Monthly Archives: March 2017

Happy belated birthday, Mocha

For some reason I was thinking that Mocha turned 17 today. No, it was last Saturday. Still, she’s doing quite well with herself and is the picture of a content horse living outside 24/7 in a herd.

Three years ago, I wasn’t sure she was going to make it this far. The white line disease had affected her mentally, and she really didn’t start bouncing back from that until the fall of 2015, when we finally figured out what was wrong with her feet (mild long-term rotation which meant that the way she had been shod and trimmed up to that point had contributed to a quarter inch erosion of the tip of the coffin bone in both her forefeet). Even with that, she was still hurting and not completely over it until late last fall. Some of that had to do with moving her toe back and raising her heel a little, which is resulting in her feet getting a little bit bigger so that she will soon be a genuine 0 front shoe instead of a 00 in a 0 shoe in order to give her support. Another factor had to do with something fusing in her rear end besides her hocks–SI joint, stifles, something–so that she naturally stands upright in her hind end and doesn’t walk by placing one hind foot in front of the other (ropewalking). I had noticed late last fall that she wasn’t ropewalking any more. Then we had two and a half months of cold and snowy weather. When the weather cleared, I noticed that she was moving better, lining out bigger and faster in a bold, strong walk, and while she wasn’t spinning like she did as a young horse, neither was she resisting it like she had been for a while.

More than that, she grew a thick hair coat this winter and is shedding it out. What little I can see of the spring coat underneath has me hoping that she’s going to be sleek and shiny this year. She’s also had almost two years of some of the best grass and hay in the region, and it shows. I also upped her grain ration (mostly forage-based with alfalfa, beet pulp, and hay fiber) to 3 pounds from 1 1/2 pounds. She’s filled out and calmed down quite a bit, while still having a bit of spark and sting about her. That said, I have to feed the grain before and after a ride in 1 1/2 pound increments because she stops wanting to eat it after 1 1/2 lbs. But she’s doing well on only grain while being ridden.

She’s getting to the point where crossing the ditch is no big deal. I point her at it, she negotiates her way down, then leaps up the bank on the other side.

Meanwhile, we’ve been having nice riding sessions in the big pasture with long straight lopes and trots. Today I asked for flying changes on the straightaway and there was no fuss or bother about it.

We’re coming to an end for the pasture season, though. Soon it will become a grain field and we’ll be back to arena and road riding until October. This summer, we’re planning to take her out hiking with us–husband wants to walk while I ride, probably us riding ahead for fifteen minutes, then riding back. Guess I’d better put the strings back on her Western saddle so we can tie things to it. Right now, though, I’ve been riding her in English tack. For the first time in ages, the saddle seems to fit her and it’s nice for this stage of her conditioning. It’s time to move toward reestablishing her proper muscling. Not that I plan to get too crazy about it–at age 17, especially after she had some rough times, she’s mostly a hacking horse. But that doesn’t mean we might not decide to hit a show or two, either….

I’m hoping to get another seven years or so out of her as a saddle horse. It seems like changing her life from stall horse to pasture horse has given her a new lease on life. At least this spring, it’s been awfully sweet to have my good little saddle mare back, feeling her energy and forwardness underneath me. I’m also daydreaming about the possibility of riding her from the barn to town, hanging out around the house for a couple of hours, then riding her back. We’ll have to see if that works. It is a fun idea, anyway….

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Horseblog 101–tack, guidance, and basics of the aids

One of my friends made a comment the other day about English vs Western riding that rocked me back on my haunches, so to speak–an observation that based on her experience, she felt that English riding was gentler on a horse than Western. A few questions, and I realized that this perception was based solely on how horses were guided at the beginner level, especially with the use of words such as yanking and tugging to describe rein effect. Now I know that many of my friends already know this stuff, or they’ve been reading horse information spread throughout the speculative fiction world–but the knowledge isn’t as wide as I thought it is. So I decided that perhaps I’d do a little refresher on reins, tack, guidance, and basics.

The first thing to consider is that while someone who is a beginning horseperson or has no experience at all looks at the reins as acting as a major means of controlling a horse, in reality, reins are merely a steering mechanism–and ideally, more of a backup method than the primary means of controlling a horse. A determined horse can and will run through the severest bit and tightest hold you can have on its mouth, if given sufficient motivation–whether anger, frustration, or fear. One of the goals in creating a fully-trained horse–what we call a “finished” horse–is to end up with a horse that will respond to almost telepathic levels of communication through seat, leg, and then hand. The ideal is that by shifting weight, you can change a horse’s direction, slow the horse, collect the horse into moving in balance, or stop it. Leg cues add more options, such as sharper turns, bends, body angle in relation to direction of movement, or gait changes. Hand cues aid with collection, provide guidance, and maintain a line of communication with a horse.

These goals work no matter what the tack is or isn’t on a horse. English or Western, the mark of a good rider is the degree to which you can’t see the cueing going on. That said, if you are working at speed, or things go weird, the ideal might not happen. But ideally, what you want to be able to do is shift weight, touch leg, squeeze a rein to communicate with a horse underneath you. Or even less. Turning your head can turn the horse, even with dropped reins and no leg or seat cues. It’s a shift of weight, and a sensitive, well-trained horse will respond to it.

The problem comes when dealing with either green (minimal or no training) horses, green riders, or horses who have been desensitized to subtle cues by inexperienced or heavy-handed riders who yank, kick, and tug. Green horses need repeated, gentle, soft communication to teach them appropriate responses to cueing. Green riders need to learn how to stabilize their bodies and control them to provide the more subtle methods of cueing. Desensitized horses need repeated, soft, consistent work to bring them back to lighter response.

Ideally, happy horses and happy riders communicate with minimal force–and that all comes back to communicating in whispers, not shouts. Which means a light touch on the rein, balanced seat, and reading what the horse tells you through hand and seat. Yes, you can feel what the horse is doing through the tack–English or Western.

This isn’t the ideal post for this, but it’s what I’ve got for tonight.

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Slow dancing toward the apocalypse…or is it snowpocalypse?


March 1 in the Winter That Never Ends. Winter 2.5 in the Wallowas, with the weight still tilting heavily toward cold and snowy rather than less cold and less snowy. Of course, this winter is closer in severity to the winter of 1981-82 that we spent here before moving to Portland. But then we left before the chinook and the melting and the transition toward temperatures around freezing. Tonight, I sat out in the porch at 31 degrees F and felt perfectly comfortable. Almost tropical. Then I had to laugh at the idea of 31F feeling warm. But it does, after subzero temps and serious cold like we went through this winter. It’s rewarding to be here during the sloppy wet not-quite-mud-but-still-mud season. Beats the pants out of the early spring season allergies plus mud on the Wet Side.

But we aren’t done with snow. It’s snowed twice since we came back from the last trip to Portland. One time was a dusting, the other a snowfall of about 3 inches. It all melted. We still have the big piles of glaciated snow from the earlier snow, but it’s not like it was. Mocha and I can romp in the field and even play with a little bit of lope in the current soft snow that she can brush through without postholing. We’ve both learned a lot more about dealing with snow under saddle this winter.

The writing proceeds slowly. I  look at my publishing plan for this year and shake my head. But when I made this plan back in January, I still wasn’t accounting for the change that my decision to become more active in community affairs makes in my writing schedule. Also, I didn’t anticipate the sudden rise of anthologies–humorous and political alike–that I want to submit to.

I have decided that short stories take longer to write than their novel versions. In the novel, I plot aggressively and in detail, but in executing the work, I have about 2000 words a day to play around in. I can rack up that word count.

Not so with the short story. I’ve figured out that if I try to plot a short story as rigorously as I do a novel, then I start throwing everything but the kitchen sink of backstory into the short story and…um, that doesn’t work. I have to have a rough idea and then pants it from there. Let the story flow from my fingertips, and fix it after I’m done.

The current project is for Alma Alexander’s Children of a Different Sky anthology (see here for the Indiegogo–please contribute as the proceeds from the anthology’s sale go toward refugee programs). A modern witch going through an experience similar to a Jewish person during the Hitler era…with inspiration from Jo Walton amongst others. Next, I have another possible political theme, plus a humorous anthology to think about. None of these little projects have been accounted for in the writing plan, but…things change.

At times I feel like the main character in my story “Slow Dancing in 3/4 Zombie Time” that came out in Zombiefied I. Things are happening. The world has changed so quickly that I don’t always grasp it.

But then things happen that I can understand and relate to what I am doing, and I get a quick glimpse of what could be.

I just wish those glimpses were more than ephemeral.

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