that point, and then stop. We did that twice, and the third time, my instructor told me to kick him next time.

So I did. And then I was laying there in the (red Texas) dirt wondering why I was staring at the lights and not the neck of the pony, because the little bugger did a spin out from under me and took off the other direction. After my instructor made sure I was OK, my mom took me up to the barn restroom to get the (red) dirt out of my clothes… my underclothes… my helmet… my glasses… ugh. My instructor, meanwhile, chased Shorty around until he got tired of running and let her catch him and bring him in.

When I ran into him again several years later, I was rather relieved to find out that he was owned by the folks that owned the barn (but not the lesson program), and I was never going to have to get on him again.

An Arabian and a Half

That’s Callie – pretty, witchy little Callie. We always had to watch her, because she kicked with little provocation; I never got nailed, but I was there for a couple of teenagers getting kicked or kicked at. (And trust me, a come to Jesus meeting was held immediately thereafter…) She was also a head flipper, although hers seemed to be stress rather than anything medically wrong; a few rides in the round pen without a bridle or with a rider willing to leave her mouth alone would fix her. She had that lovely Arabian trot and a pony’s walk and this little angry face that was really cuter than it had any right to be.

I actually kind of liked riding her, but on the ground, she was such a pain

And then there’s miss Punky. As far as I know, she was never bred, and that’s a good thing, because everything I know about this twitchy little mare just screams “don’t breed me.” I already talked a bit about her neurotic personality. And… well… you can see what you’d have to work with pretty well in this photo. It doesn’t capture her charming tendency to throw her head up in the air and do her best upside-down-neck/llama impression. And she was a nose-bleeder – never huge amounts, but thin threads of pale reddish fluid were not uncommon, particularly after exercise or if she was left alone in the barn while her buddies were in the arena. We eventually started wiping her nose off when we noticed it; it was easier than explaining to the kids. (She did get checked out, and it was some sort of benign tumor, I believe? I don’t think I ever got specifics, or if I did, I can’t remember them.)

She could be a sweet girl, and I know she had issues in the past – when I first met her, she was too head-shy to put in cross-ties – but she’s also the only one of my instructor’s horses to ever try to nip me and the first one of her horses that made me eat dirt. That was the last fall before I lost my confidence entirely.

She always seemed very worried, especially around her eyes, even when she was being cool, calm, and collected. I wonder sometimes if she really should have been a lesson horse, but she was the beginner horse, and she usually did a good job keeping the younger kids on board, at least. It was just us bigger kids that had issues!

Hey, I remember these muscles…

The really awful, frustrating, painful part of not having ridden in several years is the day after a ride.

When I was still riding regularly, if I was off for a week or two (or one particularly… memorable… time, a month), I thought nothing of hopping on and trotting without stirrups at length to get back into shape. Yeah, okay, I’d limp and moan the next day, but it wasn’t a big deal. My stirrups were always the right length still. I was still balanced. I could hop up and go.

That was… umm… four or five years ago? Almost six, maybe? Also, an embarrassingly large number of pounds ago.

Now that I’m riding with Heather, Leah & co, I’ve realized a couple of things.

One, my knees are apparently less flexible than they once were. This makes getting my foot into the stirrup an occasion for thought and study. Why does it not bend like it used to? How the heck do I get my foot up there? Is it really as far as it feels? It doesn’t look that far. That can’t be more than six or eight inches. Can I really not bend that far without lifting my foot up? I suspect more of this than I care to think about is weight-related; the muscles still bend that way, they just need help to get past the heft. Getting on the horse once I’ve got my foot in the stirrup is trivial in comparison.

Two, I’m right-heavy again. I’m dominantly right-handed and right-footed, and I’ve had issues with too much weight in the right stirrup in the past. I could swear I was past those! But it’s kind of hard to ignore my right foot going to sleep, even with dropping my stirrups a hole this week.

Three is not really a realization – it’s more of a complaint. My muscles hurt! Thighs, back, and butt are the current offenders. My calves seem to be OK, but that doesn’t really surprise me; I am naturally flexible in the calf and back of the leg region, to the point where instead of just being able to touch my toes, I can lay my hands flat on the ground. “Heels down,” I can do. <img src="http://blog.emeraldsilver.com/rsc/smilies/graylaugh.gif" title=":))” alt=”:))” class=”middle” width=”15″ height=”15″ /> But this is walk and a little trot work, maybe some walking without stirrups – nothing that would have kicked my younger, thinner self’s butt like this!

I didn’t ride last week because Keeley, Heather’s mom’s mare that I’ve been riding, was lame. (I led around the super-cute miss Nox instead and kicked my own butt with walking and the heat…) Keeley’s still off, so yesterday I rode Doodles instead, and I’m almost as sore as I was the first week. The sad part is, I did less trotting this week than I did that first week! Argh!

Arabians

Bless their hearts. *laugh*

As a kid, I adored Arabs. Just adored them. I wanted either a pretty gray one or a black or bay with lots of chrome, and we’d be bestest friends, and…

Then I met some.

Let’s see… There was Star, of course – nice horse, a little quirky, a little interested in the fillies still, and I’m still boggled at the weekly bathing in mayo thing.

I rode a mare named Lacey for a while – fleabitten gray, which I just don’t like that much – and she was a bit of a pill. She had two settings: lazy, and “FINE, I’ll GO, you evil human.”

Then there was Marcus, who just… had no personality at all; I have nothing bad to say about him, and nothing particularly good either. And his stablemate, whose name as totally escaped me but I think started with a T (Taffy? Tally?), who spent pretty much all her time jigging in place and is pretty high on my list of horses that were so annoying on the ground that I’m not sorry at all that I never rode her.

And of course there was Punky – dear, sweet, brain the size of a hummingbird Punky. The second horse I ever came off of. We used to joke that she had a five-minute reset button; you’d get her OK with something, and five minutes later, it was scary again. She’d stand in the crossties and scream and scream for her pasture buddies – who could care less – even when she could see them through a doorway into the arena. She had nose-bleeds. She was uncannily, frustratingly agile; we once watched her duck out of a set of stocks inside a wash rack, making a complete u-turn in a space that couldn’t have been more than two or two and a half feet wide at its widest. She regularly got sticks knotted in her long mane and tail. She was a very sweet horse – I only ever saw her make a mean move once, after a particularly rough series of camps – but man, oh man, was she a pain sometimes.

There was a half-Arabian too, a little bay pinto named Callie. She could be sweet, but for the most part she was a little turd, prone to kicking and head-flipping and this horrid little power-trot that felt like someone had replaced her legs with a mini’s and then lit a fire under her butt.

I realize, of course, that not all Arabians are those Arabians – and not all Arabians are the gorgeous ones in the show ring and professional portraits. That takes work that a lot of the ones I dealt with just didn’t have put into them on a regular basis.

But, being older and wiser than I once was… I don’t really want one any more. They’re shorter than I prefer overall. It’s a lot of maintenance to keep that pretty face. From what I understand, it can be tough to find a saddle that fits them really well. I’m sure I can come up with other excuses, too… ;)

Of course, if The Horse For Me is an Arabian in the end, I’ll take it, but when it comes time to look, I probably won’t be looking at Arabs to begin with.

-Less Is More?

Bitless and treeless, that is.

I’ve never ridden in a treeless saddle. I’ve heard lots of gushing praise about how close you feel to your horse, etc, etc. Is it true? Don’t know. I’m curious, and I’m skeptical.

Bitless bridles, on the other hand, I do have experience in – and I’m just not a fan.

The mare I rode bitless was a big half-Percheron or half-Clydesdale (don’t remember which now) bay monster. *laugh* Well, ok. She wasn’t a monster; she was a pretty nice mare and an accomplished hunter, and it was a crying shame that her tail had been accidentally reduced to about four inches of dock and six or seven inches of (thick!) hair.

The barn’s policy was that if there was going to be jumping in a given lesson, the horse was to wear a hackamore. Okay, I can kind of see that – after all, you’re hardly going to chuck the horse in the mouth if there’s no bit. And of course, if you’re doing a series of lessons, there’s not really much point in changing out the bridle in between, right?

I rode this mare several times in a hackamore, and several times in a bit. She was 1000% better in the bit, let me tell you: polite and responsive, easy to steer. In a hackamore, it was more like dealing with a freight train. The last night I rode her – the week before my wedding – was in a hackamore, and she was pulling-pulling-pulling the whole time to get out of the circles we were doing and over to the jumping lesson on the other end of the arena. I didn’t think to wear gloves (usually don’t when riding) and near the end of the lesson when the instructor asked us to canter a circle, I massively chickened out because I was having issues controlling her and because holy shit, my fingers hurt. I “got” to wear the remains of matching knuckle-to-knuckle blisters on both ring fingers to my wedding in addition to the usual bridal things.

I realize my experience was with a single horse, but that single experience tells me that not every horse will be sooooo much better without a bit like some of the hardcore proponents claim. And to be honest, the mare didn’t seem to care one way or another whether she was being ridden in a bit or not. It was not a magic bullet to a happier, more willing horse.

Will I try it again at some point? Oh, probably, on someone else’s horse. But if and when I get a horse of my own, I think we’ll stick to bits unless there’s some compelling reason why we have to avoid them…

Silky

More old pictures – and I only have one of this pony that I was able to crop me out of, so please excuse my pre-teen awkwardness. And those glasses. :roll:

Silky was the step up from old Roman. No idea what she was, if she was registered, if she had a show name, how old she was – nothing. I do know that lesson pony wasn’t her favorite job; she hated kids. She was a confirmed nipper; I clearly remember her taking the fuzz off the sweater of a girl one day. I also clearly remember her trying to take a chunk out of my instructor’s butt when she was tightening the girth and not paying attention to the pony’s head. I don’t remember her ever trying to bite me, though, and my mother confirms – of the kids out there, I seemed to be the only one she’d tolerate.

She was a good jumper, and a pretty safe ride once you got on, as long as you didn’t mind dragging her out of the clumps of grass on the sides of the arena every time you passed at a walk. This is the pony I rode when we did an off-site dressage show and I got 2nd place despite having no clue what a diagonal was. I seem to recall that braiding her perma-mohawk was a pain in the butt…

This was 1992-1994. In 2006, I ended up back at the same barn under new management and found out that they had “inherited” Silky when they took over the site. Her nipping had turned into biting, and was extreme enough that the previous owner said the little mare had broken her arm. After a couple of attempts to teach lessons with her, she was deemed a risk to the health of the students and shipped off to be sold.

Old Roman

This is the very first horse I rode in lessons – and I have the photo to prove it! *laugh*

Roman was the old trooper of the barn. He was 26 when I started taking lessons, probably 28 when we left; they told me he was an Appaloosa, although I don’t recall them ever specifying his color. (Looking at the photos… I’m going to take a wild guess and say his base coat was a chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, maybe? With a blaze… and probably a varnish Appy at that, given the indeterminate color…) I never did learn his registered OR show names.

They let him roam loose around the barn and paddocks – he was often found back in the back near the pasture where the babies were – and he’d reliably turn up in his stall for his grain. He was a terrible chow hound, and apparently had an iron stomach; I heard, although I can’t verify, that he got into and ate most of a 10-lb bag of “wormer feed” (feed-though deworming, I’m guessing) and was perfectly fine. I know he was always up for apples, carrots, pretzels, and anything else us kids could think to feed to him.

Five or six years after we’d left that barn, we heard through the grapevine that he’d been retired to “the farm” (somewhere in south Texas) finally. I hope he ended his life well; he was a sweet old horse.

As a technical side note…

It was pointed out to me this morning that there were some technical issues for those of you coming over from Blogspot or wanting to post comments with Blogspot addresses.

Turns out, Blogspot was on the spam list! My best guess is that it either came from the central spam list this blog software uses, or I got a bit overzealous on spammers one day and blocked it myself without noticing (which has been known to happen).

Anyway, it is unblocked now. Please let me know if you’re still having issues – either leave me a (URL-free) comment here or email me via the contact link at the bottom of the page (which now points to the RIGHT email address, argh!).