The End of an Era

This week, I helped put my family’s last two equines, a mini-donk and my beloved Riley, on the market. As the youngest of my siblings has now officially graduated from high school, my parents are preparing to become empty nesters, and as such, are planning to sell their 6 acre equestrian property and transition to a much smaller house, with less acreage to tend for, and that plan sadly does not include horses.

My mother has taken care of horses since she was a little girl, across more than 4 countries and as many decades. She said to me in regards to the horses that after so many years of horse-stewardship, and watching the horses become less and less used in the backyard, that she was tired. And in my personal opinion, maybe a little sad, to see such loved family members not be doted on any more.

My last couple trips down to my parents’ home have included taking sales photos and making videos where applicable of the horses still there. My dad’s horse, Cochise (pictured above), is a butterball of a spotted draft cross, and his main goal in life is to be a couch. He has now been placed with a veteran’s therapy program in New Jersey, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with this practically perfect match for him.

It’s a little more bittersweet thinking of the other two finding homes beyond my family’s backyard. Hudson, the mini-donkey, has been in our family since he was 3 months old and we found him at an auction as a sickly orphan wedged in a 3′ wide space between two stalls. For the last 7 years he has been the source of much entertainment, chasing the German Shepherds around and braying for ear scratches when someone gets within range. Luckily, there was essentially a facebook-brawl to get to Hudson, and he is very securely spoken for and to be picked up this weekend.

Which leaves Riley. He, of course, has been with the family longest of all. He’s the product of two of our personal horses, and though people looked at us squiggly-eyed when we said we bred an Irish Draught x Haflinger, he’s been exactly what we were hoping for and some. I taught him to lead, crosstie, bathe, flyspray, and together with B, started him under saddle. I got to spend some more quality time with him last summer and fell in love with him all over again. All I can say is I hope whoever is lucky enough to end up with this guy appreciates a horse who rests his head on your shoulder when you scratch under his chin, who grabs the hose to drink out of it before he will stand to be bathed, and who had more athleticism and ability in him than we ever found time to tap. It’s going to be tough having this one belong to someone else, that’s for sure.

I can’t imagine how I will feel when I visit my parents and see not a single equine out in the fields. For years, it was my duty to feed the horses, so much that when I went to college I often woke in a panic realizing I hadn’t done the chore already. But beyond the habit of having horses in my life, and theirs, it is bittersweet to me to think of how others will enjoy the products of our love, in a home beyond our own.

Lesson Recap: Riley’s Dressage Lesson

Riley heads back home this weekend, hopefully with a skull full of new knowledge and a much fitter body than when he came to me. Before he left though, I really wanted to get him off property and put him in front of someone who could comment on his progress. Unfortunately it was a bit late and the timing didn’t work out for a show, so I opted to take him to Eliza’s for a dressage lesson.

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Riley loaded like a champ, and bar a couple loud whinnies (which is the norm for him anyways, he’s a rather vocal dude), settled in at once.

It’s been so long since I have taken a lesson on a greenie (like, years, since I normally do much of the initial stuff myself), so it was great to get some reminders to set him up for dressage success.

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Things like using your weight in each stirrup rather than the reins to turn that might seem obvious, but you can forget when steering is a bit compromised as it is on a green horse finding his balance. Occasionally I didn’t get aggressive enough with this concept, and it turned into a rather hairy moment when Riley didn’t turn quickly enough and attempted cantering with 2 legs inside the arena, and two legs up on the grass level of the perimeter, about 10″ above.

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Much like it is nigh impossible to run with one leg in the street and one leg in the curb, this concept didn’t work out too well for Riley. Luckily the husband was there to catch our combined lawn darting on camera, and since we were both OK, in my mind anything worth laughing at is also worth turning into a gif. I really don’t think I had any way of saving this, and since it was just a dumb moment I’m happy to share with you kind folks.

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We determined that both of us were fine and I mounted up again. Overall the lesson was really helpful, in that it got me thinking about dressage as a long-term goal, and not just focusing on the immediate result as is the temptation with babies. So things like letting my leg hang now, instead of kicking to get the forward, will help me later when I need a horse that is more sensitive to my leg aids.

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Bar a scary 10 seconds, in which I’m glad I did not get crushed under those thunder feet, it was a really great lesson and a good reminder of working towards an end game. Though I’m really bummed to be sending Riley home, I’m exceptionally proud of how far he has come, from pasture ornament to dressage pony in a matter of just over 2 months. I definitely look forward to using the experience and the reminders from this lesson on Smitty, and can only hope he comes along just as easily.

 

 

Riley Jump School

Green horses are so rewarding in some ways. Especially when you have a quick study, like Riley (who by the way has also mastered smiling and targeting a tennis ball beyond his under saddle work). Every day I can feel a bit more progress, a little more stamina.

We’ve only got a few jumping sessions under our belt since the priority has been building a baseline fitness (myself included), but now that that’s established the work can get a little more fun and varied. So I set up a basic course yesterday, between 2′ and 2’6″ with long approaches and inviting ascending oxers.

Mane for days

Mane for days

We kept things short and sweet, so that we were done over these (slightly) bigger fences before anyone got super tired. I’m still working on my two point, which somehow didn’t make it into the video, and working on trying to keep my hands still on the approach. Getting my hands tangled in Riley’s giant mane makes quiet hands a little easier, albeit it has a negative effect on steering.

I see plenty to be improved for both of us (especially myself), but it’s exciting that we are coming along so quickly. Getting excited for the faux-show this weekend!

Riley’s Sister

When we purchased Ivan as a two year old stallion, part of our purchase agreement included breeding rights to two of the former owner’s mares. So in addition to Margo the haflinger (which we all know how that turned out), Ivan also covered two thoroughbred mares.

Sadly, one of the mares passed away (colic I think?) while still pregnant. The other had a sweet little grey filly called Lola.

Lola

Through circumstances I can’t quite recall, Lola also ended up with us for a time.

Lola trot

With brother in the background

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Lola canter

Lola eventually moved on to another home, since at that point in time we were pretty much at capacity with 4 young horses at home in addition to the usual crew.

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It’s amazing how time flies, and Lola will also be ten this year. But memories persist!

 

Jumping Riley

Is it just me, or is a case of jumping jitters going around the interwebs these days? Well it turns out I’m not immune to them.

Yay new media! Riley showing off his newly acquired dressaging skillz

Yay new media! Riley showing off his newly acquired dressaging skillz

With the help of Ali I took Riley over his first (for me) jumps. He’s jumped before in his random spurts of training, but I’ve not yet been in the irons over fences. The only time I had seen him jump was years ago, being wiggly to some tiny cross rails.

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Not (yesterday) today though! Riley was all game and go when it came to fences, and it was me who was looking like the numpty. My classic move, throwing my heels in front of me, came out in full force, since I was a bit nervous about how it would go.

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Steering, or rather bulging, is still a bit of an issue. Because of his bendy, short neck, it’s easy for him to throw his shoulders around a turn with my opening rein aids doing nill. It’s like having a short rudder and a strong, wide boat to steer. So we’re working on those outside rein aids and blocking the shoulders.

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Even considering some of our less-than-straight approaches, and though it only included a couple crossrails and an oxer, I would say the first attempt jumping was a rousing success. I’m hoping that I can learn to let go of some of my confidence issues and continue to have fun jumping, even though he’s a greenie.

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Because over-fences bonus: There’s a sh*t ton of mane to grab!

Introducing Riley

If nothing comes to a head in the next several days, I am seriously considering putting a pause on aggressively horse shopping. It gets exhausting, yo.

Luckily, I happen to know some people (*cough* my parents), who have horses that they would love to be worked.

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Riley

This is O’Riley. Or basically Riley, since no one calls him that anymore. You may recognize him from a ways back, as I’ve known him for a long time.

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Baby Riley

A long, long time. Riley is the product of our former Haflinger mare, Margo, and my former horse, Ivan, the Irish Draught. So technically he’s an Irish Sport Horse.. Er.. Cob.

With the help of Bette, I was the first person to sit on Riley. I did all his initial groundwork, taught him to lead, was there when he was weaned, and so on and so forth.

Riley’s been not much more than a pasture ornament for the last decade (ugh), with the exception of a few brief periods of training. Otherwise, he goes out on trail rides once a month or so with my sister, and basically lives the life of a pasture puff.

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Well, this weekend he was in for a bit of a shock. He loaded onto the trailer for the first time in years and made the trip to Raleighwood, where I’ve given him the last couple days to settle in and get used to the routine of coming in and out and being in a large barn.

The plan is for me to train Riley up a bit, get him fit, and depending on how long he’s with me, perhaps go to a few shows or maiden level events in the fall. In the meantime, I have some decisions to make for myself regarding the horses I saw this weekend, I have another horse to see tonight or tomorrow, and then we’ll just see where it goes from there.

Welcome Riley!