Saturday, December 31, 2016

Filling a Void in my Heart

After I lost Zaida, my Endurance Arabian, I had a hole in my heart, an empty stall in the barn, and blank space in the pasture. I didn't want to replace her, but I needed to do some good in the horse world.
Zaida (WMA Godspeed)
Zaida and I at an Endurance ride
In addition to my emptiness, I could also see that Gypsy longed for  a companion. Within a few weeks of Zaida's passing, a friend who is a horse trader contacted me about two horses he was going to send to auction because he didn't have a trainer to get them going, and he had too many horses. My friend had rescued one - a paint - from the kill pen, and the other, a pure black horse but with one white pastern- came from a ranch.

I went and looked at the horses, and gathered as much information as possible on the two horses. The guy didn't know if the paint was broke, and the black horse was broke and up for sale, but a girl fell off of him, so he couldn't continue to advertise him for sale, in order to protect his business. Both horses appeared to be in good shape, and he was only asking for what he paid, which was $300 for the paint and $600 for the black one. So I went back the following day and picked them up. 

(Apache above) the day I brought him home
Chief and Apache below

I brought the two home and kept them separate in quarantine, which is common for horses that come from an unknown source, such as a kill pen. Luckily I did, because Apache exhibited symptoms of strangles. It took a few weeks to erupt, and sadly, little Abbie above, was also exposed to strangles. Fortunately, everybody survived the nasty ordeal, and they were all back on the road to health. I soon learned that Chief was a great horse for English and he loved jumping and was good at it. He was broke, but needed riding on a regular basis, he had a lot of energy. 

As for Apache, his level of training was unknown. So I did what I do best, I tested him out. I had my vet come check him out and make sure he was sound for riding, and we began from the beginning. First thing was tot see if he was accepting of a saddle. Which he was. He could walk and trot, and even happily rode bareback. Apache was a very in your pocket kind of horse. He was gentle and curious about what people were doing. It was likely that he had never been physically harmed, but may have suffered neglect, which you can see in some of the photos where his ribs are showing. He was quite a bit underweight, but that was reparable. Chief, on the other hand, likely came from a ranch or somewhere the he was rode hard and put away wet. Meaning, he wasn't extremely affectionate like Apache, but he had no reason to trust or distrust people. He was quite neutral in his personality. 

Disclaimer: My goal is not to buy and sell horses, my goal is to take in horses - even if they cost me money- that need help becoming a better horse, so they can find a suitable home. Of course if I found the perfect horses for me, it would have a forever home with me, but personally, I do not want more than two or three horses of my own. It is too much to maintain riding and food-wise . I am also fully aware that it takes about one year of working with a horse, to break its old habits and get them to connect with me. I don't expect to see change right away, but I do expect to see subtle differences around the six month mark.

I knew after assessing both horses, that I would be able to re-home Apache relatively quickly because of his willing personality, but Chief needed additional work. So I spent about three months working with Apache to remind him what he was supposed to do, and rewarding his efforts. I helped him become more polite on the ground, become less buddy sour, and reminded him of what it was like to be ridden. Mostly we worked on building muscle and rounding out his back so he could be a strong horse again, and be able to maintain balance while carrying a rider. In the meantime, I searched for his forever home. I loved him but needed to make space for the next horses that needed help.

A woman named Dorothy from Blanco, Texas answered the advertisement. She had previously owned a horse, but after a divorce, could no longer keep him. Dorothy and her friend who owns home makeover company both came out to assess Apache. Dorothy came back a few days later to take him for a test ride. One thing I learned about re-homing horses, is that 90% of the time, an experienced buyer, will ask the seller to ride the horse first. The reason behind this is that if the seller is scared of the horse, they won't ride it. There is more on that in my post on buying and re-homing horses. So before she said anything, I offered to ride Apache to show her what he knew, what he didn't know, and his flaws. Apache was a head tosser. He hated the bit, so I bought him a hackamore. He was much happier with the hackamore, but it is a little nerve racking to ride in an open field with a group of riders at a fast pace and your only barking power is a hackamore. Anyways, I explained all of this to her, and mentioned she should work on getting him used to a bit, but for now, he needed a hackamore, as his past probably included a heavy handed rider, or a major accident involving a bit, which was visible by scar tissue around his mouth. 

Once I rode Apache, Dorothy and I went on a trail ride where she rode him out in the open at a walk and trot. She returned a couple of more times to ride Apache before we reached an agreement for her to take him home. By this time, she had ridden him through our trails and in deep water where he enjoyed pawing at the water in hopes of laying down in it. Apache seemed content with Dorothy, and I looked forward to him going to his forever home where he would get all of he attention that he desired. 


As for Chief, he was broke well, but had developed some poor habits to intimidate his rider, and I was unwilling to sell him like that. I started him in an English saddle and we began jumping. This helped redirect his energy. He also joined me on several camping trips and carried me through hundreds of miles of trails.

As I strived to work him into a more calm horse for whoever he might end up with, I tried other riders on him and found that he really needed an experienced rider who he could not intimidate. his new owner would need a very soft hand and calm attitude. I was sure that it would take a very skilled person to help him reach his full potential. The alternative was to find him a home where he would have a nice slow easy life. He would walk and trot and not be asked for too much, as that is where he would begin arguing with his rider. I am very concerned about selling an "up" horse for the same reasons that I mentioned in my other post on Smokey.

I continued working with Chief for about a year, while I searched for his forever home. Late one evening, a woman on the southside of San Antonio contacted me about trading Chief for her horse who, at the time was named Skylar. She was a rider who only desired to walk and trot around her longhorn farm, and her horse was ok with this, but he was a very big boy, and he often bucked if he did not want to be ridden. She was concerned about coming off of him at such a great height, so she was looking for a horse that was a bit smaller, but that would be happy to have a nice slow pace through his life. She had a large pasture for Chief to graze and put on some weight, a donkey who would be his companion, and she was willing to work with him in the round pen before he was ridden, to help him burn off some energy. I agreed to bring Chief to her house so we could meet the horses. I took Skylar for a test ride. The lady informed me that he "crow hopped" when asked to lope. So naturally, I did what I did best, I asked him to walk, trot and lope. And he did what he did best, he bucked me off.

I said "I'll take him," as blood dripped down my arm from landing in the briar patch.

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Soothing Horses

How Smokey's Wisp Made Me a Better Person

Smokey came to me by no accident. I am certain that he needed me as much as needed him. I got a call one day from a friend who told me of a barrel racing horse that bucked off his 13 year old rider and how he was being given away free and they were about to put him on Craig's List.

Here is the thing about giving away a solid specialty trained horse on Craig's List. If you give a horse away, for free, somebody will either take him who has no business owning a horse and put their child on them, then their child, who does not know how to ride, will do something terribly incorrect, resulting in said child falling off of the horse. Subsequently, the parents will be pissed and re-give the horse away, this will continue to happen until either someone knowledgable gets the horse and figures out that he is an amazing well trained horse, or, the more common scenario, the horse ends up in the slaughter. If the horse is lucky, a horse person will ride the horse and realize that he is worth much more than his weight in meat and put him on a site to earn bail money to get him out of "jail" slaughter. If the horse is not lucky, he will end up being hauled across a border and used for human consumption. Yep, you heard that right, people eat horse meat in Canada and Mexico.

Anyways, I contacted the father and learned that they had just purchased him 5 months prior as a barrel horse from a lady named Madison, who also barrel raced him. His 13 year old daughter was taking to barrel racing lessons, and during a lesson as the girl walked through the barrel pattern, Smokey erupted and bucked the girl off. The father said no more riding that horse, he is going up for sale. But in good faith, the father had a vet come out to do a lameness exam, Smokey had an elevated hate blood cell count which indicates inflammation or infection. So they treated him and listed him for sale. Another young rider, about 13 as well, came out to test ride him. She rode him in the arena at a walk, trot, and lope with no problems. They brought the barrels out and as she trotted him around the barrel pattern, he once again, erupted and bucked her off. As a result, the owner of thee barn became concerned about liability and informed the father that nobody was authorized to ride this horse on her property. Which put the father in a situation where he felt obligated to give the horse away, which he had paid a large chunk for. (I later located a YouTube Video of him for sale for $8,000) Smokey if sully registered, gorgeous and really about as well trained and polite on the ground as a horse can be. I went to retrieve Smokey that Thursday. As soon as I handled him, I could tell he and I would get along just fine. I asked the father if they wanted updates, and he said "not really".

I brought him home and got him settled in the second pasture. Jeremy and I were going camping in Bandera, Texas the next day, and we really wanted to take him,, Ordinarily, we would let a horse get accommodated, but he seemed to have a level head, so we decided that he was going to spend the weekend on the trails with us.

Jeremy was adamant that he ride him first, of course I was concerned that Smokey would erupt and Jeremy would get injured, but he is a tough guy and can make his own choices.

Jeremy Saddled him up and we were off. He rode him the entire weekend without one problem. In fact, Jeremy trusted that horse enough to gallop him across that open field right behind him in the above photo, after only 30 minutes of riding him. 

After our camping trip, I rode him several times, in the arena, on the trail, at the Tejas Rodeo. I played around barrel racing him and with no issue. I could tell that once he hit the second barrel, he was ready to bolt. By bolt, I mean go full speed to the third barrel and fly home. He had no desire to be held back. He seemed to chomp down on the bit and not care what his rider was asking of him. Other than that, this horse is hands down, the best horse I have ever sat on. One day I was out playing in the arena with him,  I was taking him around the barrels and I could sense he was getting agitated. 

Sidenote: It is interested how as a rider, you can tell what kind of rider had him before by the way he behaves and responds to various situations. I could tell that his previous rider (Madison, not the girl because she didn't have him long enough) was probably high-strung, like any 20 something year old barrel racer, she rode him in a very antsy and impatient manner, just like most barrel racers do. The tend to do a lot of yanking on their mouths/heads. 

Smokey was very uptight and nervous. He spooked easily, but never badly.  What I mean is, if I did something fast and unexpected, he would jump, but he would not take off running and try to get as far away as possible. The white in his eyes would show and it was clear that he was a nervous horse. As for being in his mouth, Smokey was constantly tossing his head, trying to find relief from the pressure of the bit. These things can all be easily fixed with the right mentality, and the right rider. 

I could sense his agitation and tried to rein him in, but instead, he bolted, He ran to the rail of the arena, leaped over a trot poll and began bucking with all four in the air. I naturally sustained my grip for two or three bucks, but I knew I was coming off. I landed on my knees, which was pretty darn painful, but better than broken bones. I calmly approached him after I dusted my face off, and got right back on. I rode him around the arena at all gaits for the next hour. I had to understand why he did this and he needed to understand that his actions were not acceptable. 

We have had him for about 3 months now, and I can tell when he is trying to "get away" from me. When he does this, it is normally at a lope, so I bring him in a small 10-15 meter circle at a lope and make him get back in frame. Since this incident, he has been grounded from barrels, he is only allowed to do arena work, drill team work, figure eight patterns around the barrels and trial rides. We want to reset his thinking on the barrels. Basically, he is on vacation. We are also very calm around him, always extremely patient, but this does not mean he gets away with things, it just means that we are not antsy, nervous, or in hurry to make him understand something. We also removed the twisted wire snaffle/rawhide noseband combo and put a hackamore on him. He is much happier, and equally responsive in the arena. He gets a dog-bone snaffle on the trail when there are several horses and we need more of a stop on him, otherwise he gets to be comfortable. 

Since the day that Smokey bucked me off, and I realized how I could have prevented it by recognizing signs in his behavior, I have implemented some changes. As a result, I have seen tremendous changes in his behavior, and in mine! Everyday that I work with Smokey, if I go in there with too much on my mind, and don't focus on the the now, and being there with him, in the moment, he tells me with a nervous look or a swift side step- where he appears scared or uneasy. I am then reminded to clear my mind of the days worries, pay attention to what I am doing right that second and enjoy that time. This now applies to my interactions with my other horses, I move slower and just enjoy the time I am there with them, such amazing creatures. I pay more attention to their movements, and behaviors, and less attention to outside distraction. I now practice leaving all of my troubles and worries at the pasture entrance. I need a sign that says something like that on the gate! But even now, I see my interactions with people have changed, because of what Smokey has taught. me. I a calmer and more patient. I have more tolerance in traffic or long lines, and din't get irritated or disgruntled easily. I also try to focus on the good things that are working for me, and leave the negative somewhere else, preferably never to be found again :-)

Merry Christmas From Gypsy Farms

Merry Christmas from Gypsy Farms (Abbie - Left, Gypsy - Right)

What People Think, When I Say Horse Camping

Gypsy after a long work week.

Horse Camping at Hill Country State Natural Area, Cows were loose and Gypsy hid

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Promise to a Horse

I promise to always remember this about Gypsy and any other horse I encounter:

She feels your energy,
She senses your nature,
She sees who you are.
She is a reflection of you.
She does not trust, until you have proven yourself.
Kindness will forever bond you, and she will forever be a part of you.
She will trust you with her life, give you every ounce she has, even if it kills her.
She would run off a cliff if you desired.You are her herd. She is your solitude.

If she is nervous, it is because you are nervous.
If she over reacts, it is because you overreact.
If she doesn't understand, it is because you did not teach her.
If she is upset, you lack effective communication.
She is a reflection of you. She is Gypsy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Fun Gifts I Made For Gypsy Farms students!

As some of my close friends know, I love to write, draw, paint and create things, beyond horseback riding, giving lessons, and my regular old day job. I recently purchased a Cricut Machine, as I wanted to create some personalized gifts for my riding students and horse friends. Although I am still playing around and inventing things, please see some of the things that I have created below. In addition, I have done a few t-shirts with iron-on vinyl. I will say that the machine comes with a small sample of the iron-on transfer paper, which is not the best quality, I purchased my vinyl through Expressions Vinyl and was much happier with the quality. Anyways, here is what I made! Please let me know if you have any questions, or of course if you would like some fun Gypsy Farms paraphernalia! More to come on my crafts with my Cricut Machine

These tea towels were fun to make. I printed out the phrases, removed the letters (weeded), then used what was left as a stencil. I then used some fabric markers to fill everything in.
This was my favorite thing to make, a water bottle using vinyl and then sprayed some polyurethane to seal it. Although it won't hold it forever, it will keep the vinyl in place for a bit longer than normal.

This was also really fun to make, I used the iron-on transfer setting to create this then ironed it on. I will say that the hat kind of melts when ironing, so I had to lower the setting on my next attempt.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Finding Gypsy

Today is National Horse Day!

Go hug a horse!💚

I first laid eyes on Gypsy while perusing the Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society (BEHS) website. At the time she was listed as "Kandi". I read her story and made an appointment to go meet her. She was green-broke, according to the listing, so I brought my saddle and bridle so I could take her for a test ride. When I go there, I noticed that she had a large scratch down her side and several more on her chest. Apparently, she was at the bottom of the totem pole with that herd, and had been run into a fence and a wheelbarrow by a herd-mate. I took her for a spin and was hopeful that she had better manners than she did, both in the saddle and on the ground. But the reality was that she needed a lot of work to get to a good solid point. But she was sweet and had a good demeanor and calm eyes, so I adopted her. My first year with Gypsy was painful. She didn't want to load in the trailer, she was extremely pushy on the ground, she didn't want to just walk. She would do what she wanted when she wanted to. I had never owned a mare before, and I learned why pretty quickly.

In fact, our first year was so painful, I didn't know if I should keep her and I considered giving her back to the rescue.

Then it dawned on me. I needed to look at why she was doing what she was doing. She wasn't just a horse that I could tell her to jump and she would. There was so much more to her than that. So I asked more about her history and learned quite a bit. I did some research and found this photo of her when she was seized by the sheriff's office after being rescued from her neglectful owners. I hate seeing this photo, as it will always bring tears to my eyes, but it also reminds me of where she came from.

Until this point, I still called her Kandi, although I wasn't fond of the name. I learned that she had been adopted and given back to the rescue 5 times after this photo was taken. During two of those periods, the owners called her "Gypsy". I decided this would forever define her. I realized why she wouldn't get in the trailer. Every time she had stepped foot in the trailer, she had been delivered to a new place, never returning to where she was comfortable. She was in fact, a Gypsy. She was a free spirit, but traveling, not on her own terms, but those of others around her. She was completely misunderstood, and nobody took the time to understand her. So I made a promise to myself, that I would be her rock. She would be called Gypsy, but she would no longer be, a Gypsy. She had found her home, forever.