Monthly Archives: July 2014

Horse at the end of July

Today I went full Western, with curb and romal. Mocha was in the grumpy stage of her heat cycle, where she’s really on the muscle and just wants to go, not fiddle with piddly stuff. We’ve not worked in the curb and romal for about 7-8 months now, though we’ve worked with a Western Pelham (which has the same mouthpiece–basically a long shanked and short shanked version). I’ve had interesting results when we’ve come back into the curb and romal from snaffle/Pelham work but I don’t think I’ve ever had her out of the curb and romal for this long since she first started going in it.

She was very much the workmanlike horse. A bit pushy (goes with time of year and time of cycle). The best thing to do with a pushy Mocha is to bump her up to canter schooling and get precise about locations of lead changes, circles, and rate changes (canter-gallop-canter) Having the full arena again (round pen used to take up half the arena; it’s now gone) makes a huge difference in schooling. I wouldn’t be doing as much with her if we were only working half an arena. With the full arena, it’s easier to do serpentines and figure 8s without falling into tight circles and putting pressure on those hocks of hers. She’s not rushing through the changes and turns, and she’s more relaxed. Win, big time. Plus, because she’s in a mode where she wants to run and work, she’s cooperative and focused.

It didn’t take much for her to get back up to speed on neck reining but that’s to be expected because I use a lot of indirect rein. She rates a lot better at the canter-gallop-canter sequence with the curb and romal. At the end of today’s work, I asked her for a rundown and whoa, followed by back. She was *quite* enthusiastic about that (even without skid boots). Then we did some of the best dang rollbacks she’s ever done. That was enough. We went for a stroll past the Paint of Death; she watched him and flicked her ears at him but kept her head low. A strange dog (goofy golden) ran at her by the Scary Barn and she raised her head, then lowered and started to approach the dog (dog was with people). She was alert but not particularly worried. Interesting how changing out the bit just brings out that side of her personality even more than ever. Girl does seem to like her work.

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The Year of Wacky Gardening–Midsummer report

I’ve decided that this is the year of wacky gardening. Due to upcoming life changes, unlike previous years, I don’t know where we are going with a garden for next year. We may not have much of a garden, if any. Or we may co-garden with a friend in a different, more coastal, microclimate. I don’t think we’ll have Farpoint up and running yet. So this year I am determined to do the things I’ve wanted to do with my current gardening space all along–such as a coherent autumn/early winter/overwintering strategy, for one. It’s all good, but the key is that this year, late August does not mean I have to start cramming writing into the morning, work and horse into the afternoon/evening, and I have little time and energy for maintaining the outdoors. New adventures lie ahead for late summer and fall gardening, and by golly, I’m going to try them.

Additionally, a neighboring urban hen has decided that our yard is Chicken Heaven. I don’t mind her scratching under the bird feeder, but her sampling of the windfall apples and the broccoli is Right Out. She’s a pretty thing–a White Rock, well-conformed, would probably win blue ribbons at a chicken show if not championships. Neighbor says she is a good layer. From what I’ve seen, she’s also an excellent forager with a wide range of preferences.

She’s smart. She started by crawling under the fence, then, when I blocked it, she went the long way around. Flew over the driveway gate, walked up the driveway of the flag lot she lives on, around the front of our long house, and back along the side to the delights of our backyard. That’s a pretty involved route for a chicken brain to figure, but she’s got it down. She would make a wonderful free-range farm hen with her smarts, but an urban hen? Not so much.

Some days I have chased her out of the yard up to three times. This morning, I caught her meandering around the front, just as the neighbor came around to catch her. He saw her fly over the fence.  We pursued her, he captured her, and Things Will Happen. Alas, but if I wanted chickens in my yard, I’d have a more protected garden. We’ll see if I still chase chickens for the rest of the season.

Meanwhile, in the name of garden succession, I’ve been plotting on how to replace cabbages. I’m going to see if we can get regrowth from this batch of cauliflower (done so before) but not with the cabbages. We’ve eaten two of the four cabbages and I think Number Three will get harvested tonight. Three of the four cauliflowers are viable and we’ve harvested one. I think Number Two gets harvested tomorrow. I’m going to check out a couple of hipster Portlandia garden shops to see if I can get late season cabbage starts and hope for cabbage for Thanksgiving.

I harvested the last crop of edible pod peas on Monday and pulled the vines. This batch has been quite prolific and I still got over a pint on the final picking. But the vines were mostly dead, with about six inches of green. Still, I was harvesting edible pod peas for a month. Not bad. Now we’re moving on to green beans. The first harvest of Blue Lakes was quite productive–a pint and a half, and I need to pick again.

The garlic was disappointing. I did harvest some heads with big cloves, but I didn’t get all the regrowth I wanted. I think this line has petered out. Too bad. I’ve been cultivating it for twenty years, but the past three years have not been as productive as I like to see. We’ll eat it all this year.

I’ve been harvesting onions all along. Besides planting a full packet of sweet yellow onion starts, I planted some red onion starts. They aren’t big but they are yummy. I’m hoping to be able to harvest a batch that will keep in the basement and have my own onions to eat all winter.

The Gravenstein has been dropping apples for two weeks, and I’m at the point of being buried. While I’ve been taking apples to the horses, it’s time to pick apples and put some away in the basement. I’ve made one apple crisp (will make another today) and an apple cake. I’ll probably make apple pie later on in the week. I canned twelve pints of applesauce and froze a scant quart of applesauce on Sunday. Today I plan to make apple juice (after I go buy quart jars, alas, I keep letting hubby talk me into getting rid of canning jars). I should be able to get six quarts out of that, and I might do a second round. However, I’m also going to start putting apples away in the basement and giving some to friends. It’s a good apple year, and the apples are both plentiful and big. I definitely want to take advantage of the bounty. I might even fire up the dehydrator.

Tomatoes are just starting to come on. This year, if I get buried, I’m making tomato sauce in pints.

Yesterday, I started the fall harvest replanting. More edible pod peas that I hope will be ready to start picking about the time that the Blue Lakes peter out, plus onions, in one bed. In another, more onions, plus beets and rutabagas. I’m contemplating finding a spot for carrots and, of course, thinking about when I need to plant overwintering crops for early spring harvest. I’ve never really tried to do this before. Should be fun.

And now it’s time to wander off and pick up jars. Onward.

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Schooling is a process….

Mocha got a four day layoff while hubby and I were off at Oregon Country Fair. When I returned on Monday, I had hopes that perhaps she would finally be over the Evil Paint Gelding stuff. No such luck. We schooled well until the very end, when Mr. Gelding moved within her range of vision. Despite having had a rather rigorous work, Miss Silly started doing her giraffe imitation. Sighing, I resumed the tight circle work up by the suspicious corner, mixing it up with lateral work.

Except–the lateral work started getting her wound up, and I could tell that Airs Above the Ground were imminent. Something else had to happen, and I decided that if Little Miss wanted to hold her head high and be snorty, then by golly, she was going to do small circles with her head high at my discretion. So every time she got wound up, up went my hands. At first we trotted, and there was an amusing moment when she tried to snort while I was driving her forward while holding her head high. She couldn’t get much of a snort off, and she got tired of being required to carry her head high very quickly, and soon we were walking around the suspicious corner with her head low.

Nonetheless, I decided that enough was enough at the moment. While Mocha’s getting back in shape, I really didn’t want to be yoinking around in tight circles like that because of the stress it puts on her hocks. Besides, if she had enough go in her to start reacting at the end of a riding session, then perhaps it was time that I set her down and we really got back to work, to keep her mind focused. So she had a day of rest, and then yesterday and today’s work, inside using snaffle with a focus on getting back into patterns at walk and trot.

Yesterday was pretty sweet. Besides warmup on the rail ending with figure 8s and flying lead changes, we also walked and trotted square figures. It didn’t take long for her to be looking for the pattern and making those sharp turns. Two laps of walk, then we schooled inside and outside bend in big figure 8s at all three gaits. More walk, then two-track at walk and trot. Walk break, then, because she had been throwing off countercanter outside whenever I shifted my weight, we schooled flying changes on the rail. She was pretty energetic and enthusiastic about that. I tried to keep the changes to every four strides with the inside lead on the short ends, but she was feeling full of herself and enjoying the movement. More walk, and then spiral in and out, once in each direction, followed by a little bit of showmanship practice. She gets annoyed by it, but I will get her to square up automatically one of these days. Finished with a shower for her, and despite the heat of the day, she wasn’t very sweaty.

Today was cooler but Mocha was clearly a little tired. Instead of flying changes on the rail, we did more schooling work on bending and yielding to the bit. She normally tends to want to tilt her nose to the right, and I had noticed yesterday that her shoulders seemed to be a bit wiggly and not-straight when in walk to the left with an inside bend, especially in two particular places in the arena. So we worked on turning not-straight with resistance to hand and leg into straight with yielding to my hand  and leg at the walk. She wasn’t thrilled about that. I had to play to find the right mix of leg and hand, as well as sit up as straight as possible. Eventually we got there–and then had to go back to ground zero to work on getting a nice canter depart from the walk while maintaining the bend. It took a lap, but we got it.

Doesn’t happen at trot or canter–just walk. We did a couple of laps of canter in each direction with me asking her for some semblance of collection, and then I let her extend down the long side of the arena heading away from the gate. Not far, but just a touch to let her relax. Then cool down on a long rein.

One of my goals in this rehab is to work on consistent yielding to the bit at all three gaits. It’s one thing that kills us in rail classes, because she doesn’t necessarily want to work under herself, and I think it’s as much a conditioning issue as it is anything else. We pretty much have everything else in good shape, but keeping and sustaining impulsion and collection is a weak spot. We’re not consistent. That falls on both of us, because the rider falls apart as much as the horse does. Ergo, circuits of the big arena where we simply work on maintaining a correct bend, on the bit softly, not behind it, and just lots of building up the strength to sustain that impulsion and collection. When we get it, the result is lovely. We just have to sustain it consistently, for more than a few strides.

Yeah. Schooling is a process, whether you’re training horses or teaching kids. It’s going to be interesting to see what comes out of this rehab. Last time I had to bring her back after an injury, we suddenly had flying changes. Maybe this time we can develop more consistency. That would be nice.

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Snorty Mocha is Snorty

So we are not yet done with the Horse Eating Paint Gelding of Death. I rode Mocha outside today, and I swear, it was like riding a young greenie again. However, since Treat Boy came along, we have pix of Mocha emulating a giraffe and pretending to be an Arab.


Mom, something over there wants to Eat Us.


I do recommend retreat, Mom.


SNORT. Maybe if I snort loud enough, it will go away.


You really want me to trot? Let me show you how high my head can get.


Okay, maybe I’ll listen at the canter.


Meet Evil Paint Gelding of Death, his buddy the Evil Bay Mare of Death, and their goat sidekicks. All of whom Mocha has seen frequently, except that Paint Gelding and Bay Mare come and go.


However, eventually even fourteen-year-old mares get tired of this stuff and mellow out. A brisk session of working trot does marvels.

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The tiresome sexualization of female equestrians ( a mild rant, of sorts)

It happened again. Rarely happens when I’m wearing jeans and packers to ride Western, but if I go out and about in my English riding attire, either before or after a riding session, I run into some man who starts leering at me, in different stages of politeness. This time was at a fruit stand, with my husband. I heard the guy commenting–“hey, she’s got spurs on.” Then he started ogling me, even with the husband right there. He kept talking to his female companion, but kept snatching glances even as I kept talking to my husband about what fruit we wanted to buy for the next few days.

Then he asked me if I actually was a horse person or if I was just wearing those clothes. Needless to say, I was taken aback, and weighing two possibilities. The other car at the fruit stand was a trendy Fiat Smart Car with California plates. The odds were very good that this was a very urban Southern Californian who didn’t get the idea that people really do go around in barn clothes because, after all, this is Tourist Season and all. But the look in his eye was just a little different. I know that look. He was being very polite about it, but nonetheless, I was getting The Look, and matched with it, The Fantasy, which spills on over into a general dismissive attitude toward horsewomen (in particular) and their desire to be around horses and work with horses. We can’t have a nonsexual interest in horses. You know, that assumption is really, really tiresome. Stupid. And incorrect.

(Thank you Sigmund….NOT!)

So a woman wearing dusty breeches and faded t-shirt with dirty and scuffed tall black boots with stained spurs clearly must be walking around with intent to arouse rather than using plain practical English riding attire for efficiency and comfort, if you follow that particular line of reasoning. I’ve seen normally rational males start gibbering and slathering just a little bit when I talk about riding in English gear and carrying a crop (okay, I’ve also encountered that from a non-horsey lesbian, too).

It’s stupid. It’s irrational. It’s annoying. I don’t put that stuff on to arouse. I put that stuff on because, quite frankly, when I want to school my horse in English tack, I’ve found that tall boots just plain work better with English stirrup leathers. Pinched skin on calves ain’t no fun, really (plus I’m not really fond of purple-blue spots on my legs), and on a hot day my secondhand field boots are much cooler than half-chaps. It’s much easier to change clothes at home than at the barn. Jeans tend to scuff up the leather on my saddle. Therefore, I wear breeches and boots when I ride English, with whatever layer of top works best for the season, and I run errands wearing barn gear rather than waste gas by going home to change.

Sigh. This is just a part of the whole women and horses thing, though. No one really talks about men and horses having some sort of weird relationship. But females and horses? Ooh, must be sexual. Grrr.

One of the other arguments for female attraction to equines is just as annoying and circles back to sexuality. Some proponents knowingly natter that girls like horses because they enjoy the power to direct and control a large animal like a horse with an agency they lack in the rest of their lives. Poke at that one too deeply, and it comes back to sexuality, both with what that argument says about the daily lives of women and with the manner in which the woman’s dominance of a horse is portrayed.

But neither the sexual nor the dominance arguments entirely explain how men and boys can develop the same type of deep attachments to the horse life. Heck, anyone who reads the plethora of horse fiction out there starting with the early 20th century would know better. Will James didn’t hold up dominance or sexuality as motivations for connecting with horses when he wrote his stories about the ranch horses he worked with. Walter Farley wasn’t writing about dominance and sexuality. Neither was Mary O’Hara, nor does Natalie Keller Reinert, or a number of other folks who write insightful fiction and nonfiction about the relationships between people and horses.

Certainly the ability to direct a powerful horse is an issue. But I would argue that this is just a symptom of a deeper level of something else. As any horse person will tell you, the true reward in working with a horse is the ability to develop a deep-level nonverbal ability to communicate. Smart horses learn to communicate with humans on human terms while humans learn to communicate with horses on horse terms. More than most dogs, horse-human communication spans the range of communicative senses in ways and depths that we don’t necessarily use with other animals (we’re not in control of our scent communication like other species and we don’t seem to be able to read their scent messages). However sight, sound, touch, and proprioception play huge roles in horse-human communication, both in the saddle and on the ground. A large part of schooling horses is about refining cues and communication between horse and human, until they become one being in motion, able to shift directions with a turn of the human’s head, speed up or slow down based on where the human weight goes, or (for the horse) become entirely dependent on human visual perception and signalling about the correct place to take off for a complex and difficult jumping line.

In essence, that’s a whole-body experience. Horse and human in tune with each other is about grace, beauty and communication in coordination with each other. If there’s anything sexual about that, it’s that the horse-human link at its most insightful can rival the relationship between a long-term bonded couple.

Not that this is what those who make the cracks about women and horses, or who leer at a woman turned out in English riding gear who’s clearly using it have in mind. They’re just focusing on pale shadows of a reality they don’t quite understand.

And it’s damned tiresome to deal with. So no, buddy, I’m not dressing to fulfill your fantasies. I’m dressing for practicalities, and if I seem remote, snippy, and a bit like your image of querulous locals, well, it’s because I’m kind of tired of being looked at in that manner. Making loud comments about my spurs and boots doesn’t really endear you to me. Knock it off, and grow up. Instead of commenting about my clothes and asking me if I really am an equestrian, ask me where there’s a place to ride around the area. Ask me about horses. Just leave the clothing and the sexualization out of it, okay?

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