Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Eight Years Ago

Eight years ago, I was perched in the car with my stomach in knots. I'd never vetted a horse before.

Eight years ago, my mouth quietly struggled out the phrase "would you take this much for him?"

Eight years ago, my hands were clammy with excitement and nerves. I'd never arranged horse delivery before.

Eight years ago, this chestnut creature backed off a trailer and into my life. I'll never forget holding his lead for the first time.
I was so excited.
I thought today it would be fun to do a little comparison. A before and after of Guinness. Especially now that I'm starting over again with another horse, seeing how far we were able to come is really special. Thus I give you...

Our pre-purchase ride:
Full video
And our best schooling ride of 2017:
Full video
This horse is amazing. We have both changed so much, for the better. We both required so much improvement from each other, and held each other so accountable for our work. I had no idea when I bought him what we would become, and I'm not sure I could have believed we had it in us.

Eight years ago, I made the best decision to take a chance on his iffy ankles and intense attitude. It's a decision I would happily make 1000 times again.

Monday, October 30, 2017

A Horse Called Bast

Since before Baybuilt came home, I've been trying to come up with a barn name for him. While I knew I'd keep Baybuilt as his show name, I didn't want to use it in the barn. It's awkward to say, and a bit too impersonal for every day use.

So the search began. Initially, I constrained my ideas to two themes: boats and the Chesapeake Bay.

See, a Baybuilt is a type of boat, designed for use on the Chesapeake Bay. Baybuilt the horse, was born near the Bay and spent most of his racing life in areas shaped by the Bay. His breeder and his life was tied in with water tightly, and I tried hard to keep some of that alive in his name. Friends helped...
Emma always makes me giggle.
After I vetoed all the names Emma could throw at me from various Wikipedia pages, we resolved to call him "Crab Chip" after a type of potato chip popular in the Chesapeake Bay area, seasoned liberally with delicious Old Bay. My favorite.
Crab Chip, meet crab chips. Mmm. Tasty.
As a joke, the name was great (and has totally stuck). As a barn name, though? It left much to be desired. Finally, I gave up the naming process for awhile. Maybe if I got to know Baybuilt better, a name would become obvious.
After all, he's cute. Cute things are prone to picking up names, right?
My barn workers weren't helping. They started calling him things I absolutely hate, like BB or Baby. Still, I couldn't settle on a name that I liked well enough to start using in place of these. Plus, nothing about Baybuilt stood out to me as naming material, and nothing about boats seemed to apply.
Mr. Looks Good In Green? No, too long. 
When a burst of not-so-great behavior had me labeling Baybuilt as "The Arrogant Bastard" (yes, after the beer), I knew I had it. Thus, Bast was born.

The name doesn't just refer to a shortened form of the word "bastard", though that's a pretty amusing way to think about it. There's a few things more things that go into it.
"Me? Arrogant? Why I never!" -- Bast
First, it's a well known name for an Egyptian cat goddess. While I'm not into cats, Bast is pretty goddamned catlike when he wants to be. Plus, she's a goddess of music and dance. I feel that's pretty good stuff for a dressage horse to be affiliated with.
Sometimes you just gotta DANCE!
Second, the word bast is an extremely old term that crosses several languages. It refers to a type of fibrous rope. This tied into the boat theme loosely enough for me.
After all, no one thinks about boats without thinking about rope. Right?
Finally, Bast is the name of a character I quite enjoy from a series of books. That character is described as "charming and loveable and only a tiny bit scary." I can't think of a more perfect way to characterize this little horse.

Dark. Charming. And a little bit scary.
Bast it is.
How did your horse get its nickname? Anyone put this much thought into it? Or am I the crazy one here?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Guinness Update

Let's face it. Everyone needs more regal old red horse in their life.
If you remember, I retired Guinness back in August. At the same time he transitioned to a local equine therapy facility, and they started gradually introducing him to life as a therapy horse.

I have to admit, that transition did not start off spectacularly well. At first, Pig was upset about moving farms. He was very spooky and a bit reactive. Looking back, I think there were a couple of things I could have changed to make the process smoother and much faster.
"Look at this house! How could you not be spooked at this place?! It's clearly haunted AF." -- Pig, commenting on the settings of his new farm
When he first moved over to the farm, I didn't show up very often. I wanted him to come to rely on the workers at the new farm and not look to me so much. This, I think was my biggest mistake. Without me there, he was sure he'd been abandoned in the wrong place. He took forever to settle in. When I would come visit him, he'd try to drag me down the hill and back "home". 
"No, lady! This is NOT home. Home is that-a-way!" -- Pig, probably
Along with not showing up often, I also didn't ride him. Again, I did this for a reason. I didn't want to push him to maintain the same level of responsiveness and fitness that he had while in full work. That level of fitness seemed a bit counter productive when it came time to train him to handle less coordinated riders. Instead, I think I should have tried to come out and ride him gently but regularly. This would have let him down physically while not making him think he'd been forgotten. Having a job is such a big part of his psyche; I think not having work to look forward to made him a bit upset and think too much about his situational changes.
"This field is nice and all, but what even is my life now?"
When the spooking issues started cropping up in work with the therapy handlers, I realized I needed to get more involved. Plus, Pig was physically in need of more work. His arthritis was flaring up badly and he was starting to look like ... well a pregnant broodmare!
Horse equivalent of the out-of-work pro-sports player who balloons up in weight without his regular workouts to keep him svelte. Either that or he's due to foal literally any day now... Seriously he's massive.
In an effort to keep Pig happy and healthier, I put together a plan. Being just across the street from my regular boarding farm, I knew I had a ton of options to get him out and worked. We've been diving right in!

First, we cut fatty-cakes grain down to a literal handful of ration balancer...
Basically the horse equivalent of rice cakes for dinner.
Then I instituted regular rides, including hacks down the roads...
"These are very scary trees, and I am sure they eat horses. I will definitely try to deposit your bareback riding behind onto the concrete 30 thousand times as we stroll through here. Prepare yourself." -- Pig
"La, la, la! I love being outside!" -- Lyra
Plus, we go for long hacks on the same trails we used to use...
"Why do you make me stand in this disgusting wet stuff?" -- Pig
"OMG! A FISHIE!" -- Lyra
We school in the outdoor ring at the therapy place, getting used to the different footing...
I swear to god we both knew what we were doing at one point in our lives. Also, who has time for saddles and actual riding boots? NOT I.
We ride in the indoor, where he does most of his therapy work, tackling the spooky pigeons roosting in the rafters...
"Mom the birds are SO SCARY. You have NO IDEA." -- Pig
We take advantage of any small amount of time or ability I have to get in a ride, even if it means not taking time to even put a bridle on...
"You know without a bridle that I'm totally just going to haul ass up hills, right?" --Pig, telling it how it is.
Sometimes we don't really work at all...
"This is great. Can this be my job now?" -- Pig
"Oh holy jesus! I'm totally going to fall off the front of him!" -- Me, dying of a sinus infection
And sometimes Pig gets to play big brother to Baybuilt, leading the way on adventures like the old pro he is...
"He says he knows what he's doing, but I dunno if I should trust him..." -- Baybuilt
"Shut up and follow his example, Child." -- Me
As time went on and rides continued, Pig finally started to settle in and his reactivity and spookiness began to wear off. His arthritis is still a bit of an issue if he doesn't get ridden regularly enough through the week, but the program has a couple of people working on getting him out and moving more often. The workers there think it's hysterical that I come out and ride him bareback in a double bridle. It's the only bridle and bit setup I have that currently fit him, so that's just what we use.
#mobiletackroom
Having two horses at two separate farms, even this close together is rather time consuming. Plus my car is even more cluttered than before with all my extra tack and riding gear packed in the back for Pig. Still, it's so worth it to see the old man happy and appreciated in his new place.

Best of all? Two weeks ago he did his first lesson in the program, and did great! At the moment it looks like things are looking good for his future. Hopefully with a little work, he continues to enjoy his new life.
I'm so proud of you, my bestest oldest friend.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Clipping Your New Baby Thoroughbred

A Pre-Clip Fur Beast
So you've brought home a young thoroughbred, and you've decided you want to clip off all of its winter coat so you can stop worrying about heat stroke in this ridiculous October heat wave. Based on my experiences, here's your how-to:

Step 1.
Show up on a random Saturday when you're suffering from the early stages of bronchitis. Notice it's a beautiful day. The sun is radiating heat, like it's still freaking July, and your horse is just standing there all furry and gloriously still clean from his Friday night bath.
So clean. So fuzzy.
Step 2.
Cross tie your pony. Give him a cursory brushing. Break out your clippers. Turn them on far away from your new baby racehorse and gradually bring the buzzing devices closer. Expect your horse to lose his goddamn mind like your retired old man. Become extremely surprised when baby racehorse instead quizzically asks you if there are cookies behind this strange device.

Step 3.
Rub clippers all over baby horse to see if he morphs into a dragon and tries to murder you when they touch his ticklish spots. When he stands like a stone, dig those suckers in and be 1/4 of the way into shaving him before you even know what's happened. Take a break to process these developments.
Bay horses change color much less than chestnuts. Takes away some of the magic.
Step 4.
Repeat on the other side. Also do part ofhis head, since for some reason he's also fine with that, standing halter-less while you do it.
... though afterwards he had to run to his safe place: his bestie's ample Irish behind.
Step 5.
Decide your beleaguered lungs can't take any more hair assault, and take baby horse for a hack instead of finishing the job. Also buy new clippers because you're tired of putting a band-aid on a problem you've been not fixing for years.
God, he's handsome.
Step 6.
Return the next day to finish the job, despite feeling 100x worse than the day before and having misplaced your voice.
"Can't believe you left me half done!"
Step 7.
Realize baby thoroughbred is more ticklish in his back half than his front when he tries to kick at you exactly once. Vigorously remind him that horses Do. Not. Kick. Note he is very smart when he does not offer to do this again.

Step 8.
Give your baby horse multiple breaks from his ticklish bits by tackling easier parts, lending him a hilarious moth-eaten appearance.
I was slightly tempted to leave him like this.
Step 9.
Complete your baby horse's body clip successfully, making this is the first clip job you've done in years that didn't involve drugging, twitching, and serious threats to your safety. Congratulate yourself by hacking up the left side of your lungs.
"You should probably see a doctor about that."
Anyone else out there clipping this week?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

More on Baybuilt

Wow. I left you guys hanging for quite awhile didn't I? Let's see if I can't catch you up.
Baybuilt came off the trailer hesitant, but uneventfully. I settled him in a quarantine stall at the farm, and set about getting to know him.

Buying after seeing him in a stall and watching a brief video of his movement suddenly seemed like the most ridiculous of decisions. His young and narrow 15.3 frame threw me off. Had I made a mistake? Was this a complete miss?
Baby horse is not very large.
Then I turned him out in the round pen, and all my fears were assuaged. The moment he began moving, I was in love again. He had confidence in his own body, and a freedom in his back I adored. Still, I was hesitant to start working with him seriously. Suddenly I was suffering from a terrible case of imposter syndrome. Would I ruin him? Would I make mistakes that would set us back?

I steeled myself and set about lunging him. His breeder had told me a little about his training, and she didn't think he'd been lunged much (if at all) before. With that in mind, I was floored by how well he took to the endeavor. In one day he picked up my verbal commands. On day two he learned he couldn't fall in on the circle. By day three lunging was old news.

I was learning, too. Baybuilt was smart.
The smartest baby racehorse.
Photo by Liz
Quickly I realized that two short working sessions were more productive than long drawn out training periods. Baybuilt's baby brain tired quickly with too much thinking work. However, he learned so fast that whatever was picked up in the morning session was ready to be built upon by the afternoon.
That movement, though. Even still race-tight he's nice.
Photo by Liz
Getting on seemed like an easy enough step, but I wanted the right person there to help me out… Jan. I was so happy her Loch Moy show would have her around just in time for me to hop on the baby racehorse. Jan is the coolest customer around when it comes to horse shenanigans. She's quiet, yet confident, during misbehavior. I knew if anything went awry with riding, she'd be right there helping smooth things over without adding drama. Plus, Jan is just so much fun to hang out with.

Of course Jan quickly agreed to help me get on Baybuilt. I think we were both super excited to see him go under saddle!
World's least eventful baby thoroughbred first ride.
Having hopped on a few horses fresh off the track, I was taking no chances. I had Jan hook a lunge line to a rope halter threaded under Baybuilt's bridle, and told her to lead him off the moment I got on. I expected to need her to walk me around the ring a time or two to accustom him to the idea, but he was so chill that I ended up having her un-clip relatively quickly!

While we just walked and trotted, I could tell this little guy was tuned in and listening. He seemed to be listening to my seat already, and quick off the aids. I noted a couple of problem areas (mostly some gate sour tendencies and and inability to come to a complete halt, both of which are extremely common in horses right off the track), but was very impressed with him.
Happy faces on the first ride!
Over the next few days, Jan helped me get comfortable on Baybuilt's back. We were out there twice a day riding him. Just like with the lunging, I tried to keep our rides very short. I didn't want him to be sour, or push past his attention span.
Little horse builds a lot of muscle!
Though he's 5, Baybuilt seems much younger. His mind is quite babyish, and I think that may have led to some training issues on the racetrack. I'm hoping to avoid making too many mistakes by respecting his youth and taking things pretty slowly. He's a good boy who wants to please, and I'd like to keep building on that!

By the time Jan left on Monday afternoon, I had ridden Baybuilt 6 times, worked through his walk/trot/canter cues, gone on a short hack on the property, and we had fitted all my tack to him. I can't thank Jan enough for helping get me set up to jump right to work with this precious little guy all by myself!
Watch out world! Wild baby racehorse coming through!