Thursday, July 12, 2018

Riding Out

I am a huge proponent of trail riding. I love how much it refreshes the mind of the horse (and rider!), and I really enjoy how it gives them an active break from schooling while still shaking out muscles and getting them back under saddle.
Some of our beautiful, but kind of tough, old trails.
Pig and I always did a ton of trail riding and out of the ring conditioning work as part of his schooling. He would tell me when he'd had enough of the ring, and we would make sure to get out on the trails and do some casual riding (and galloping!)

With Bast, trail riding has not come naturally. At my old barn, the trails were much more advanced, with a ton of creek crossings to start and much steeper grades and sections with iffy footing. I loved them, but they weren't the best option when it came to introducing a nervous horse to the joys of riding out.
An example of a stream we crossed on the old trails. Can you find Lyra? She was hunting a beaver and totally fell in.
The new barn is made for easy trail riding, though. The property backs up to a local park, and the trails are designed for multi-use. They're flat, maintained, and very welcoming for horses, people, wheelchairs...etc. There are trail heads starting right from the pastures, and the place is quiet and open. Rocks are minimal, there are no creek crossings, and the underbrush is basically nonexistent. It's trail riding on easy mode.

I started by taking Bast out on an in-hand hike. He was a little nervous about leaving the other horses behind, but was a really brave boy. That is, he was brave until we got to the river overlook. The sound of the rushing water started to upset him some, so we turned and went home.
Forgetting all about the scary trail when confronted with overgrown rested pastures.
A couple weeks later, a friend asked if I wanted to join on a quick ride into the woods. The boarders at this barn are mostly trail riders, and seem to be making it a mission to get my little ring-baby out into the woods. I agreed to head out.
Bast and my endurance friend being brave heading back from the trail head. (Can you spot the tiny Lyra speck up ahead?)
Bast was a total star on this ride, and really impressed me. He led the whole time, confidently. He checked his footing carefully and didn't launch down inclines or slow way down on the way up. When the footing became slightly wet in one part, he marched right through without looking twice.
Motoring down that trail! ❤️
In all honesty, he was having fun out there! When we got back, I had to text Liz immediately. She's been joking Bast wants to be my endurance ride, so I knew she'd enjoy hearing about his successful adventure.
Hard to tell, but if you look through the openings in the trees at ear-height, you can see the Potomac River. This is near one of the big river overlook spots in the park. Look how calm he is, even with the sound of the rushing water!
Since that first ride, I've taken Bast out solo a few times. Once by myself with just Lyra, and once while a friend hiked out with the dogs. Both times he was a complete star, even when we ran into other horses who passed us heading home (he got antsy standing while they passed, but walked on confidently without them) and unfamiliar hikers on foot.
Must always check out trail signs. LOL!
The last ride we went on was longer than the rest, and in the high (horrific) heat of a massive heat wave. He handled it  super well, and even though he was a bit upset about being alone (he called twice to other horses) he confidently moved forward. I took a bit of new trail to him, which required me to hop off once to coax him past a huge sign (clearly a demon). Once past, I was able to  mount him from the ground and continue quietly.
More river views! I love this wide open spot!
I can't wait to get him out more and enjoy riding outside the ring! Anyone else out there struggle to get your young horse confidently trail riding? Does it make anyone else sad that your horse won't trail ride confidently?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Oh sh**. It's my fault.

Why is this so hard?
Canter departs on Bast have been a struggle bus. For, like, ever. The whole process of training them has been a total roller coaster, but right now I feel like they should be better than they are.
Departs in October 2017
When he first came home, the departs were a leap into a gallop. Not unusual for a horse newly off the track. As time went on, we began to experiment with leads and more balanced departs. While the launch has become slightly more contained, it's not yet gone. In fact, it's occasionally getting worse.
Average departs now. (Video from March 2018)
See, we've been struggling with picking up the correct lead. Part of this was due to left over hematoma from Bast's fence injury working out. Part was due to a lack of confirmation in lead pick up cue training. Part was ... well. Uh. Is. Um. Me.
Me. Biffing it up.
In a recent lesson my tendency to throw myself at my little horse in the depart was brought up. I explained that habit began when he and I started struggling to pick up the correct lead. It's not an ideal solution, and not really working. So, I'm working on fixing it. 

In a recent ride, Bast began bolting off in his departs. First picking up the cross canter, then bolting into a change behind. I started experimenting with different tactics to keep this from happening.

First, I identified he was tossing out his outside shoulder and stiffening his neck or even bending to the outside. I tried just holding his inside rein and demanding he hold the bend and keep his neck flexible. However, he started just getting more explosive and still was busting out through his outside shoulder.
Fling the head? Check. Fall on inside shoulder? Check. Bust out through outside aids? Check. Ugh.
Instead of fiddling more, I experimented with taking my own aids out of the equation. I noticed the problem was worse to the left, so I lengthened my outside rein a touch and grabbed my pommel strap with that hand. I then asked for the canter, making sure to sit the trot a step or two and actually stay balanced and lift for the aid. Bast happily stepped right into the correct lead.

Oh. Huh.

I repeated a few more times before switching directions and repeating the miracle the other way.
Hmm. So about that...
These results made it clear the problem is with me. I'm pretty sure I'm both restricting his motion with my hands (pulling with the outside rein) and not sitting enough in the depart so he's losing his direction part way through. Neither mistake is great, but both are fixable. I'm hoping spending more time paying attention to my own position and following hands will help us develop better departs all the time.
A recent example of a nice depart. Let's try to make these all like this!
Anyone else have a problem with your horse that is almost entirely your creation? I know I'm not alone out here! Let's share the hilariously wrong things we keep doing with our horses and learn from each other.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Introducing Asterid!

It's taken me a long while to feel up to bringing another dog home, but a few weeks ago I decided to take the plunge. I've been looking seriously for awhile now, but have been very picky. Basically, my kind of dog is the one no one else can stand!
Like these two monsters...
With Sonka gone, I realized a lot of things he did for me. I missed them. He would refuse to let me sit lazy for long periods of time. He had a very highly attuned sense of timing, and would let me know it was time to get up, time to run, time to feed him, and time to do things. Lyra, by contrast, is quite lazy and content to lie abed until noon. After struggling hard without Sonka's guidance and insistence for movement and action in life, I resolved my next dog would be another high energy wild child.

... oh, and also scary looking. Because, let's face it. I run by myself a lot. And Lyra is not much of a guard dog. I need a dog that makes someone think 6 or 7 times before they even consider messing with me.
Scary, kinda?
So obviously when I ran across this girl in the recent listings of shelter strays, I was immediately interested. However, the timing wasn't quite right. I didn't feel ready to pull the trigger in mid-May, and I absolutely could not make it to the shelter. Her photo disappeared from the site a few days later anyway.

By mid-June, I had started visiting shelters. Disappointed I hadn't found what I was looking for yet (and feeling like taking every dog home), I kept searching the local online listings as well. That's when that beauty of a dog popped up again, at the same shelter. I called that day, found out she had no applications yet, and made plans to go see her as soon as possible.

That's how Asterid and I met the first time.
Hi, I'm Asterid.
The shelter warned me she was very aloof and shy. She had been previously removed from their listings as they were not sure she was adoptable. She had failed their first temperament testings for extreme shyness. As this is a kill shelter, being pulled due to a temperament test failure almost meant she was a goner. Thankfully, they gave her a second chance.

"She probably won't even come up to you. She's not overly friendly," they told me. I assured them this was perfect, as it was absolutely. My Sonka refused to acknowledge my presence the first time I met him. Huskies can be like that in the shelter. They either shut down or become overly outgoing. It's sad so many end up there, as they are particularly ill suited to the place.
Huskies thrive outside the stresses of the shelter, allowed the confidence to be themselves... and taken for lots of runs.
As predicted, she didn't meet me. In fact, I had to actually use the leash to get near enough to touch her. However, she wasn't aggressive, seemed extremely intelligent and curious, and moved like poetry. It was love. I applied immediately, and was almost immediately approved.

Upon picking her up, I decided on a name. I'd been struggling for the days since her pick up date was scheduled. The day of her homecoming, I knew. It just came to me. Asterid.
The spelling has been tough for people, but chosen for a reason.
Asterid for the Asteridae, an old botanical sub-classification of mostly flowering plants, including the burdock plant. Burdock being the only thing that currently grows on Sonka's grave.

Asterid also for Aster, latin for star. As she is all of the colors of twilight bound together with wild energy.

Finally, Asterid also for -aster, the botany suffix meaning "incomplete resemblence" for all that she resembles, and yet very much does not, my Sonka.
Daisies are definitely part of the Asteridae family.
I don't know exactly what breeds are mixed up in her. She's definitely some sort of husky, but beyond that I am not sure. She may be out of sled dog lines, as there's a local breeder who has many wolf-gray or "agouti" dogs, which is her coloration. Yes, Siberian huskies come this color. It was mostly bred out of the show lines in favor of the popular black/white with blue eyes, but used to be quite common.
Agouti colored dogs are one of the rare varieties of husky with black tipped tails.
She might be four, or she might be younger or older. I'm settling with four. Her coat is still very short and her energy very high-- both indicative of a younger husky. Four is a good age to start a new life.

So far she is settling in nicely. She and Lyra are the best of playmates, often wrestling for hours. Lyra took a few days to warm up to Asterid, but overall has adjusted to her presence easier than she and Sonka settled in. The two of them are going to be quite the hellions, I can already tell.
"Going to be"/"Already are"
 Beyond going on a typical "husky hunger strike" her first few days (and again after being spayed), Asterid has been pretty easy. She came to me mostly potty trained, though I'm unsure if that is from previous experience living in a house or "stray-trained" as I have seen a few times. She had no formal training in basic commands, like "sit". However, she has been mostly civilized on the leash. That's very uncommon for the breed.

Her shyness is wearing off slowly, though I don't know that she'll ever be as forward and demanding of strangers as Lyra. That said, with Lyra as a sister, one must become more outgoing.
Little wolf-alike.
She's not as big as most people think. While slightly taller than Lyra (her legs are so long and narrow!), she clocks in at only 47 lbs. Most likely she'll settle in around 50, which is perfect. Lyra, meanwhile, has plumped out to a hefty 43 lbs. (I've taken to calling her "Fat Elvis" after she huffed down two doughnuts at the barn, then a load of hoof trimmings, thus making herself both sick and fatter. Someday soon I feel I'll find her bloated on the toilet with a peanut butter sandwich...)
This one, meanwhile, could use a few more sandwiches...
I can't wait until Asterid is fully healed from her recent spay surgery so I can get back to running the dogs and wearing this mistress out! She's already living up to her requirements, however. She wakes me every morning by 6:15, insisting we stay on schedule and get things done.

What a good girl.