Monday, September 27, 2010

Pleasant Signal, Under Pressure

I've been remiss in not posting about Siggy's triumph at the show last weekend! Alas, it's been a busy week, as we're preparing for the arrival of the famous DiCos. Yes, my in-laws are coming to town and staying for a week. That means a week of raucous fun, lots of good food, and copious amounts of wine.

So that means I have to clean the house.

Blech.

But it's worth it.

Anyway, Pleasant Signal, lovingly known as Siggy, handled his first show with ease and his own Siggy (Signature?) style aplomb. While excited upon his arrival, he immediately calmed down at the hands of the ever capable Arliss, and he enjoyed a very leisurely morning munching on grass and cheering on his little brother Zeus. Siggy was also an incredible calming influence for Zeus, who seemed to rely on Sig's calm demeanor. Siggy really set an example for Zeus as to how to behave in public.

Later rather than sooner, it was show time! Siggy was entered into the Pleasure classes, in which the judge basically picked the horse that looked the most pleasurable to ride. I think some of the horses in our class were ridden all. Day. Long. So they were half dead, but evidently a pleasure to ride nonetheless. Maybe because all of the equitation classes prior had worn all the spunk out of them.
Siggy had tons of spunk left, and showed it in classic Siggy style - by eating the jump decorations. Yes, folks, there were some corn stalks bordering one jump, and Siggy took notice. I thought he was a little afraid of them, he thought he spotted an appetizer. We ended up traipsing around half the ring, me with an embarrassed flush on my cheeks, and Siggy with half the corn stalk hanging out of his mouth, without a care in the world. He spotted the ferns at another jump and thought the salad bar was open. I steered clear of that.

Luckily, we weren't being judged yet.
When we were being judged, Siggy turned on the charm for the judge, and earned himself a fantastic second place in his very first class! There was a roar from the crowd, as he was the only "rescue" horse in the class - a very cool moment indeed. However, Siggy let it go to his head, and he decided to do Aers Above the Ground in his last two classes - leaps of joy, just for the fun of it. Sadly, we lost some points for that, but it didn't diminish his beautiful red second place ribbon.
There he is, basking in the glow of victory, with half lease "Mom" Arliss glowing with pride. The next time Sig heads out to compete, it will be with Arliss. He's proven himself to be a gentleman, and a talented one at that!

A special thank you goes out to Arliss, who not only sponsored Siggy's classes, but handled him the entire time I had to spend with Zeus. She patiently grazed him for hours, keeping him company and making sure he was happy. And it was so clear to everyone there that he has no idea he's a rescue. He is a fancy show horse now.

And as long as the jumps aren't edible, he'll be a winning show horse!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Show Time

Yesterday was a big day. A huge day, in fact...just a mere 15 minutes from home.

This past Sunday, we loaded up Zeus and Siggy in the horse trailer, to head off to their first horse show - the official beginning of their new lives after the racetrack, their comeback into competition - but a completely different competition. One that doesn't compare the speed of the horse, but the talent, the courage, and the grace of the horse and rider team.

When we unloaded the boys, Zeus immediately panicked, and began pacing, circling me, and whinnying with worry. With Siggy's half-lease "mom" Arliss nearby with Siggy, we traveled across the show grounds - me with a lead rope and a longe line on Zeus, needing the extra security to contain him. One woman came up to us and said, "He's so BIG! Can I pet him? Will it help calm him down?" I politely asked her to come find us in an hour, when he'd settle a bit more - having anyone new close by to Zeus would be somewhat dangerous in this new environment.

After longeing him for a good 15-20 minutes in a quiet ring, Zeus didn't exactly settle, but he was quieter and a bit calmer. Siggy stayed nearby with Arliss, being a great big brother and showing Zeus that there was nothing to be concerned about. 90 minutes after our arrival, Zeus finally began to relax and showed interest in the lush grass that covered the show grounds. After another 30 minutes, I decided to tack him up, and see what we had.

I had a star on my hands.


I had perhaps one of the best rides I've ever had on this horse. He was responsive, in tune to me, soft and supple. I was gobsmacked.


He was incredible (video).


And continued to be incredible (more video).


So I decided to enter the show ring with him, knowing he hadn't set foot in it before, nor walked past the judge's booth or colorful jumps - very scary objects to a horse that's never competed.

He was brilliant.

A very short clip of us in the ring:


The moment we earned our ribbon and exited the ring, we were swarmed with well-wishers and spectators, wanting to ask questions about Zeus and marvel over how well he'd done, and how dashing he looked.

Of course, he knew he was something special.

The first of many ribbons for my boy Resilient!

Tomorrow I'll blog about Siggy, since he deserves his own separate entry. I continue to be awed by his own style - taking everything in stride and having complete trust that we wouldn't put him in a situation he couldn't handle. Big things ahead for Siggy, too.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Leaps and Bounds

A few weeks ago, I found some old photos of me competing or schooling some of my former horses - horses I brought along from the racetrack, or as youngsters with little or no jump training at all. It reminded me how far a horse and rider team can go, and I thought I'd share some with you.

Standing Ovation, also known as Storm, was purchased almost by the pound off the racetrack. A skinny but gorgeous grey, Storm was a terrible racehorse - having competed in claiming stakes for most of his career. However, Storm had a special something about him, so we took a chance on him.
Storm didn't end up being an event horse - he actually wasn't too fond of cross country. But he loved show jumping. Loved. A lot. When we figured out that he wasn't a huge fan of cross country, we sold him to a young rider who wanted to do jumpers, and they were a formidable team on the Northeast circuit for years. We were thrilled that Storm loved his job, and his new owner loved him.
You can just tell that he lived for those painted rails!
Those tucked knees are a thing of beauty!
Dressage

This is by far my most favorite photo of Storm and I, though. A moment between fences - he was performing beautifully, and the look on my face says it all. As we were galloping hell bent for leather towards the next jump!

Then we have Kismet, who was imported from England. Kismet had such potential but I had an injury, and we couldn't let him languish in the field while I recovered - a very long road indeed. So we sold him and he enjoyed foxhunting and hunter pacing, but I had a ball working with him and training him.
The photos are grainy, but they give you an idea of how talented he really was.
And that brings us to the present day. Zeus has his show debut this weekend. While he won't be jumping anything other than little fences....it's a start. And if the work he's done the past few weeks is any indication, we have a bright future together!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oooh La La....Meet Paris

Since you met Chief yesterday, it's only fair that today you meet Paris. Paris, formerly known as Girlie, was a horse that had to live with her halter on, because she would refuse to be caught and handled. I think you'll see a different horse.

But first, I'll give you a brief preview of Million Dollar Moon, my next project.
Moon is about 4 years old. She was born at Akindale, and ran 32 races in her career. When they retired her from racing, she got adopted out. However, her adopter evidently didn't like to feed Moon, so she came back to Akindale, where she's gaining weight and flourishing back to her proper weight. All too often lately, we are seeing horses that are severely underfed, due to owners who either don't have the money to feed them properly, don't care, or perhaps a little of both.

While Moon was away, she also developed a rearing problem. Rearing is standing up on hind legs, usually in fear or defiance. The photo above, I think, shows the true Moon - soft, willing, and maybe a bit misunderstood. I'll get to work on her in a few weeks, once we think she's had enough time to recover from the bad situation she was in.

Anyway, let's take a trip to meet a little croissant of a horse....here's Paris!
Isn't she cute? That little nose on my right is also another upcoming project, a beautiful dappled bay mare whose name I can't remember. I also don't recall her story (there are so many, it seems) but I'll update you on her once I begin working with her.
Not far from Paris is a horse you may remember - EZ Dollar. Here they are having some delicious grass hay together.
And there they are, hanging out before frisking Matt and I for carrots. EZ, after having a short visit with us at TMF (he wasn't a good fit for my client at the time), got adopted out to what we all thought was his forever home. Sadly, his story is the same as Moon's - he wasn't fed, and therefore is back at Akindale. But his story may have a happy ending. I believe he's going on trial to a wonderful home, and if I know EZ, he'll charm his potential adopters and find himself, finally, home. I've frequently said that if we had the room, I'd take him - he's got such potential and reminds me of Midnight. But if someone else who is worthy gets the chance to love him...then they're very lucky indeed.

Before we left, I happened upon a nice moment between Paris and EZ - clearly they're close friends, and are at peace at Akindale.
Life is good for these very special horses.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Meet Chief

I've now been working with Chief at Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue for two weeks, and he is just growing by leaps and bounds. As I said in a previous post, my ability to have and use a camera while I'm working with them is very limited - because I have to remain focused on them. However, Akindale is on our way to the grocery store (because everything is 20 minutes away here - there is no "dashing" to the corner market for milk or eggs anymore). And since Akindale was (kind of) on our way to the supermarket, I convinced Matt to make a detour so he could meet the horses I'm working with.
First off, just so you can get an idea how vast Akindale is...if you look in this photo, see the tiny grey building? Yeah. That's a 12 stall barn, where I work out of. And where I'm standing when I took this photo is also part of Akindale.
Here are a bunch of happy horses lounging in their 50+ acre field.
I could get used to having that view, couldn't you?

Without further ado, I give you....Chief (Video)!

Yeah, it was windy. And I kept telling him to go play with his friends. But he was having too much fun canoodling with me.
Here he is, still canoodling, but since Matt was there he was able to take the camera. As you can see, Chief is a little guy, but he has a big personality! As we walked away (I use that term loosely - Chief followed us all the way to the fence), Matt simply said, "Pack him up in the trailer, I have a feeling he'll be coming to live with us...."

I love that man.

Chief has been so blase about everything I've asked him to do so far, that I think he'll get a saddle on him this week, and I may even sit on him for the first time. Remember, Chief has never been ridden before, so it's a very big moment. Somehow, I think he's going to take it in stride.

As I left the other day, I took another video, just showing once again how Akindale is the best rescue farm I've ever seen. The space, the grass and the care of these horses is just unparalleled. The fencing you see on the right, all that land - that is Chief's field that he shares with about 20 other horses - and they are so happy.

Don't mind that beeping in the car - I didn't have my seatbelt on since I was just going down the road to another part of the farm at 20 miles an hour! To do what, you ask?

To see these two.
These are the two newest additions, both Thoroughbreds pulled from the Kill Pen at Camelot Auction in NJ. They are in quarantine now so I couldn't touch them, in case they carry an illness that can be passed to another horse. But I was able to say hello, talk to them for a moment and snap a pic of these two beautiful - and lucky - creatures.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Akinday 2

I'm so glad my little writeup about Chief struck so many of you! I loved getting all your emails and comments, thank you! I appreciate all the sentiments and well wishes more than you know.

I spent a good portion of my time today working with a cute little bay girl named "Girlie," who I have since decided should be renamed. Girlie just doesn't suit her. She's sassy, pretty, and full of potential. I learned from Erin, who is the creme de la creme at Akindale that Girlie's registered name is Privileged Terms. So I think we should call her....Paris.

Thoughts?

My first encounter with Paris on Tuesday was a bit frenetic. I don't know much about her, except she was neglected and just not loved or handled before she grew up - and she's a big girl. She also clearly doesn't trust people, and has no confidence in herself.

On Tuesday, I just spent some time grooming her, petting her and letting her know she can trust me. I didn't challenge her other than having her move away from me when I put my hand on her belly and said, "Over." Paris was so concerned about where her friends in her field were, what they were doing, that she would forget I was with her, and she just reacted to her anxiety. I don't think she stood still for more than 10 seconds at a time on Tuesday.

Today was a different day.

After slightly struggling getting a halter on her in her field (she had forgotten I was the good guy!), she allowed me to lead her quietly into the barn.

After some hello snuffles and a carrot or two, I set to work brushing her, talking to her, and giving her the attention she's lacked for so long.

I love being surprised by horses, and Paris really showed her true colors today. The walls came down just a little bit, and she gave me a big sigh of relief and stood like an angel on a slack lead rope. I curried, hard and soft brushed her, as well as picked up her feet and generally worked around her. She seemed to soften before my eyes.

After that, I began working on her manners and challenged her. With Erin's help, I brought her out to her field, with all her friends in it, and attempted to keep her focus on me - asking her to stop and walk by watching my body language. Even though we had some fans following us around (and at one point I had a whole Thoroughbred conga line), she quickly came back to focus on me and what I was asking her to do. We repeated this three times - just walking into and back out of the barn, making her stand quietly, and then working with her amongst her herdmates. I was thrilled with her progress.

Lastly, I asked her to walk out a separate, smaller barn door - into an open space with no other horses, and scary things like the road, cars, a house across the street - all sorts of distractions awaited us. Paris questioned my judgement, and it took about 3 or 4 minutes before she decided to trust me and follow me out. But what waited for her on the other end was lush, delicious grass! She got lots of praise and was allowed to graze for a few moments before I brought her back in. That in and of itself was a challenge, as it was going from bright sunlight into a dark barn - even though she'd been out the door, going back in, it looks completely different.

Although she snorted and showed me she was scared, after a minor hesitation, in we went. After that, I brought her back out to her field and released her to play with all her buddies. But not before giving her a final carrot, and telling her how proud I was and how grateful I was that she trusted me - even just a little bit.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Akinday 1

Yesterday began a chapter in my life that I consider to be a huge blessing. There are some things in your life that you thank your lucky stars for, that they come along at just the right time and open up possibilities you'd hoped for, but didn't know if they'd ever become a reality.


I have such a strong emotional tie to young or wrongly treated horses. Whether they've ended up in a kill pen or abandoned and neglected, I am honored when I get to be the person to show them trust, love, and let them discover their own talents and therefore, build their own confidence.


I am fortunate enough to have this opportunity now at Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue, located in nearby Pawling, NY. I have some young charges I'll be working with - riding them for the first time, but also showing them that trusting in a human can be a good thing.

Over the coming months, I'll chronicle some of the experiences I have - hopefully with pictures. For now though, I have to remain focused on these youngsters, so whipping out my camera can't be a priority. Matt and my mom have expressed interest in seeing me work there, and they're welcome to come once I have a rhythm with these horses.

My first charge, Chief, is about 3 years old and was a nurse mare foal. What that means, is he was a byproduct of a mare being bred for her milk - and the nurse mare foal essentially becomes an orphan, as his mother is taken away from him and her milk is given to perhaps a more expensive foal who lost its mother, or the mother had to get back to work/ racing/ etc.

Anyway, Chief is as personable as it gets. He immediately exuded friendliness and a willingness to please, especially when he noticed I had carrots to give him. He had a marvelous time snuffling my face, my hair, and happily followed me quietly wherever I wished him to go. He's small, but has good bone density and an air of youthful confidence.

Yesterday, we worked on standing quietly and grooming. He loved the attention, and twitched his lips and practically swooned when I scratched his lower neck and chest. Although he was separated from his friends and herdmates, he was completely happy to hang out with me - a virtual stranger, but a new friend.

Once he'd been groomed, I led him outside to begin observing his body language and see how he reacted to mine. Horses are so in tune with people that slight movements, even a shift in weight, will change how a horse reacts to you. I wanted to begin Chief with following my lead, listening to vocal commands, and stopping and standing quietly when I stopped moving. After just a few attempts, he "got it" and would stop with me standing at his shoulder, and wait for my next cue.


We practiced for about 15 or 20 minutes, and then he was released to a huge field with some of his buddies, to enjoy the rest of the day.

In a future entry, I'll introduce you to Girlie, a beautiful 3 or 4 year old bay mare. The only thing that doesn't suit her is her name....