Monday, December 28, 2009

Riding in the GA Memorial arena

Yesterday, our friend SH kindly offered to trailer Ziggy and Shadowfax over to his and DA's place (DA and SH are married and I've decided to refer to them jointly as DASH) so that we could ride in their arena. SH and Foxfire practiced tilting at the quintain while DA practiced some dressage and I just rode around getting used to my new horse.

A picture of the GA Memorial Arena from the day of its dedication. It's sort of an "L" shaped arena with a full length dressage arena on the long leg of the "L" and a short dressage arena on the short leg of the "L". It usually also has various SCA stuff set up in it.

Shadowfax was pretty mellow about the whole experience. When we first got there, I led him around to let him meet the other horses and most importantly the llama. Some horses have totally freaked about the llama. Shadowfax just sort of did a horsey version of a double take then wandered over to sniff noses with the other horses who were much friendlier than Ziggy was when they first met, and apparently much more interesting than the llama. Then SH let his dog, Archie out. Archie went zipping past Shadowfax and Shadowfax didn't even seem to notice. When Archie started chasing the guineas around and they started making a fuss, Shadowfax looked over to see what the fuss was about then went back to grazing. However, at one point when I was hand-grazing him while waiting for a spot to tie up so I could groom and tack Shadowfax, something in the grass spooked him. He just suddenly jumped and sort of twisted sideways, then stared at a spot in the grass for a second. I quickly led him away from that area, although he had already calmed down and started looking for more grass. I have no idea what spooked him. I certainly didn't see anything. But even as he spooked, he sort of twisted sideways so that he didn't run into me, so that was good.

Once Foxfire had finished grooming and tacking up Ziggy, I took his spot at the trailer. Here Shadowfax sort of disappointed me. He simply wouldn't stand still while I was grooming him. He didn't try to run off, he just kept shifting from side to side and looking around and stuff. I suppose I can't blame him too much. He was in a new place with lots of new horses and other animals running around. But it was a bit frustrating. He was, however, a perfect gentleman when it came time to pick out his hooves. For that, he stood still. Yay!!!

Once I got him tacked up and led him out to the arena, we had one bad moment when he started walking off when I was only halfway into the saddle. I managed to pull myself the rest of the way into the saddle as he was walking and then made him stop for a moment as I settled myself in. Again, I blame it on the excitement of all the other horses already running around and doing stuff in the arena, but it is something that we need to work on. Simply giving him more experience will probably help. Once I was in the saddle, he did really well. When I asked for a walk, I got a walk, when I asked for more energetic walk, I got a more energetic walk. When I asked for trot, I got trot. When I asked for stop, he stopped. And he went where I asked him to go. I didn't ask him to canter for a couple of reasons. First, the footing was a lot deeper than he was used to and I could sort of feel him struggling just a little bit with it. (He is rather out of shape. As am I.) And second, there were a couple of guys cantering around with really long lances, hitting this shield thing that would make a loud bang then spin around with this bag of sand swinging out on the other end.

An illustration of a quintain.

Shadowfax barely even noticed it, as far as I could tell. The main problem was just staying out of the other riders's ways when they began their runs at the quintain. I was also trying to stay out of DA's way who was actually working on some dressage stuff, since I wasn't actually trying to do any "real" riding. Mainly, I was just working on bonding with my new horse, letting each of us get used to each others signals and responses, exposing Shadowfax to some new experiences, and just spending some time in the saddle. When the guys were taking a break from running at the quintain, I led Shadowfax up to it. He just looked at it for a second then tried to lick the sand bag. He likes to lick things. He licks the sides of his stall after he's done eating. Every once in a while he'll chew on the wood, but mainly he just licks it. He also licks the donkeys. Well, he licks Tessla, the other two tend to move away, but Tessla will just stand there letting Shadowfax lick him. Strange.

After we were done riding, Shadowfax was much calmer while I was untacking him. However, when I was almost done, he starting backing away from the trailer and standing at the very end of the lead. I'd urge him forward and he'd take a few steps forward, then he'd back up again. I couldn't figure it out at the time, but in retrospect, it was when Foxfire had led Ziggy into the area. I think Shadowfax was worried about being trapped against the trailer if Ziggy went after him. I wish I'd figured it out at the time and spared my poor horse the anxiety, but I'll know better next time. BTW, Ziggy is gradually becoming more tolerant of Shadowfax, but they are still a long way away from being buddies.

I also figured out, too late,(or rather DA figured it out,) that we were loading Shadowfax in DASH's slant load trailer in a way he wasn't used to. When the previous owner had kindly trailered him to my house, she used a straight load trailer with an escape door. So I'd led Shadowfax in and gone out the escape door. I thought that was the only way he knew how to to trailer. So when we went to load Shadowfax in DASH's trailer I tried to lead him in through the rather narrow entrance of the slant load, and he wouldn't go in. Someone had to give just a tiny push to his rear to get him to follow me in. After we loaded him the second time to bring him back to our house, we finally guessed that he was probably used to the "point and shoot" method of being loaded into a slant load. That me standing in the doorway, trying to lead him in just confused him. Next time we trailer with DASH, I'll stand to the side, toss the lead over his neck, pat him on his rump and see if he goes in on his own. I'm betting he will.

Anyway, it was a wonderful day, and I really appreciate DASH inviting us over and trailering our horses for us.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

First ride at home

Okay, I'm behind on my posts again. It's the holidays. Everything's chaotic. As you can see in the title, I was finally able to ride my new horse at home. But first I want to give a brief summary of the past few days. Basically, because of Ziggy's animosity towards Shadowfax, the only way that I've been able to spend any time with my horse was to go out into the field wait until the donkeys came over and Ziggy chased Shadowfax away, then walk into the goat pen with the donkeys following me, then walk out of the goat pen locking the donkeys in. Ziggy would stay by the goat pen and I could go halter my horse and lead him into the backyard area and groom him and love on him. Even in the backyard, which is fenced off from the rest of the pasture, Shadowfax still kept a watchful eye on Ziggy. Because of this I wasn't willing to risk trying to ride Shadowfax alone.

On either Monday or Tuesday, Foxfire came home from work for a couple of hours around 2pm.(They let him out for a few hours because they were going to keep him till midnight that day.) And with Foxfire haltering and leading Ziggy, we managed to take Ziggy and Shadowfax for a walk in-hand around the neighborhood. Outside of the pasture, Ziggy was more tolerant of Shadowfax, but he still wasn't ready to accept him as a herd mate. However, when we would pause and let them sniff noses, all Ziggy did was pin his ears, no snapping and no dramatics. That was hopeful. Of course, once we turned them loose back in the pasture, Ziggy went all herd-protector again. Not nearly as dramatic as the first time, but he still wouldn't let Shadowfax anywhere near the donkeys.

And then of course, the past couple of days have been Christmas eve and Christmas day and with all the family obligations and stuff, there just wasn't much time to spend with the horses.

But finally, today, Foxfire is off work, Ziggy has continued to mellow towards Shadowfax to the point that they can now eat off of the same round bale -- as long as they are on opposite sides -- and Foxfire and I decided to try and take both horses on a trail ride around the neighborhood.

It went great! Outside of the pasture, without the donkeys around, Ziggy was actually quite tolerant of Shadowfax. He didn't even pin his ears that I noticed. And although Shadowfax was quite looky. He paid attention to me and didn't spook at anything. Cars went by and he barely looked at them. Screaming kids playing ball in their yard, he just flicked an ear at. Even a bunch of teenagers riding around on ATV's didn't bother him. He looked, but that was it. The only time he had a noticeable reaction to anything was when a big dog ran barking along the fence at him. His gait became a bit uneven as he tried to keep an eye and/or an ear toward the dog. He didn't try to stop or bolt or even go in another direction. His gaits just became a little uneven while we were passing the dog. Considering that Shadowfax has had little, if any, trail riding experience outside of a pasture, he did extremely well.

It's finally beginning to sink in that I actually have my own horse. Grooming him, picking out his feet (Did I mention how GOOD he is about having his feet worked with!!!), saddling him and bridling him all on my own, then riding him around the neighborhood has started making it real to me. It's still not completely real. That may take a while. I never, NEVER, believed that I might actually end up with a dapple gray Andalusian, which has been my dream horse since I first saw one of those Spanish Riding School shows in junior high. (And yes, it was the Andalusians that I was drawn to, NOT the Lipizzaners.)

Unfortunately, I still don't have any pictures, because Foxfire was busy riding Ziggy. But sooner or later, I WILL get a picture of me riding my new horse.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


After searching for over a year, I actually found and was able to buy (barely) my dream horse. He's an eight year old, 16.2 hand, dapple gray Andalusian gelding.

JJ kindly agreed to give Shadowfax a test ride when I asked for her opinion before buying him. I didn't have anyone to take pictures when I was riding him, but JJ said that I looked good on him.

I can't believe that I actually found an Andalusian that I could afford that was healthy, sound and sane. He even has dressage training. Okay, he doesn't have the best conformation, and he has a little arthritis in his hocks, and yes, he is young to already have arthritic changes. But he is still sound enough for what I want to do according to the vet, and should remain that way for many years with proper maintenance. He is also still somewhat inexperienced since after being started under saddle and ridden for a couple of years, he was then put out to pasture and had nothing done with him for about two years. But after being back under saddle for only a little over a month, he was easy and comfortable for me to ride. He's a little lazy, but that might get better with more consistent riding. I didn't have any trouble getting him to trot and canter, though I did have a little trouble keeping him cantering. But just a little extra push with my outside leg and inside hip kept him going. Considering that I'm still learning how to canter myself and that I am just coming back from several months off of riding because of my surgery, it's a pretty good sign that I was able to ride him that easily.

His registered name is Mi Romeo, but neither Foxfire nor I really wanted to call him Romeo so I was trying to come up with another name for him. I was out in the pasture with him and suddenly realized that I had just called him Shadow. So I asked, "Is Shadow your name?" and he walked toward me. Of course any time he hears my voice, he walks toward me(Yes, he already comes to me any time I go out in the pasture. He really WAS meant for me.) But Foxfire liked the name Shadow, so we tentatively started calling him Shadow. However, we already have a cat named Shadow and I also wanted a name with a little more distinction for my horse, so after thinking about it for a while, I decided that I would call him Shadowfax. I know it's a bit presumptuous to name him after Gandalf's stallion in Lord of the Rings, but he is an Andalusian, which is the breed of horse they used for Shadowfax in the movie. And it just seems like the right name for him.

I admit that I'm still a little nervous about having spent so much on a horse. But even though he is not perfect (no horse is), I think he is the right horse for me. I'm still sort of getting used to the idea of having my own horse. I don't think it's really sunk in yet. Maybe once I get a chance to ride him here it will finally sink in. I haven't been able to ride him at home yet because my husband's very mild mannered horse, Ziggy, has turned into a fire-breathing herd protector. Ziggy will not let Shadowfax anywhere near HIS donkeys. The problem is the donkeys (and Ziggy to some extent) are used to coming up to me anytime I go into the pasture in order to get petted and scritched. So anytime I go out in the pasture to try and spend time with Shadowfax, the donkeys and Ziggy come over and chase Shadowfax away. I can't put Ziggy in his stall because when we tried to do that, Ziggy went absolutely balistic and started charging his stall door. We were afraid that he'd hurt himself (and destroy the stall) so we had to let him out.

Foxfire and I have tried several different things to get Ziggy to accept Shadowfax. It's not like we just turned everyone loose in the pasture together. When we brought Shadowfax home, we had Ziggy in his stall and the donkeys and goats in the goat pen. We led Shadowfax around the property and let him see and smell everything. (BTW, Shadowfax behaved very well throughout everything. He was curious and looking around, but not nervous or aggressive.) Then I led Shadowfax up to Ziggy's stall to let them sniff noses. And that's when the drama began. Ziggy took one sniff then snapped at Shadowfax. Shadowfax naturally stepped back, but that's all he did. He didn't snap back or get excited, he just got out of reach of Ziggy. I waited a few seconds and let Ziggy just look at Shadowfax and when he seemed calmer, I led Shadowfax up to him again. Again Ziggy snapped at him. So I decided to leave Ziggy alone for a bit and led Shadowfax over to the goat pen and let him sniff noses with the donkeys through the fence. Tessla, of course, immediately came over and said, "Hi". After seeing Tessla interacting safely with the big gray horse, Kanny and eventually Marie came over and they all sniffed noses. Shadowfax actually seemed to like the donkeys. Maybe he just appreciated that they weren't pinning their ears and snapping at him.

When Shadowfax seemed to lose interest in sniffing the donkeys, I let him wander around a bit on his own. I was still holding his lead rope, but I let him go where he wanted to. He soon found the water trough and took a long drink. After that I decided to try Ziggy again. Same result. Foxfire thought that maybe Ziggy would be friendlier if he weren't stuck in his stall, so I led Shadowfax a good distance away, and Foxfire haltered Ziggy and led him out. We carefully led the two horses closer to let them sniff noses again. This time Ziggy not only snapped at Shadowfax, he reared up a little and sort of thrashed his front hooves at him, accidentally racking Foxfire in the process. Foxfire was okay, just not real happy. Shadowfax remained surprisingly calm and just stepped back out of reach. Foxfire backed Ziggy up and I kept Shadowfax at a bit of a distance and we just let the horses look at each other for a while. Then very carefully we again let them get closer. Again Ziggy displayed very aggressive behavior. Ziggy wasn't actually biting or kicking Shadowfax, but he was putting on one hell of a threat display. We, Foxfire, the previous owner, her trainer and I, finally decided that the two horses would have to just work it out themselves. So I took Shadowfax to one end of the pasture and Foxfire took Ziggy to the other end and we turned them loose.

Shadowfax immediately trotted towards Ziggy who was standing by the goat pen with the donkeys in it. Ziggy charged at Shadowfax and chased him away. As soon as Shadowfax was a good distance away from the donkeys in the goat pen, Ziggy stopped chasing him and went back to the donkeys. This pattern repeated itself several times during which we figured out that Ziggy apparently saw Shadowfax as a threat to his herd (the donkeys). Poor Shadowfax just wanted to join the herd, but Ziggy absolutely refused to let him near. Since Ziggy was behaving so aggressively, we decided to just leave the donkeys and the goats in the pen for a while and see if in a few hours things had calmed down. Watching Ziggy behaving so aggressively was actually pretty frightening. He'd always been such a non-dominant horse before, but now his behavior was really scary. I'll repeat that neither Ziggy when he was attacking nor Shadowfax when he defended himself actually bit or kicked the other horse. It was just a lot of really aggressive display. But even though no one was actually getting hurt. It was distressing to watch.

Unfortunately, even hours later, Ziggy was still chasing Shadowfax away from the goat pen any time he came near. However, both horses were completely lathered and probably exhausted, and the chases were getting shorter and less intense, so we decided to try feeding everyone since it was about time for their evening meal. Shadowfax was quite willing to go into his new stall to get fed and enthusiastically gobbled up his grain. Ziggy had to be haltered and led into his stall and after taking only a few bites started pacing his stall, pinning his ears at Shadowfax in the stall next to him, snaking his head around the stall wall and snapping at Shadowfax. He even started charging his stall gate. At this point, because we were afraid that Ziggy would hurt himself, we had to let him out of his stall. He ran over and checked on the donkeys, then started charging at Shadowfax's stall. Foxfire and I would clap and yell at him and make him turn away, but it was still frightening Shadowfax. For the first time, Shadowfax started displaying nervous behavior. Completely understandably. Foxfire managed to chase Ziggy far enough off so that I could let Shadowfax out of his stall. Once Shadowfax was out of his stall he calmed down. However, Ziggy would still chase him away any time he came near his little herd. Poor Shadowfax.

Once it got completely dark, things seemed to settle down a bit. Every once in a while, Shadowfax would ease up toward the herd and Ziggy would chase him away, but things weren't nearly as dramatic. Since Ziggy hadn't finished his grain which is a very bad thing because he has a history of ulcers, I led Shadowfax into the goat pen and stayed with him so that Foxfire could bring Ziggy's feed bucket to where he was standing with the donkeys and encourage him to eat. Ziggy eventually finished most of his grain, and I let Shadowfax back out. Foxfire and I finally got our own dinner and settled down to watch some tv. But we would go outside every once in a while to check on everyone. Ziggy still wouldn't let Shadowfax join his herd, but at least there were no more big dramatic chases.

Anyway, that was the first day of having my new horse. Which was Sunday, by the way, I'm a little behind in posting this entry. I'll try to post what went on on Monday and today either later tonight or more likely tomorrow.