In the Night Farm…Your Ride is Here.

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Special Delivery

I wish my camera wasn’t broken! 

I want to show you what arrived in a little package a from Stonewall this week.  Jackie sent a good-luck-for-an-injury-free-year gift of the softest, most beautiful mohair cinch made by Beartooth Quality Cinch.  The mohair is black twist with red accents, so soft I want to wear it myself, and has double roller buckles (love those!).  Mine is the roper style, 5 inches wide in the middle and tapering to 2-inch ends.  Jackie tells me that you can specify width and color when ordering, which you can do right here on the Stonewall site.  Thanks, Jackie!!!

A few other boxes have arrived here lately, too.  I took advantage of end-of-season sales to order a couple pairs of winter breeches, some cold-weather riding boots, and a good pair of insulated riding gloves.  I won’t be using them for a while…although there is light frost on the ground this morning…but when the last rides of the year roll around, I’m set for clothes!

Before that, though, I’ll be spending a lot of hours under the sun.  So, I picked up a hat and some lightweight, long-sleeved sun shirts from Sierra Trading Post, which almost always has some good deals on their website.

I’m still looking for one more thing:  a summer-weight vest with zipper pockets.  Anybody know where I can get one?  *crickets*  Seriously, how hard can it be to get a light “hiking” vest?  I want it to wear riding on hot days, mostly for a place to stash my phone.  (Yes, I have one of those neoprene and velcro phone holster things, but what a pain.)

Make that two more things:  I also want a truckbed camper to complete an endurance camping ensemble with (ta-da!) my new horse trailer!  Okay, it’s not brand new, but it’s new to me — and a whole lot newer than the stock trailer I’ve been using for several years.  A living-quarters trailer would have been lovely, but I refuse to go into debt over a horse trailer.  Besides, taking the bumper-pull plus camper route will make the camper available for other kinds of expeditions.  So, I decided to go with a basic, sturdy, 3-horse slant with tack room.  A friend will be here later today to talk about customizing it with such things as panel racks and outside lights.

Oh yeah.  I also need a new camera.  🙂

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Speed Limit

It’s back.  That creeping sensation of desire that comes with spring.  The urgency to get out, accomplish, sweat, strain, go, do.  So much accomplishment awaits, like a daffodil bulb under frozen earth, only degrees from bursting into flower.

There are horses to train, conditioning trails to explore, miles to race.  There are fences and shelters to be built, a trailer to buy, hooves to trim, research to complete, photos to snap, blog posts to write.  Today, I see the forest and the trees.

There is the usual barrier:  time.  While the days grow perceptibly longer, we have months yet to wait before I’ll come home on weekdays to a dry round corral and a few hours’ light by which to train.  In the meantime, my job is in its most demanding phase of the year.  The legislative session plays havoc with my schedule, absorbing energy and sleep like a great, black hole.

Another barrier:  money.  Nobody has enough these days, including me.  Projects pile up, each more urgent than the last…and more expensive.  I need a new horse trailer.  I need to fence and cross-fence my pasture.  I need to build more paddocks and run-ins for the horses.  Shall I sell a horse or two?  Scale back on competition for a year to save money?  Request lottery tickets for my birthday?

And then there is the physical aspect:  injury.  Those of you who follow In the Night Farm on Facebook know that I came off Consolation a few weeks ago (story here).  While I’m now able to walk reasonably well, I am still far from being able to ride. 

Tasks and resources slide in and out of focus, a kaleidoscope of priorities.  Each glitters in turn, then fades before I can grasp it.  I could sit here forever, vaguely distressed, dreaming.  If wishes were horses…

Or, I could take one, tiny step – now, today – to make the dreams come true.

So the round corral is slick and I’m in too much pain to ride.  I’ll take Consolation and Acey for handwalks instead, loosening up my muscles and their minds. 

So money is tight.  I’ll complete my tax return now that the last of the paperwork has arrived, and see how much I have coming back.

So time is short and the weather questionable.  I can still gather materials lists and estimate costs, so my building projects are ready when I am.

Progress needn’t necessarily be defined by its speed.


Another Round

It’s already January!
 
It’s only January.
 

Photo by Michael Ensch

 
This is the time of year for looking back at last summer’s photos with a sigh, tracing the seat of my Stonewall every time I cross the tack room, and reminding myself that it is good for Consolation to rest.  I’ve scarcely ridden since the big snow that buried my farm in November, considerable traces of which remain, gleaming under the moonlight on this 8 degree morning.

For now, I am (mostly) content to pursue my wintertime focus on my own fitness and study.  I even found time to read a novel, last week.  But with the new year comes the urge to plan.  

I’ve already spent a daydreamy hour with a calendar and the AERC website, mapping out the upcoming ride season.  I glanced back over Aaruba’s and Consolation’s conditioning logs that charted each ride’s length in time and distance.  I even pulled up my old spreadsheet — remember? — designed to plan training sessions and equine workouts for the entire year.

I didn’t fill it in, though.

Tell me, have you noticed the change since The Barb Wire began in 2008?  Have you seen my inflexible schedule bow under the pressure of competing interests, financial shortfalls, emotional shakeups, human and equine injuries — in short, under real life?  Have you observed my growing ability to accept this?

To a personality such as mine, which thrives on ironclad commitment, such flexibility tends to feel like weakness.  So what if I had a hard week?  I must get through eight training sessions over the weekend because I said I would.  Because I’ll never get where I’m going if I don’t take a step today.  Because time waits for no man. 

There’s truth to that.  I took on five, untouched Barbs, which have since foaled out to make eight, plus a troubled Arabian whose mind took a year of groundwork to rebuild.  None of these horses are getting younger.  Or cheaper.  If I want to use them, I must train them, and the clock is ticking.

But do you see the flaw?  It’s a common one, so familiar that it virtually disappears inside my argument with myself.  Yet, there it is:  The same, old failure to distinguish between journey and destination.  Worse, the assumption that an ultimate destination even exists.

To be fair, at one time, there really was a destination.  I wanted to compete in endurance.  But now I have arrived.  I do endurance.  And I love it more than most things in life.  Here’s the part I didn’t expect:  For all that I enjoy racing, and all that I learn from it, the thing itself is less illuminating than the road that got me there.

The real heart of horsemanship is not at the crowded start, nor on the trail with twenty miles behind and thirty to go, nor among friends at the award dinner come evening.  It is at home, in the round corral, amid the dust and sweat and sun.  It is in the glassy eye melted black with trust, the rush of breath and lowered head, the silent conversation that magics us from two to one. 

Endurance is a thrill, but icing is nothing without the cake.

And so, 2011.  This is a year to enjoy the journey.  Acey is ready for miles of discussion to safely direct her exuberance.  Ripple has been backed, but only just.  Her brother Crackerjack is about ready to get serious.  I really want to spend more time with Sandstorm.  

And there’s Consolation — finally a partner, for all our trials.  I hope the road leads us to some new rides this year.  With luck, we’ll explore a bit of Oregon and Utah.  Perhaps we’ll try a 75.  Perhaps not.  We’ll take it as it comes, and remember to enjoy the ride.

Here’s to another round.


Christmas!

I think it was supposed to be a hardship.

But if I were God, I’d choose to be born in a stable, too.

__________________________

Who would have thought that so many people I’ve never met could affect my life in so many ways?  I can’t thank you enough, dear readers, for sharing your time and thoughts all year.  It’s an honor to know you’re out there, reading.  Merry Christmas to you all.

~ Tamara

Photo by Michael Ensch


Looking for Something?

You guys crack me up.

If you’re looking for the “gauntlet of exposure” post (thanks EG), it’s here.

🙂


Stocking Stuffers

I am stuck.

At least 18 inches of snow fell on In the Night Farm this week, most of it in fewer than 24 hours.  Now, a snowman waves from the top of my driveway (thanks, Ironman) and my car is stranded at the bottom.  It was all well and good until rain fell and turned all that snow to ice…

On the bright side, my internet connection seems to have been restored to full vitality, just in time for me to discover these:

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Steph Teeter and Merri Melde created 2011 “toon” calendars in the style that has become beloved among endurance riders everywhere via endurance.net, where you can order your own.  (Psst!  There’s a Tevis story calendar, too!)  Those of us who live close enough to attend these rides are especially privilaged to have a varitey of completion awards to match.  Thanks, Owyhee endurance folks!

While you’re in the mood, click over to Spartacus Jones’ website.  I reviewed his Many Ponies CD a couple years ago, and I still think it should be on your shopping list.

Need another idea?  Check out the precision hoof picks at Stonewall Saddle Company.  They have ruler etched into the handle for checking hoof balance.  Cool!  (Not as cool as the actual Stonewall saddles, but those are harder to fit in your average stocking.)

Okay, your turn.  What horsey gifts have you found around the web this year?  This is your chance to leave a comment containing the kind of (legitimate!) link that I’d normally block.  If you make or sell a cool stocking stuffer for horse people, or know someone who does, share it with us!


New Toys

I’m catching up with the times.  A lot goes on around here that doesn’t make it to the blogs because it isn’t “big” enough; also, I sometimes find that I need a better forum than blog comments for discussion of certain topics.

So…

In the Night Farm now has a Facebook page!  And, I’m going to try to do a better job of tweeting as BarbeyGirl on Twitter).  As many of you know, especially if you read NightLife, my passion for horses and endurance is seconded by a passion for nutrition and fitness.  You’ll see some of each on Facebook and Twitter.   If you’re into social media, come “Like” and “Follow” the farm! 

And, stay tuned for my Owyhee Canyonlands ride story — it should be up later today.


Firebreak: Dealing with Evasive Backing

No one told Acey she’s tiny.  

It was her fiery attitude that caught my attention years ago at Quien Sabe.  Among a hundred mares and fillies, her spirit flashed bright as the diagonally matched pairs of white and black legs that named her Alternating Current. 

When I started handwalking her out on the roads, she proved the kind of horse that prefers being driven to being led.  Oooh, look at that, she seemed to say, marching along.  Let’s hurry up and see what’s next!  I was pleased to oblige, so long as she remained light and responsive to my hand on the rope. 

Under saddle, however, she began tentatively.  In the round corral, she was slow to walk forward, and even more unwilling to trot.  I chose to bide my time while she gained confidence, focusing on riding her through obstacle courses of cavaletti until I felt she was ready to ride out.  

She handled the challenge admirably, and within a few rides of this post, she found her trot.  As anticipated, it happened out on the trail, and it was easy.  Not just easy, either.  Fun!  She offered speed!  After two years of dealing with Consolation’s more, erm, relaxed personality, I was delighted to ride such an eager and forward horse. 

But it’s never quite that easy.  In horses, as in people, every positive trait tends to be mirrored by its negative side.  Acey was quick and bold and clever…and in one ride, that turned to lithe, resistant, and evasive.  

It happened last Sunday.  We went for a ride along the irrigation canal, in the opposite direction from Saturday’s ride.  On our left ran the canal, a steep six-foot bank falling into running water.  To our right stretched acres of wheat and potato fields.  Our only company was the occasional snake, rodent, or hawk. 

Early in the ride, Acey began pausing, refusing to move.  I moved her head back and forth, nudged her forward.  A couple times, I dismounted to get her past particularly sticky areas.  (Strike one!)  

When she threw me a particularly stubborn balk, I asked her to back in an attempt to break her loose.  She backed all right.  Fast and far, and I had trouble getting her stopped.  (Strike two!) 

The next time she balked, she started backing before I could ask.  She tucked her chin and backed, and backed, and backed…  I tried turning her out of it, of course, but if you’ve ever ridden an evasive backer with a flexible neck, you know that doesn’t always work.  It didn’t.  I ended up dismounting in a hurry to slap her rump and stop her backing right into the canal. (Strike three!) 

Why didn’t I smack her rump from the saddle?  Because I was alone out there, and I didn’t know what she’d do.  I was afraid of bucking, bolting, and injury.  As a result, I had a big problem on my hands. 

If there’s a problem with the horse, look to the trainer. 

Our discussion over continuing down the trail degenerated rapidly.  I knew I would lose the war because I hadn’t come properly armed, so I looked for a battle to win instead.  I directed Acey’s backing down a farm road leading away from the canal.  Carefully, so as not to put rearing into her mind, I kept her backing after she wanted to stop (and believe me, we backed a long distance to get to that point). 

Then, I asked her to move forward.  She did, because we were no longer pointed directly away from home.  When we arrived back at the irrigation road, I directed her toward home.  She went willingly, of course.  A little too willingly.  So willingly that we spent a couple hours getting home because we had to stop frequently and discuss the fact that, yes, I was going to make her stand still when told. 

Finally back in the round corral, we worked on leg yields, then spent several minutes free lunging before I turned her loose and went inside to think things over. 

The situation didn’t look good.  Uncontrolled backing can be a particularly difficult form of evasion with which to contend.  It’s dangerous in itself and can lead to the much more serious habit of rearing.  Equally alarming was the speed with which Acey had discovered its effectiveness.  This problem needed to be nipped in the bud.  Immediately.  But how? 

A horse that gets behind the bit (or bitless bridle, in this case) takes away all your leverage.  If the horse refuses to listen to legs and seat, you’re out of luck for turning or stopping.  Many people recommend keeping the horse backing after it wants to stop, and that does often work, but Acey had already proved her athleticism and ability to back, very fast, for an extraordinary distance.  Furthermore, I felt that attempting that method with such a quick-minded horse would escalate the problem rather than curing it.  So, how could I stop her backing? 

A hour later, the obvious answer smacked me atop the head.  It’s not about what the horse IS doing.  It’s about what she’s NOT doing.  I don’t need to STOP her backing.  I need to START her going forward.  Duh. 

We began that very evening.  I dug out my little-used dressage whip and brought it along to the round corral.  We started in hand, with me ground driving Acey through walk-trot transitions until she leaped forward into a trot at the slightest request.  (I hardly touched her with the whip; she’s very sensitive and its very presence was sufficient to make my point.) 

Next, I mounted up.  Still aware that she might panic when I demanded a trot, I chose to leave the whip behind and focus on installing a stronger “go” button using only my voice, seat, and legs.  We already had this lesson down at the walk, but Acey’s prior reluctance to trot in the round corral provided the perfect avenue for teaching her that she must move forward when cued. 

It wasn’t a hard lesson.  Sure, her head went up and her back hollowed with concern.  Her steps were uneven and her tail tucked.  But here’s the key:  Every time she tried to stop, I boosted her onward with as much force as she required — a click, a squeeze, even a kick.  I didn’t worry about her headset or collection or anything else.  She simply needed to move forward no matter what.  And so she did. 

We repeated the lesson a couple times in the round corral, establishing consistent, prompt transitions and a steady pace, before I mounted up for a road test.  We headed not for the irrigation canal, but for a place where Acey had balked somewhat less vehemently.  My intention was to face the issue head-on while still giving her every opportunity to succeed.  

As we approached the sticky area, I asked her to trot.  The moment she hesitated, I booted her onward.  As in the round corral, I took great care to avoid punishing her with a yank on her face when she leaped forward in response to my cue. 

It worked.  We finished that ride — and several since — without drama or incident.  No fights, no discussions, certainly no backing.  Just a question on her part and a decisive answer on mine.  We’re both thinking forward again.  It’s nice to have her fire on my side.