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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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So it’s been a week. But mostly Mocha.

I’ve had some sort of low-level stomach bug that leaves me incapable of doing much thinking–other than a few short writing sessions, not much on that front’s been getting done. But hey, I’ve done some pressing housework stuff, and been getting out to the barn to exercise horse, and am just kind of pressing on, pushing on through. I’m hoping the fatigue eases off after I’ve had enough time to decompress from work, get over the bug, and get fit myself. Mocha is getting into shape more quickly than I am.

Ah, Mocha. I’ve posted two big updates on Facebook, but the upshot is that The Girl is coming back into work with a vengeance. A week and a half ago, twelve trot laps (between sets of walk work focusing on bending and flexing) left her winded. Today, she roared through twenty trot laps plus six canter laps, and not only wasn’t breathing hard, but I felt like I still had enough horse to do more afterward. Granted, this was after a day’s rest, but she’s had six works in that time and she’s letting me know that she’s ready to go, go, go.

You know how some days with some horses under saddle make you feel like Alec Ramsay on the Black Stallion? Yeah. Today Mocha could have given the Black a run for his money. When the husband went to take her out of the stall, she was keyed up, ready to go, and then acted more skittery and hot-blooded in the cross-ties than her normal sensible cowhorse self. I started throwing in a couple of extra laps of trot at the beginning because she was just so much on the muscle, so edgy, so lookee-lookee at Things To Spook At. I figured she needed more time at a no-nonsense long trot, and as edgy as she felt, I wasn’t gonna two-point it. Twenty laps of posting trot and she was flying for most of it. I finally put her into a canter and she started pitching a little tantrum because I had a tight wrap on her and she wanted to run harder. Nope, one of us has to be the brains, and it was way too soon for that. But she settled down after that canter.

Then we went down the road for a short hack. She still remembered the spook from the Evil Horse-Eating Paint Gelding from Friday, so she was on her toes the whole way. But she was a good girl for the most part.

Not going to get into any pattern work until mid-July, and even then I’m going to be careful with it. But it’s pretty darn clear that horsie has made up her mind that she’s ready to get back into work, and I guess I’d better listen.

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Back to training


So The Girl is now back to a regular shoe, which means regular conditioning and training…with mindfulness because she’s somehow managed to bruise the sole of the other forefoot. In spite of stall rest. In spite of limited work. Somehow she bruised it. Not badly, but enough for the farrier to comment on it.

But. She’s now in conditioning mode. Yesterday, I lunged her because I didn’t want her to take off running and hurt herself. I clucked her up to a trot, she automatically responded, and….halfway around the circle, you could suddenly see the realization strike–“Hey! I’M NOT WALKING! THAT SHOE’S GONE!” She tossed her head, launched into a big jump, landed, prepared to rocket off—

And I hollered out “Eaaasy, there, eaaasy now, girl.”

She settled back into a bigger trot, but there were several more incidents of head-tossing and leaping, and a little bit of loping along with a few strides of gallop. Fortunately, between her own good sense, the mild ouchiness of the sore foot, and her conditioned training responses, she never got crazy. Gotta love a good-minded horse. The mare of my youth would have been dancing all over the arena walls long before now. Sparkle never was one for being patient. I learned a lot from her, but damn, I sure wouldn’t want one like her back in my life now. I appreciate Mocha’s sense and good mind.

So today, we had a taste of conditioning time. She’s back in the English tack for early stage conditioning because it’s lighter weight than the Western tack and it’ll fit for now (I may borrow some shims from Gregg to see if I can address the one fit issue–OTOH, previous issues came along as we did higher level schooling and we can go back to Western by that point. It’s pretty clear by now that we do better working higher level stuff in Western, but I’ll save the English tack for conditioning and light hacking). I cleaned and conditioned the English boots and saddle yesterday, and stopped by Glisan Street Saddlery to buy a couple of inexpensive secondhand britches. I’m pretty happy with what I found, one pair for $20, the other for $10. Good enough for schooling even in summer, and in good enough shape to wear to a show. Plus the $20 pair were Ariat full seat britches, which I wore.


We didn’t have any capers today, and she went for twelve full arena circuits at the trot (mixed in with walk schooling, not all at once–essentially, six circuits in each direction). I’m planning a slow build on conditioning. For one thing, I’m mostly up in the irons in two-point at the trot, off of her back until she gets into shape, so that she doesn’t get sore in either her back or her hocks. For another, as she tires at the trot, she wants to drop her head and pound around on her forehand, and That Just Can’t Happen. And for a third, what happens when she wants to drop her head and pound around on her forehand is that her hind end starts churning and stringing out behind, and no, That Just Can’t Happen. Churning and stringing out behind is what leads to her Bad Canter, which means she needs to build strength.

Luckily, I don’t think it will take much to address that issue, especially if I’m schooling her a lot in the English saddle. We did a lot of lateral work and backing work in the bareback pad at a walk to keep things somewhat in tone, so if I insist on correct working and extended trot work at two-point, then build up to posting and then sitting, she’ll be ready to canter in a few weeks.

As it were, with just that little bit of trot work, Mocha was swaggering around happily at the end of our ride. No more of that coiled frustration underneath me. No annoyed grunts and complaints. Just a happy horse with a free-swinging, relaxed back. All’s right in Mocha’s world now.

To make things better, she got to go into turnout today. I know she’s missed being in turnout due to her shoe–the wistful whicker she’d give when I’d show up at the barn when most of the other horses were turned out, with only the injured on stall rest left inside, spoke eons about her state of mind. She didn’t go out with the mare herd, just into one of the small pens (but it wasn’t small enough for safe turnout when she had the bar shoe). So she gets to amble around the pen, roll, and crop grass. Back to working life for her–and I think she heartily approves.


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Miss Mocha wakes up

Besides skiing this Mother’s Day, I also went to the barn and did a light ride on Miss Mocha. She nickered and was eager to get out this morning. I think she’s getting tired of the stall restriction; it sure seems like she’s a bit lower in mood when I throw on the bareback pad and we just repeat the schooling exercises and walk, walk, walk. But with that bar shoe, there’s just not a lot she can do yet.

However, on the way to the barn, we spotted an estate sale just down the road. It was right next to the tree farm with a long (about 200 yard) driveway. I figured it was a good schooling opportunity and a chance to expose Mocha to something new. She has to get used to life beyond the arena at some point and it looked pretty mellow to handle.

So after the usual schooling of circles and railroad tie walkovers and two-tracks and backing, we headed out for Estate Sale Training. About halfway down the road, a diesel truck with a rather loud muffler set-up accelerated and startled Mocha. She started to bolt, but we stopped after two strides of trot. But her head was UP, and she was on her toes with a lot of energy because she’d begun to notice the cars and foot traffic.

At the corner where we turned to go down the driveway, she was unsure about the bright white signs. Reaction to white signs and other times when she’s been like this told me that yep, that’s something to work her with. She got over her nervousness about bright white stuff but it took some time. I think I see an impending future of leftover lawn signs, especially bright white ones.

Then she whirled once to refuse to go down the driveway, because she’d never gone down it before. And there were cars. And noise. And things That Just Didn’t Belong, Mom, So Can We Leave?

However, hubby (also known as Treat Boy) was on foot with us, and he walked down with us. There was a lot of the Quarter Horse Giraffe Mode but I didn’t push her. Keep in mind I’m doing this with a bareback pad and Pelham curb. I had brakes but I didn’t want to call them in. When she wanted to stop and look, the rule was she could stop and look. But she couldn’t back up, and she couldn’t spin and bolt. If she spun, we kept on going right around to face where we started. Being the well-trained reiner she is, she listened to that cue.

It was about twenty minutes worth of schooling, a little bit of drama and anxiety, but nothing scary on my part. I never felt like she was out of control, just being a Drama Queen about a lot of strange activity in a place she’s semi-familiar with. I’m sure part of the reason for some of the drama was the fact that she’s spent five months with a bar shoe on her left fore and as a result she’s had no turnout and only light exercise at a walk. There are many, many more horses out there who would have reacted much more intensely than Mocha in such circumstances. I’ve owned one of those in the past. That horse would have ripped down the barn long before now.

At the end, she felt sufficiently energetic to try to jig and trot back to the barn. Good to feel that energy again, and know it hasn’t gone away–just suppressed at the moment.

One more month left…I hope.

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Spring ski day with horsey moments

Went skiing this morning at Timberline. About six inches fresh snow; got 3-4 more inches while we were skiing. Heavy powder. Not as heavy as earlier in the month. It wasn’t grabby powder, just heavy. I was glad I’d waxed the skis heavily as that turned out to be just perfect for the conditions. As it were, I still kept muttering that we weren’t in shape for these conditions. Heavy work for the quads, for sure.

There were several slopes where I just pointed the skis downhill with about eighteen inches between my feet (to keep the tips from tangling, a problem I have with my shaped skis, and heavy pow will do that), leaned back, and sledded down. Lots of bounce, bounce, bounce when I did that. Slow snow, so perfect for that. Powder’s much more fun when one isn’t hurting and the quads are in shape!

We tended to shun the wide open slopes (our usual haunts) for the narrower runs because they weren’t getting chopped up. If I’d been in better condition it would have been the perfect day for tree skiing. Lots of other folks were doing that, because otherwise the big slopes were just getting chopped up and heavy. We retraced our trails enough that we could see where the snow had filled in our tracks in ten-fifteen minutes.

Perfect little snow globe day.

Afterward, we stopped by the Burro for pork belly tacos and then to the barn and Mocha. I can’t believe how much she’s shedding this year. I think some of it is due to limited rolling due to limited turnout; still, I swear she’s shedding both winter AND spring coats at once!

She tolerates the restricted schooling routine. Key word: “tolerates.” We start out with me putting her on the bit and in collection. It’s a departure from the usual methodology I’ve done with this horse but given that I’m  striving to keep a bit of muscle tone on her, I want her first moves to be under restraint, and then move toward relaxation. While she’s never yet come out of the stall on tiptoes, it’s still pretty clear that she’s tired of no turnout, walk-only works. Today I got a bunch of grunting through the process, which is one way she expresses grouchiness with what we are doing. So–first lap slow, small, collected work, second lap I ask her to extend the walk while still being on the bit. Most of the time she lines right out but today she decided that meant I wanted her to break into trot. Not once, but several times.

Nope. Not yet. Not until that bar shoe goes (projected to happen–maybe–in June).

Besides weaving in and out on two tracks (half-passish), we also schooled boxes. As in walking box shapes with sharp haunches turns, about 10 feet by 10 feet. Then backing the same. One of the beauties of this mare is that after backing the first box, she started anticipating what we were doing. But instead of anticipating in an obnoxious, pissy way (ie, “we’re at the place where we do something, so I do it before I’m cued!”), she slowed and waited for the cue. Very nice when she does that. I think she was looking for her tracks because a couple of times, she sidepassed over to back in her previous tracks. Just a case of half a step or so, but…..very nice.

We backed six boxes. That’s probably enough.

Her haunches still look to be in good muscle tone, which pleases me because that’s why we do all the backing work. Her shoulders look good–well, that’s because we keep doing the small circles and the two-tracking work.  She’s put on weight in the barrel. I figure we’ll have to start doing aerobic conditioning once she’s out of that shoe, but…before then, I’m going to be doing more extensive walk work to try to at least get a head start on that.

At least she seems to have gained enough weight that I can put the English saddle on her. I figure we’ll start with that for conditioning, then move into Western once I deem her sufficiently fit for extensive canter work.

It’s a work in progress…and I groaned when I slid off of the bareback pad today, because between skiing slow deep stuff and then schooling horse bareback, even at a walk….OUCH.

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Bluebird ski day


Ski grrrl in the back of the Subaru at the end of a lovely spring bluebird ski morning.

We got up to Timberline about 8 this morning. I resorted to buying a cup of coffee in the lodge, because after chasing kids on Thursday, then canning like a madwoman on Saturday, I knew I needed something more. A 12 oz coffee with two doses of Chocolate Caramel and one dose of Hazelnut creamer worked right nice.

It was clear and sunny, although there was a thin layer of brown haze that floated over the Cascades and obscured Mt. Jefferson (and we probably breathed it in as well; it was aimed at Hood too). Chinese pollution? Slash burning in the Coast Range? Hard to say. But it was in a distinct air layer and it blew on through.

The snow was definitely spring snow, and Timberline had Palmer chair running. We didn’t venture up to Palmer but our only flirtation with lower levels was the short run down West Leg to Norman. Riding up, we got second chair, and I briefly flirted with the idea of a warmup run down Norman before moving over to the Mile. But as I eyeballed the snow, I made up my mind that we were going to the Mile.

And it was lovely. Gorgeous spring snow. Hard, with a little softness from the grooming. No death cookies of ice up high. I thought about Palmer, and then thought about this year’s boot struggles and everything else. The Mile was good enough for today.

The boots are working well. I wore my lightest socks on Thursday; washed them and wore them again today. No pinching, no tightness, and just a wonderful smooth flow between leg, boot, and ski.

Afterward, we stopped by the barn and I gave Mocha her slow-mo workout. We worked on trying to get her to take a cue as to which leg to start with over a pole. Um, not there yet. But working on it.

And now home, and the big computer’s messed up. Sigh. Oh well, such is life. At least I still have the laptop.

Nonetheless, it’s spring, and I’m enjoying the mild weather.

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At last, a sweet ski day with a horse bonus

Good ski days–heck, any ski days–have been in short supply around here. Either I’ve been hurting, or the snow’s been crap, or it’s been raining….but yesterday everything finally coalesced to make a nice day.

The boots seem to finally be broken in. They’re a stiff and responsive boot; essentially an advanced level but one of the lower advanced levels. What that means is that I’ve had to learn that any move of my foot and ankle translates into ski movement much more sensitively than it has before. Dealing with this requires the development of quiet legs, upright body, staying balanced and on top of the skis without falling into the back seat or leaning downhill. IOW, I’ve got to be on top of my game, and yesterday, I finally got myself dialled into the boots. When we stopped, only my right big toe was numb. That’s progress–seriously.

Snow conditions were nice, too. With the warmer winter, we’ve not wanted to venture down to the lower runs. Grabby snow hasn’t helped with my boot issues or my sore spots. Yesterday, though, the snow was firm, packed, and crunchy. We did one run down Kruser and then turned around to head up to the Mile–which was in perfect shape. I did some body placement/turn drills down Kruser; primarily my go-to drill, which is the poles across the palms in front of the body, facing downhill, working my turns while facing the fall line. It clicked. As a result, I started smoking my way down the Mile, only going back to being hesitant when the snow got more chopped up. Still need to develop confidence in these boots in crappy snow. But that will come.

We did seven turns in all: seven miles plus connecting tracks. 6 turns on the Mile, 1 turn on Kruser, connecting run to Kruser, a quick shot down Glade to Norman, another quick shot from the top of Norman to the Mile. A good ski day.

The high overcast and lenticular formations over the top of Hood warned of incoming weather. We’d hoped to beat it and we managed to do so, leaving Timberline just as the precip moved in. For once I was able to spot the Willamette from the Mile chairlift. We also watched the clouds move in across the north Willamette Valley during our last ride up. One moment you could see the shadowy forms of buttes and the dark brown, swollen river. The next, they were wrapped in gray shadows and no longer visible.

By the time we reached the barn, it was raining steadily. Mocha was happy to see us; husband was surprised at how quickly she can turn from the manger to the stall door to be ready to go. I found that it was easier to work my hips and sit upright after a good ski session and my upper body seemed to be much more stable. Mind you, this is all walk work. Mocha’s got at least another six weeks of restricted work and it’s probably more like twelve more weeks, until that hoof wall grows out. At least she’s making good progress.

We did go for a short outside hack after our work, even though it was misting. She didn’t mind, and stepped right out.

Afterwards, we went home, did chores, and a lot of other stuff. I had to chuckle at the memories of the times when we skied, then came home and collapsed. Guess the old farts are getting into better shape.

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Musings on a Sunday morning…writing, skiing, horse

I’ve not been blogging a lot lately. Some of that is due to life circumstances–busyness, active work on creating some new options, surviving at the day job, horse stuff–and some of that is due to actual writing.

Well, maybe not so much of that this month. But there have been revisions and wrangling with software for e-publishing things, as well as thinking and planning for marketing work. I also have two side nonfiction projects that are in a development stage–mostly memoirish things that require regular notetaking.

Winter has also been somewhat delayed until the past week. We went skiing yesterday, and for the first time, it actually looked like winter ski season at Timberline. The Cascade snowpack has been at 49% of what it should be; that should change significantly due to the storms of the past week and the upcoming storms next week. Yesterday’s ski session was good, but I’m definitely noticing a mental hangover from last year’s crash and the difficult time with boots. I’m skiing more cautiously and tentatively. I asked the husband about it and he noted the difference. However, with this last bout of snowfall, I think I can make it worth my while to now plan to get in at least one day of skiing during the week–just getting time on the slope will get me past this phase.

The good news is that the Dalbello boots and I are finally clicking. They’re a stiff and tough boot to break in, but breaking in is finally happening. One reason for my tentative skiing is that I’m learning these boots. They are a very sensitive and reactive boot, so I have to ski with a firmer touch. Yesterday’s deep Cascade concrete–heavy, wet snow piling up steadily–also called for a more upright, backward balance to keep my tips from digging in and tripping me, and it was the first time I’d skied this boot in these conditions. On the other hand, the conditions also led to a rather cool moment where I pointed my skis straight down an ungroomed slope (last 200 yards of the Mile, transiting over from Norman), rocked back a little bit, and just bounced down the slope as if I were sledding on the skis, no turns. The boots floated nicely with my feet, good and stable, with solid support. I maybe saw my tips every few bounces–about a good six inch depth in places. That was definitely a “whee!” moment.

The other thing I noticed yesterday was that there were definitely moments when, with less experience and a softer boot, I would have gone down. Nonetheless, I’m happy to figure out that these boots really do work, and what I need is just many days on them to get myself in tune with the Dalbellos. I think I have spring skiing plans….


And then there was après-ski with Mocha. We have to scale back on our work–she’s tweaking something and coming up sore, as in okay at the start of the work but sore as we stop (all walk work, either long line or bareback, happens in long line mostly). I suspect it’s either the weight of the shoe, or breakover from the foot growth. I’ve also been using side reins set for a snug collected frame when ground driving, and I think that’s another factor. So we’re going to back off of the more collected and elaborate work, and go with looser side reins.

A greater concern is that I’ve been watching her hock movement as we ground drive, and I’m really not thrilled with what I am seeing. Much contemplation here.

Anyway, onward with the day.

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Adventures in farriery

So Miss Mocha has been facing challenges with her hooves and her soundness of late. Today, the farrier came out and issued a verdict: white line disease. While there are several options for treatment, the best one for The Girl in my opinion was a mechanical treatment (there are chemical-based applications which people Swear By, but my experience with those has been that I prefer to save those options for a fallback).

What is white line disease? OMG, that’s something that horsepeople can and will debate endlessly to determine just when a case of hoof rot cascades into something more extreme. Essentially, it’s like getting fungus under a toenail…only the toenail is something that you are walking on. Constantly. It’s a fungal invasion of the soft tissue between the outer wall of the horse’s hoof and the central core of the hoof and sole. Farrier has his own solid opinions (as do most horsepeople), and, frankly, he trends conservative on this subject–as do I.

So. Before The Farrier visual:



That dark crevice by my thumb is the area of white line disease. Note that the material that is supposed to be there…isn’t.

After the Farrier:


The infected and diseased part of the hoof is removed and a bar shoe nailed on to provide support.



In order to keep Mocha from pulling off this special shoe, which provides heel support for the cutaway portion of her hoof, she has to wear a bell boot over the hoof.

More later, but…it’s not as painful as it looks. Mocha was relaxed and drowsing throughout the process, with only a horsey aspirin equivalent. She’s looking much more chipper tonight. I’m guessing the shoe is already providing some much-needed relief.

Yeah. Stuff happens with horses. Such is life.

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Looking back at 2013

I’m lagging a bit behind other folks this year in looking at what’s been going on in 2013, and, well, I guess that’s just the way things are these days.

So. 2013. A lot of stuff happened in 2013.

Professionally, I continue to see what it takes to recover in a school setting after several years of poor management. It takes a long time for a school community to renew itself after these circumstances, but it can happen. I took some interesting literacy classes focusing on the work of a major theorist in the field (Regie Routman) and found further support for the integration of neuroscience and education. Primarily, such linkages don’t come from “brain-based learning” techniques but through right brain resonances between teacher-student and student-student. I’ve also come to the conclusion that a certain degree of grammar understanding is key to developing higher level comprehension skills.

I’ve also developed a passionate dislike for high-stakes assessment and what prioritizing that does to a community of learners. Make no mistake, I think a single assessment and standards are necessary. But prioritizing tests and test-taking as the highest priority to the exclusion of the acquisition of other, necessary learning crashes and burns horribly. We are losing huge chunks of kids as a result of this test-driven culture. And that’s a rant in and of itself.

On the writing front, I’ve had some mixed successes. Several anthologies I’ve been in are doing reasonably well. I sold two books, a full length novel and a novella, to a small press. I brought out two independently published books and am working on more in that series. But I’ve not had the time to more aggressively pursue writing to the degree I want to do it. Emotions around the day jobbe, the fatigue of not only the day jobbe but the commute (80+ miles round trip each day) and the inability to keep on burning the candle at both ends have all interfered.

Mocha did spectacularly well (in my opinion) at this year’s show in September. She placed well and showed that she is particularly strong in Trail classes. Right now, though, she’s sidelined with a mild lameness that is tied into neck and shoulder muscle spasms. Light work seems to be helping, along with some massage techniques.

Skiing–um, well, no snow so far this year. I’m not enthused about skiing in low snow conditions and so the snow dances continue.

Personally–well, we’re looking at some huge changes ahead. Good changes, but scary, dramatic, and they’ve involved a lot of planning and worrying and agonizing. More on that later.

At least I seem to be reasonably healthy at the moment. It took most of the year to regain my flexibility from a hip muscle strain. My gut is still cranky but it’s settling, enough to give me hope that these upcoming changes will make it even happier. It’s amazing what ten minutes of yoga a day will do. My knees are making creaky and stiff noises at me, but I’m beginning to think that’s a sign that one particular pair of shoes have reached the end of their useful life, or else that I need to do something different for urban sidewalk hikes.

And so I march slowly into 2014, cautiously hoping that good things are coming. Just not sure about that.

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