Acey nearly got eaten yesterday. By cows.
These were not ordinary cows. Acey doesn’t mind ordinary cows. These were Scary Weanling Cows in Crackling Brush. They were another animal entirely. Just ask Acey.
We were in the middle of a road test for her new Stonewall saddle and 00 Easyboot Back Country boots. I decided not to haul out to the BLM land for the test, in case something went wrong and we had to cut our ride short. Instead, we left from In the Night Farm and rode a loop that gave us plenty of opportunities to turn back if needed.
As it transpired, the saddle fit comfortably with almost no adjustment. Custom built for Acey, this saddle is narrower than the old one and felt much more stable on Acey’s tiny frame. I’m sure she found me easier to carry. She certainly had plenty of energy and a free stride.
I forgot to take a photo of the new saddle on Acey, so here it is modeled by the lovely Ripple Effect. Blessedly, Ripple’s back measurements are almost identical to Acey’s and the new saddle fits her nicely, too.
The boots are about as big as they could possibly be on Acey without crossing the line to ridiculous. Outfitted as Gloves, the 00 shells would never stay on her feet (yes, I did try once). As BC’s, they clung to her little feet through walks, trots, extended trots, canters…and a gallop. Which leads me back to the cows.
We were six miles from home. I’d dismounted to let a massive tractor roar by. Acey scarcely looked at the tractor, but before I could get back on, something in the deadwood at the side of the road went *crack!* She jumped. Her eyes bulged. We stared together into the brush. And from it emerged…a young holstein.
Well. That would have been okay, except that there wasn’t just one cow. There was at least a score of them, all half-spooked and half-concealed by the crackling brush. They moved like clumsy ghosts, in fits and starts, and Acey couldn’t get a clear look at any of them. Her tiny ears positivly quivered, and I swear I could hear her heartbeat as I tried to lead her past the long gauntlet of terror.
That was working fine until one of the cows jumped a small ditch. The sudden movement sent Acey right over the edge. She bolted, and her biothane reins slipped right out of my hand. (Incidentally, I’ve been having that problem with biothane reins. On hot days, in sweaty hands, they get awfully slick if you actually need to keep a firm hold on them for any period of time. Maybe I need to either wear gloves or go back to my cotton rope reins.)
Anyway, I had to laugh as I watched Acey’s little bay butt tearing away down the road. I wasn’t terribly worried about her. It was a little-traveled road with fences on both sides, and we were a good mile away from the next intersection. There wasn’t much for a running horse to do but stop. Eventually.
A nice guy in a farm truck happened to see the incident, and he saved me the quarter-mile walk to where Acey decided to stop on the shoulder, looking baffled. I retrieved her easily and checked her boots. Surely if they were going to come off from speed, that would have done it.
Both boots were still there. Hooray! However, as I handwalked her along waiting for her brain cells to reboot, I noticed that the near-side gaiter was shifting up and down. Further inspection revealed that the two screws in front (the “Power Strap” portion) had come loose. They were still there, but no longer attached to the shell. Only the triple-velcro attachment at the back of the boot had kept the gaiter (and probably the shell, too) from soaring off into the wild yonder.
In all fairness, Easycare’s instructions do say to check the screws before every ride. This is not something I usually do (bad me!), and considering these were brand-new boots, it didn’t occur to me. I swore to mend my ways. But promises weren’t going to save the present situation.
You’ll recall that I was riding in a new saddle. With new saddlebags. New saddlebags, that is, into which I had put nothing but my camera and a bottle of water. I hadn’t transerred my usual assortment of “just in case” items including chapstick, sunscreen, Larabar, hoof pick, and multi-tool. Guess which item I needed.
MacGyver time. I explored my tack for a screwdriver substitute and came up empty. No scraps along the roadside appeared to help, either. Spinning the boot around the screw got one side attached, but that obviously wasn’t going to work for the other side. I ended up using my thumbnail (ow) and got it tight enough to proceed.
We finished our ride with no further adventure. Back home, I removed the saddle to find a nice, even sweat pattern and no ruffled hairs. The off-side boot, though, now had a loose gaiter! Hmm.
So about the boots: Tighten the screws when you take them out of the box. I’m guessing this is not a product problem — just user error. I’ll check the screws before my next few rides and let you know if they come loose again.
Today, we’re off to test the new Stonewall on some steeper hills across the Oregon border. I’ll pack my saddlebags properly before we go.
May you count your blessings, one by one ~ And when totaled by the lot,
May you find all you’ve been given ~ To be more than what you sought. ~ Ruth Kephart
Merry Christmas from the whole herd at In the Night Farm!
Here we go: more photos of Ripple Effect in training. Now you can really see what I mean when I say she has more maturing to do. (Am I the only one who thinks she looks like a mule?) She’s about Consolation’s height already, but I’m guessing she’ll grow a bit more to match her ears. Her sire, at 15.2, is the tallest Barb I know; on the other hand, her dam is the shortest! Anyway, she’ll also get much broader in the chest over the next couple years, and will ultimately be quite lovely.
Here’s one of my summer projects:
Ripple Effect — the first foal born here at In the Night Farm — will turn five this year! She has a lot of maturing to do (Barbs really blossom around age 7-8), but she’s more than ready to start on some serious training.
I worked with her quite a bit last year, mostly on the ground, and even backed her once or twice before the winter snows arrived. This spring, we’re picking up almost where we left off, reviewing the basics like giving to pressure, tacking up, and ground driving.
Ripple is such a sweet, inquisitive thing that she’s a pleasure to handle. She’s also quite athletic and forward, which I hope will lead to a mount that’s eager to explore miles of endurance trail at her smooth and groundcovering trot.
On the downside, she still gets anxious when led away from the farm. She also tends to forget about the saddle early in a lesson, then buck when she realizes that something is clinging to her back. Interestingly, she’s easy to pull out of that buck with a voice cue or shake of the lunge line. I also find that walking her through some circles right after tacking up re-familiarizes her with the sight and sensation of the saddle moving on her back, and she relaxes quickly.
Here are a few photos I took last weekend while trotting her around and letting her deal with the creak and swing and slap of tack. (Never mind the saddle placement and fit; I was experimenting with my old, still-beloved Stonewall, with dubious results.) I think this is a horse that will particularly benefit from having odd objects, like raincoats and empty milk jugs, tied to the saddle while we work on various things. I want to desensitize her somewhat, as well as teaching her to listen even when she’s anxious.
Ripple Effect, 2006 Barb filly (Jack’s Legacy x Alternating Current)
It’s harvest time, here in the agricultural countryside surrounding In the Night Farm. Soybeans cluster beneath yellowing leaves. Rows of onions are forced from their beds to lie atop the soil, plundered and baking in the sun. Proud, green cornfields vanish in swaths, their stalks chopped into mounds of fodder.
With harvest come the trucks. Dump trucks mounded high with future silage, tractor-trailers with flapping straps all down their sides, bale wagons groaning under tons of alfalfa, tillers set to churn the pillaged crops back into earth. From dawn ’til dark, our peace is shattered by roaring engines, clattering metal, the stench of diesel and brakes.
Every year, harvest seems to coincide with the “sightseeing phase” for at least one of my equine trainees. This year, it’s Ripple Effect. She turned four in July, and I’ve spent the summer filling her eager mind with preparation for starting under saddle.
One of the largest components of this preparation is extensive handwalking and ground driving along the ditch banks and roads surrounding the farm. I have yet to find a safer or more efficient way to feed a horse’s curiosity and build her confidence while strengthening her hooves and legs for the work ahead.
I gain a great deal from these sightseeing expeditions as well. They open a window to my horse’s mind, through which I may evaluate her maturity and preparedness to be ridden. Mile over mile, I find answers to myriad questions:
How does this horse respond to threat? Will she stand her ground, or run? Does she tend toward curiosity, or fear? Has she the courage to be ground-driven through spooky areas, or am I still obliged to lead her?
What kinds of things concern her? Loose dogs? Pheasant fly-ups? Objects on the ground? Other livestock? Moving water? Sunglare on metal objects? Vehicles?
How long is her attention span? Can she maintain a straight course? Will she give to pressure, turning and stopping on command regardless of our surroundings? Does she enjoy exploring, or would she rather stay home? When confused, does she turn to me for direction?
Perhaps you can see why I don’t mind the trucks. They up the ante. They force real answers from the horse I’m leading…and as I’ve quoted before, the horse you lead is the horse you ride.
Ripple is coming along beautifully. There are moments, out along the road, when I can imagine traveling safely along on her back. For the time being, however, I’m content to drive her along the gravel shoulder, watching her ears flicker as she marches unflinchingly into the roar of an oncoming semi.
I imagine harvest will be winding down by the time I actually ride Ripple on the road. That’s all right by me. It’s safer. For now, we’ll save mounted work for the round corral and we’ll continue our daily walks in hand. There’s no hurry. We’re truckin’ along.
Today, I worked with Tuetano. He was curious, nervous, wary of being touched. Not long ago, Sandstorm was like that.
Today, I worked with Sandstorm. She enjoyed being scratched, but resisted the halter. Not long ago, Ripple was like that.
Today, I rode Ripple. Just a few, tentative steps in the round corral. Off balance on the corners. Unsure. Not long ago, Acey was like that.
Today, I rode Acey. We explored six miles along the irrigation canal. Tried the world on for size. Reckoned it fit. Not long ago, Consolation was like that.
Today, I rode Consolation. For miles we trotted, cantered, even galloped. All on the buckle, all trust, all together. I thought of the children’s rhyme, this is the house that Jack built.
This is the horse that I built.
One by one, my babies are growing up. What will I do when they’re all gentled, all trained?
Perhaps I’ll take in youngsters to start, or mustangs for gentling. Perhaps I’ll turn my energies to campaigning Consolation for War Mare, or taking on Tevis. Maybe someday, one of these horses and I will be nominated for the Pard’ners Award.
As far as I’m concerned, they’ve already won it. Real partnerships are forged where the wild things are. I’ll miss these shaping times, these early days. I’ll want my babies back.
At least I don’t have to send them off to college.
I must apologize for my long absence. The stressful situation to which I’ve alluded in previous posts continues, and it seems that more often than not lately, I arrive home with no energy left to draft a post worth reading.
I’d be lying if I said the same stress hasn’t affected my training; it has. More than once, I’ve given up my weeknight training plans in favor of a few hours’ escape through cooking or a book. Horse training takes a great deal of emotional intensity, and I often feel I have little left to give.
And yet, I have kept on. It’s well past time I updated you on my 2010 plans for the equine residents of In the Night Farm. Mind you, I’ve learned my lesson about setting hard and fast goals when it comes to training and endurance conditioning. Something is bound to go wrong, and having expectations too high only makes the fall too painful.
These, then, are ideals. I’ll work toward them and get as far as I can, and take the pitfalls in stride. Stay tuned for updates on each of the following horses:
Inara — As part of her purchase price, Inara is to go to her new owner with basic groundwork complete. She’ll catch, lead, lunge, pick up feet, deworm, and trailer load.
Alternating Current (aka Acey) — It’s time to start this fiery, little mare under saddle. It would be fantastic to have her ready for her first LD by the end of the season, but I’ll settle for getting well into a foundation of long, slow distance work in preparation for next year.
Ripple Effect — Can you believe she’s four this year? Yes, it’s time to start her under saddle, too. A significant part of the project will be getting her comfortable with leaving the other horses and facing the great, wide world.
Sandstorm — You haven’t seen enough of this fantastic mare. The tallest Barb in my herd, she’s an astonishing mover with a sweet but cautious personality and potential I’m just beginning to tap. I’d like to finish gentling her (she’s another that arrived at In the Night Farm completely untouched) and get plenty of groundwork done so I can start riding her next year.
Consolation — Endurance, of course! We had a setback in mid-June that has taken us out of conditioning for a while (details in an upcoming post), but it’s about time to hit the trail again. Hooray!
Crackerjack — See “Ripple Effect.” These half-siblings were born just a few days apart, but CJ isn’t quite as physically mature as his lookalike sister. Still, it won’t hurt to proceed with his groundwork as soon as I’m done with Inara to free up a time slot. Maybe, by the end of the season, it’ll be time to step aboard.
I must say, it’s nice to come in after a long day in the round corral, pour a tall glass of iced tea, and look out over so many sweat-stained equine backs. I know just how they feel. We’re working hard, the ponies and I. We’ll get there.
By the way, I’m still encountering spam problems despite having enabled the word verification feature for comments. Sadly, this has forced me to take the next step — comment moderation. So, you’ll notice a delay between commenting and seeing your comment posted. I’ll try going back to just word verification after a while, when the Chinese-character blighter decides to give it a rest.
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may count himself among them.
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I spent a few minutes this morning preparing the horses for Santa’s arrival. Acey was a bit suspicious…
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Meet Ripple Effect.
This 2006 Jack Slade granddaughter by Jack’s Legacy out of Alternating Current (aka Acey) is 25 months old, so she’s a couple years away from needing her first Stonewall saddle. All the same, I wanted data on her back so I can observe how it changes over time; also, the information may be valuable to those who are compiling details about how Spanish Colonial horses’ conformation compares to that of other breeds.
Ripple stood nicely for measuring and photos. I’m new to the Dennis Lane system, so I appreciated her patience while I drew chalk lines on her back, experimented with notched cards, re-read directions, mopped my forehead, started again.
Here are the results:
B: S7 (Again, a fairly narrow measurement at the lowest point of Ripple’s back, the base of her withers. However, after talking with Fenaroli of Stonewall Saddle Company this evening about how to use the profiling cards properly, I wonder if this ought to be an even narrower S6. I’ll have to double-check.)
C: S5 (This, too, is a narrow measurement near the 13th and 14th vertebrae, where the back of the saddle would rest.)
R: Flatter than R6 (The Dennis Lane system measures “rock” with a set of cards designed to determine the shape of the sides of the horse’s back, horizontally, where the saddle’s bars will rest. As a maturing horse, Ripple’s back is flatter than the card with the least “rock.”
S: 8 inches. (This is the distance between the lowest point of Ripple’s back and the rearmost edge of her scapula.)
If the above makes no sense to you, but you’re curious, visit the Dennis Lane website and scan the instructions. Or, just stay tuned to The Barb Wire blog for more profiling photos and results.
Sculptor Lynn Fraley of Laf’n Bear Studio will return to In the Night Farm later this morning to take more photos and video of the Barbs. A dedicated student of equine anatomy, she’ll also join me in profiling at least one Barb’s back.
By the way, I’m considering making Ripple Effect available for sale to the right person. If you’re interested in this sweet filly, feel free to contact me via the email address in the sidebar at right.
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