Welcome To My New Blog.

Welcome to diary of a silly horse. In case you were wondering, that's him, there, the big, beautiful face taking up the screen.
I hadn't intended to ever start one of those cutsie little 'this is my pet' blogs, but... Well, LOOK at that face.

This is the story of Jojo, 'The Face' and me, and why we do what we do. I decided to keep this blog because after spending just a few minutes with him, I realized that I never wanted to miss one second, or forget one thing that he did, one trial overcome, one accomplishment fulfilled.

So, here it is. Happy Reading.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Win!

I Win. That's the name of the game. At least that's what I keep telling Jojo. I think he is finally getting it.
The name of the game is not, 'You do whatever you want.' It is also not 'Freeze, Snort, Freeze.' It is 'I Win.' That is, me, not you, Little Punkin Pie.

So, it took us a minute to get 'goat-proof', especially since at least 3 days a week we ride inside the arena, where the goat has pretty much full reign to spook us whenever he wants. But, we did it.
I tried something I hadn't even thought of in years, and lo and behold! It worked.
Sunday when we went out during the day, Jojo was being a complete fool about being brought in and tacked up. Which isn't extremely unusual, but he was being exceptionally boisterous this day.
So, we brushed, we dressed and then we walked. And walked. And walked.
I took him out to the goat pen and let him meet Carmella, nose to nose. Not for the first time, but EVERY time is like the first time with Sir Scaredy Pants.
We walked, we saw, we sniffed, we tensed. I let Jojo do his own thing until he became comfortable enough to become inattentive to the goat, which he found completely boring.
I then took the lead rope and walked him around the outside arena. Everything that moved was a bear or a tiger or a snake. It was damn cute, but I am supposed to be the one in charge and I had to suppress my giggles.
I walked him around and around and around. I let him sniff EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING, until he became comfortable with his surroundings. Then we switched directions. And did it again.
Soon he was walking by the farm equipment leaning by the fence without so much as a sideways glance.
One small victory.
Then I did something that I don't recommend, but that I have always done and it seems to work wonders in these types of situations.
I popped my gum. Jojo tensed.
We walked by the goat. I popped my gum. Jojo tensed.
The farm equipment. Repeat.
The noisy gate. Repeat.
The swinging barn door. Repeat.
Finally, we get back to the goat, Jojo sniffs. I pop my gum. Nothing. He doesn't even cock an ear my way, just carries on as if this were any other day.
I do this for about ten more minutes with no result. No tensing, not sideways look, nothing.
I then spit my gum out.
Never, EVER chew gum while you're riding. Ever.
As we enter the barn, Jojo tenses all over again. Begins acting like a fool. Not too bad, because he has my shoulder to hide behind, but, it's still a bit of a tense situation.
It was then that I decide to lunge him.
I lead him back to the round pen which is surrounded by tall weeds on one side and a big flappy tarp which covers poles and barrels on the other side.
I try walking him first and he refuses to go anywhere near the tarp or the weeds, thus making a half arc as he walks back and forth. This will never do.
I mount, thinking that he will be more apt to chill out with me on his back.
Not the case. Not entirely.
It doesn't help that by this time I have a four horse audience, all with their heads hanging over the side of the fence.
I dismount and grab a whip.
At first Jojo is hell bent on continuing in his arc, so I snap the whip once or twice while spinning with him. He breaks the cycle and completes his first full circle.
I continue with the whip and the spinning and once he realizes that he can't back out on me, his stride loosens up and he moves without hesitation.
After about 5 minutes I stop and let him sniff out his spooks. If he turns back to me, I crack the whip once and he turns back around.
Then I change directions and we repeat the cycle. Another five minutes, then rest. Finally, he moves, easy, no shoulder tension or hesitation. I break him into a trot. 10 minutes, both ways, no problems.
Then I stop. Completely.
This is something I used to do when I was working with horses as a kid. I stop, whip in one hand, head down. Wait. It takes about 40 seconds for Jojo to wonder why the hell I quit playing with him.
He saunters over, looking disappointed. I let him sniff me a moment, nudging me with his nose before I reach out to him and scratch his head.
He's giving me that look now, you know the one that says 'Is that all? I'm not even tired, Mom!'
I let him check out the whip and my gloves and I am full of praise for my hard working little punkin. He's eating it up, at this point.
I moved to put the whip on the outside of the fence and then I mount. Jojo is eager as a beaver to get moving, now. We ride the round pen with little problem. Then the wind picks up.
Enter the tarp monster.
I can tell Jojo is spooked by the tension in his shoulders, but he is acting every bit the gentleman. No jerks, freezes or bolts.
Then I try something else I haven't tried in years. I know that the simple fact is, if you can keep your horse's attention on YOU, then he will be less likely to spook. If you don't let him get carried away, or get too intent on the monster, he will be less likely to freak out.
So, we continue our circles and every time he tenses, I make kissing noises. I don't cluck, because I don't want him to be confused and gentle talking will only work if you have his complete attention. So, I blow him kisses. Much like you would if you were playing with a dog.
We approach the tarp and before he can get tense I tell him 'Good Boy, Jojo.' and commence with the kissing noises. He shoulders don't even quiver.
I do this a few times and it holds his attention well. He probably wonders what mom is up to NOW, but it works.
Finally, I hush. Completely. We continue the circles and YAY, we come right through. That bad old tarp isn't going to get us after all.

The picture above is me using this technique in the small outside arena. Since the goat is penned out there during the day, it has been one adventure after another and we've had to make it through all sorts of calamities.
Farm equipment, gate, like I said. But I walked him by and by and by all of the spooky things, doing this kissing noise and I was able to keep his attention. Finally even HE got bored and we had to head out to larger pastures.
I am so proud of my Jojo and I am a little bit proud of myself. Nothing is really coming back to me the way I had hoped, but I'm making progress as well. Jojo is a patient horse and he teaches me far more than I could ever teach him.
So, I guess the actual name of the game is, WE Win.
It'll do, Horse. <3

Sunday, October 17, 2010

So, we are still having goat issues, though we are working through them steadily, progress is slow based on the fact that I only visit for a limited time each week and that I actually let him get away with murder.

I'm going to try something I haven't done in awhile. Next time I see him I am going to remove his stirrups. I think I am sitting to tight in the saddle and remaining too tense in my seat. I am pretty sure that the remaining stiffness in HIS shoulders is a direct response to the stiffness n MY seat.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Things that go Baaaa in the Night.

From the title you may have guessed that we have a new family member in the barn. As we mostly ride in the evenings and at night I have so far been unable to find out this new additions name or potential length of stay, but she has already succeeded in making her mark on us and Little Punkin Pie.

As we enter the barn, roughly 9:30 pm on a Monday night, everything is pitch black. Each of us cradling a barn cat in one hand and feeling along the wall with the other, we finally get the overhead lights on, which take a minute to heat up.

As the lights are brightening I take a quick survey of heads to make sure no one is missing and we both proceed to Jojo's stall, ditching the cats and clucking to the other horses as we go by. Just as I am about to reach for Punkin Pie's nose, my lips pursed to plant a kiss there, I hear something that sounds like a very hoarse woman say 'Ahhhhh' in a soft, gravelly voice.
My eyes meet my daughter's, both wide and startled. 'What the HELL was THAT?' she whispers, but at least has the presence of mind to look around. Not me, I'm like Jojo, I freeze in place, waiting for the noise to come again.
As Aerin is turning around, it does. 'Ahhhhahahah'.
We both speak at once.
'Is that a...'
'Where the...'
Then a huge grin spread over her face as she points to the end stall across from us, which had been empty the day before.
'MOM! Goat!'
Sure enough, I look over and there's a little head poking up through the window. A goat, well this is unexpected.
Of course we move to investigate, meanwhile every horse in the barn has seemed to have lost their senses. Most of them are pacing, Rocky, who is in the stall next to the goat is creating quite a ruckus & Jojo is screaming his fool head off, warning us of the danger, I suppose. Good boy.

Cute goat, but shy. As soon as we make friends she quiets down some and lies in the corner watching us. Excitement over, we move forward with business as planned, even though Jojo is still pacing back and forth and tossing his head like a mare in heat.

We try to lead him to the tackroom but tonight is full of danger it seems. He hangs his head, snorting at the ground and lagging behind us. Finally we get his nerve worked up to approach the offending goat's stall, which he will only do on our heels, peeking over our shoulders. Dork.

After about 20 minutes of this I finally get him to the tackroom, get him brushed and tacked up, the whole time while his nostrils are flared and he keeps trying to bury his head in my coat. Every so often there is a soft Baaaa from the ghost down the way and each time Jojo freezes. I give up trying to get him to relax with me on the ground and mount him, damn the consequences.

We get about 10 feet before he comes to a wheelbarrow that might be dangerous, here are the steps we go through.
Hang head.
Side step.
Sidle around.
Pass slowly.
Look Behind Us.

We come to the hay wagon.

Tilling tractor.

Second wheelbarrow.


Barn door.

I let him have his way for a few before forcing him to listen to me and continue riding even though the wheelbarrow could eat us at any time but every time that goat makes a noise it's like bombshells exploding. At least to Jojo.

I don't work him too long, but long enough to understand that I won't lead him into danger. I dismount, undress & brush him and start leading him around the barn again. It is then that the full truth finally comes out and I cant stop laughing no matter how hard I try.

I hand over the lead to my daughter since she has no idea what I'm laughing at. She begins to walk him around the arena and when they get to the far corner I hear her start to crack up. They come around the corner closest to me and by then we are both having a full fledged giggle fit.

Here comes Aerin, with the lead trailing from her hand then a second later here comes Jojo, head down, positioned BEHIND her and lifting his head only long enough to peek over her shoulder and then hiding again. He looked like a toddler at his first meeting with Santa Clause. I'm sure if Jojo had hands he would have been tugging on her pant leg, too.
It was possibly the most comical, heart warming thing I have seen in awhile.

She leads him over to me and suddenly Nanny Goat makes a noise and Jojo sidesteps again, moving behind Aerin and nudging her in the back, as if to say 'That's a monster, go slay it, I'll wait here.'

As a test I drop the lead line, just to see what he does. We all stand there, waiting. I suspect that the next time Nanny makes a noise he will bolt for his stall. So we wait.
Nanny picks up the cue and 'Baaaaa'.

Jojo doesn't bolt for his stall. He backs up three steps and hides behind my back, Nudging my arm until I finally put it around him. I don't normally do this because he has a bad habit of stepping on my feet, but it was too adorable to pass up.

The truth that we discovered last night?
My Jojo is actually a small child, trapped in a horses body. And sometimes all he needs is mom to protect him.
I <3 You, Punkin Pie. And I'm still laughing.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Snakes & Monsters & Bears!

So much for improving on my own style today!

When we arrived at the farm it was raining pretty hard. In bad weather and when we ride after dark, we always ride in the inside arena, as we chose to do today. And even though it was pouring rain and nasty as all hell outside, Jojo was STILL pissed about being dragged away from his friends in the pasture to come inside and play with us lesser humans.

Everything and I mean EVERYTHING was spooking him today. Usually when I'm brushing him and preparing to tack him up I make soft clucking noises in between my mundane run-on sentences about nothing. Today this seemed to drive him absolutely nuts.

I figured the weather outside didn't help, of course. There wasn't any thundering or anything like that, but Jojo is even MORE sensitive to storms than your average horse.

So we took our time brushing him out, talking him down until he finally resigned himself to getting a saddle thrown on his back regardless of what kind of mischief he got up to to stall it.
Jojo tacked up, I did my regular walk through of the arena, since the hay is baled and in the center, it is impossible to see straight across and sometimes bags or wheelbarrows or other stuff is placed just so that it makes my Punkin act like psycho. Seeing nothing out of place, I returned to Sir Spooksalot and hopped on. Immediately he took off at a trot. I reined him in to a walk and forced him through the motions.

Now, as punishment for reining him in, I suppose, he decided he wanted no part of this ride at all and would stop every 20 feet or so. It took about 10 minutes for me to get him to cooperate. Finally, I moved him into a trot and then a fast trot, to which he answered by freezing just as we came around the front corner of the hay, his head and shoulders rigid, he snorted and looked around for bears.

I saw nothing and urged him on. We made it full circle before he froze again. Rinse and repeat. About 20 times! Finally, I broke him into a canter and was able to hold his attention. All was well until we slowed again to a soft trot. Front corner: Freeze. Dammit!

This time I let him stand for a moment and took a really long, intense look around, wondering if there were a cat hiding in the hay or if I had missed a hose, anything, anything that would spook him. I saw nothing in our path, nothing to the sides, except a bottle of water that I had set on the ledge of the tack room window.

My mouth dry from the dust in the arena, I decided to let him rest a moment while I dismounted and grabbed a drink. I finished the last of the water and tossed the bottle into the trash, remounting and preparing to start all over.

To my surprise, his skittishness had all but fled. I was able to hold his attention and he picked up his cues and we had not one more single problem. I dismounted again, retrieved the bottle and set it back on the ledge of the window.

Once again we played trot:freeze:trot.
I dismounted and brought him the bottle which he shied away from at first, then sniffed, the tried to eat. I let him get it out of his system, then put it back on the ledge. I let him freeze once more and then walked him over to the bottle, let him check it out on his own and after he knocked it in the dust I picked it up again.

Rinse and repeat, as I said.

I remounted AGAIN and we had no more problems. I felt successful for a moment until I realized that I had just cured Jojo's fear of plastic bottles. At eye level. In the arena.

Now we just have to work on weeds, tall grass, my watch, the front gate, buckets, cats, my gloves (No shit, he hates my gloves!) and just about everything else.

My poor Punkin. Sometimes I feel sorry for HIM that he has ME as a rider. Eventually he will trust me enough to know that I will keep him from danger and not ride him into it.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Meet Butch.

Well, you'll notice that the horse above is NOT Punkin Pie.
This is Butch. You might remember him from my first post if you read that far.

He is crazy huge, with a personality that won't quit and heart bigger than any animal I have ever known. Believe it or not he is a more gentle horse than even Jojo, but I think it's just cuz he's lazy.

I have about 400 pictures of us in different stages of riding. Walk, trot, canter, gallop. In not ONE of them is he picking up his feet any more than he has to. He's a punk. Hence the nickname I gave him 'Punk Rock'.
I have a Punk & a Punkin. Wow, I'm way too creative.

The woman that owns him was kind enough to allow me to ride him, even though I am not leasing him. Since he is boarded at the same place as Jojo, I try to ride him two or three time a week in combination with my regular Jojo time.

He seemed to have lost his ground manners while being pastured for three years in his former life, but I haven't had a problem yet. As I said before, his mommy is still sometimes nervous with him since he bucked her not too long ago.

He is a former race horse and you can definitely tell it when you pick up his speed a little. Even the slightest cue and he's off and away. So he has control issues. But the secret is, I don't mind. :)

Sadly Mommy does, so I have been working with him on his cues & riding him without a bit since he still needs to have his wolf teeth removed and he seems to be coming along nicely. I've never found a need to lunge him as I just ride him around a small pen for about 15 minutes to get him to remember that we are working. We work on cues first and he likes to pretend he doesn't understand what I'm talking about at first, but he always gives in without a fight.

I've just recently begun taking him out into the fields and even took him out to the road a couple of days ago and though he was nervous, his shoulders kept twitching, he kept his wits about him and remembered to listen to me when I was talking.

Once the work is all done, I let him play it all out. We go to the back fields and run back and forth a few times and he is usually quite disappointed when we return to the barn.

This is a typical case of a horse truly WANTING to do what you ask him, but also wanting to make you work for it.

I suspect that at some point he has had an injury to his left shoulder because he trips sometimes on that leg and there is a large indentation in the muscle.

Sadly, I can't spend too much time all at once with him, because Jojo starts to yell at me, no, he really does. Then he throws fits when I start to tack him up.

Have you ever had a horse whinny in your ear in an empty barn. It's pretty damn freaky if you're not expecting it.

I tried explaining to him that Butch NEEDS me to work with him, when he, Jojo already HAS manners enough for ten horses. He doesn't care. I think he is just worried about the horse/Cookie ratio.

I <3 My Brats

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pumpkin Pie...

Yep, that there is a horsey hug. Life is good.

One of the first things I learned about Jojo is that he is the most easily spooked horse in history. The second thing I learned about him was that he is more sensitive to me than I am to him.

His spooks aren't bad. He freezes, sometimes sidesteps and only twice has he bolted on me. Both times he was easily reigned in and calmed down. It was the second of these times that his nickname was born.

We were happily trotting along the outside round pen (Which happens to be surrounded on two sides by tall weeds.) when suddenly, he bolts.BAM! I haven't been on a horse in 7 years and suddenly I'm full speed. For a second. Till he reached the fence, when he stopped short (Thank GOD!) and I was all wobbly, hands in every direction, doing everything I could possibly do WRONG. Which is when I screamed out (I Know, perfect thing to do, right?)
Jojo, by now probably just praying to have me off his back and be done with it, stands there while I catch my breath and we both look behind to see what crazy bear had done us in such a cruel way. It was a barn cat. Little black and white fluff named Oreo.

Said cat then perches, smack in the middle of the round pen, commences looking self satisfied with his tail curled smartly around his feet.

Then Jojo gives me a sideways glance when I have to dismount for a moment and check his saddle. THAT I have come to know as his sheepish look. The look that says 'I'm sorry, Mom, but I'm just a KID!' Yes, it's adorable and gets him out of all kinds of trouble.

I begin to walk over and scoop up the cookie cat and Lo! Jojo begins his puppy routine all over again. Following at my side, head slightly lowered, giving me 'the look.' He nuzzles my hand, nuzzles the cat as I pick his complacent ass up out of the dirt and then blows his butterflies to tell me how silly he feels.

'Yeah, Punkin Pie,' I say as I escort Mr. Oreo outside the fence. 'I'd feel like a doofus, too.' He agrees, I remount and we have no other problems that day.

We had no arguments over the nickname, although people laugh at me when I walk into the barn and calL out 'PUNKIN PIIIIEEEE'. Do you think it's bad for his self esteem? Do the other horses laugh at him, I wonder? Eh, he seems to get along well and I mean look at him! Isn't he the exact color of pumpkin pie?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Throw Me A Bone...

It was a hot day in September when I met a horse I never knew existed and therefore had never desired to ride.
I guess a little background would be helpful.
I'm 30 years old (Shut up!), the mother of a wonderful if a little asinine 13 year old girl, I had just bought my first home and everything in my future was laid out for me, clear as silk. A great job, a house, a wonderful, healthy family. But, somehow, with the purchase of the house a pall had seemed to settle over my days. I wasn't depressed exactly, but I wasn't excited either. Very strange for me, being bipolar as I am. :)
Nothing seemed quite... right. I don't know where this case of the blues came from or why and over the next few months I tried everything from vitamin supplements to new exercise routines to clear the smog from my head, but nothing was working. I was lacking motivation to do anything personal.
I spent my days at work and my nights practicing my MMA moves with my rambunctious child. I went to sleep every night feeling content, but not complete. I woke looking forward only to my work & my daughter. Not such a bad way to be, I love my kiddo more than anything, but as far as my own identity... it had gotten lost somewhere in the move.
My boyfriend, trying to pull me out of the doldrums decided to take me trail riding to break the monotony. He knew of my passion for horses and thought if anything would cheer me up, that would be it.
I had owned my own horses until I was 17, when a family rift caused a problem with me being able to get out there as much as I would have liked. I received the news in a phone call that not one, but both of my horses, Penny & Joker had been put down.
That year I threw myself into my work, which, as it was, was taking care of problem horses for rich people who didn't have the time.
Later that year I had an accident which resulted in a debilitating head injury(Not horse related!) that took me away from everything that I loved. When I got back on my feet, learned to talk and think straight again, I had developed severe social anxieties. I was assured that this was normal for my type of injury and that if I worked through it, it would pass.
I went back to work with my horsies after a year of therapy. And there I found my true salvation. The horses gave me something that no doctor, no prescription could give. It got so that the only place I could truly function was at the farm.
I had developed a stutter from the accident. It came and went, being much worse when I was nervous. A friend pointed out to me one day that I never stuttered when I was talking to a horse.
Thus created my cross ways mind trick to cure the stutter completely, but that's another post for another time. The only time I felt truly comfortable was when I was working with a horse. This was the only time I didn't have to use mind cues and color tricks to think around what I was saying or trying to do.
My daughter was first introduced to horses at 9 months old and as soon as she could walk she was tottling around the barn beside me, clucking the horses and hugging their legs. Tough as she grew older I had to put what I wanted on the back burner for what she needed. Don't get me wrong, this I do not regret in the slightest, as I have almost raised a well rounded, if slightly maniacal individual who is a great inspiration to me every day. But, sadly, the horses had to go. The work was great, fun & rewarding, the money was GREAT, but not steady. I could sometimes go 6 or 8 weeks without having any horses that needed work & I'll tell you, cleaning stalls just doesn't pay as much as it should.
So, I grew up. I saddled my last horse in September of 2002. Funny how I can remember that, yet some days I still forget my boyfriends phone number. Whatever.
So, this trail riding trip, to rid the blues, remember?
We went, we saw, we conquered. For an hour. What I don't think he understood at the time, or may never understand, is that he didn't have to shell out the $80.00 or so to go trail riding. I was content just to be there. To see, to smell, to feel. Soft lips on my palm, horse saliva in my hair, yeah, it's heaven.
I rode a gentle, if uncooperative horse named Frosty. I had the time of my life, just being near him (Frosty) never mind the riding part. The problem was, of course, that after an hour, it was over. I was no one again. Frosty went on to lead someone else through the trails and my touch, my scent, my voice, were all but forgotten.
Yeah, talk about the blues times 10!
I went home, happy, but sad as well. It was a learning experience.
Over the next couple of weeks I threw myself into reading articles, looking at pictures, even going on petfinder.com to pick out which horse I would own someday. It was a futile effort & all it did was remind me of what I could NOT have, probably not in the foreseeable future. I had just bought a house, remember. I have a great job, but it doesn't pay enough to own a house AND a horse. :(
Then I stumbled across an ad that stated this particular horse was for sale or lease. Lease? DUH! I had never even THOUGHT of that. I gave it a couple of days to sink in, wondering if this was what I truly wanted and decided that even if it wasn't I could make a few phone calls, right?
So, for about a week I made phone calls, took notes, averaged my bank balance to see what I could afford.
I'm not gonna lie, it was looking pretty hopeless there for awhile. One person I talked to said it would be $520 a month, that included the lessons that were necessary if I wanted to lease their horse. Lessons? Me? No, Thank you.
There were a few prospects, one would have been $240, including the lessons. Lessons! But, I understood, who wants to trust their horse with just anyone? I wouldn't! And the price included up to three days a week. I wasn't sure if I wanted a limit on my riding time.
I went out to meet this last person & their horse who was a 19 year old Appy Princess. She was beautiful and charming and huge and I fell in love instantly. But as I was driving out to see her I received a phone call from one other woman who was interested in leasing her horse. I decided I would wait and check out the other horse as well, see where it took me, couldn't hurt, right?
So, I told the woman I had one more horse to check out and that I would get back with her. She was great about the whole thing. I explained about my head injury and how I wanted to get back into riding, even though people still make me nervous, I didn't stutter at all. <3>