Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Twin Tiers Horse Events, Dec. 3-4, 2011

Three horse activities this week, horse peeps -- three very different activities!  You can choose from a dressage clinic (which will really be an excellent clinic for anyone wishing to improve their riding skills, not just for dressage riders), an interesting-sounding concept in athleticism plus riding and a holiday horse show.   

Have fun with your horse this weekend!

Dec. 3-4: Michelle LaBarre Clinic - Black Points Farm 
Honeoye Falls, NY. For info about Michelle, go to To ride in the clinic, contact Mary Delton at Auditors welcome.

Dec. 4: Equicision Clinic with Mike Pilato 
12-4 pm at Varick Fire Hall, Rte 96A, just north of Sampson State Park and just south of Geneva. Healthy snacks will be available.

Equicision is a clinic for the rider that wants to become a better athlete and improve their riding performance. Participants will learn concepts that help the rider to become more fit and better balanced. Participants will leave the session with DVD's to continue their own program. You will be able to buy the equipment if desired. (Exercise band, yoga or exercis ball, and a slide board are some of the equipment used.) For more information on the clinic topics, go to

Cost is $100 for participants and $50 for auditors, $75 for college students with ID. Download the Clinic Entry Form. The Entry Form needs to be mailed back to Mike (Mike Pilato 1055 Larkston Drive Webster, MY 14580) a week in advance. A $25 deposit needs to be mailed to either Linda Mastellar (5091 East Lake Road, Romulus, NY 14541) or to Tina Turk (2178 Dean Road, Lodi, NY 14860). 

Dec. 3: Houghton College Christmas Fun Show 
Houghton, NY. Contact Jo-Anne Young at (585) 567-8142 or

Sunday, November 27, 2011

They Mystery of the Disappearing Tail

Somebody has been eating Dee’s tail! 

She has never had a really thick tail, especially compared to her very thick mane, but it has always been long and full.  About a month ago, I found a big chunk of tail hair in the stable, and I picked it up, examining the color.  It was mostly white with a little black, which, unfortunately, meant it could have belonged to three of them: Hudson, Stormkite or Dee.  Upon comparison, though, it looked like it had come from Dee.

Dee's knot.
Not long after that, I noticed her tail getting scragglier and scragglier.  It wasn’t scraggly at the top, as if she were rubbing it on something; it was scraggly at the bottom, and getting shorter. Since she appears healthy in every way, I decided that some naughty herdmate has been chewing it.

I haven’t caught the culprit, but my suspicion is her little brother, Stormkite.  Not a scientific conclusion -- it just seems like something a playful little brother would do to bug his dominant, older sister.

Why some horses resort to tail chewing is not known.  Here’s a quote from The Horse on the matter: “For those who own a horse with an oral behavior problem (cribbing, chewing, etc.), he might only be doing what nature intended him to do.

'"Lack of fiber in the diet has been implicated in behavioral problems such as wood chewing and tail chewing in the horse," says McCall  [Cindy McCall, MS, PhD, professor at Auburn University and equine extension specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System]. "However, horses maintained on pasture still exhibit these behaviors."'

Lack of fiber is not an issue with my horses.  Pretty much all they eat is hay and grass, and quite a bit of it.  Whatever the reason, and whomever the culprit, Dee is now sporting a new look in tails.  I have tied it up in a sturdy mud knot, in an attempt to make it less appealing to the culprit.  I became quite good at hardcore, mud knots a couple years ago, when I was getting Dee ready for a show, and the ones I tie pretty much stay put until I untie them. 

Dee now looks like she is ready for a polo match, and, while I'll take it down, check it, and tie it back up occasionally, it's a look she will wear until spring.  I want it to be nice and full for next season -- but more likely, it will just become a more appealing target for the mystery chewer!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Horse Events in the Twin Tiers, Nov. 26 & 27, 2011

This Thanksgiving weekend brings no formal horse activities in the Twin Tiers, at least, none that I could dig up.  If you know of something, let me know.

Otherwise, you'll have to create your own events with your horses, and don't forget to include them when giving thanks for all the great things that come our way in life.  Whether he's a four-star superhorse or a half-lame pasture puff, a horse adds so much to the lives of those who love him.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

(Shamelessly borrowed from

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Stable on a Rainy NIght

Cold rain fell while I mucked tonight.   The horses munched fresh hay as I picked manure and soaked bedding from around and under their hooves, dumping it in the front loader of the tractor.

The stable at night.
Hudson impatiently let me know that their water trough was empty, so I ran the hose and filled the trough while I worked the pitchfork.

Periodically, Starlight, Dee, Stormkite and DeCato switched places, when the more dominant mares decided they wanted to get the best hay out of the other container.  Hudson is housed with them, but is separated from the others by a couple of stands of electric tape, because she is very bossy, and the others panic when she decides to move them around, causing all manner of minor injuries.   Now, second-in-command Starlight has assumed the role of boss mare among the four, but she isn’t as aggressive as Hudson, so I don’t see the scrapes that I did when Hudson was mixed in with them.

Hudson, not thrilled with her hay, wandered out into the dark paddock, allowing herself to get soaked by the cold rain.  I was done mucking, and I called her to come back, but she ignored me until I started handing out peppermint Tic Tacs; then she came back down, received her Tic Tac and also allowed me to rub her down with a dry towel.  Working with the others so often, I find I miss Hudson’s company, so it was nice to stand in the cool night and scrub her wet coat with the towel.

After a while, I moved over between Dee and Starlight, sitting on the edge of the hay feeder, while they took turns burying their faces up to the eyes in the hay.  Apparently, the best pieces were deep in the middle of the small round bale.

Horse faces in hay
Finally, I moved over to the low horses on the totem pole, Stormkite and DeCato, who were sharing a bale.  I stared out into the night, listening to the rain fall on the metal roof and the horses’ munching, noticing the way the rain blurred my neighbor’s barn light, off in the distance.  I wasn’t thinking, just looking and listening for a while, until my brain kicked back in, and I wondered if that kind of peaceful moment of not thinking, just sensing, is how horses spend much of their time, in a kind of quiet meditation without worry or thought.  

I don’t know, but I’m glad I got to spend that kind of time with them, tonight in the barn, listening to the cold, heavy rain and the contented munch of horses in hay.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Siblings, But Not Carbon Copies

Three pretty ponies, Stormkite, Dee and Starlight, ready for some action.
Stormkite is starting to show that, while he is Dee’s full brother, he is not Dee.    

For instance, Dee has tons of excess energy, so our longeing sessions often start out with her just burning it off.  She knows “walk,” she really does, but at first she has so much energy that she just won’t hear it.  So, usually I push her until she asks me to slow down, and then we focus on compliance, energy suitably burned.

Stormkite, on the other hand, generally starts on the longe at a walk.  He sniffs the ground, mosies around with kind of a thud, thud, thud that makes me think he may be the first pony in my barn that someone actually has to push to get “forward.”   Hudson, a drafty beast, is a slow walker, but ask for more than that, and she thinks she’s Zenyatta.  Dee will run all day, I suspect; Starlight has oodles of get-up-and-go and DeCato, well, she was hard to get off the mark when I was riding her, but once she did, she had a delightful, forward stride.

Ask Stormkite for a trot, and he’ll give it.  He’ll need encouragement to get going, but then he will usually stay in that trot on his own until asked for something else, which is nice.  And, being a young boy, he does bring lots of play to the game.   He’ll sometimes offer me the excited, “let’s play tag” posture you’ll see from a couple of horses goofing around in the pasture, an offer which I, curmudgeon that I am, immediately decline and also discourage.   I don’t feel like playing the way a young gelding plays!
Stormkite, nonchalant, as my hubby runs a chainsaw nearby (look just above his butt)

Dee, these days, isn’t fazed by tarps and bags of cans and other rattly things, but it took her a few years of practice and maturity to get that way, and she can still overreact when surprised.  Stormkite, on the other hand, longed, walk-trot, for me yesterday while my husband ran his chain saw about 30 yards away. 

I like that.  I have a feeling, once I get him going under saddle, Stormkite might be a fun Pony Club horse for some young girl or boy.   To me, that’s the ultimate job for a pony, to be that special mount for a horse-crazy kid who is learning the important practice of horsemanship, a pony who tolerate mistakes and is game for all the wild requests a kid might ask: gymkhana, jumping, hunts, swimming, racing her friend’s pony, one or two attempts at Roman riding (then six to eight weeks off). 

I hope he gets there, and I hope, when he does, his kid is ready for him, whoever she is.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Horse Activities, Nov. 18 - 21, 2011

Here are two activities that popped up for this weekend.  They look like a good time, so think about stopping by one of them, with your horse or just with a notebook.  Have a good weekend with your ponies! 

Nov. 19 – 20: Eventing Clinic with Will Coleman, Wicked Way Farm, Bloomfield, NY. Intro-Training/Prelim groups, entry is $260, Auditing is $20/day or $30 for both days. 
Contact Troy Wing at

Nov. 18 – 21: Olympian Michael Page Eventing Clinic, If Only Farm
Ithaca, NY Dowload Flyer or View PDF
Call Early for Stalls (6-7) 347-4615 or (607) 227-4635
For More Information 607-347-4615or Email

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Full of Surprises, Them Ponies

When you work with horses, sometimes learnings come from the most unexpected sources, at the most surprising times.

Take, well, take today for example. 

Ground driving Dee
I started out working with Dee.  As she often is, she was a good student.  She longed satisfactorily, and then we started ground driving, again.  She wasn’t too keen on walking away from the barn, but with patience and persistence, I convinced her to walk down the path toward the woods, farther and farther from her herd.   I kept a respectful distant from her back hooves at all times, as Dee’s MO is to lull one into a false sense of security, then wham! She does something violent.   I hope to work her past that particular, delightful personality quirk this winter.

She was, for the most part, a good girl, and I put her away, satisfied.  Next came the baby, Stormkite.  As predicted, he has practiced longeing in his head, and right off the git-go, he longed the clockwise (right) circle without balking.  He did give me one big balk later -- it was more of a “I think I’ll run back to the barn now” action, actually -- but we had a conversation about it and he decided longeing was better than me being all in his face.   

Stormkite, learning to longe.
So that was all good.

After I put him away, I decided I better keep my riding sharp, since I’ll be getting on both these critters sometime in the near future, and so I pulled Starlight out and groomed her.  Before saddling her, I had one brief moment of hesitation, since I hadn’t ridden her for a while, and since the wind was blowing like Pecos Bill’s cyclone.

But, I was already in my riding clothes, which today consisted of a particularly homely combination including big, heavy Mountain Horse winter paddock boots, baggy jeans covered by suede chaps, my Tipperary vest, a winter riding coat, all topped with a blaze orange hunting vest, for protection during hunting season, and, of course, my helmet.  I weighed about 40 pounds more than normal and would have made George Morris roll in his grave, if he could have seen me, and if he were dead, which he most certainly is not.

So, I was not one to let this riding ensemble go to waste.  Beside, Starlight could use the experience of riding in blustery wind.  Off we went, Starlight and I. 

A bit of a devil lurks within?
She was up, but that was to be expected after a lay-off, and in that wind.  We went up to the top of the property, because I wanted to make sure hunters were respecting our “no trespassing” signs, and I sung loudly as I went, just in case they weren’t.

Up in the field, I spotted a buck, and I was sorry to see him move off, because I figured he had found a safe spot on our land.  I took Starlight down to the place where she had once been freaked out by a barking dog and our neighbors’ sheep and donkeys.  I always take her there when we ride that way, to show her it's not always scary.   After we looked around, finding no sheep, dogs or donkeys, we turned around and trotted up a little hill in the field.  I pushed her into the canter.

A couple of strides in, she started taking big, high, bounding strides.  No big deal.  She was fresh, and she was Starlight, rock solid, trustworthy.  Within a second or so, my brain started registering the fact that she had not come back to the canter and in fact, had started bucking.   

BUCKING!? Starlight?

Stop action!

Let me pause for a moment to tell you that I have been thinking a great deal about Dee, and the likelihood that Dee will buck again when I start riding her.  In addition to getting extra protection in the form of the Point2 Hybrid air vest, I have also been mentally practicing what I will do if she starts to buck, and that will NOT be to try to pull her head up, which is the usual stupid thing I do when a horse bucks, which always results in my losing my seat, sometimes spectacularly.  Instead, I hope to lean back and stick my feet in front of me.  Think cowboy in a bronc ride.  Wait, no, don’t think that. I’m certainly not going to be swinging my legs back and forth and spurring my mare.  Just think, lean back, feet forward.  I have been worrying that I won’t be able to remember to do that in time, at the speed at which things go wonky with a greenie.

OK, with that in mind, back to the action.

Starlight was bucking.  Starlight, who has never bucked once in all our rides, was bucking.  As soon as that registered in my brain, I felt myself starting to try to pull her head up.  Then suddenly I remembered: Lean back!  I leaned back for all I was worth and stuck my 20-pounds of booted feet out in front of me.

Hot damn.  That pony didn’t toss me off (as far from the barn as I could get on our property, leaving me to a long and furious walk back to the barn, after her rapidly disappearing black and white ass).   Instead, she bucked a few more times and then stopped, leaving me still sitting on the saddle, which was now on her neck.

I jumped off, telling her how bad she had been, something she rarely hears from me, loosened the girth and replaced the saddle.  Then I got back on and we went back down to the scary point where this all started and then cantered, thank you very much, up the hill, sweet as you please.

Was I happy that she bucked?  No I was not.  I was surprised and disappointed.  Was I glad I had a chance to practice leaning back and thrusting my feet forward, and that I actually remembered to do it, and it actually worked?  You bet.

So, as I said, sometimes the lessons you learn from horses come at you from the most unlikely sources at the most unexpected times.  I don’t know why she bucked, but somewhere in the back of my head, I think it might have been my outfit.  I mean, would you want to carry a rider that looks like this?
(Shield your eyes.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Let the Training Begin!

By the end of the winter, I’ll have two more riding horses.  That’s what I told myself this morning as I commenced the winter training program for Dee and Stormkite.  

The siblings, realizing I'm up to something.
Dee has been in pre-ride training before, actually a couple of times, so I’m restarting her, again.  Re-restarting, you could say.  Stormkite, on the other hand, has had basic leadline training, and some round pen training once-upon-a-time, so he’s starting pretty much fresh in the pre-ride groundwork.

Dee stood patiently for the grooming, saddling and bridling.  She’s an old-hand at all that.  When I plopped my 38-cm Duett on her back, I noticed it seemed to fit her very nicely, and, as if to show she agreed, she did not squirm around or try to walk away when I tightened the girth.

Dee in the Duett.
For the longe-line work, she was her usual hyper self, paying more attention to what might be happening in the barn than with my commands.  I did get her attention by refusing to hold her up while she zipped around, her weight on the line, and she cooperated by gaining her own balance on the circle.  I like it when they work harder than I do!

After she listened well enough to follow my command of “walk,” both ways (good work by her, as she just wants to race), we did a little ground work where I asked her to yield to my pressure this way and that.  She cooperated, so soon we called it good, and I put her away, retrieving her little brother.

Uhh, not exactly the nice, round bend I'm looking for.
Stormkite cooperated through the grooming, and I took him out for the longe-line lesson.   This is quite new to him, and he is very one sided, so, while going counterclockwise (left), he did OK, but in the other direction we had a balk at the same place, over and over.  It was always at the one spot where, in the circle (a very loose description of the shape he was  trotting), he started to turn away from the barn. 

Again and again he got a correction, and I had to pull out the BIG TRAINER. I haven’t had to get big like that lately.  The mares and I are so used to working with each other that I rarely need to pull out the big.  I can use the small most of the time, sometimes the medium, but rarely do I have to be the BIG WALL OF TRAINER.   
Stormkite keeps himself bright white, unlike the girls.

I worked patiently with him as he tested me, bumped into the BIG, and then complied.  As we did this, I mused that it has been a while since I have worked with one who resisted so much before trying to answer my ask.  But they were all like this at first, before they trusted me, before they realized that what I was doing with them was a bit of a puzzle they could solve if they tried.   Stormkite wanted to do what he wanted to do, and when it didn’t match what I wanted him to do, we had a bit of a conversation, and then he realized he needed to do something different.  When he happened to hit on the right thing, he got praise and the big trainer got smaller, so he would keep doing that.  

First time a saddle has touched his back.
Stormkite wasn’t at the point today where he actively tried to decipher what I wanted, he was mainly just reacting to pressure and the release of pressure.  And that’s how they all started.  Then they go back to the stable and think about it.  No, I’m not anthropomorphizing here.  I’m quite certain they think about it, because most horses will come to their next training session acting as though they have been practicing in their heads, ready to show you what they can do.  And I’m sure Stormkite will be the same.  He’ll be better next time, not perfect, of course, but he will start to understand the game.

Our work was a positive first step in our winter program here on the hill, the start of good things to come.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Twin Tiers Horse Events, Nov. 12-13, 2011

I could only find two events for this weekend. Both look really good, though!  You can audit or maybe even ride with Michelle LaBarre or catch out the tests and clinic at Houghton College.

Have a great weekend with your horse!

Nov. 12: Houghton College Ride-A-Test, Jump-A-Course Jumping Clinic
Houghton, NY. Contact Jo-Anne Young at (585) 567-8142 or

Nov. 12-13: Michelle LaBarre Clinic
Black Points Farm, Honeoye Falls, NY. For info about Michelle, go to
To ride in the clinic, contact Mary Delton at Auditors welcome.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Clinician Michelle LaBarre Shares Tips on Training Youngsters

Sydney and Twinkle in the lesson.
“That’s the secret to good riding: You have to be a leader, and you have to show off a little!”  

That was what dressage clinician Michelle LaBarre called across the arena to Sydney Stringham.  Sydney had just achieved a particularly nice canter on Twinkle, an 18-year-old Morgan mare, and Michelle’s words were part of a compliment for Sydney’s good work.

Michelle, a well-known dressage clinician and trainer from eastern Pennsylvania, had stopped at Foxwin Farm in Chemung, NY, to give some lessons as she traveled through the area.  Michelle’s background and current activities can be seen on her web page,

In addition to helping Sydney achieve a successful ride on the energetic liver-chestnut Morgan, Michelle gave a lesson to Foxwin partner, Trish Pierce, who started riding her four-year-old Morgan gelding, Sherman, this year.   For Sherman and Trish, much of the ride focused on one aid: Inside leg. 
Trish and Sherman focus on "inside leg."

Keeping it simple is critical when training young horses under saddle, Michelle said after the lessons, with consistency being the key to success.

“Black and white,” she said.  “Pick an order of progression. Young horses can’t focus on too much at once.  So make it inside leg, before outside rein.  I teach them one thing.”

And when teaching that one thing to a youngster, she went on to say, make it big. 

Sydney listens while Twinkle gets a stretch.
“It’s just like little kids.  When you teach them the alphabet, you teach them great big letters.  It’s not until years later they will start writing smaller, better.   You can’t start with the finessing. That's later.”

Trish, grooming her sweaty gelding after the ride, said her lesson with Michelle was just what she needed at this point in Sherman’s training.   

Nice trot, Trish!
And if Sherman was tired and sweaty after the workout, he better get ready for more. Michelle recommended that Trish work her way up to riding him three successive days, with one day off, so it’s a good bet that Michelle’s recipe for young horses of “more rides, less duration” will be part of his immediate future.

You can check out Sherman’s progress on Trish’s blog, or at Foxwin’s webpage,
Final thoughts at lesson's end.

Those interested in learning more from Michelle can audit one of her upcoming clinics in Honeyoe Falls.  See the big calendar, at the right of this blog.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Surprise Ride

On this brisk, clear, fall morning, I surprised my favorite fatty by pulling her away from her hay for an early morning ride.

Yup, that's what I typically find when I want to ride her!
It was 7:30 on Wednesday, and, normally, I am already at work at that time.  So, not only did I surprise Hudson with a ride at an unusual time, I also felt slightly off-kilter and a little guilty.  But there was no need to feel like I was playing hooky, since my boss has given me the “OK” to shift my schedule, so I can ride before work a couple mornings a week this winter, as long as I don’t have other pressing obligations. 

This is a rare opportunity, and one I appreciate. 

But back to the fatty.  Between her ample boditude and her thick, winter fuzz, Hudson was a challenge to get a girth around.   I mean, seriously, I could barely get her usual girth to the first hole on each side.  She does brace up against it, so after a few minutes, I was able to snug it up a another hole, but even so, that horse needs more morning rides and less time in front of the hay. 

During the one animal communicator session I paid for, a year or two ago, Hudson was quick to inform me that the vet didn’t know what she was talking about, that she, Hudson, was perfectly healthy and it was fine for her to eat as much as she wanted.  And, for validation purposes, that does appear to be consistent with Hudson’s eating philosophy; she is a devoted practitioner of the Eat As Much As You Can, As Fast As You Can diet. 

I intended to use the time to enjoy a simple ride, see what the new schedule feels like, and make plans for future work.  During this morning time, I will train Dee to behave herself under saddle and start Stormkite.  And, as usual, when facing a horse challenge as daunting as that, I called on Hudson to help remind me that I can train horses, ride horses and love horses.  She is my go-to girl in most new situations, and the change in focus to Dee, then Stormkite, away from Starlight for the time being, counts as a new situation. 

Hudson is usually a bit of a ninny on her first ride after a prolonged period of time off, and indeed, this morning she was as tight as a spring, a big, furry, fat-covered spring.   Most of the ride, she stayed coiled, causing me to focus constantly on my balance, wondering if and when there would be a big BOI-OI-OING.   I actually wanted to let her do the blast-off she desired (forward, of course, not UP), but I held her in, because this seemed like just the right situation for a blown tendon.

About half-way through the ride, she started to take normal strides, but I still didn’t let my focus move off somewhere else, because she could tell the second I did that, and would try to make her own decisions about the ride.  For instance, when I moved the reins from one hand to the other, to put on gloves, she immediately noticed the change in focus and thought it must mean she could go back to the barn.  

It wasn’t long before I did let her take us back.  I was pleased with the workout, and I think she was pleased with the attention.  

I didn’t get in any planning at all, but that, truly, is one of the most wonderful things about horseback riding.  It forces you to focus on the moment, and let everything else go.