“He Was Something Like a Racehorse Undersized”


He was hard and tough and wiry – just the sort that won’t say die –
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.

Or not, precisely. But at the BO’s suggestion we tried her Australian saddle on Lucky today. This is the first saddle I’ve ever put on him where he genuinely looked a little bug-eyed at the bulk of the saddle. That, or the size of the flaps, which go very far back over his flank compared to the PDN or the McClellan. I was surprised by how heavy it was-it’s been a long time since I’ve hefted anything bigger than a synthetic western onto a 15hh horse (Lucky never feels so much taller than Dino and Takota to me, but then I had to get the saddle UP.)

He walked out okay, so I figured I might as well try it. I think, ultimately, Lucky was more comfortable with the saddle than I was. I’ve sat in it before on Trudy (the resident red-headed mare) and didn’t really like the feel of having those “fenders” for lack of a better word almost over my thighs–it had the unnerving feeling of being strapped in. Actually riding out in it, I had the strangest sense of being in a saddle midway between a dressage saddle and stock seat. My butt thought it needed to be back on my pockets, but my legs couldn’t quite line up with that. I wound up in a sort of half-forward seat, never quite adjusted comfortably. I also forgot my crop, and with that much leather between my leg and his side I could barely get my heels on. Of course, this was pretty much fine by Lucky! For all it was cold and windy he was generally all right, though he had a very looky moment at a flyaway sheet of newspaper. He also definitely remembers turning around barrels, and considers an upended bucket and acceptable substitute (tomorrow I might get the barrels off the cart where they were moved for winter storage.)

I didn’t ride for too long. I don’t think the saddle was heavy enough to be dangerous for him, but it just wasn’t comfortable for me! Lucky did his best falling-asleep-underneath-you impression while I stopped to talk to P-Nut, Vandy and Sky’s owners as they were going out to the pasture. Of course, that might have been a hangover, as the dentist was out yesterday and everyone (except poor old P-Nut, who’d been done by the vet the day before along with that ‘delicate’ cleaning some geldings need sedating for) had their teeth done with the help of a few ccs of Xylazine. Lucky’s teeth, by the way, are quite nice, and at the floater’s request I passed along the name of the dentist who did the major work on him for future referrals (as this dentist doesn’t do serious power-tool fixes as Lucky required last year and was happy to have someone to call.) The day before that, the vet was out for spring shots and Coggins, so if we want to go anywhere he’ll be legal! All we need is a trailer and somewhere to go. I’m starting to think it might be good to find a schooling show and simply go for the experience, even if I end up not riding, just so he gets the idea of traveling being something routine.

We did take a walk in the hayfield after I unsaddled him (and found the Aussie saddle is almost as tricky to get OUT of as it is to get on him, and lifting it off his back, rather than dragging it over, was another reminder of how tall he is!) I thought about a walk in the woods, but he preferred someplace he could snack as he went along. And anyway, with the wind, I wouldn’t be surprised if a tree came down on us. Lucky had the pasture all to himself when I left, as his three buddies were all getting their turn being ridden (or tagging along after his girlfriend, in P-nut’s case–he’s touchingly devoted).) When I got home I found one of my sheds with the doors banging open and my plastic watering can I’d left on the bench by my door halfway across the yard. The trash bin was also on its side, but then for all it weighs when I’m having to drag it to the road it seems to blow over if there’s just a stiff breeze! The dogs got an extra-long walk, wind or no wind, as the rain passed us by and the rumored s-n-o-w seems to have also given us a miss (lucky us). I think I have succeeded in wearing them out (as I got up for a bowl of cereal while writing this and Tucker, who is firmly in the ’round is a shape’ camp and never misses a chance at food barely even looked up.) I just wish wearing them out didn’t involve wearing me out!

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside

But I went to the barn anyway. Good thing I left early and was not planning to actually ride.

Nor was I planning to precipitate a stampede. In fact, given all four of the herd were at the very far end of their pasture, I was more worried about running the gauntlet in the lanes–Zoey and Dino were out in the lanes, and Zoey assumes that everyone is coming to see him so he gets more than a little personal. I made it past them, and was headed for the far end of the field when J. must have come out to help. P-nut looked up, and two people coming normally means “time to go in!” Now, P-nut is looking much more spry these days (thanks to getting much better feed than he did at his old place) but I didn’t know he could run like that. And, of course, that meant Vandy, Sky, and Lucky had to come charging, too. I probably looked pretty silly swinging the lead at them, but I was not trampled, so that was good. The best part was, when I made it back to the gate, while P-nut was happy to come over for scritches (as P-nut is a very friendly horse) Lucky realized who it was and started walking away again! Fortunately, I had Wint-o-green Lifesavers in my pocket, and Lifesavers have a crinkly wrapper. Yes, Lucky can be bought with crinkles.

We live in the lake-effect snowbelt, and for those who haven’t been watching the weather, we are getting winds and snow. Less snow than last weekend, but the wind is pushing it around. Also, yesterday was rain, so overnight, it all turned to ice. I’m closer to the lake and a tad farther north, so I tend to get more snow than the barn. Still, I had figured it would just be a ‘beauty parlor’ day, and I was right. While J. worked on the stalls, I gave Lucky a scrub with the curry and a little Bath In a Bottle, including picking out all the shavings and straw in his tail. He also was due for a clipping of the bridle path, as it was starting to look more like a mohawk. Yet again, I resisted the urge to give him a crew cut (I think he’d look cute with a roached mane) though J. had to remind him, don’t move when the barber’s working or you get a bad haircut!

Lucky got his first candy cane of the year. I also put candy canes in everyone’s stockings (yes, everyone gets a stocking on their stall door) and found that his pasturemates (ie, their “mom”, C.) had left a bag of horse cookies in Lucky’s. Lucky appreciates his Christmas gift. We tried putting him in his stall instead of trying to fight our way back to the pasture, but he decided to chew on his feed tub bottom. So, J. got the big door and I turned him out in the front paddock, since he obviously wanted to be outside. Where he promptly went and stood in the shelter, which is much less cozy than his stall. But he does set his own agenda.

Sharp-eyed readers of Susan Salk’s blog may have noticed that next week’s edition will feature a certain internet-celebrity thoroughbred! Lucky gets more press than some Derby winners. All to the good, as hopefully Lucky will inspire folks to call on those Finger Lakes’ Finests! It’s down to the wire (no pun intended) at the track, and weather or no, now is the time to buy!

Versatility Horse

How is it that now I’m much too old for 4-H, I have the perfect 4-H horse? I also spent too much time at the fair yesterday to ride, though I picked up shampoo and liniment at the tack van (and is it sick and sad that I thought “Hm, they’ve got a good price on Mane n’ Tail and two bottles left, I’m out of shampoo at home” and bought two, one for him, one for me?) and drooled over a lovely brown suede bareback pad. I also think I need to start showing Western, just because one can never have too many sparkly things and then I’d have real considerations about what colors look good on Lucky, rather than dithering over weaves of navy blue. I stopped at the barn long enough to give him a bath with the new shampoo and to find he seems to have a new roommate. Dino’s been moved to his stall paddock, while Lucky’s now sharing with Dom, the palomino pony. Dom, despite the wash rack being in full view, was convinced I was taking Lucky in for dinner and leaving him out. Even putting Lucky back out didn’t seem to convince him otherwise.

Today the other boarders were out working with their horses, so instead of starting off in the ring like I’d planned, I rode out to where they were walking Sky on the track. Lucky was not any different about being out there than he is alone, which is nice to know. I gave him a jog and a little hand gallop, not that he was too interested, then headed back to the arena. In the interest of seeing if people might be right and he really might respect a bigger fence, I’d set up trot poles to an x with what, given Lucky’s canter, would probably be two strides to an oxer. The back rail was set at 12″, with an X in front and probably a 12″ spread, maximum. (It would have been closer but the standards only fit so close together. It still looked freakin’ imposing from where I was sitting. But I put him over the X once and stopped straight, went back and took the poles and X and just looked past the oxer. Darned if he didn’t bounce over it. I wouldn’t exactly say he cracked his back, but he didn’t stop in front of the jump, either.

For once in my life, I learned from experience and didn’t ask for a second try. Instead, inspired by gymkhana day Friday, I had set up cloverleaf barrels, and put up buckets with flags. We tried it at the trot, both ways (right-left-left and left-right-right) and I tried for a canter. I swear, Lucky had figured the general idea out, because when I asked for more speed, he was already head up and ready to go. He doesn’t corner very well, but he doesn’t corner very badly either. Flags, we stuck to trotting, more due to my lack of eye-hand coordination than anything else, but they went into the bucket. Lucky I think could see it in my right hand and on our first attempt he wasn’t quite sure what I was doing, so we missed the barrel, but we went around again and got the flag in. If we worked on some neck reining–well, he’s probably never going to chase cans for a living and I doubt he’s ever going to be super-fast around turns, but he could probably be a passable gaming horse. He also seems to be figuring out the jumping thing. He’d be a great 4-H horse, assuming he could handle the fairgrounds.

Now, the real question, though: can he handle hounds? Must find some and find out.

Happy Trails!

Guess who went for a walk in the woods all by himself? Well, whose name is the title of this blog? It was hot again, no surprise, so I wasn’t planning any serious work with him, and no jumping. Just to keep myself honest, I switched my stirrups (I really need a second set of irons and leathers) and used the all-purpose saddle today. I can jump in it, but it’s a deep seat and a straight flap so it doesn’t lend itself. Instead of going into the ring, I unlocked the back gate and we rode straight out. The trails in the woods are well-maintained, but there are still leaves, branches and trees that have come down, plants that grow out into the trail. And of course you can hear any noise from the neighbors, or from the horses in the pastures behind us.

Lucky was a champ. He was not bothered by the unusual footing and the noise it made, things brushing along his side, my occasionally ducking down flat on his neck to avoid branches (or spiderwebs; I hate spiders.) He even stepped over a downed log and was unimpressed when he stepped on it (lazy feet) and the weight made the end, in the bushes, move and make noise. We stuck with a walk, and it was no problem. He was so good, when we came out of the first loop at the far corner of the track, I gave him a little three-furlong hand gallop, letting him pick the lead. (Note to self: swap the stick to the RIGHT hand to get him to swap, as when he carries the right lead around the turn he drifts WAY WAY out and the track isn’t wide enough for that.) I walked him back along some of the other trails, including the one that parallels the big pasture where Trudy, Takota and Dom live. Lucky ignored hoofbeats, and the squealing when Takota was busy reminding everyone that he is boss. I’m not sure Lucky would have been quite so phlegmatic if one of them had charged the fence (Dom likes to pace the fence when someone’s riding along it, probably feeling left out.) But no one did.

Just to make sure he remembers we DO need to work for our living, I took him to the ring for a little work. He is getting better at trotted figure eights, and while cantering them is still a little beyond him (he’s not quite flexible and balanced enough for smaller canter circles) we were able to try a simple change across a long diagonal. Lucky remained unflappable even when the wet towel I had around my neck slipped out and bounced off his rump.

I sponged him down and put him back out, with peppermints, when we finished. Tomorrow, if I go out, it’ll be more ring work. But tomorrow’s the first day of the county fair, and the only day of it that I’ll be off work, so I’ll throw my boots in the car when I go and if I don’t spend all day at the fairgrounds I might head out for a quick ride.

We’re Horsegirls, Not Cowgirls

See the terrifying, crazy OTTB!

So I mentioned yesterday Lucky got his spa treatment so he’d be all nice and pretty for a visitor. This is Riley. Riley is a horsegirl, not a cowgirl. She doesn’t ride cows, after all. Not that she gets a lot of chances to ride horses, either, as her family doesn’t own one. However, her dad’s parents happen to live one town up from where I board Lucky, and her mom and I happen to be old friends, so when they came to visit this weekend, I said of course Riley could come and meet Lucky. I got out to the barn early so I could get him cleaned up and worked a little, and they pulled in just as I was leading him out. I did some trot work, with circles and serpentines, and a little cantering, and then we headed over to the round pen. The B.O. has some smaller helmets for her grandchildren, and the littlest one just fit. Eliz lifted Riley up, and Lucky gave his first pony ride. Riley is very good at sitting up straight and holding the reins (and for those concerned by the above picture, I unbuckled the curb rein and pulled it through so I could lead with it, and she didn’t have much real contact with the snaffle.) We did ‘walk on’ and a heel kick, even though her heels don’t actually reach past the flaps, and ‘whoa.’ Eliz walked alongside, though Riley did a very good job sitting up and didn’t slip at all.

For anyone considering an OTTB who hears that they are crazy, that it takes months for one to be safe for any inexperienced person to handle, and especially if you’ve been told that the longer they raced the worse they are, please consider the photo above, and recall that Lucky is eight. He raced from the time he was two, until November of last year. The only issue we had with him today was once he stopped, he really would rather have stayed stopped. Obviously, that is not the case with ALL OTTBs, but far more of them than you’d think are not wild, crazy beasts. Some are perfectly happy to give pony rides for peppermints.

Lucky had another Vetrolin bath, showed off his peppermint face, and then demonstrated for Riley what horses do when they’re turned out and still slightly damp–make themselves nice and muddy. Then she went to meet the other horses, of whom at least Dom was nice enough to come up to the fence. Nanook also put in an underfoot appearance and attempted to take a nap under Eliz’s car. Fortunately he knows when to move.

Getting ready for a week away!

Lucky is getting a break from me for a week! I’m off to DC, and that means while I may do a couple aside posts (like that one I mentioned explaining why Let It Ride is my favorite horse movie) there won’t be any Lucky updates. Puff, Tucker and the kitty crew have my parents and Molly to keep them company. Lucky has the herd, including three new members. The new boarders finally arrived last night, about an hour after I left. There are three new horses, two paint mares and a palomino gelding, who are getting settled in one pasture. One of the mares, the piebald, came over to say hello while we were cooling out, and Lucky seemed quite intrigued.

We do have six jump standards now, with holes up to 3’3″, not that I anticipate getting over THAT any time soon! After today’s ride (picking up the canter proceeds apace, the trot is better, both days would have been much nicer if we both weren’t ready to keel over from the heat and the ABSOLUTELY AWFUL humidity) taking crossrails at the trot is a victory. We didn’t achieve that, but I accepted a walk/hop over the two xs with a big forward trot after the second on our third try as good enough. Stylish it was not, but it was forward and he didn’t take a rail down.

His feet are looking lovely, by the by. The farrier came this week, and was pleased with the amount of growth all round. He will be back in three weeks to tweak the right front that had the quarter grab and said in the meantime to keep doing what we’re doing.

And yes, since I am hoping the hotel has wireless/high speed (and I am fairly sure it does, there will hopefully be a Monday update with some lovely photos–yes, including Nova and Nanook, the new barn residents. I was hoping to leave you with a teaser, but my connection isn’t cooperating, so you’ll just have to wait for Monday to see the stunningly gorgeous gelding and the complete adorableness of kittens. Lucky will have to wait for more work until the following Monday, when hopefully he’ll also have some new duds to show off, too.

An aside: Lucky and I would like to congratulate his fellow Finest (who had a much longer, harder road to her new life) Ducky’s Ho Oh on the arrival of her own little Goose.