Wednesday, May 13, 2015

It ain't pretty, but still!

Two rides this week...Monday was progressing on the, hands, shoulders.  If you look at the dirt, that's where you're heading.  Sometimes it feels like that game we played as kids - chewing gum, patting yourself on the head with one hand,and rubbing circles on your stomach with the other...but more and more things feel like they're falling into place and becoming more automatic or natural.  Oh, yeah, and tucking my butt under....that one I'm definitely going to have to work on. Had a quick poke around in the pasture at the far end of the arena...he turned into a badass coming inside (did that the first time too) and it made me laugh to roll my eyes at him and ask him to smarten up.

Today was a huge, huge milestone.  Using the whole arena now...was it last week that I was clinging to the barn end like a life preserver?  Tonight we worked on counter-flexing, and I could FEEL what it meant to open up my hip and give him a door to go through.  Oops, shoulders in the right place.  Lift that ribcage.  Look where you're going...more things to juggle, but in a GOOD way - feeling how each piece comes together and the very first notes of harmony.
And tonight, the lope.  It was anything but pretty - I felt like a rubber ball in the saddle - he felt like a dolphin coming up underneath me. Huge, powerful shoulders...unlike anything I've ever ridden.   He wants to rush in, and hustle on - those are things to fix way down the road.  Beautiful rhythm to his stride, and came right back to me when I asked him to stop.  No stupidity two beautiful solid stops and backs in the rest of our ride.  We all sat and talked afterward, and he stood peacefully and quietly the whole time.
I;m seeing and feeling a connection that we didn't have before...there's a different level of friendship and trust there.  Beautiful.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Five Rides

As you can see, there is a huge gap between my last post and this one...a lot has happened, and a lot of good things are happening!
Last summer, I decided to take Diam to some local shows, just for fun, and to have some good experiences.
Well, the first one was neither.
I trailered in with my BO and fellow barnmates, and the screaming began.  Not mine, but Diam's.  He went into full-blown meltdown...pacing in circles, trying to walk through me,generally being a moron.  Now, I'm grateful that on the ground I am more confident than I am in the tack, so I did my best to work around him.  We hobbled our way through halter and showmanship, got our first ribbon (incredible!!) - a second place in halter - and made our way back to the trailer.
My BO helped  me tack up, as tying to the trailer didn't seem like the best option.  Saddle on, check.  Reaching for the bridle, and airborne.  Now, his rearing as a protest if he is jacked up while being tacked has happened before...but this time, with him REALLY wound up ended up with him upside down underneath the tailgate of my friend's mini van.  NOT a scenario I expected or liked.
Now, my BO has far more experience and courage than I do, so after checking horse and tack over, he trundled off to explore the show grounds (which is a lovely, quiet environment, treed, big open spaces).  Long and short of it, I had a wet saddle blanket and somewhat tired horse back at the trailer half an hour later.  He was quiet in the quiet areas, but near the show ring, resistant and anxious.What I did learn was that the trailer was his safe place, so after scratching out of my classes for the afternoon, the rest of the day wasw spent chilling on a shank or in the trailer in the shade.
Our next two shows followed the same pattern minus tacking classes (where a strong lack of manners was an issue) and then relaxing at the trailer. Each trip was a bit more hysterics at the trailer, actually grazing with a relaxed eye.  Ended up high point showmanship at the club level - our first trophy together! Totally unexpected, but delightful for me...we had something tangible to represent our hard work!
 Thing is, though...all of this developed its own real estate in my head...I had a couple of good rides (including a lovely play in Lake Erie), and then managed to partly sever a tendon in my foot, which kept me out of the tack for several months.
Cue the anxiety.
I kept returning to Diam being stressed at the grounds...and that became my own stress.  So, of course, instead of remembering the many good rides, I began to think that any ride was going to be difficult.  Being an unfit rider (and not ready to sit out a tough ride) just magnified it.
And here we are.
I had to confront this....I know what a talented, solid horse he is...and giving up is something I just can't do.  I had to try again.  I had a lot of long talks with my BO, and he understood.  It felt wonderful to have someone who was willing to listen and help.  One thing he said was that he could be there for me, but he couldn't do it for me.
First ride...tacked up, and worked on breathing - apparently it is evident when I don't breathe! Just poking around in a third of the arena, paying attention to my body language, my reactions.
Second and third rides - more of the same.  I keep thinking of the movie What About Bob? where the character's mantra is baby steps!!
Fourth ride...a bit bigger and a bit bolder.  My BO pushes me a little farther each time...enough that I reach for it, but not so much that I get overwhelmed.
Friday - far end of the arena, where the bigscaryspot usually has horses gearing up - there is turnout associated with that end, with a lot of distractions.  And the big move - first time out in the big pasture! Diam was a class act, and though he got silly back in the arena (Big Horse Coming in!) I actually found it funny and rode through it till he settled and I ended our ride at that point.
Tonight's ride - I'm working on him not moving off as I mount (a leftover from race training); used the whole arena (as I explained it after, my fishbowl got bigger!), and tried to sit it out as the torrential rain hit.  We were good for a while til it really started coming down, and Ron felt it best that we end on a really positive note rather than me having to deal with a horse getting increasingly anxious in the noise.
I realize that it sounds like I've gone back to a way I have.  But I'm also working hard to regain the ground I used to have...I'm choosing to be positive about finding my footing instead of being frustrated about having to make the ground back up.
Either feels wonderful.  I am grateful to have someone (two someones! - including my DSO who encourages me and doesn't begrudge the late suppers and long hours) willing to understand, to share time with me, and to encourage me.  A beautiful gift.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


It's been a long, cold winter here in southern ON - the kind of winters from my childhood, with real snow, and really cold temperatures.  Both barns froze solid where I barn for almost a week, and the main barn for several.  Got a text this morning that we have hot water in the main barn again (and there is great rejoicing! :D) ....we are supposed to go back down to below zero F again in a couple of days, so we will enjoy it as we have it.
Diam has had most of the winter off...a lot of it is because I was just plain being too much of a wuss to bundle up in multiple layers of clothing to toddle around on him.  Recently our local saddle club has reactivated, and the prospect of creating real, tangible goals created a new spark in me.
Now, my last few rides have been indoors...and each one has had its interesting moments.  Most of these involve different times of day, different conditions - but each one has involved some measure of attitude on his part.  My first step is going to be getting his back checked - start simple.  He's wanted to buck a few times now - nothing huge, but in the opinion of a trusted, good rider - with dirty intent.  Now I've never liked a bucker - good feeling is a whole different thing - but today, for example, he was "up" right from go...nice day, bit of a breeze, so the end of the cover-all was a bit noisy.
My DSO thinks that was a key factor...the noise.  When Diam decided to be difficult - in friend's eyes, had he been given the chance to drop his head, he'd have started pitching - DSO saw that coupled with the increased sound of the wind in the rafters.
So, chronicling this might help me pinpoint a common thread.  Is he perhaps claustrophobic, or has negative associations with the indoor from past experiences elsewhere? Outdoor rides have been positive experiences - I'd like to see that happen in the indoor too.
Happy riding,

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

..onward, and upward!

Going to actually attempt to post regularly now...summer has come and gone, with n
Diam being lightly ridden in the outdoor a few times. We've found that he has a lovely snaffle mouth.  I honestly didn't expect that...I've previously had OTTBs who are strong in the bridle, so it is really making me ride more tactfully.  I asked my BO, who is an outstanding barrels rider, to give me his opinion on where to go from here, so he hopped on in the outdoor.
He fell in love !
He rode Diam in all three gaits in both directions, and it delighted me to see what a good rider can do with a horse.  He had to do a lot of digging for correct leads...mind you from what I gather Diam has  likely not been consistently ridden in over a year.  And his lope....sigh.  But the coolest thing of all  was Ron asking him to stop...he can dig right in like a good thing!
Last night was our first ride in the indoor, and the first time Diam has really thrown me attitude.  The plan was just walk jog since I've been busy over the last few weeks.  He popped in a bunny hop at the walk, and a few strides later, another one.  Now I'm not a rider who is good at riding out bucks...even when I was far more fit.  Rather than completely throw in the towel, I asked Ron if he'd be willing to sound him out and see what he thought.
Holy attitude and a half!  Popping tail, bucks, and head-tossing! I hate to say that it's a relief when your horse is an asshole with a better rider, but somehow knowing that you're not the only one is a relief.  Ron has the ability to follow through if a horse gets difficult, but he does so with tact and patience.  He needed a lot of it last night; I'm going to store it in my metaphorical toolbox.  Diam got to the point of deserving a swat on the rear with the lines, but that point was only after a lot of patient correction. Same tack as usual, no signs of heat or soreness...just 'tude.
The best part was the ride ending on a good note....a civilized walk round the arena.  Naughty buggerwasn't   done yet I was taking off his bridle, he ducked out of the  reins and backed all the way to his stall! I know that he's learned to back away in his previous life, so am going to have to stay vigilant about that.
And the unexpected ,lovely end to the challenge....seeing the love and affection shared by him and my dear friend.  Take a bow, gentlemen!

Monday, April 1, 2013


Now that the dust has settled a bit, we're starting to see Diamond come to life.  Looking back at the picture of him on the trailer, I realize how mentally and physically exhausted he was by his journey.  

It's about two, two and a half hours from OLEX to where I am keeping him in quarantine, depending on how many bathroom breaks I need to take.  At one stop, our hero Dave (dare I call him SuperDave? :) ) opened up the back of the trailer to give Diamond a bit of fresh air and a chance to stick his head out and look around.  Right off we were approached by some Tim Horton's customers who I don't think had ever been up close and personal to a horse.  They snapped some cell phone pics, and asked about him.  Kelly told him the Coles Notes (Sparknotes for my American friends) version of his story, and they reacting with horror - do people EAT horses? I'm not going farther into that direction today, but the Toronto Star came out with a story just this weekend about the sad end of a horse bred by Adena Springs, reschooled and responsibly rehomed - and despite heroic efforts to save him, was not as lucky as Diamond, and met his fate in a Quebec slaughterhouse.
The thing that I liked was that Diamond seemed a  pro in the trailer - thought I am comparing him to my first TB, Boo.  Boo would let you know in  no uncertain terms that he was present - usually by tapping the side of the trailer with a hind hoof. One day I'll tell you the story of  his antics while being trailered through our small town - but that, also, is a story for another day.
Kelly took the following picture that I think I want's a perfect image of our new journey with Diamond.
As you can see, he has a huge motor - here he is underweight by approximately 150-200 lbs.  In upcoming posts you'll see the white mark on his left cheek expand - it's a flap of hide where it looks like he took a hell of a kick from another horse.  Currently it's shed off to the size of my hand, with another equivalent amount to go.
And my final thought of the day....I believe that he was boarded in the off-season at the farm where I am doing his QT, because when I started walking down the hill to his paddock, he picked up the pace, pricked his ears, and definitely put some pull on the shank.  As soon as I closed the gate and turned him loose, he dropped down with a loud grunt and rolled right over, then got up and trotted around happily.
Dave said something that I will never forget: "Enjoy it, buddy....each day from here on in is a blessing."
I think that it applies as much to us as it does to our new horse.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Shared Goal

I think the thing that blows me away about Diamond is HOW he was rescued. 
When his first off-track owner, Kelly, realized that he had indeed been shipped, she set into motion a chain of events that almost had its own life.  Donations started appearing...twenty-five dollars here, a hundred there, fifty from someone else.
I felt that I had let Diamond down once...when his previous home had wanted to re-home him in February, a good friend told me that I should go to see him.  We discussed it, but neither of us felt ready to bring another horse into our lives when just talking about Boo usually ended with one or both of us wiping away tears.  I even avoided looking into his stall, where emptiness reminded me each night of the keen mind and noble heart of its previous occupant.
I came home late in the evening to a message from Robin, the same friend - that Diamond was in serious trouble now. Her friend had given him away to what she believed was a good home...and then Diamond disappeared.  Kelly realized what day it was....just in time for the weekly mostly-meat auction in Kitchener.
This is where the powers of social media performed a miracle...Kelly posted an APB on Diamond, along with a picture, asking if anyone had seen him go through the ring at OLEX.
The answer?  Yes.
The realization that a horse THIS nice had somehow slipped through the cracks, and was on a livestock transport to a feedlot for slaughter galvanized a number of people.  NYNE, or Need You Now Equine, also recognized him as a special horse, and separated him and a handful of others to post on their page.  Reading their FAQs, you realize that horses with a red border on their page are at immediate risk for slaughter.
Diamond's page was red.
Kelly was determined that THIS horse was not going to take that final step, and began gathering money in order to pull him back.
I knew that there was one thing I could do - I could offer him a forever home. 
I emailed Kelly after I got Robin's message and made my offer, and held my breath.  My DSO, Paul, had given me the green light - he felt that a horse doesn't cross your path twice, and that it was a sign from Whoever rules the universe that this horse was meant to be in our lives.
Over the next couple of days, funds were accumulating....but more was needed.
Someone, I think Kelly knows who, contacted LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society, who has a strong affiliation with Woodbine.
Would they be able to help Diamond somehow?
That question, put to their board of directors, had us holding our breath.
Their answer....yes.  They would contribute to his cause.
I have to admit, I burst into tears when I heard the news....Diamond is not a stakes horse, or a famous horse....he is one of millions of blue-collar horses who run at the lower levels.  That doesn't mean they aren't loved or cared for by their connections of trainers, grooms, owners and hot-walkers - and their pony people.  It means that they are one of millions of racehorses who exist on the fringes, successful in their own element.  They are not the Secretariats or the Cigars or the Zenyattas who capture the public consciousness,  always in the public eye.
They are the ones who are easy to lose in the crowd....the starfish on the beach at low tide.
This is Diamond.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Road Home - or, new beginnings.

I'm sitting here trying to think of where to  A week ago? Or did it all start 18 years ago with another bay gelding?
I think I'll start with right now...I am looking at pictures from today and reflecting that I, and Diamond, have traveled a long, long way over the past week.
Diamond's story - the Coles Notes version - is that he was sold down the road...reasons have been given, but the key motivation was simple profit.
How was he saved?  By one person who had a keen eye for a good horse, and by a group of people who believed in one common goal:  to make sure that this horse, on this day, did not go to slaughter.
Diamond's life actually overlapped with mine about a month ago.  A good friend of mine knew that a few days before Christmas, we had suddenly lost Boo, the TB gelding who had been part of our lives for 18 years.  We know that horses get older, and that a time comes when we must only hold them in our hearts.  I think that Robin understood the emptiness we felt...we have two other lovely geldings, but Boo...he was something else.  Robin tried to persuade me that I should go look at Diamond, and another friend, whose opinion I value highly, echoed the sentiment that he was a special horse.
We had decided, though, that despite the empty stall, that we were going to wait a while to fill it...that the right horse would find us when it really needed it.  What we didn't know, a month ago, that Diamond was that horse.
I learned that he had found a new home, and was happy...that is, until I came home last Wednesday to a message that he was in serious trouble.  The "good home", who picked him up on March 3, had taken him to OLEX - the Ontario Livestock Exchange - and he had been purchased by a kill buyer.
The only word to describe the reaction of his previous owners, and a number of others, is horror.  How could a horse as nice as this fall through the cracks?  It has happened so many times, to so many horses - but this time, a network to save Diamond was forming.  Over the next several entries I will explain this in greater detail - but these are stories for another day.
When I read Robin's message, I told Paul, and I asked if we could offer him a home.  His comment was that a horse does not cross your path twice - and if one believes in omens, or signs, or a slap up the head from the Divine...this was it.
I messaged Kelly, the owner who had taken him from the you have to understand, she didn't know me from Job's off mule at this point.  I don't know what I said that allowed her to trust me,  but I told her that if they could find a way to get Diamond to me, that he would have a forever home.
Now Facebook can be a royal pain with political rants, off colour jokes and things that really deserve a visit with Snopes - but it can also be an amazing tool; and this is how Diamond was saved.
ONE person realized that Diamond was in trouble and sent it out into the ether on Facebook - and one person, through good luck, serendipity or the Divine - recognized him and set his salvation and redemption into motion  Are those strong words?  Yes.  But they are appropriate when a horse finds himself in a situation where his life is in peril.
So now that I've outlined the beginning of his story - and there are many more good parts - I would like to say goodnight with a huge thank you to the first person:  Barbie. 
Myself, Diamond and Barbie in the holding area at OLEX.