This blog has MOVED!

Please visit for the most updated content. All these posts and more can be found over at the new URL.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Yet another url

Hi everyone! Almost three years ago I moved the Boots and Saddles blog over to its own custom URL - Last week it got moved again! If you came here looking for content about horses, running, endurance, vet school and beyond - visit All the posts on this blog have been transferred, along with all the new content over the last three years, so you won't miss a thing.

There's also a facebook page where I post stuff that doesn't warrant ke blog post - interesting articles, news, and pictures from the running and riding endurance community.

Thanks for stopping by!

Mel d

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why are you still here? Update your URL!

I have temporarily disabled the redirect on the blog because the universal feedback I'm getting is that it is very very slow.  It's slow for me too - and it seems to be causing some residual slowness even when you get to the new site. 

So, until I have a better redirect, please please please make sure you are on my new URL before leaving a comment etc.

Please let me know if there's any other difficulties with the migration!



Saturday, February 8, 2014

New URL!!!!

If you tried to come directly here, you may have noticed that the blog looks a little bit different and you were directed to a new URL (  If you subscribe through a reader of some sort, you were probably NOT automatically redirected and you are reading this post!!!!!!
I've finally gotten around to doing what I've meant to do for years - get my blog off of blogger and onto the my main webpage. Increasing problems with blogger (such as the search function randomly malfunctioning and the inability to edit widgets once I add them them to my side bar) finally reached critical mass.
Please update your bookmarks to the new URL (  I know that the site isn't as readable as the old one (font is hard to read and formatting is a bit weird) but I'll be fixing that soon. A rainy day(s) is sometimes the motivation needed to buckle down and get website todo's checked off the list!  
All the content and comments that have accumulated here over the years (5 years!) has been moved over to the new URL, so you won't be missing out on anything!!!!!  
Please let me know if you have any problems or there are issues with the new site. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014


Was planning on writing a cute little story about how me and Farley went on a lovely little ride this afternoon since it would take too much brain power to write about Tig and a very interesting Farley/Tig ponying ride earlier this week. 

I even took selfies of us prior to ride.

 See how thrilled she looked?

Almost as thrilled when I saddled her up and she realized she wasn't just being taken out for carrots and who knows what else . 

She gave me perhaps the worst ride I've ever gotten out of her in the 6 1/2 years I've owned her. 

The footing was bad, the sky was grey (I'm very amused how my camera phone tried to "adjust" the exposure in the picture above and made it look like there was blue sky and clouds.....BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  It was totally grey and sun-less) it was misting/raining/sprinkling and she was infuriatingly BAD.

My head is still spinning. My blood pressure has returned towards the direction of normal.

Tig has been challenging this week. Farley actually put in a stellar performance on Monday that helped me out tremendously with Tig (more on that later). With all the drama, ALL I WANTED WAS A RELAXING NORMAL RIDE ON MY BROKE AND TRAINED HORSE.


Today reiterated that the difference between Farley (15 year old with thousands and thousands of miles) and Tig (4 year old who just cantered under saddle last week for the first time) isn't necessarily that one is EASIER to ride. Farley is just more PREDICTABLE.

As in, PREDICTABLY doesn't like rain. Or quiet trail walks in bad footing. Or conditioning. Or doing something she sees no point in. But PREDICTABLY when the sh*t goes down, she isn't going to dump me or hurt herself.  Which is reassuring.....BUT DOES NOT ENDEAR HER TO ME WHEN ALL I WANTED WAS A NO BRAINER RIDE AND SHE DECIDES READ ME THE BOOK "MARE EVASIONS - PUTTING THEORY INTO PRACTICE".

The good news is that Tig already has 2 rides this week and a third planned for this weekend, and there's absolutely no reason to take Farley out again before I'm good and I can pretend horses don't exist for a couple of days, go out for some nice mood-cleansing runs, and take some deep breaths. (while studying for Monday's test, Wednesday's surgery etc.).

Not cool Farley, not cool at all. Be good or I swear I will RETIRE YOU and will call you old to your face instead of just behind your back. Getting ALONG and LIKING each other for 12 to 24 hours at a time on the trail is PART OF THE JOB DESCRIPTION.  Not just being fit and trail savvy.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

I nominate last week as "Best Week Ever"

I'm going to tell you about my AWESOME week.

Even though very little of it has to do with horses, or endurance.

As you may know (or guessed) I tend to keep this blog specific to a small portion of my life.  This isn't a diary or a journal or a "tell all" or a blog about vet school.  However, I like to think we have a deal.  Most of the time I stick to horses and endurance, but if SOMETHING REALLY COOL HAPPENS, I'll make sure that you, My Dear Reader, get to hear about it. Because after all, we are more than distant bloggers or blog readers - we are friends.

Fasten your seat belts (or rather grab your horn or OS shit strap) because HERE WE GO!!!!!!!!

1. Monday I had *my* spay surgery.  I was the surgeon (not the assistant or the anesthetist), so this was *mine*. I had visions (nightmares really) of a huge in heat pit bull bitch….but when I got there I had an adorable older boxer mix. Incredibly sweet and…..I had a feeling already spayed.

On my physical exam I could feel a ventral midline scar, which is VERY suggestive of a prior spay surgery. However, the shelter can't adopt them out unless they have proof of spay - which means since she didn't have a tattoo on that scar, she had to be opened up and checked for a reproductive tract.

Nope. No tract. I closed her back up.

Some body cared about this dog enough at one point to spay her. She was obviously a pet and was incredibly sweet. Her history indicated that she went into the shelter as a "stray". If anyone is looking for a sweet older boxer and is interested, she came from the Antioch animal shelter in California (crossing my fingers she already has already been adopted but I haven't checked).

I had mixed emotions.  It was harder to say there wasn't something there, than to grab the horn of the uterus and proceed with the procedure. So, in that way it was a good learning experience. I was able to reflect how much better I am with surgery now.  The cutting, the suturing, the anatomy identification.  Gowning and gloving, scrubbing, operating room prep……I am actually starting to feel like a doctor. I am a little disappointed that I didn't actually get to spay a dog (there are no replacement animals for this lab), and she went through an unnecessary surgery.  As I closed her up I put a little dot of tattoo ink on my incision so that she never has to be "re-spayed" again.

2. Tuesday I did a delivery and fetotomy lab. Now, unfortunately so much of what I did this week you are going to considered "really" cool, or is going to elicit the "EW!!!! don't tell me more, and please for the sake of everything decent don't post pics!" reaction. So, I'm going to walk the line between satisfying the curious readers while also keeping those readers in mind that have gentler sensibilities.

A note about any pictures posted in this blog for any school admin types that are poking around. These are NOT from the school and these are NOT any that I took (except for the dog spay picture above). As usual with ANY vetmed related pictures that I post, they are random pictures from the internet or from references. 

Now, where were we?  Fetotomy.

First I want to emphasize that a fetanomy is ONLY done on a dead fetus. If the calf can't be born vaginally and it is alive than we do a C-section. However, if the calf is dead and is either in a position that can't be corrected for normal birth, or has some sort of birth defect that makes it not possible to exit through the vaginal canal whole, then a fetonomy can be a better option than a C-section because it can be easier on the cow.

Cutting up a dead calf inside of a uterus safely is quite a skill. There are traditionally 6 cuts (but you don't often have to do them all to get the calf out) and it's quite challenging to get the equipment placed properly and to make the cuts so that there are absolutely no sharp edges of bone that could damage the uterus of the cow.

The combination technique, skill, and physics of the procedure - with the challenge of it all taking place hidden inside of a fake uterus/repro track - made it utterly fascinating. A piece of wire, threaded through  a "fetotomer", placed in just so slicing through just the right spot to create no sharp edges.

More information (videos!)

3. Now, if cutting up dead fetuses blindly with a wire is not your thing, how about fetal monsters? On Wednesday, in preparation for our C-section (on real live sheep! With live lambs!) we practiced our uterine suturing skills with uteruses (uteri?) purchased from the local slaughter house.

I chose a good looking one that had a large fetus in it and proceeded to make my cut.  And out flopped a acephalous lamb!!!!!!!

This is sorta what it looked like:

From this paper here.

Except *mine* had an orifice between the two ear looking things.

They let me grossly necropsy it and it was SO COOL.  Totally normal except where I got to where a head should be. Even the trachea was totally intact, all the way down to a fully formed epiglottis just hanging out at the end.

It sorta made up for my already spayed spay dog…….

Later on Wednesday I had another lab on regulatory medicine, which was cool but doesn't deserve it's own bullet point.  I practiced my ear tattooing, tag applying, cattle aging, intradermal injecting skills!!!!!

4. You might say that I've already had more fun than any one person deserves in one week and you would be right….but wait, there's MORE.

Time for the Ovine C-section!!!!!

Ever since I poked my head into a room as a first year and saw third years doing their sheep C-sections, it was the surgery I MOST LOOKED FORWARD TO. Sure, neutering and spaying is important, blah blah blah. But I couldn't wait until I got to do my C-section!!!!!!!!!!!  I was really afraid that this surgery was something that was going to be dropped in the new curriculum - but they kept it in the food animal stream, so I got to do a C-section!!!!!!

It was absolutely, totally awesome.  I've never had so many different body fluids dump onto me in such quick succession.

Peritoneal fluid WOOSH
Urine from ewe peeing on table WOOSH
Intrauterine/amnioic/allantoic fluids WOOSH
Blood all over my gloves
More Urine WOOSH


I'm really glad I wore my rubber boots.

Tried to find some videos/pics for you guys….but the only decent sheep one I found the guy wasn't wearing gloves (WTF?) and the goat one was good, but the goat was on it's back instead of it's side so not quite the same effect. So instead I'm posting some pictures (off the internet) and I'm still shaking my head at the no gloves in the pics - so apparently it wasn't just video guy.

Anyways. I'm sure you can use your imagination and imagine the WONDERFULNESS OF IT ALL.

Of course, our ewe was witchy and refused to bond with her lamb until the next morning and my job was made harder that night by worrying that the postpartum depressed mom was going to murder her baby and I was going to find carnage on my next (very frequent) barn checks.

I didn't get a lot of sleep.

Three or four hours to be exact.

Which was punctuated by nightmares that this was going to turn into a bottle baby and because these are range lambs they were going to make us keep the lamb at the hospital and I was going to have to bottle feed the*(&^%*&(* until weaning.

But every worked out fine, mom and baby went home this morning and by all accounts (my surgery partner had the checks last night and today) were doing very well together and all bonded etc.

5. And the fun wasn't done!  Friday was an awesome bovine embryo transfer lab. Your life isn't complete until you get to play with embryo's in a petri dish.  Oh sure, flushing the live cows was fun.  Practicing our stylet passing technique in the dead uteruses in a tray was interesting…..but staging and classifying embryos and sucking them into a pipet? Priceless.

6. We STILL haven't gotten to the end of the awesomeness that this week had to offer, although these last things are more personal accomplishment.

On my lunch hour Friday (yes, after staying up to the wee hours getting my lamb and ewe to come to some sort of agreement) I decided to run a 1 mile test. 

I havne't done so since Oct 30, 2012 where I ran a personal best of 7:42. It was the first and only time I had run a mile under 8 min.

Mile tests are an excellent way to monitor your fitness and so every once in a while I try to remember to schedule one of the miserable things (funny - I'm faster and more fit now but the mile test isn't any more fun than it was in high school…..) and it was on my list of "goals" for the month of January.  And because it was 1/31/14… was time to do it.

I used the jog out to the track (1.5 miles) as my warm up, trying to run very slowly so save my legs but hoping the long warm up would compensate for the fact I had forgotten my inhaler at home (I have exercise induced asthma that kicks in when I put in really big sprint efforts). I ignored the fact it was breezy (running in the wind sucks) and sunny (I had forgotten my sunglasses).

Got to the track and lined myself off.


I ran with no other plan than to run each lap as fast as I could.

Usually I have some sort of idea what time I'm "planning" for, and I do *some sort* of pacing from the beginning and run the whole thing at a fairly even pace/effort with a bit of a negative split near the end.

Sleep deprived, tears streaming from my eyes due to the wind and the glare, and a blood-like metallic taste in my mouth, I just RAN.

On my first lap I realized that my one minute sprint intervals had altered my perception of what was fast and what was reasonable for more than 1 minute. My tempo runs are minimum 3 miles and I had no idea what perceived effort I could maintain over a mile.

I hit my split button at the end of my first lap. I didn't even look. I started my second lap.

There was no way I could maintain this break neck speed. I was going to have to slow down.

I did. Just a tad.

My legs kept moving, my lungs kept breathing, and my arms kept pumping.

Surely I couldn't sustain this. Surely I would have to take a walk break. I was going too hard for being just into the second lap.

I was so focused on pushing forward I forgot to hit the split button between laps 2 and 3.

Lap 3 started and I was sure I was going to have to walk.  This was insane. I had failed. I had started too fast. I knew better. I had made the beginners mistake. It was OK.  That was what these tests were for. For learning.

I was 3/4 of the way through lap 3 and realized my legs were still moving and my lungs were breathing and my arms were still pumping.

I hit the split button as I started lap 4.

Maybe I could do this.

I pressed on.

There was no gallant kick to the finish.  Just a maintaining of speed.

I ran with snot and spit and tears running down my face, ignoring the high pole jumpers practicing in the adjacent lanes with their coaches, who were probably looking at the slow jogger putting in the pitiful effort and RAN.

I realized I was going to puke when I was almost finished with lap 4 and I could see the finish.

Three steps away from the line I started dry heaving.  I tossed my body over the line and hit the button.


I had no idea what time I had done it in.  Because of how I was using my chrono to track my warm up and mile splits and then my cool down jog back to school, it wasn't until I got to class and did the math that I realized what my time was.

So….not knowing how fast or slow I was, my face as bright as a cherry and my breathing ragged and wheezing I ran the 1.5 miles back to the vetoed campus.

I HAD to run back.  Otherwise I wouldn't make it back to school before my lunch hour was over.

My legs felt totally dead, my lungs as if I had inflated every single little corner in the effort.

I showered, went to class and reviewed my splits.

Lap 1: 1:32
Lap 2/3: 3:42 (1:51 average)
Lap 4: 1:49

Total 1 mile: 7:03


I just ran a seven minute mile.


Which is approximate twice as fast as any mile I ran in high school.

Which is 40 seconds faster than a year ago.

Which is 1 1/2 minutes faster than the one mile test I did right before I started adding HIIT to my workouts.

They say that sprinting is the best strength training a runner can do. Which boggles my mind because it's so cardio intense.  But apparently strength training = the recruitment of more muscle fibers to do the job and sprinting recruits enormous amounts of muscle fibers that are involved in running.  Which is what you do when you lift heavy weights.

I was reminded of this concept this morning. I'm SORE from running that mile. It was *just* a mile - but I'm more sore than some 10 milers I've done.  AND this mile was completely flat. I feel like I did squats or some sort of weight training, just because I did it fast.  I've got to remember not to take short distances lightly - they can be just as valuable as the longer distances if the intensity is right!

7. Horse related awesomeness. Of course there was horse related awesomeness this week as well. A night ride on Tig earlier in the week, and then a 50 minute 6 mile ride of walk/trot/canter SOLO on the trail this morning (that started out with mare naughtiness, but then she actually RELAXED and settled when I allowed her to canter and was lovely the rest of the ride). But since I regularly wax eloquently (or less than eloquently depending on my state of sleep deprivation) on Tig, Farley, riding, and the awesomeness of my equine related activities, that is all I will say on this subject for now.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tig recap

It's that time!!!!!  My favorite time.....where I look at goals, progress and redefine where we are going :).

First off, I want to recap the lessons learned!  

Tig has taught me that....I'm braver than I think. I cannot reiterate enough that I'm NOT a particular brave or courageous rider. But yet, like Farley did before her - Tig is REALLY good at telling me when she's ready to take the next step.  I don't know if I've gotten better at listening, or if the TKR mares are just really good at talking....but I can't believe how much stuff I've done with Tig over the last 7 rides that if you told me 2 weeks ago (or even 1 week ago...) I would be doing, I would have laughed in your face.  (The very successful night ride tonight comes to mind.....)

Sometimes having a deadline and a quota is a good thing. I tend to take it very slow when it comes to my horses.  Weeks of ground work, driving, with just short occasional rides in the beginning - not necessarily because they need it but because I feel like *I* need it to get to know the new horse!  After all - I'm starting a relationship that is going to last years and we have all the time in the world. I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing! I'm riding someone else's horse with the quota of 3x a week riding and a deadline of 3 months to deliver a horse I can be proud of.  Not only have I found myself rising to the challenge of moving along more quickly, I'm  actually enjoying it.

I have clarified my overall goals for Tig. This last week I've managed to pin down exactly what I want at the end of these 3 months.

1. I want Tig to have a strong and appropriate fitness base going into race training this summer that minimizes her risk of injury. As I discussed last week, this means that she's going a little faster and further right now than I would normally ask of a that was looking at strictly endurance as a first career. But for the effort that will be asked of her later this year, it will be appropriate. 

2. I want Tig to have a really good shot at a second career in something she enjoys if she doesn't make it on the race track.  39 rides and 3 months is not much time!  But while we are building fitness, I am focusing on giving her as much breadth as possible in terms of new experiences.  I'm striving to make every ride we do is a little different.  Maybe we do the loop in an opposite direction, or we do it in the dark, or we turn around in a different spot, or we make an extra lap, or we go down new trail, or we do it at a trot......or we do it in a different bit, or I add different saddle backs, or I add a breast collar.  You get the idea. Tig seems to THRIVE under this new philosophy - while she seems to enjoy some routine in her management schedule (like having her feet picked prior to tacking, a brushing down after a ride, a post haltering carrot, a post ride bucket etc.) she seems to REALLY enjoy having variety in her work.

I have defined her upper level of fitness, so have a starting baseline. Tig couldn't have comfortably done a longer or faster ride than the 2.5 hour, 9 mile trail ride we did last Saturday.  Looking at pace chart approximately 70% walk (or stopped), 30% trot (mostly slow, short trots throughout with some longer sustained trotting, of up to a couple of minutes). Canter did not contribute much to overall time/pace.

Without further adieu, let's move onto the plan and revisions.

My progress comments are in pink/purple.  I've crossed out stuff that no longer applies, and added revisions in red. You will continue to see this plan change as we move forward - but revising the plan is an important part of the process so I've included it in the post.

Month 1 (mid January-mid February) goals
- Have a walk, trot, canter under saddle and train any gaping training holes in order to be ready to start physically conditioning at the beginning of month 2. - On track. Gaping training holes identified: canter under saddle, hatred of arena, still occasionally bumps into my space, periods of balkiness that result in not loading/not moving forward over "obstacles" etc.

- Focus on relaxation, calmness, and "neutral" bridle work (light contact, encourage reaching down). Coming along very nicely, on track.

Week 1: low key, low stress. What do you know? Lunging, lead line, arena, trail. Let's get to know each other.  Complete

Week 2: pushing the limits. Not teaching new behaviors or skills, but push what we have so far and see what happens. We did a trail ride at a walk. Now let's do some walk/trot trail stuff. We've been trotting in the arena, what if I ask for a bigger trot? Let's tackle some trails that are a little more technical. Completed everything here PLUS MORE. We cantered under saddle, a couple of days before the plan. But the timing and feel was right so we went for it! 

Week 3 and 4: teach new things and work on known problem areas. Canter under saddle! Trim her feet (she's very defensive about her hinds). Continue to build up trail work until Tig can do 30 min at mostly working trot. Three gaits in the arena or continue to ask for all canters on trail if she continues to be better on the trail.


Month 2 (mid-Feburary to mid-March) goals 
- Work up to 60-90 min walk/trot. Near end of month 2 introduce a small bit of cantering on trail add a little bit of cantering as regular occurrence on rides (arena or trail, ie as for a few transitions). Walk/trot/canter dressage work focusing on straightness, being through, and being solidly on the bit, whether this work is done on the trail or in the arena.


Month 3 (mid-March to mid-April) goals
- Work up to 120 min walk/trot. On shorter rides, increase amount of cantering (but keep the overall amount small. Cantering will mostly be in the arena during dressage schooling). Correct and balanced transitions. Continue to Lateral work. Work in arena enough that she knows expectations and behaves herself.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Tig canters!

Saturday Aurora agreed to babysit me and Tig on an "appropriate mount" and I headed out to Oroville for a meet up.

This ride represented the end of 2 weeks of rides on Tig, and our first "big" trailering out ride.

After loading up gear I had 30 minutes to load Tig.  PLENTY of time.

And…she hopped in on the first try.  YES!!!!!!!!

Unloaded Tig and she immediately started to eat.
And eat. And eat. And not the nervous "grab a bite full and turn around" type eating - nose buried in the feed bag and can't be bothered to post for a picture eating!  Sounds like an endurance horse to me!

We tacked up (including a breast collar AND saddle bags) and hit the trail.

Tig was AMAZING. Early on the ride I managed to actually snap a few "ear pics".

Here's just a sampling of the things me and Tig did together on Saturday

1. passed by people walking their bikes (Tig was an angel)

2. Highway traffic that did not slow down while we were on the shoulder (Tig was a veteran)

3. Several asphalt crossing at intersections. (Tig stood there patiently)

4. Crazy dog pack yapping at us with their (mostly drunk?) owner crashing through the bushes yelling at them. (Tig stared in amusement).

5. Go down a steep bit of section that I was certain I was going to die on, and making plans to bail and just lead down, with Aurora looking on in amusement as Tig tucked her butt and scooted down like a pro. In general Tig is so well balanced going down the trail, I have to continually remind myself that's she's young not to let her trot down hill.  She reminds me of my partner's ride and tie horse who can canter so balanced downhill that if I closed my eyes I'm not sure I would know I was going down hill.

6. Take off a crinkly jacket and tie it around my waist.
Aurora asked me whether I sometimes forget I was riding Tig and treat her like Farley.

The answer is absolutely.  I don't ride a lot of young horses, so my body, seat, and hands are accustomed to doing a set of things to either ask for something, or to correct something.

I don't ride Tig like a baby….I ride her like a horse.

The result is that most of the time she behaves like a horse.

Sometimes when I ask her to stop jigging, or lower her head, or move to the other side of the trail, she DOESN'T respond like a horse - and so I take a moment to be extra patient and explain it, and then we move on.

I think as a result, she responds by mostly behaving like a horse.

This sort of "ask-explain-move on" sort of philosophy is different from the philosophy I was taught and used when I was riding youngsters many years ago. Back then I had a good seat and could read a horse fairly well, but I lacked the "refined" riding communication skills that two years of intensive dressage training, and thousands of miles on a broke horse.

Back then I what could have been described as a "explain-drill-next step" approach.  The horse and I did the same things over and over until they did it near perfect and then we stopped and moved on to the next thing.  Each "obstacle" was trained, practiced, and drilled. Crossing water, mounting, staying in gait until I absolutely cued something else. Crossing poles, side passing, opening gaits.

Nowadays I do very little drill or repetition.  We move down the trail, I ask and she either responds or not. If she doesn't I explain what I want, she then does it correctly and we move on.  No repeating until it's perfect, or to prove a point.  If we ride for long enough, the opportunity for the same lesson will come up again and again I'll ask, and again she'll have the option to respond, or I'll re-explain it.

It's a no drama, no fuss with an emphasis on relaxation and confidence and giving her the opportunity to be an adult at every opportunity.

Aurora pointed out that one reason I might have changed my approach is because the type of horse I was riding fundamentally changed. Back then I was riding stock type geldings.  Now I ride Arab mares.

I think by de-emphasizing "drill" I also de-emphasize making something a "thing". Which, in my experience with smart, opinionated horses, is easy to do. For example, I could easily make crossing water "a thing".

Tig had several opportunities to cross a tiny bit of water crossing the trail.  Headed out from the trailer there were 2 crossings.

At the first crossing I had to use my dressage whip and leg more than I would have liked to urge her across. It took longer than I would have liked. When she finally crossed, it was more "bolt-y" than I would have liked. But she did it.

We moved on down the trail.  That was her reward for finally doing what I asked. We got to move on.  The stress between us immediately diminished and she could focus doing the next thing I asked right.

Let's imagine if I had turned her around and asked her to go back and across and do it "better".

And again

And again

And again…..

In this situation how have I rewarded my horse finally giving into pressure and doing what I asked? Is rewarding the horse by making it repeat the stressful situation over and over more or less likely to result in the horse doing what I want the next time?

Sometimes you can fix an issue by making it a non issue.

I had never thought of myself as an "arab person", but I might very well be one. What a strange thought.

I'm not claiming to know what will work for every horse, or every arab, or every riding situation.  No one "absolute" approach works for everything.  But after working with a dog whose training very much depends on minimizing stress in order to maximize learning, and working with my horses (and others) over the years - I've leaned more and more towards a mostly low-key approach and had a lot of success.


The highlight of the trip was, of course, cantering Tig under saddle for her very first time.

She loves the trail as much as she HATES the arena, and because I feel more comfortable going at speed on the trail, Funder and Aurora encouraged me to introduce Tig to the canter on the trail.

Aurora had in mind a certain hill - good footing and long enough we could get up to a canter but the probability of things getting out of hand were low because it was steep.

Sounded good to me!

I'm not a brave rider, but I can usually tell when a horse is ready to give and have a knack for choosing the right moment for success. On the second half of the loop, headed back the trailer I felt like Tig was ready to canter. So, a little ahead of plan, before we got to the big hill, I asked Aurora to move out in front of me on sections of trail where it was slightly uphill with good visibility (most of the trail we rode on was single or double track) and no rocks.

This was the moment Aurora's mount Scrappy had been chosen for - a sensible Rushcreek who would set a sensible speed and not get on hanky if some excitement behind him ensued!!!!

Scrappy moved out at a rocking horse canter.

I sat the trot, kissed, and bumped Tig with my heels.

I fully expected some small bucks as she coordinated her feet and balance for this new gait, and so when she lurched and gave a slight buck I sat calmly as she worked it out and encourage her with my voice and seat.

And boom!  I had one of the loveliest canters I've ever had the pleasure of sitting.  Uphill, balanced, and gorgeous.

When she dropped to a trot, I gently encouraged her to canter again.

Another few uncoordinated steps and a little buck and there is was again!  Cantering!!!!!

We moved down the trail in the fashion - walking, followed by trot and canter transitions (down and up) where the trail allowed it.

I could tell Tig was having fun - she was totally getting this and she was having FUN. Sit, kiss, bump with my heels and she would transition nicely up to the canter, and then on cue back to the trot. Since the trail naturally lends itself to certain gaits depending on footing and turns, I didn't have to drill a cue - I just matched my body language to what was most efficient and practical for that portion of trail.

Now, with smart horses (and dogs) I've learned there are certain stages of learning I can expect.

At first they are giving me a good try. And as long as I'm fair and patient, they take a lot of joy figuring out what I want. Any apparent "naughtiness" is not intentional - they are just trying to figure it out.

Then, when they get it, I get this sense of pride and joy radiating out from them.  They just seem so PROUD of themselves.

And then…..they usually push the limits. They gave it to me nicely a couple of times but now something in their brain says "that was OK….what about THIS?"

Tig's "THIS" was a full on rodeo bronc buck.

I was sort of expecting this.

Canter is FUN.  Cantering is an awful lot like bucking.  Bucking seems to be a horse's version of even more fun.

So, when out of nowhere my feet were suddenly jammed forward at her shoulder, I saw/sensed hind feet whizzing about at the level of my ears, and she went down for a giant BUCK during a lovely couple of canter strides - I was ready.  I had been maintaining light contact with her mouth, focusing on a deep seat with heels down. So when she bucked, I was able to growl, pulled her back into a trot, and then re-cued the "more obedient" canter. I was quite proud of myself. :). I knew naughtiness would come at some point, and I felt like I had responded in exactly the right way.

Near the end of the ride we came to the giant hill that we were originally going to ask for a canter.  I decided this would be our "fitness test" hill.

I pointed her at it and said "let's go!"

She was game.  She gave it her best shot.  She cantered. She did a couple gallop strides.  She trotted. And finally….she walked.

At the end of the 3 months, I'd love to see her be able to trot up that thing nonstop.

Near the end of the ride about a mile from the trailer Tig decided she was done. She started looking around for grass to nibble (didn't I tell you she is a GREAT endurance prospect) and she started doing what I've learned is her "MO" for being done. Stopping. Balking.

The first time she did this to me was in the arena and she nearly gave me a heart attack, thinking she was tying up.

But nope. I quickly figured out that a mentally or physically done Tig is a Tig that stands quietly being balky.

In some ways a temper tantrum would be easier to deal with.  A quietly standing non-moving horse can be quite the conundrum!

I could tell that Tig was close to being done and fortunately we were very close to the trailer and it was perfect timing - I want her to know that I won't ask too much of her - she doesn't have to protect her self by refusing to come with me. She saw the trailer and picked up a little jog.

When it was time to load her up for the ride home, Tig decided she couldn't possibly be asked to one.more.thing. and stood at the entrance of the trailer, refusing to step in (if "refusing" can be defined as standing there quietly and calmly but not moving forward…..). Aurora helped encourage her from the back and she stepped in.  I got the feeling it was less about getting in the trailer (she knows how to load and isn't nervous about the trailer) and more about her not trusting that I wasn't going to "ask too much". She wanted me to know that she was reaching the end of what she had to give me at that time.


I've learned a lot about this horse in 2 weeks, and -  like I think happens whenever you listen to what an animal is telling you - I learned some things about myself in the process.

But those are topics for the next post!