Saturday, January 31, 2015


Last week got completely out of control with a riding lesson Saturday morning - and finally some new Fawkes pictures and videos! - and then having friends over and then having a 6AM flight Sunday morning for a last minute business trip.  Then I get to the hotel and realize all my pictures are on my personal laptop and not my work laptop and my work laptop won't even let me sign into blogger and it was super tragic except:

Puerto Rico
For some reason no one has that much sympathy for me.

Seriously though, this is why I sometimes feel I should have just stuck with leasing and not bought a horse.  I have been away more often than I have been around lately.  Hopefully that is over for awhile.

Puerto Rico was beautiful but the work days were long and I only got back late last night.  Haven't even been out to see Fawkes yet I am so tired.  Luckily, he is in good hands when I am away.

Last Saturday's lesson seems so long ago, but it was pretty good.

Photos make many things pretty clear.  Fawkes is definitely coming along well and looks excellent at the trot but he still needs more encouragement to reach with his hind end.  And at the canter, we are still in the early stages of dropping his head and using his back.  My elbows and I are not on the same page so we will keep working on that too.

Probably lots of other stuff going on too but I don't think we look half bad.  Except his mess of a mane that I have 100% given up on.  Everyone thinks I am kidding when I suggest roaching it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Turning a corner?

Updates have been few and far between because it bores me to even think about posting multiple times a week like "worked on outside aids 4 times this week" and "noticed slight improvement yesterday, today seemed a step backwards" blah blah blah.  I have also been trying to minimize my time at the barn outside of my weekly lesson since he really needs the dedicated trainer time and I have been able to see more progress by seeing him less often.  So I do short hacks focused on simple things instead of longer working rides and leave the real work to our trainer.  Training in winter was an excellent decision!

On the Routeburn track
I am cautiously optimistic that this is paying off and Fawkes might actually be turning a corner in his training.  Our lesson on Saturday was pretty fabulous.  Instead of a baby step maybe maybe not improvement I felt a large noticeable difference in my ability to straighten him off the rail using my outside aids.  He still defaults to blowing through the shoulder but I was able to stop it twice and after that he didn't try again.  That is definitely a first.  We did an in and out with cross rails and he was perfect.  Even with baby jumps he feels really different, he is getting closer to the base (at the trot) and is much less tense.

Some of that stuff was so ingrained that I didn't even notice he did it, I am only realizing it now that it has changed.

His canter was a little stiff on Saturday but he warmed up into a really nice, soft canter.  It is still an awful lot of work and calf to hold him in that really nice canter.  Worth it, and as he gets stronger and builds up his back muscles that will get easier and easier.  He was lifting his back more in the trot which hopefully means his back is feeling better.

Looking at Lake Wakatipu. One day horse pictures, I swear.
Friday was new shoes day and getting rid of his front pads - so far so good being bare in back and just shoes in front.

The real kicker for improvement was yesterday.  I had a rare work holiday (this is one of the few "extra" days off we get) and had an amazing ride.  He was the most relaxed I have ever felt.  3 different people commented on how relaxed he looks so it wasn't just all in my head.  It was warmer so he didn't start out stiff at all and he was totally happy to trot around with his head down and actually using his hind end.  The canter started out nice and stayed that way.  After cantering, he quickly settled back down into that lovely trot.  We added poles and he went through them steadily.  I literally had zero complaints.  It was an easy, fun ride with no stress.

Trainer R had mentioned that she was done installing basics and expected him to start to progress more quickly now but this still kind of caught me off guard.  This horse has lept back to the starting line too many times for me to get my hopes too high, but could this be him turning the corner and growing up?  Could we finally lose the drama and make it work?  I sure hope so.

At our old barn, about a year ago.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

Relearning some things

It is still pretty damn boring around here.  There is some riding, but it is not exciting stuff and the weather continues to be kind of bitchy.  Today was forecast to be decent so I packed all my riding stuff to work and instead we had a freezing fog all damn day.  It was 23 when I left work and icy, so yeah, no horse stuff, thanks.

OK, this is actually from our backpacking trip in NZ, but subtract about 50 degrees
and it is totally the same

On Sunday I did a lesson share.  That is, I scheduled a lesson but after skiing all day on Saturday didn't have enough leg to ride a full lesson so I worked him for awhile and then R2 hopped on.

Still no pictures, I swear I own a horse and he isn't just a figment of my imagination.

Fawkes' flat work is definitely making progress.  He is learning how to stretch down and out more and use his back.  He is still resistant off the right leg, but it is possible to get a response now.  He holds the contact really well without trying to pull or get heavy.

One big thing we are working on right now is control of the outside shoulder and rib cage when we come off the rail.  He definitely wants to bulge out and I am trying to figure out the correct balance of inside and outside aids to direct him.  We were trotting some poles though and I was able to really straighten him with my outside aids which is a huge difference from before.  Overall, this is stuff he knew before, he is just a) learning to do it as a hunter and b) learning to do it better.
I will likely use NZ pics for a long time to come.  Queenstown from above

Some things, however, seem to be different.  My poor little autochanger has had to relearn his lead changes.  I think the muscles he is using now are just so different and his carriage has changed so much that he and his body are confused.  R2 did a bunch of figure 8s over poles and asked for changes after the pole.  (Of course) he jumped the poles, but he never did actually change over them which surprised me.  Perhaps she was preventing that, I didn't ask but he usually will change over a jump if given the change.  Anyways, his changes are still there but you can tell he is relearning.  Once, he changed only in front left to right and couldn't seem to get the back.  Fawkes loathes cross cantering so that upset him.

Another time he threw his hind end waaay in the air and sort of flailed to get the right to left, giving himself more time to get his hind legs under control.  But always R2 had him maintain the nice canter, keeping his head down and balanced.  He had some perfect ones in there too so I am positive they will come back.  I guess we are making the 6 million dollar horse (we can rebuild him, we have the technology).  He should have a spectacularly strong back soon, I hope!

I did notice he was occasionally breaking to trot in front of the poles and R2 mentioned that as he builds more muscle that will go away.  She was trying to collect his canter and he wasn't really strong enough to hold the canter and collect.  Sometimes I get surprised by stuff like that but then I remember all the time off and all the new ways of carrying himself and all the tension and fighting in the old days and realize how many changes we have made.

Now to hope they keep paying off!  Patience, I need more of it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

All quiet on the homefront

Not really much going on right now.  I managed to get sick less than 12 hours after getting home which combined with jet lag made me an unbearable mess for a few days.

The absolutely frigid and snowy weather has not helped anyone, I am pretty sure Fawkes has missed some turn out time.

I did actually manage to ride him on Tuesday but he was some kind of tense and looky.  It was warm  finally, but windy.  We rode around for a little and Fawkes managed to be obedient but I could tell he just wasn't mentally there.  Once the other riders cleared out I stripped his tack and let him run.






More Bucking

He clearly needed that.  It took awhile for him to cool down so we played around with some liberty ground work.  I mean, I have no idea how to do that formally but I walked around the ring and he followed me and I stopped and backed and he did the same so clearly we are ready to go pro.

Tonight was 19 degrees so yeah, Fawkes is hanging out with his blankets and I am hanging out with some wine and Archer (and dogs and cats and fur in my wine).

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Horse Trekking New Zealand

We are back from a truly excellent vacation.  Already went to see Fawkes and he has been well cared for, although not doing an awful lot in the frigid temps and snow CO was experiencing.  I saw him get ridden by R2 today and he was pretty up and spooky.  No surprise there. I will hop on him tomorrow.

As for vacation, we tested out three different horse trekking operations in the Queenstown area. Because apparently I don't spend enough money on horses in the US.  And also because I was determined to ride in Middle Earth!  Geek win.  It was crazy fun and I thought I would include some photos and details from each ride.  In general, at all three places the horses were shiny, their feet looked decent, and they seemed well cared for.  That always is a "must" for me.  Queenstown doesn't seem like a bad place to be a horse.  Their herds were mostly stocked with ex racing Standardbreds, although they had lots of draft crosses and other breeds too.

Moonlight Stables:

This was a last minute idea as we had left a whole day to prepare for a backpacking trip and ended up with a free afternoon.  We called and they came over to pick us up at our hotel right away.  As we pulled onto the property, we saw a loose horse galloping around the paddock and J just wanted to make sure that wasn't the horse he was supposed to ride!  It was a guide horse who had opened his pen and freed himself for a jaunt.  They fitted me out in paddock boots and half chaps for which I was very grateful and then introduced us to our horses.

My ride for the day was Mr. White, who actually starred in the Air New Zealand safety video based on Lord of the Rings.  Oh yeah, LotR fantasy come true!

Stars know how to pose
It was just J and I and they sent two guides out with us so one could hang with J at a slower pace while I could canter with the other guide.  It was a beautiful ride through a working deer, elk, and sheep ranch.  Mr. White was what they called a "Station" bred horse, or a ranch horse.  We rode in these giant pastures with the deer and elk, with some great canters and even a couple gallops.

Mr White was incredibly responsive off my leg and had a sensitive mouth.  Kind of surprising for a ranch horse! It made for a very lovely ride.  The guides were also really fun girls.  The views were mostly pastoral with some of the big hills and mountains around Queenstown for a backdrop.  Unbelievable.  I want to go back and work at this place.  Forget corporate America.

Mr White and I dreaming of riding off into the sunset together

Dart Stables, Glenorchy:

We actually had three rides booked here in advance, but ended up canceling one.  This is the part of the vacation I was most looking forward to and it was a little bit disappointing, probably because I had it so built up in my head.  This stable is large, they have something like 60+ horses and 15 employees and it was totally booked up so the barn area was kind of insanity.  Very well organized though and we got great Lord of the Rings filming stories.  All of the barns in the area apparently had horses in the movies, which made for quite a lot of entertainment.

In the morning, J and I split up so I could go on the advanced riders only "Trilogy Loop" ride and J could do the mixed ability "River Wild."  My ride was 4 women and a really fun British guide.  I had a horse named Biscuit, who was unfortunately not that much fun.  He was very defensive of his position in the line and spent a lot of time kicking at the other horses behind him and pinning his ears and being generally unpleasant.  He was a speedy little thing, but we weren't allowed to pass so during the canters we spent quite a bit of time fighting.  He wanted to canter literally up the ass of the horse in front of him and I preferred some breathing room.  Biscuit generally won that battle.

I didn't take my phone on my ride, so here is a picture of J from his ride through similar terrain.

On the flip side, the scenery did not disappoint!  The Humboldt mountains had been the Misty Mountains in the Lord of the Rings movie and cantering up this crystal clear glacial fed river through purple lupines with impressive mountains in the background was as beautiful as expected.  And there were plenty of opportunities to canter and one full on gallop that made cranky Biscuit very happy.  My favorite part though, were the river crossings!

There were many and it was fun to slosh through horse-chest deep water.  While my horse was kind of a pain, the other ladies really enjoyed their horses so I don't think the problem is their string, maybe Biscuit and I were just not a great match.

After lunch, we took a van up to a place called Paradise.  Spoiler alert, it lived up to its name.  Here we did a walking only ride through the forest of Lothlorien, Amon Hen, and Beorn's house from the Hobbit movies.

I rode a horse named Scar, aptly named due to an accident with a fence when he was young.  Scar was sweet and cuddly, he tucked his head right into my chest when we met.   So cute.  Generally I get bored quickly on walk only trail rides but the scenery here made it worthwhile.  And Scar was so nice and comfortable that it was a pleasure to ride him.  Paradise can get quite cold in winter we were told, but in summer it certainly seems like heaven.

J and I sometimes even get photos together. J's horse was not pleased.
Our third ride was supposed to be us doing the River Wild as a couple, but we decided to switch venues and get some different scenery.  We tried to book a mountain horse trek but Christmas/New Year is their busiest time and couldn't get a full day option.

High Country Horses, Glenorchy:

We booked a Paradise on the Rees ride, and pulled into another idyllic venue

I want to be a horse here, sheesh.
This place was much smaller than Dart and I liked the vibe.  Although the girls here were clearly working their butts off, I felt a little bad for them.  Their set up was 4 tourists to one 1 guide so we were paired up with another couple, people who hadn't really ridden before.  J and I were on this ride together and had the fancy camera, so we have lots of pictures from this ride.
Fun fact, lupines are an introduced and invasive species.  But they sure are pretty.
I was matched up with the poorly named Doobie.  Names aside, he was a rock star horse.  The guide explained he isn't a proper trek horse as he is really the barn manager's show horse, but he has to earn his keep so he spends some time with the more advanced riders.  I seriously got very lucky on this vacation, or New Zealanders are really thoughtful because it is rare on a tourist type ride that I get to ride horses this nice.  Hell, some of them are better trained than Fawkes.

Doobie was a pure gentleman.  The way this stable works is they let me canter on ahead of the group and then told me where to stop and wait for them (e.g. at the creek or at the quarry).  J was allowed to follow me on his horse Jack, because they knew his horse would follow Doobie's lead, which he did perfectly.  This ride was alongside the Rees river, which runs next to the Dart, but we went further upstream and had slightly different views.

Doobie was content either leaving the group and taking off on our own for canters - which was dreamy - or walking at the back of the group.  We also tried out a lovely collected canter when everyone else was trotting in front of us.  J was a real trooper cantering along behind us when we left the group, trying not to fall off!  He didn't want me to have to slow down for him, so he hung on.  Also, he is getting to be a decent rider.

Love this guy.
I really enjoyed being able to go off on our own.  No eating another horse's dust or dealing with herd issues, just a lovely ride.  And, MORE RIVER CROSSINGS!  I think I am now obsessed with river crossings.  It was hot, so kind of tempting to go in deeper and get wet myself, but then again, the water is snow melt so a tad chilly.  Doobie didn't seem to mind.

Wow, this post got long.  In summary, horse trekking in New Zealand was fantastic.  All 3 venues were fun and I would have a hard time choosing my favorite.  If I ever get to go back, I would like to do a multiple day ride.  My husband was amazing and I think is falling in love with riding a little bit.  Vacation rocks and I am going to pretend I don't have to go back to work on Monday.

Hope everyone in blogland had a great holiday season!