Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Exercising racehorses in Ireland


I've spent some time living and working overseas, and the best parts were always searching out horses to ride. I thought I would to through my old pics, scan some in, and post them here.

Country #1: Ireland

After graduating from college in 1994 I spent the summer running the horse program at YMCA's Camp Reed and then decided I needed to get out of Spokane. In October I spent all my money on a ticket to Ireland because I figured they spoke english there. Ha! Once I got there I had no money, so I lied and said I knew how to ride racehorses. I got a job as an exercise groom at Rathbride Yard owned by D.K. Weld in Newbridge, County Kildare. This yard (and all of them) were near the Curragh- which was a huge, huge, huge open grassy area that all the race trainers took their horses to to train. The grasses grew sideways and into each other and made fabulous footing.

Me on the old and seasoned 4-year-old Royal Carlton. Billy is next to us, he started the babies. While I was there a filly flipped over when he was driving her and broke her pelvis. Rather than euthanizing her they propped her up on hay bales so her feet could barely touch the ground. When I left she was still there healing, the vet said she wouldn't ever race but might be used for something else.

Who's riding who in which lot. I almost always rode Royal Carlton and led the pack. Problems would arise when I couldn't understand a single word the trainer was yelling at me to do- have you ever heard a thick Irish accent?? I'd have to turn around and ask one of the jockys behind me what he said. As we were galloping figure 8's out in the field.

We'd ride one lot, have tea (which Rene packed for me. It consisted of a thick butter sandwich with a piece of cheese in it), ride 2 more lots, have lunch, then chores until we left. Then I would often end up walking home 1-2 miles in sleeting rain in my rubber boots.

We'd muck the stall, then get our horse ready. Royal Carlton in his box.

Part of the Yard.
Me & RC on the 7 furlong long track.
This is Bernie on one of the babies. She was mean and snarky (like most of the girls there) and took every opportunity she could to point out how I didn't fit in.

The babies didn't have real names yet, they were just called their sire's name and then "colt" or "filly". This was the "Bluebird colt".

Trainer Jack Coates. He seemed like a pretty good guy even though he eventually figured out I didn't know what I was doing and fired me. I lasted 3 months though! We were galloping around the track and one of the new kid's horse got away from him and passed us. Royal Carlton figured it was time to race and I couldn't stop him. I rarely get scared on horses, but I was then. I couldn't stop or even slow down, and I knew if he spooked or went sideways even a tiny bit I'd be thrown off and die. I just hung onto his mane and prayed for him to keep going straight as he gathered speed with every stride.

Steamy horses after a workout. The jockeys that helped ride the babies were really nice and would always ride next to me for a chat as we were walking around cooling them off. J.O. is on the bay with the blaze, charming ole chap.


Got sheep? Don't have fences? No problem! Just spray paint them so we know who belongs to who.

My diggs. I rented a small room out in Rene and Dennis Reed's home. It's the one in the middle with the car.

The view from my window.

Their daughter Jeanette and her boyfriend Stephen would come and pick me up on weekends for all kinds of adventures. Here Jeanette and I are with John in Belfast, Northern Ireland. John rode for Ireland's National Showjumping team (or something like that). He took me cross counry jumping one day on little matching chestnut sporthorses- what a blast!

Stephen, me, and John. Going for a hike on the "mountain". Which was really a big hill.

THIS WAS FUN. Stephen, John, and I rented horses out in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Look at their feet!

Back again- Me, John, and Stephen heading out for a ride in the park.

John and Stephen. Wearing helmets while on horses is the law in Ireland. Now that I look at this picture I notice that John's helmet doesn't even have a chinstrap... cheeky monkey.

Don't let the rangers catch you! Jumping was not allowed in the park.

Next country: Egypt


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Near the river and through the woods...

Taking full advantage of Karlin's time in Spokane, we head out on a beautiful, sunny, freezing (26*) afternoon ride. Alexandre's always ready to go.

I think it's nice that Alexandre was cooperative and smiled for the camera this time.

This may be the first picture I have where Jasper's feet are all on the ground and his ears are forwards. And he's not head bobbing. Caught him in the split second when all of these things came together, I should frame it.

Hmm. This angle is not flattering to Al's belly.

In and out of frostiness.

Hangman Creek covered in ice.

Awesome views.

Heading home. I'm actually pretty pleased at how far behind Jasper can get without getting upset. Now sure, if Alexandre disappeared around a corner it would be a different story, but still.

You can see part of the pasture where they live and the horse trailer parking area through the trees.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Riding with Karlin

There really hasn't been much to write about lately. We had a couple of weeks of insanely cold weather (-10 at night) and I was sick for a couple of weeks, and the boys have just been hanging out with the herd being horses. We had 4" of snow this week, then above freezing temperatures and rain for 2 days, and everything is wet wet wet.

The good news is that Karlin is back in town visiting her parents and we decided to try to go for a ride if the forecasted rain didn't appear. (Yesterday it didn't rain at all which gave the ground a day to try to soak up some of the standing water everywhere). I was excited because I hadn't ridden Jasper in... a month? and although I don't get nervous about getting on him after a hiatus I am always interested to see what he will do. I knew that with Alexandre in the lead he would probably be just fine. I was also excited because Alexandre hasn't been ridden since my friend Val came out, and he hasn't seen any of the trails yet.

We put on our neon-orange "don't shoot me" vests and headed out into the woods. The ride was fabulous. The footing was a bit slippery, which is no problem for the super-surefooted Alexandre, but Jasper lagged behind a bit taking little steps and being careful.

Gotta love cell phone pix.

I literally rode on the buckle 95% of the ride. He was my western pleasure pony for a day. I'm sure it was a combo of his Idol Alexandre leading the way and the footing... and maybe he's finally relaxed into his new home. And is starting to trust me more. I am the food lady, after all.

Alexandre was SO happy to go on a ride. He is always alert and interested in everything. He often stops to take in the view if it's a good one. We saw HUGE flocks of wild turkeys and some deer. Karlin noticed that it's hard to see the trail when he sticks hit head straight up in the air- camel style. Yep. He's a very forward mover and usually leads just because he walks out. He also has the endurance of an Arabian, and I learned early on that trying to tire him out doesn't work.

Alexandre's just waiting for someone to go into the tack room- treats magically come out of the there after a ride.

Let. me. eat. that. hay. down. there. now. please.
Jasper gets alfalfa the whole time he's at the hitching post. Trying to get more calories into him. Note new rubber mat. Nooooooooooooo, MY horse did not dig holes to China while tied up there, noooooooooooo...


Friday, December 11, 2009

A REAL Dressage Test

I laugh out loud every time I read this. Just had to share.

A REAL dressage test.

A --Enter extraordinary serpentine.

X --Halt.

G --Try again.

C -- Freeze in horror at judge's stand. Take opportunity to salute quickly.

E --Track left in counterflexed bolt.

FXH --Change rein unextended jig.

H --Canter. Or counter canter, or crosscanter.

M-F --Working out-of-hand gallop.

A --Just try to walk.

KXM --Tesseract, stopping at each corner to rub nose on foreleg.

C --Down center line, working trot bouncing.

X --Pulley rein. Halt. Salute, exhale.

Leave arena in free walk, loose language under breath.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Attempting Shoulder Fore & Haunches In...

Mud: 2 Jasper: 2 Megan: 0

Today we attempted haunches in and shoulder fore, something we've dabbled in in the past but haven't worked very hard at. I was very impressed with his willingness to give it a try and thought he put in a good effort at both! Especially since I'm just kind of assuming I know how to do it. I really need a lesson from someone who can watch my position and hands.

Haunches in is easier, probably because the fence is a physical barrier. I thought he actually ended up doing shoulders in (which is a harder, increased angle from shoulder fore) in parts. You can't tell in the video, but the green fence bows out and he is traveling downhill both directions, and the track by the white fence is muddy and a little slick.

I don't have a huge amount of contact. I don't have a huge amount of contact ever, though, so it was consistent. This spring we'll start working on it and connecting from back to front more.

He was very relaxed today, almost lazy...!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Turkey chasing mud ball.

What? You don't see my gleaming show horse, my exceptional event prospect, his beautifully clipped head and bridle path and perfectly fitting shiny leather halter?

It's there somewhere, I swear.

Yesterday it snowed, then sleeted, then rained, then snowed again. Serena and I were going to go for a ride, but by the time we got to the barn everything was soaked including my horses. For some reason they were out in the field, soaked to the skin, and shivering in the wind. When I called Alexandre's name he came trotting over. I don't know why they weren't hanging out with all the other horses where there is shelter, but they both got their winter blankets on yesterday and last night.

Today they were dry and hanging out with the herd again, so who knows. I had a great time with Jasper today. The ground was slippery in a few places but OK in others, so I decided to go on our first solo trail ride down the gravel driveway and up a trail to a field. How many four-year-olds do you know that you can just saddle up and head down the trail on? Especially that haven't been ridden consistently for months. On a light/loose rein to boot. We walked up the trail to the field and there were wild turkeys EVERYWHERE. I even got him to trot after a flock of them- he was a little unsure about the whole thing but obediently trotted after them until they really started running through the field and got kind of scary. We saw lots of deer and a HUGE 3-point buck in the field as well. Trotted through the field up a looong hill and into the forest to another field, where we turned around because it had been tilled and was gooey and slippery. It wasn't a long ride but a very successful one. He self-regulated and walked and trotted on a loose or light rein. He took everything in stride. Gave some hard looks at some things but kept his cool. When we got back to the barn he walked through a big puddle without much fuss and stopped when I asked him to so I could dismount. Other than that I didn't work on stopping today, I wanted to have a really positive, successful day and I was also thankful when he stood tied without pawing, kicking, or pulling back.

I think he's finally starting to settle in and relax. He still needs to gain weight, but he's holding his own and not losing weight either. Now that the stressful part is over and he has all-you-can-eat grass hay, plus his supplements, I have hopes he'll maintain. Once it stays below freezing I'll probably leave his winter blanket on as well. Right now the temperature fluctuates so much it's impossible to leave it on.

He is such a good turkey-chasing baby.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Mom, Harry, Horses

My mom and Harry (her grand-dog) came to the barn today. Neither one of my parents has much experience around horses, but Mom offered to hold Alexandre's bucket of oats and big rocks. She now has a friend for life.

She did a good job holding on as he really pushes the bucket into you!

Harry is a city dog and was REALLY excited to be around all the horses. He kept his distance though so all was well.

We just found out Harry has glaucoma and is completely blind in his right eye. It's extremely painful for him, so he's going into surgery tomorrow to have it removed. We wanted to get some pictures of his last day as a two-eyed dog.
Always smiling. Harry is the epitome of pure joy.

Jasper was especially good today and didn't paw or weave back and forth when he was tied. What a good boy! I think Alexandre is like a security blanket for him. Alexandre has taught him to come to me for cookies when I arrive in the pasture, which is awesome. Alexandre also spends 95% of his time eating which is bad for him but good for Jasper as Jasper is his shadow and does everything Al does. They are both such awesome horses.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

WHOA dammit!

OK, so the ground is really REALLY slippery when wet out at the barn. I don't know if it's some kind of clay or what, but even just walking around your feet slide a little. I feel sorry for all the horses that have paddocks on the hillside- how do they not slide down like skiiers?

My friend Janaira loaned me an older dressage saddle to try on Jasper. It's a Crosby and has short billets- weird! Great shape, though. So for the first time since they've been in the big pasture, I brought Jasper up (without his fearless leader Alexandre) to the tack room, groomed him, yelled at him for standing sideways, pawing, and pulling, and tried on the saddle. It appears to fit him great. Took him to the arena and walked around looking for non-slippery ground. Found a little section and rode around without much success as he was still sliding. Decided to go ride in a small field by the arena, it had grass and weeds growing in it so the footing was better. There wasn't really anything we could do besides walk around, so I decided we'd work on stopping. And standing still. And thus began a 2+ hour battle.

I'm out of ideas. Help anyone? What would you do? Is he too young/ is he too hyper/ too stubborn? It's not just under saddle. He can't stand still while tied either. He paces from side to side, paws, and dolphin kicks out with his hind legs.

I would sit deep in the saddle, he would sort of stop for a microsecond, and then would do a myriad of other things involving moving of body parts. First I tried circling. When he refused to stand still I let him walk in circles and he got to pick when he stopped. I was hoping he would realize it's easier to stand than walk in circles. Nope. After a while I would pull him in a circle and he would stand still with his nose to my stirrup. He would stay still until he got his neck straightened out and then would begin moving again. I also tried an assortment of other tactics. He would back up (got nudged forward) go sideways (got nudged on one side until he was back where he started), go forwards, (got pulled back), pawed (got a quick tug on a rein), bobbed, shook, and threw his head (um, usually nothing- I just wanted his feet still). The instant he stood still he got rewarded, got praised and stroked on his neck, all was calm, and then after a few seconds got to walk forward. Usually he stopped moving because he saw something in the distance and was focusing on it. Obviously by the end I was frustrated. Usually the instant reward works after a while. They realize, hey, when I just stand here everything is good! When I move my feet everything is bad. Choices, choices. It's like he doesn't have it within himself to keep all four feet in one place. Maybe I just shouldn't ask him to stand still at this point, it just seems like kind of an important thing to be able to do.

What would you do?

Saturday, November 14, 2009


On Thursday I went out to the barn to give Jasper his 50 pound bucket of supplements, the the herds were still segregated. My two were out in the 20 acre pasture, and the other 6 were hanging out around the barn/feeder/waterer. The problem with this is that the barn is at the end of a long wide chute, and I figured my 2 guys wouldn't stand a chance against Jake, the mean old boss gelding. So after they got done eating (Alexandre gets a little bucket with a handful of complimentary oats and a bunch of big rocks in it) I led Alexandre down the chute and into the barn area. Jasper follows him like a shadow, and I shooed the other horses away and led mine to the water. They drank and I guarded them until Alexandre decided hay was more important than safety, walked out of reach, and Jake chased him out of the barn area and back into the chute with Jasper right on his heels. Norm, the barn owner, said that he was going to move 2 of them up to the new pen that he had made but hadn't done it yet. I sighed, decided I'd just lead them to the water every time I came out, and they would have to eat pasture grass until some switching around could be done.

I was home for about 20 minutes (a 30 mile round trip) when Norm called from Yakima or somewhere at his daughter's volleyball tournament, said he was concerned about my guys not getting near the food/water, and told me if I wanted to I could move Jake and a buddy to the new pen. Or he could do it this weekend. I of course drove straight back there and caught Jake and his buddy the pinto. The pinto is 4 and huge. Not so much tall, but wide. And as it turns out, not real halter broke. If I had to do it again, I would probably lead them one at a time and take a lunge whip to smack pinto when he planted his feet and refused to move forward. Eventually though they made it up the big hill and into the new pen, had a fit over the 2 horses next to them until Jake got snapped by the hotwire fence, then all was well.

I am happy to report that today my two were standing under the shelter with the remaining four. I wouldn't say anyone is friends yet, but just being in the same area is an improvement. The four that are left are so uncertain what to do without their aggressive leader that it seems quite calm at the moment. Lots of ear pinning and threatening, but these guys take 3 steps and stop like normal horses. It snowed this afternoon and I was thinking that it might be Jasper's first snow.
Muddy around the feeder, but I noticed today there was a load of bark dumped there. Note how Alexandre eats off the top instead of pulling the hay through the slats like everyone else. This way he can get giant mouthfulls and inhale as much hay as possible in the shotest amount of time. Nevermind that there is hay 24/7. Will he figure this out? No, no he will not.

I, however, wasn't able to watch Jasper in possilby his first snow because I went out to Post Falls Equestrian Center to watch Jessica Wisdom teach. She has a training facility in Yelm (Yelm is pretty much in the middle of nowhere near Olympia). She is now my favorite instructor (dressage at least) becaue I actually GET what she's saying, and have SEEN the improvements in the horses and riders that she teaches. She's also quite entertaining. She says a lot of things that are pretty funny, mostly when she's trying to describe something. I guess her students at her barn in Yelm are putting a book together called "Words of Wisdom". At one point we were all standing in the aisle of the barn watching her ride a grey mare doing haunches in down the long side, and the mare was not cooperating. Under her breath as she camly went by we heard her mumble "c'mon mare, it's not fu**ing rocket science," which sent the onlookers into fits of giggles. I was so impressed with her last month when she was here I asked if I could be a working student for her for a couple of months. How cool would that be? Unfortunately she doesn't have room right now but until I get a job I'm going to keep asking.

I'm thinking about riding again. I didn't want to stress one out by leaving him behind, but now that they're semi accepted into the herd I feel I can take Jasper away it will be OK. I don't think I can take Al away, I'd be afraid that Jasper would try jumping out or something. I really need a friend to come out and ride Al with me...!