Tuesday, March 31, 2015


As they say, variety is the spice of life.  After  having a day off yesterday (only because it's my day off so she gets turned out), River did a little of this and a little of that today.  One of the first things she did was to meet more kids - I swear she LOVES kids!  Elaine Von Engeln brought her three boys out to the ranch for a visit, and River was immediately drawn to them.  Aiden offered her a small oak branch to  eat, and she was happy to take if from him - very gently, at that.


River was totally intrigued by the little one - she seemed to love the smell of him.  She was so very gentle and dear around the kids.

River and I worked on her wash rack etiquette, especially on her hind legs, and from the right side.  She was great - she wanted to see what I was doing, and help me, but she didn't try to get away any more than any other horse who doesn't really enjoy getting hosed off.

To keep from getting her stressed today, I chose to do some lunging to the right in the stall and in her paddock.  I like to ask her to lower her head now and then to help her to relax - she's getting better and better at that exercise.  She was so much better today to the right - bathing, lunging, walking - we're trying to do most everything we can on that side so it will become more and more comfortable to her.  Oh, her neighbor Vern was a big help as well.

As always, River gets lots of rewards - and no, I'm not crying, I'm getting horsehair out of my mouth and nose from kissing Her Highness. 

One of River's new favorite rewards is to get a "titty" scratch!  She sure is singing a different tune from the horse who came here and said, "Don't touch me there" to so many places on her body.

Some more loving, and it's time for me to go work other horses.  As usual, River wants to follow us.........don't worry, we'll be back, River!  Each day will hold more adventures and variety - we certainly don't get bored around BFF!

(Remember that all the images can be seen in their full size by clicking on them)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Some lessons are harder than others

There comes a time when we have to face some of our fears head on, and yesterday was that time for River.  I've mentioned before that we have had issues with her right side, and though she has been getting a lot better, I knew that we were somewhat skirting the issue, and not really facing it.  We all need to recognize our limits, and I knew that to get to the root of River's issues with this was more than I could physically  handle - she's just too quick and too strong for me to do what I knew needed doing.  This is where Jim Groesbeck came in.

Jim is a very talented trainer who started my Azteca gelding, Prado, a few years ago (before I  purchased him last year).  He also started Jessi's sweet mare, Sombra this year.  He's a great hand with the horses, and I knew that he would be able to help River with the weaknesses in her training.  It was a hot day for March, and River still has her winter coat, so yes, she sweated up quite a bit, and yes, she got very worried in working through her lessons.  In the end, though, it is for her own good and will make her a safer and  happier horse in the future.

River does not like to be lunged from her right side - period.  I've almost succeeded a few times, (and I'm proud of the both of us when this happens) but when she gets worried, she just flees. This is not a good thing.  Before we can get on her, we need to know that she will be safe in all situations.  She is not being bad, she is truly worried for some unknown ( to us) reason.

Jim started his work with River from horseback.  This is a great way for  the horse being worked to have the companionship of another equine during their lesson.  River kept wanting to go around the arena to the left, so Jim and his mare helped her to go right.

Then Jim gave her a reward of pets to let her know that he is on her side, it's not a war.

One of the biggest lessons River learned yesterday was to give her head to the right, and turn her hindquarters to the left - you can see the start of that here.............

This next series of images show the progression of the exercise, from getting the rope over her head to the right side, to her turning right and unlocking the hind end to the left again, with the reward of a rub at the end of the turn.

After River figured the exercise out from horseback, it was time to continue on the ground.  In doing this, another problem came out that we haven't seen since the day we picked her up from Safe Haven - kicking.  After a lengthy time of trying to get  her in the trailer that day, she finally resorted, out of fear and frustration, to kicking.  River has not offered at all to kick us in all the time she's been here, and she's had times when she could have.  It's not in her to want to do this, but rather it is  what you might call a "high sense of self preservation".  River came from the pens with a nasty, old scar on her left hind fetlock - one which doesn't cause any lameness - but one that is clear evidence of her getting her leg caught in something.  Because of this, she is extra sensitive to having ropes around her legs, and this came out again yesterday.  In trying to get the rope around River's hindquarters to help her turn around like she did from horseback, the rope slipped down a little, and poor River  came unglued. You can see how soft Jim is being with the rope, trying to let her figure out that she could settle, and that she wasn't going to get hurt.

Jim spent a good amount of time gently looping the rope around her hind legs until she understood that she could just stand there, and that we weren't trying to hurt her.  Rather, we were trying to help her figure out that in staying calm when something is around her back legs, she will actually keep herself from getting hurt in the future.  It was a very hard and fearful lesson for her, as you can see from how touchy and kicky she got, but you can also see that she was finally able to  stand there with he rope looped around her legs without panicking, and get another well deserved pat from Jim.

Jim's mare (I didn't get her name - she's a sweetie) was so cute during all the commotion going on with River.   She stood patiently by, serving as a companion, but also staying out of the way.

After River's lesson in the round pen, it was the perfect time for another lesson - getting a bath.  We have taken a little time to get her used to the hose, and have hosed her front legs, but not her whole body.  Jim  undertook this endeavor, and helped River feel that cool water can actually feel good on a hot, sweaty body.   

It is not to be expected that River's fears and issues will be overcome in one lesson, so River, Jessi and I will continue to work on this.  Jim helped us get a good start on dealing with these few issues - many thanks go out to Jim for doing this.  In the overall scope of things, though, River's problems that we worked with yesterday are so minor compared to all her positive points.   I feel confident that through these continued lessons of helping her learn how to handle her fears we will be able to help her live a more comfortable and balanced life.  We will, of course, also be progressing with her other lessons that aren't so hard for her to learn - the easier things for her to do.  It's just like our own lives, some lessons are easier and some lessons are harder, but we always come out better people on the other side.  That's all we want for River, too - for her to become a better, happier and more well rounded horse.  

(Remember that you can view all these images in their original size by clicking on them) 



Friday, March 27, 2015

Just a horse?????

She's just a horse - right?  She's no different than thousands of other horses across the nation and around the world.  She's no different than the hundreds of other  horses who, unfortunately, have been through a similar history of abuse and who manage to come out of it and lead normal lives.  She's just a horse - right?  

So why is it she feels like so much more than "just a horse" to me?  What is it about her that moves me in a different way than most any other horse I have been lucky enough to be around and to work with?  After all, I've been involved with and trained horses for over 40 years, which translates into a LOT of horses.  

All of our horses are special - each in their own way.  They are special because they jump higher, or they slide further, or they uncomplainingly and safely carry the beginning rider around in circles, (all the while getting pounded on the back and pulled in the mouth).  They are special because they bring a smile of joy to  the child with special needs who is held on their backs by dedicated people volunteering their time at therapeutic riding centers.  They are special because they ride out with their cowboy partners in all sorts of weather to check fences, or to look for that stray cow, or to gather the herd back in to the ranch.  They are all special.  

River has only been here at Blue Fountain Farm for a little over a month now, but she has had a profound effect on most everyone around her, myself included.  Like I said, I have been involved with many, many horses in my life, and I've had my share of very special ones - two in particular.   In the 70s I owned an OTTB champion jumper, "Lucky Moment" ("Moses" to all who knew him)......

and in the late 1990s and early 2000s I owned a rare Black Lipizzan stallion - Siglavy XI-6 ( aka "Jozsef") who was imported from Hungary............

Both of these boys were "once in a lifetime" horses, so I have already been exceptionally lucky with the horses in my life.  So why do I think that River is more than "just a horse"?

I think that for who she is inside - her heart and her soul.  River has a gentle soul and, I feel, an old and wise soul.  She has been through some horrible situations in her young life - we will never know what transpired before she was saved from the Fallon feed lot - but we know she was starving and had scarring from a very nasty wound on her leg when she got there, and yet she accepts everything now with trust and acceptance.  In the short time she's been here, she's gone from a horse we could barely touch, whose first instinct was to flee, to a horse I can now trust around a toddler.   I've never seen a horse do such a quick turn around. It's as if she now knows that it will be OK, that her life will never again be as scary, as unpredictable and as hurtful as it was before she was rescued from the pens.  I have worked with horses who have had troubled past lives before,  (not to the extend that River had, though)  and yet none of them showed such trust and acceptance as quickly and as fully as she does.  I don't know why I am constantly surprised at how well she is doing, both in her life and in her lessons.  I think I keep looking for that first time that she will be more what I'm used to - a horse who needs constant reassurance that everything will be OK.  She already knows it will.

I think River is more than "just a horse" because of who she is becoming and who she is yet to become.  By that I mean that River is becoming a representative of who a "rescue" horse can be and what they can do.  River is quickly developing a following of people who are seeing what can be done with a horse that was once a "throw away" when it is given a second chance.  Yes, she still has many lessons that I would like her to learn before she reaches our goal of joining the ranks of the world of Cowboy Dressage, but those lessons are not strenuous, and they only serve to strengthen the bonds between horse and human.  She loves people, and I know she enjoys doing whatever it takes to be a part of our world, (again in spite of her past).  She is so willing to let us into her world now, even though her past was populated with people who did nothing but harm her and others like her.  She is a representative for all those horses who can't speak for themselves - there are so many horses in countless rescues across the nation and, indeed, across the world, as well as in BLM holding pens, who still have plenty to give to the person who will take a chance.  Take a chance that a "throw away" horse can possibly, just possibly, be the best horse you ever allowed into your life.

She's just a horse.  No, not to me.  To me she is River - a beautiful young mare who has opened my eyes to how wonderful a "reject" horse can be.  To what a wonderful feeling it is that she has allowed me to be a part of her life.  To see life from a horse's eyes in a different manner than I have ever done before, and to enjoy her beauty and grace on a daily basis.   No matter where this journey I have undertaken with River ends up, I'm enjoying the ride.  Thank you, River.