Life By The Drop

Driving up the winding road to the Plateau I wondered what the heck I was doing. My horses need to be worked, and my mind isn’t in the right place to work them. I’m misplacing everything, tripping over things that aren’t there, and find my brain zoning out more times than I can count. My mind is a scattered mess, yet here I am driving up this ridiculously long hill. Take Dulce for a walk my friend said.

Dulce is a high energy horse, and if I don’t work him, he turns his energy towards my other two in annoying ways. Before Mojo passed, I took Dulce up top for a few walks to introduce him to the smells and challenges of riding through the forest. I like to walk my horses in the beginning, so I can see what spooks them or if they eye something for too long. This way it allows me to identify what to work with them on at home, and I can work with them in the moment on the ground. I think this helps them develop courage to explore, but it also shows them that I won’t ask them to do something that I’m not willing to do with them. It builds trust between us. The only thing that seems to bother Dulce is bodies of water. I think it’s more the smells of all the wild animals around the water that gets to him. I knew the perfect place to go, so taking my friend’s advice, here I am driving up the hill to take Dulce for a walk.

My hands grip the steering wheel tight causing my fingers to tingle. I want to turn around and go home. What if something goes wrong with the other two while we’re gone? I’m not ready for this, but there is no place to turn around easily with a horse trailer. I keep going. I hit the dirt; the road is rough rattling my nerves to all new highs. I put on Bluesville, and Howling Wolf is belting out Backdoor Man.

“You men eat your dinner, eat your pork and beans
I eat more chicken than any man ever seen, yeah, yeah
I’m a back door man”

 I sing along when I hit washboard in the hairpin turns. Are you kidding me? They were fixing these a couple of weeks ago. I have much further to go, but the forest is beautiful today. I don’t have to do the whole walk I tell myself. We can do a small portion of it and then go home. At least I got us both out. It’s a step

Oh man, this can not be happening! I come up behind the grater that supposedly fixes all the washboard roads. There is a huge pile of dirt down the middle of the road as far as the eye can see, so I can’t pass him without possibly flipping the horse trailer on its side. He is going two miles an hour. John Lee Hooker is singing House Rent Boogie.

“I’m tired of keepin’ this movin’ every night
I can’t hold out much longer
Now I got this rent, now let’s get together, y’all
Let’s have a ball”

We crawl up towards the Divide Road, and at this pace it will take me forever to get to our spot. I give up and pull off at this a spot that I always want to go. There is a nice trail across the road, but since I have the dogs with me, that option is out. Cars drive too fast on this section of road.  I figure I’ll walk him around this one little spot, and then we’ll load up for home.

By this time, my nerves are fried, and Dulce needs me to be calm for him. I am anything but. I unload him, get the dogs out, and focus on my breath to try and slow it and my mind down. Usually, within the first five minutes of each ride Dulce has a spazz out moment where he lets out his stress/excitement before he settles down and focuses on the work at hand. I waited for it, and waited, and waited, and it never comes. In fact, we walked together on a loose rein immediately. He gave me time to spazz out and calm down. We reversed roles.

What I thought was a small path along a private fence turned out to be a big path deep into the forest. I never knew this existed, and it is the perfect path for a horse beginning to learn how to trail ride in the forest. The only challenge is that it’s at 9,200 feet, which is 3,200 feet higher than our home. I know this will challenge his lungs a bit. We take breaks as we walked along the path lined by Spruce’s and Aspens to give his lungs a chance to adjust. The air is heavy with the scent of forest. Each breath melts away my accumulated stress from the drive. I get a cellphone signal. I check my cameras, and Chaco and Harley are fine grazing away together.

Dulce took everything in with ease. We went off the trail and pushed through brush and over all size logs. He never hesitated at anything. He is so athletic and brave. We wind in between and around trees ducking under low branches, and he pushes through all of it gracefully. We get back on the trail and head further up. We could have headed back to the trailer, but now my curiosity is peaked. What is it like ahead?

We meandered on and off the trail exploring all sorts of obstacles. All we hear are birds calling out to one another from tree to tree. The wind is absent today as the light shimmers through the aspen leaves. Dulce and I walk side by side with one another when I realize how he is taking care of me. I’m part of his herd. I watched my horses take in Mojo on his terms willingly. They knew he struggled, and they accepted him and that struggle. When he died, they mourned him even though he was with us for a short time. I watched those three amigos take care of one another through it in all sorts of ways. Today I thought I was taking care of Dulce, but he is taking care of me. He’s allowing me to be where I need to be with him on my terms not asking for it to be any other way. Each time we venture out together, he amazes me. He is the most amazing being, and every moment with him is a blessing and a lesson in something. And people wonder why us horse people think horses are so amazing.

After walking three miles, I let him graze while the dogs explore an interesting scent. I look around in awe of the beauty shining through. Dulce rubs his head along my leg, and we head back. I see a man-made obstacle off the path, which usually can make a horse nervous. Horses know that man made stuff don’t belong in the forest. Dulce could care less about it. We walk around it in both directions. Nothing. He looks at me as if to say, “Seriously? This is all you’ve got?”

He easily loads into the trailer. “Okay, who are you? Where is Dulce?” I ask him as he takes a big bite of hay out of his feeder. Driving back home is easier and a bit faster. Stevie Ray Vaughan is singing Life By The Drop.

“Hello there my old friend
Not so long ago it was till the end
We played outside in the pourin’ rain
On our way up the road we started over again”

When we finally head down the road to our home, when I’m coming down the hill, Harley spots my truck and comes running to the top part of the paddock nickering at Dulce welcoming him home. Chaco acts aloof, but the moment I drop Dulce’s window, he’s all happy. I unload Dulce and walk him in. I take off his halter to turn him loose. I expected him to run off to join them, but instead he lingers with me dropping his head into my chest. I hug his head in my arms kissing his poll. He lifts his head, looks me in the eyes, and makes his “Weeeeee” sound before he runs off to join Chaco and Harley.

Getting Our Butterflies in Formation

I was watching an online class by Tik Maynard, and he talked about getting butterflies during competitions, I guess a well known jumper once said, “The difference between my butterflies and your butterflies, is that I get mine moving in formation.” Dulce is such a smart horse. He is kind, he is powerful, he is brave, he is curious, he is playful, he is caring, and he is really good at causing butterflies to scatter.

The moment he knows we are going anywhere, he does what he can to cause butterflies or situations to scatter with the wind making it hard for me to stay collected. I’ve learned though. I learned how to help him, which I detailed in my last blog about Dulce, and I’ve learned other ways to help us.

For instance, when I feed in the morning, I unplug everything all of the extension cords that run to the cameras, and then I walk away. He knows that something is up, but he stays relaxed. I hook up the trailer the night before….these simple steps reduce his anxiety about leaving Chaco and his home. He moved around a lot before he came here, and he gets separation anxiety.

Best laid plans with him though always seem to scatter with the wind, and the day of our first trail ride was no different. Everything I thought I had perfectly planned, was not. I couldn’t find a darn thing, and each time I came up short, he got a bit hotter. I thought it was a sign that I should let it all pass and try again another day. However, I was determined to get Dulce out there. Despite all of the obstacles, I got him loaded with Harley, and off we went.

My plan was to ride Harley and pony Dulce. Immediately, that fell apart. Harley began spinning the moment he realized he was to be the lead horse despite our practicing it several times at home and in the arena. I hopped off, put a saddle on Dulce, and said a prayer. This is not the ideal way to take a horse out for his first trail ride. Usually, you pony him and give him a chance to figure things out without a rider on his back. However, I’ve never done it the ideal way. Shandoka’s and Chaco’s first trail rides were with me riding them; not ponying them. Why should this be any different?

What is so cool about this video is that there is some solid, white, flat rock in the ground. Usually, horses will try to avoid this if they’ve never come across it. They’ll walk around it. He had no problem walking on it at all.

I got on Dulce, and he immediately acted up. He thought it was time to be turned out on pasture, and was ready to take off at a full run. I did a one reined stop, hopped off again, and decided to walk him alongside Harley for a few hundred feet to see what would happen.

Within a couple of minutes, his excitement level dropped from a five to a three. Much more manageable. I hopped back on, and it was as if he knew exactly what to do. My only goal at this point was to remain present with him and help him. I slowed down my breathing, relaxed my back, and I softened my hands. His ears were forward, and he moved forward at a good clip. One thing about Dulce is that he takes care of me when I get on him. He may act up for the first few minutes, but not out of malicious intent, but because he feels so good. He immediately settles down and focuses on the work in front of him. He is a real honest horse.

Poor Harley was none too thrilled. Harley, likes to stop and smell the grass, eating along the way whenever possible. Now he was trotting alongside Dulce to keep up.

There is something so amazing about that first ride; when all of your work and time with your horse comes together in a beautiful moment. He didn’t fight me, struggle or spook, but stayed as present with me as I was with him. Not one word needed to be said between us, because we both knew what the other one was feeling. To feel such a powerful being beneath you willing to work with you instead of overtake you is a blissful, blessing that is beyond words.

What made me really happy was that he loves being out there. It is so good for the horse’s mind to go out on trail rides. It not only heals the rider’s soul, but it heals the horses mind. It brings their soul back to their nature despite the human on their back. We ask them to do so many things, and to me this is one of the best ways to give back to them; let them travel over the ground and see new things….be out in the open country.

This is the third Thoroughbred that I’ve trained to ride on the trail. Lots of people tell me it can’t be done, because they are too spooky and dangerous. I’m hoping that Shandoka, Chaco and now Dulce (and one day Mojo) will convince any doubter out there that a Thoroughbred can do anything. They are as versatile as any horse out there.

Dulce is an incredible being, and we have a long way to go until he isn’t a neon green trail horse. Riding him now two times on the trail, I can feel how he knows who he is, and he doesn’t let me forget it. With that said, somehow he and I both got our butterflies in formation, and it feels so good.

Dulce is a Human Whisperer

My sweet horse and ride Dulce

I’ve been going through a few things with Dulce that I’ve been trying to work out. I’m no horse whisperer, but my horses are human whisperers. Usually, they’re really good at getting through to me, but if I don’t hear them, it’s a full on scream. Dulce started screaming.

Despite several successful rides, Dulce started going downhill with no explanation. He got worse in the trailer stress wise. To say that he rocked the trailer would be an understatement, and it got to the point that Harley wasn’t too thrilled about getting in there with him. He suddenly got very gassy again, and often kicked at his tummy. He would poop at least 15 times, and I began to worry that I would cause him to colic. I needed to solve these puzzles, or I decided I would retire him. He comes first.

One thing is that when I start to get ready to go, Dulce gets Harley and Chaco running all over the place. If I catch Chaco, he tries to separate us. I decided he needed to be round penned before I load him in the trailer to blow off steam. My grandpa once told me when we were watching a racehorse act up before a race, that you need to let certain horses express their nervous energy before they’ll concentrate. Dulce is that horse.

I love doing round pen work, because it creates a dance between you and your horse. It opens up a whole new dialogue with your horse, and when they’re having issues, sometimes this is the best place to return to. He runs in circles with you standing in the middle. You direct his feet asking him to change directions and gaits. He may come at you, but you try your best to not move and again direct his feet away from you. You get him to change directions, so he knows that you are deciding where he goes like the alpha in a herd would. This creates respect, and then comes that moment. The circles that they trot around you get smaller, they’re keeping their eye and ear on you, they’re licking their lips, and then you turn your back to the horse and wait hoping that he will stop and walk towards you. When they do, it is exciting. It never gets boring. They then will walk with you in whatever pattern you walk. Dulce did this, and he loaded into the trailer more calmly afterwards. One problem fixed.

The gas, as you remember if you’ve read my blog, Dulce struggled with last summer. He had bad gas and would get colicy every single day until I put him on Ramard’s Total Gut Health, which he is still on today. I think he gets so excited and hot right before we leave that a lot of stomach acid starts circulating in his tummy causing excess gas. I’ve tried all sorts of pastes, and whenever I give him a paste, he gets extremely agitated. I decided to take a different route. An hour before we go, I mix up one scoop of the TGH in 4 oz of Aloe Vera Gel, not juice. with a tablespoon of honey. Honey is very soothing for upset stomachs. I mix it up thoroughly, pour it over a little bit of food with some alfalfa pellets that are softened with warm water. He loves it, laps it up, and no more kicking at his tummy. Second problem fixed.

Even though he loads calmly into the trailer, he doesn’t stand there calmly at all. He paws at the ground, rocks the trailer, and tries to get out by going through the window. I realized he thinks he’s in the starting gate at the track, and he’s itching to bust out. I closed the window, and oila, he totally calmed down and now stands perfectly calm. Harley no longer hesitates to load with him in there. Third problem fixed.

The pooping issue was easily solved. I give him Yea Sacc, which is a yeast culture, an hour before we go on a ride. It is designed to reduce digestive upsets or disturbances caused by stress. Since I started giving it to him before each ride, he now only poops twice. Huge change. Fourth problem fixed.

With these problems fixed let’s go ride. Next blog is about Dulce’s first trail ride! Woohoo!

Smooth Ride

Dulce is coming along nicely. I had the chance to take him to the indoor arena a few times, and he did surprisingly well. He is really soft and responsive with his S Hack and Side Pull. He also showed me one day that he does care about taking care of me.

The first time I took him to the indoor, I didn’t even expect to ride him. My plan was to walk him around, do some groundwork, and then come home. That’s kind of what we did. He did so well, and got so calm I decided to get on him. I thought we’d just walk around the arena in as many different ways as we could and go home. Then he wanted to trot, and I decided why not? After trotting for a bit, I could feel that he wanted to go to the canter, but he was waiting for me to give him the go ahead. I thought that the ground seemed soft enough if I came off, so why not? Oh my gosh, he was perfect! He was amazing, and he was so smooth. He never tried to take off with me, and his gait was beautiful. He covered a lot of ground with ease, and not once did I feel uncomfortable or feel worried. We flowed together, and there was not one person around to see it. I thought about pulling out my camera to video it, but I decided against it since it was our first time at the canter.

The next time we went it was a different story. He and I had different agendas. I wanted to canter him in front of someone, and he wanted to play. My friend Jessica and I went together, and he was totally in love with her mare Riser. Never mind how much he wanted to play with Cisco. I was frustrated at first, but then I realized how important this ride was. He learned that being around other horses doesn’t mean it is time to race, and he learned that I was still there much to his chagrin.

The third ride was great yet again. I was by myself, and I took this video the second time I cantered him. The thing I love is there was a man replacing sodas in a machine, and the man slammed the door to the machine shut spooking him. It was a loud metal sound that echoed down the hallway next to the arena. Being on a horse while they are cantering or at a gallop when they spook is challenging to stay on. Instead of overreacting to the man, he took care of me and gently moved to the side as he cantered. They also had a roping event the day before, and he could smell the steers in the cattle chute. He wasn’t too sure of that smell. Again, instead of tossing me or bolting, he took care of me, which gives me a lot of hope for our relationship and future.

The second video shows how amazing he is to ride in my opinion. One thing is for sure, I love him and I love working with him. Let me point out that all of this was bitless. Just because he was a racehorse it doesn’t mean he needs a bit to control him or ride him. I had him on a loose rein, which doesn’t mean it was hanging down to his knees. It means that I wasn’t holding the reins tightly, that I wasn’t all over his face, but I could quickly gather up the slack if I needed to for whatever reason. Thoroughbreds do not need a hard on the mouth bit to be ridden. Since I’ve had Dulce and Chaco, I’ve never ridden them with a bit. It is a great feeling.