Tuesday, March 31, 2009

OT: P's Amazing Photography Corner!

P was a little heartbroken that his stellar photography from Sunday wasn't used in the previous post. Well, it didn't pertain much to Kachina and the goings-on (we could have gotten really cool pictures of Kachina rearing, but he was taking pictures of yellow flowers instead), so they get their own post. I present you with P's Amazing Photography Corner!:

Said yellow flowers:

And also white flowers:

A ladybug enjoying said white flowers:

And some green:

And grass:

And a leaping spider:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rodeo (and a surprise guest!)

Yesterday was so nice that Donna, P and I decided to walk Kachina and Fancy up to the public arena and do some work. It was Kachina's first trip, and the first time I would try to teach her longing on a line (from what I know she's done some work at liberty in a small round pen, but not in a big arena).

After a rather harrowing fifteen minute walk on the road (which Kachina was very good for, considering the cars and motorcycles speeding past her), we passed Maverick's stable just as Kelli was working Maverick in the arena; or, rather, just after Maverick's roping rein broke on one side, and Kelli was recovering from her first equine wardrobe malfunction. After I was sure she was alright, Kachina and I continued up the hill to the public arena to join Donna and Fancy.

Kachina was very excited when she saw the space and, of course, she wanted to go running off with Fancy. She started rearing up right in front of me. I've never had a horse rear so high and straight, so close to me before; it was both awe inspiring and a little irritating, but I can't say I was afraid of being struck. We practiced some disengaging to calm her down and get her mind working. She's gotten very good at disengaging her hindquarters, even though it's pretty obvious that she doesn't enjoy it.

Meanwhile, Donna longed Fancy in preparation to ride her. Fancy's just getting re-used to being ridden; this would be her fourth time under saddle, I believe, since her old life in Montana.

After working on the disengage, we did some flexing. She wasn't wearing her rope halter, which she's better in of course, so it took a little time to remind her of what I was asking. Even still, once she got the idea, she was flexing like a pro.

Once she was all settled, I teaching her to walk around me in a circle without much success. I have never taught a horse to longe without a roundpen, and she has never longed in such a big space on a line, so we were both a little baffled. She thought she was supposed to disengage and turn in towards me (something I did teach her on the leadrope), and ddin't understand that I wanted her to keep walking. I, on the other hand, didn't really know how to encourage her to keep straight and go in a circle; I knew to stay behind the drive line, and I used my stick to tap her rump, but she still thought all of that meant "face the handler" not "keep walking." I'll be the first to admit that longing is not my strong point!

Donna, on the other hand, was on Fancy's back and had started walking her when, all of a sudden, Fancy started bucking and hopping! I ran over and grabbed Fancy's halter to stop her. Even though she stopped bucking, she kept kicking out, so Donna and I decided that, rather than Donna get off and letting her win, I'd walk them around on lead for a while. Donna used her reins and legs the same as always, while I stayed on the ground and gave Fancy a nose bump every time she kicked out. Eventually, Donna was able to walk her around a little without Fancy being attached to the lead. Although Fancy didn't like it, she didn't win in the end by bucking, so I think it was a huge hurdle cleared.

After she was done on Fancy, Donna showed me how to teach Kachina to longe on a line. She made it look so easy! And Kachina took to it very quickly. It made it painfully clear just how much I have left to learn about training a young horse.

While she was longing, five more people came into the arena, along with three more horses and a dog. Lots of stimulation! Donna asked Kachina to go around a few times on both sides, and stop on command, and then we ended it all on a good note.

Even more distracting was that two of those visitors were Kelli and Maverick! It was the first time Kachina had seen her "big brother" since January. I'm pretty sure they remembered each other, and she seemed very excited (check out that smile!).

We grabbed our things after that and left to sit in the grass and let the horses graze for about ten minutes as a reward for a good day's work before heading home:

Thursday, March 26, 2009


It's been a while since I've posted. Life's gotten busy and distracting. It's been great having Maverick so close by, where I can see him and Kachina on the same day, almost every day, as opposed to having to split it up during the week. This is a really good thing since the apprenticeship at the ranch takes away one of my weekend days.

Kachina's doing great. She's getting bigger, and with that bolder, and she's taken to stealing Fancy's grain. She does this in the most amazing way: she waits for Fancy to take a mouthful and lift her head, then she grabs the feeding pan and drags it as far as she can away from Fancy. This gives her enough time to help herself to a couple of bites before Fancy comes to chase her off. Then Fancy takes another mouthful, lifts her head, rinse and repeat. It was hilarious to watch; Kachina's not lacking in cleverness.

We're suspecting that Kachina's craving the supplements in Fancy's grain -- calcium phosphate, cod liver oil and flax seed -- so I've decided to try giving her some. The flax seed is proving a little hard to come by, but Donna volunteered to pick some up in Livermore the next time she visits S'Prize.

As Kachina loses her winter coat, her color darkens. Her socks are very black now, and her shoulder bars and ear bars are getting very dark. Her front half, which shed out first, is not a darker dun than her back half, which is still relatively fluffy. (I promise there will be pictures Monday!)

This past Saturday there was a team penning show, and the family that owns the ranch where I apprentice was competing so I got to go along and help groom and exercise the horses. This meant waking up at 2 am (and coming home at 2 am!), and about ten hours in the saddle! But it was worth it; my grandfather was there, and I got to see him win the Open division and almost win the whole thing (the family I apprentice for actually won it).

On top of seeing my grandfather ride, I got to see some really nice penning horses and compare them to Kachina. I know that she's only a filly, but I already see so much potential and athleticism in her, not to mention her natural curiosity and intelligence. When I first bought Kachina, I had no idea what I was looking for; I only had a basic idea of characteristics that I thought would be important in a penner. I think I really lucked out, accidentally finding a horse with so much natural ability. As soon as she's old enough, I'm going to work alongside my grandfather and get her started right. That'll give me time to save up some money so I can send her to The Ranch for some polishing.

I have a feeling she's going to end up being one of the best penning horses to come out of the area. Of course, I may be a little biased.

Friday, March 20, 2009

OT: Hero Dog

I promise that this blog will get back to Kachina soon! But, I saw this over at Christa's blog and I had to post it.

This is the reason why I work with dogs -- and animals in general -- and couldn't imagine doing anything else. No matter how much time I spend with them, or how many books I read and videos I watch, or how many lectures I attend, I'm constantly amazed by the things animals do.

Meanwhile, the other night I saw a show called What Would You Do? for the first time, and I was horrified and depressed at how many people wouldn't speak up or act out against what they knew was wrong.

In some cultures it's believed that, if you commit horrible acts and live an awful life as a human, you will be reincarnated as a dog. I'm more inclined to believe the opposite is true.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Giving Up

A few of you know -- most of you don't -- that my first equine love was a buckskin mustang mare named Whisper.

It had been three years since my family had to sell our horses, and I was fourteen. The lack of horses in my life weighed on me, so my grandmother called my grandfather, who still had horses, and arranged for me to visit him and ride.

When I got there, I was introduced to a two-year-old mustang, freshly captured, that my grandfather had just bought and was now training. Instantly I loved her; she was everything that a horse symbolized to me: beauty, raw power, intelligence and freedom. Granpa put me on her back and lunged her, then let me loose with the reins. At the end of the day he told me that I could have her -- she would be my horse, and I could ride her whenever I wanted.

I called him two weeks later to arrange another ride, and he told me that he had sold her.

Fast forward four more years. I was eighteen now, and working, and I was determined to get back into horses. I knew my grandfather still had horses at a tucked away, rundown stable in Richmond. I knew roughly what times he liked to feed, so I caught the bus down there, eventually found the stable, and begged him to re-teach me how to ride. He said that there was only one horse available to ride -- a horse that he was training for a client -- but that she was a bit difficult. I told him that I didn't care, I just wanted to ride, and he pointed out the stall of my new partner. I looked in to see the same buckskin horse I'd met four years ago. She didn't have a name back then, but I knew her.

Whisper's owner barely came out to ride her, and she had very little human contact, so she had begun to revert back to being wild, avoiding humans but, at the same time, craving companionship. She'd become testy, but she was well trained, and I was confident that I could help her get over her issues. I came out every weekend and talked to her, putting no pressure on her, brushing her, feeding her and just spending time with her until she began to look forward to my visits. Then I moved to riding her (Granpa still insisted on riding her first, to warm her up and tire her out for me), and we had a few clashes but we worked through it slowly. Eventually I could take her out on trails with Granpa and ride her on my own when he wasn't around. The more I worked with her, the more I fell in love with her.

The first time I met Whisper's owner (a year after I'd started riding her), I was excited. I wanted her to see the progress that I'd made with her, and show her some of the things I noticed about her personality. I was naive and thought that she'd be happy to see how far her horse had come along. However, she brushed me off, wouldn't even talk to me, and went to grab Whisper and put her in the arena. I watched in horror as she hit Whisper over the head with her headstall (bit attached) when Whisper refused to follow her. My first instinct was to take the rope away from her and get Whisper as far away as possible, but I went over and, as calmly as I could, asked her if she needed any help, to which she sharply replied that she didn't. She never did get Whisper in the arena.

I saw the owner "working" with Whisper twice more after that day. Each time she became frustrated and resorted to trying to bully the horse, or hit her with things to try to make her behave. That's when I decided that I was going to buy Whisper. I saved up the money, got the owner's number from the stable manager, and called her to arrange a meeting. I had heared that she was pressed for money, and since I knew that she was a single mother and had no time for Whisper, I figured it'd be pretty easy. I offered to pay her $2500 -- $500 more than she'd bought Whisper for when she was in shape, which she certainly wasn't now -- and, if that wasn't enough, to put that down now and pay off the rest. I was desperate to get this horse. She told me that she knew that she had no time for Whisper, that she'd only been out to see her roughly four times in two years, and that it would be the best thing for Whisper if she sold her, but that she wouldn't because Whisper was "too pretty." She liked her color. She wanted to breed her and get a foal the same color. So, even though the horse was suffering for it, she wouldn't let her go.

I was brokenhearted, but there was nothing I could do. I continued to ride Whisper, but I knew I was just getting more and more attached. And I knew that her owner would come out eventually, beat on her and yell at her, and undo everything I've worked so hard to accomplish. At the suggestion of my mother, I started looking for another horse to buy, but I couldn't see any other horse but Whisper.

One day, Whisper's owner came out with her friend, and her friend's son who was about the same age as me. They had never been around horses before and promised to let them ride. I already had Whisper saddled up to work with her, so I reluctantly handed her off and watched as the son mounted up. Whisper immediately "took off" with him (granted, she was only loping, but it scared him) and he had trouble stopping and guiding her. The owner was frustrated, and asked what was wrong with her. I quietly explained that she was in a snaffle, so plow reining would work better than neck reining (which is what she told him to do), and I offered to show the boy, which she agreed to. After I had showed him, he was able to ride her fine, and he had a really good time. I thought I had been helpful, but the next day I was told that she didn't want me riding Whisper anymore. The manager said I had embarrassed her in front of her friend, and not to worry about it, that was just the way she was.

Three weeks later she moved Whisper without anyone knowing. I asked everyone at the stable if they knew what happened, but no one knew, or else they weren't saying. I was hurt and at a loss. Eventually I bought Maverick, who I love dearly, but I never forgot Whisper, and I cried every time I found a picture of her on my hardrive, or hidden in a book.

Last year P and I were visiting our friends Tony and Donna's house for the first time. The evening was winding to a close, and they asked if I wanted to walk down the street and see the stable that was near them. I never pass up an opportunity to see horses, so the four of us walked down to the city stable to look at the horses. It was getting dark, and we could barely see, but I knew her when I saw her: there was Whisper, stalled just a few feet away. When I saw her I started crying (much to Tony, Donna and P's confusion and concern). I mean sobbing. I'd spent nearly six years searching, aching and worrying for this horse, and suddenly she was right in front of me. I'd told Donna my past with Whisper before, so once she realized what had caused my breakdown, she hatched a plan to sponsor Whisper and find out more information.

Donna sponsored Whisper for a few weeks, and each report she gave me was more disheartening than the last. Whisper had become afraid of people. Clearly abused, she panicked whenever she saw anything that resembled a whip, stick or crop, he was no longer safe under saddle -- she wouldn't stop, wouldn't turn and wouldn't walk, and the stable manager there told Donna to be careful, because she was known to bite and kick at people and that, if he were here, he wouldn't be caught dead on the horse. This was such a far cry from the Whisper in my memory who, although spirited at times, was gentle, well-trained and well-mannered, and safe in just about every situation.

After establishing a relationship with Whisper's owner, Donna found out that she was looking to sell the horse. Donna told her she knew someone who would be interested, and the owner seemed genuinely excited to find out who. When Donna told her who I was, the owner's personality did an about-face; she told Donna that she would absolutely not sell her to me, but would not tell her why. Donna never heard from her after that.

The news was heartbreaking, and for a while afterward I couldn't even talk about Whisper. But I had to accept the fact that, for reasons unknown, the owner would not sell Whisper to me. I had to let it go. I consoled myself with the knowledge that, although something had happened to Whisper to change her opinion of people, she was at least being fed and sheltered and taken care of, which is more than a lot of horses get.

I visited Whisper a couple of times after that. Each time hurt, but it hurt less and less, as I kept reminding myself that she was being cared for. Eventually I could talk about it, and tell everyone that I was over it, although I never was completely.

Then I found Kachina. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't think of Whisper when I saw her. It was part of what drew me to her initially; it wasn't that she looked a lot like Whisper, but that I had the same feeling of instant adoration when I saw her in the trailer as I had when I'd first saw the buckskin mare. Kachina acted as a salve, and I told myself constantly that the reason that I didn't get Whisper was because I was meant to have Kachina.

Yesterday, Donna took Kachina and Fancy up to the stable where Whisper is boarded to have their feet trimmed. Somehow Whisper came up in the conversation, and the trimmer told Donna that he did Whisper's feet too, and what bad shape the horse was in. He said that the owner owed him $400 that she had no way of paying, and that the mare was going lame and no one knew why, that she had a lump on her side that the owner wouldn't have checked by a vet, and that she was looking to give Whisper away to a good home. Donna told him our story -- about how I reacted when I first saw Whisper at the stable, about how she sponsored her and told the owner that I was willing to buy her, and how the owner refused but couldn't say why. She told me that he shook his head angrily, and told her that he could get me the horse, free, if I still wanted her.

Donna made the offer. Here was my dream horse, back in my life for the fourth time. Only now the choice was mine, and it came down to which horse I wanted more, Whisper or Kachina?

I won't say that it was an easy choice. It wasn't even really a choice. I didn't have to think about it, I knew that I wouldn't give up Kachina, not even for Whisper, but that didn't make it any easier to turn her down. I thanked her, and asked her to thank the trimmer too. It was just too late.

Now I'm left to wonder if there's a reason Whisper keeps appearing in my life, only to make me give her up again and again. It's like having a cut on your knuckle: no matter how many times it heals over, inevitably it's going to be ripped open again.

How many times can a heart break over one horse?

Monday, March 16, 2009


I'll be the first to admit that I know very little about a working horse's conformation. I know enough to buy a horse that will move nicely, I know when something is obviously wrong, I know how to check the feet, the legs, the neck, the chest, and I know what a horse should look like and how it should move.

What I don't know is how to tell at a glance -- especially in a young horse -- what traits are good for what sport, and what traits are hindering. I knew I wanted to work cattle, so I figured I wanted a horse with a nice, wide chest and a high, full, powerful back end. I knew I wanted one that stood square, one that was not too leggy but also not too bulldoggy. I knew I wanted one that carried its head low (but not too low) and moved with no problem. Other than that, however, I'm lost. I have no idea what small, minor details in build and bone structure stacked up to make a winning horse. When I bought Kachina, I was going on a hunch, and instinct, and hope.

I asked Granpa what he thought, and he shrugged and said "You can't go wrong with any horse for $500." Not the confirmation I was hoping for. It's a question that's always nested in the back of my mind; Kachina has the will, and the instinct, and a good foundation breeding, but she lacks fresh performance blood, and I had no idea if she was even built right for the job I had in mind for her.

Saturday I took pictures of Kachina down to the cutting horse trainer I've been apprenticing under. He breed cow horses, so he knows the conformation intuitively, and I figured he'd be the best person to ask.

He studied her pictures for a while, asked some questions, and told me that, A) he'd have to see her in person to be fair (of course) and, B) he didn't see anything in her confirmation that he didn't like (except he, personally, only likes sorrel or black paints. Personally, I like her unique color). He told me at this point all I can do is try her and see how she does. He also said not to worry too much about the current bloodlines; that there are a lot of champions who only have foundation blood, some that go back five or six generations.

This eases my mind a lot. Now that I know for sure that she has the build for team penning, and I'm already convinced that she has the will, drive, intelligence and athleticism for the sport, there's nothing to stop us. I'm thinking that, once she's old enough to start, I'll let my grandfather take her for a little while to introduce to cows. Or maybe I'll figure out a way to take her to the ranch.

Either way, I'm fortunate enough to have some seriously good resources.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Guest Starring: Maverick!

Yesterday we moved Maverick from the stable in Richmond to the stable near Kachina!

He trailered nicely, of course, but I did freak out a little when the trailer and the car I was in seperated -- I realized that I had never trailered him without being right there in the truck, so it was a little heartbreaking. I was honestly worried that he'd think I had sold him (how silly is that?).

P and I got the the new stable first, so I was able to greet him as soon as he unloaded and take him to a stall myself. Right now he's in the barn, but I'm hoping to get him moved into an open stall ontop of the hill, where it won't be so stuffy and he'll have a view.

He was a little nervous moving (and Maverick is so calm, that by "nervous" I mean he was not asleep), but he's been boarded at the former stable since he was two, way before I bought him. He kept eating the sawdust, something he's never done before. I'm hoping he's just "tasting" his new environment, and that it'll pass in a few days.

At the last stable, everyone rode Western. Here, the manager, Kelli and I are the only Western riders, so I feel a little out of my element. It doesn't seem as relaxed as my old stable, which is both a good thing and a bad.

It is a nicer stable, however, and Maverick will be well taken care of. Plus, Kelli will get to take her lessons on him and play with him whenever she wants, which will make us all happy.

Kelli's going to check on him this morning, so I don't worry all day (because I will).

I'm thinking of starting a blog for Maverick, if only to keep him off of Kachina's. Besides, the Favorite Son deserves a blog of his own.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Great Escape

Saturday, Kachina decided to play Wild Mustang with Donna and busted out of the paddock, running right down the middle of a long, winding road, that people frequently speed on. Donna said she chased her, calling to her, but Kachina just kept on thundering down the blacktop, cars zipping past her. Luckily Kachina turned into the park and, with the help of a stranger, Donna was able to corner her and get the halter on and bring her home.

Donna told me about it Sunday, so of course Kachina was out of danger, but I was still so scared and relieved and thankful. Kachina's lucky she didn't get hit by a car. Someone was looking out for her that day.

Sunday she and I played tag and hide-and-seek around the paddock. It was very cute watching her try to find me and then, once she did, throwing her head up and racing off. She'd run, spin, half-rear, buck, and herd me -- everything but try to kick me.

Kachina's really growing fast now. I'll try to get some pictures up this week.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Making A Connection

I remember the first time Maverick answered to his new name (his old name was "Bulldog." Yeah.) and how exciting that was for me. There's something a little magical about making that kind of connection; where a word that doesn't necessarily translate to the horse (or dog or cat or parrot..) still comes to mean something to it, where it begins to make an association between itself, its name and you. It's a very small and often overlooked little wonder of communication and understanding, and it amazes me every single time it happens.

Lately Kachina's been answering to her name more and more. When P and I come to visit and we call to her, she will leave her shelter, Fancy, and at times her food, and come trotting all the way across the paddock to greet us. We don't bring her treats when we come -- we don't bribe her to do it -- but we do lavish her with plenty of love and attention. She's just developed an association between her name and being with us, and she'd decided that being with us is something she enjoys. And even on the days when she prefers her food to our company, she'll still lift her head and prick her ears when she hears her name to let us know that she heard us, and that she understands what it means.

When Kachina visits with us, she comes to us each in turn. Sometimes, when we're petting her, she tries to groom us back. She's also taken to herding Odin away from us as if she feels the need to protect us, especially when he's very excited and we're playing roughly with him. She's curious about the things we do, and the tools we use; she'll often paw or bite at the manure fork and the muck bucket. In general, I think she enjoys spending time with us (unless the food's just been served, and we're keeping her from it, in which case she gets a little fussy).

I also think she's getting bored in the paddock. We haven't been able to take her for walks lately because of the rain. The trails all have very steep hills, and the mud makes it a little too stressful and miserable for all of us. I was thinking about getting her a toy, like a Jolly Ball, to keep her entertained, but I don't want her to develop any neuritic behaviors or obsessions over it like I've seen horses do in the past. It's probably time I start working with her on things that are more challenging than just sacking her out (there isn't much that seems to scare her). I'll have to browse through my books and find some cool horsey games we can do together, and some exercises I can teach her.

This might be a good time to introduce the clicker.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


This past Saturday I started the first day of my apprenticeship with an old friend of my grandfather's. He's well-known in Northern California as a breeder, trainer and competitor of cutting a team penning horses, and he has colts in his barn whose parents I've only ever seen in magazines. I'm excited that I'll be able to ride, and learn from, such high-end performance animals.

Of course, my training is in exchange for labor and, even though they "took it easy" on me for my first day, I came home after nearly thirteen hours of work extremely sore and exhausted. But it was a good feeling that only comes from doing hard work that you love. And I'd much rather be doing ranch work than housework.

Despite all of the good things about the day, I was a little intimidated by so many well-bred horses. Kachina may have a lot of foundation blood, but nothing new or current in the sport right now. Would her breeding put her at a disadvantage in the sport? Was it even worth pursuing?

Sunday, she put my mind at ease as I watched her snaking Tony and Donna's dog Odin, cutting off his bath and herding him out of the paddock. She seemed to really be enjoying herself, working her furry "cow" (who was very confused as he believes it's his job, as a German Shepherd, to be herding her). She may not have fresh blood, but that old blood is still worth something. She has the heart and the cow sense in her. I think she'll be just fine.