Choctaw the Unbroken

My little foster horse is doing really well. He’s 7, hasn’t been handled a ton, and isn’t broke to ride. He has a fantastic personality though; he’s very willing to learn and doesn’t have much of an attitude. Plus, he’s straight cool as hell and looks like a cowboy’s horse. 

He needs to gain weight, so I’ve only been doing a little groundwork with him so as not to burn a ton of calories. He leads well, but can be a little pushy when asked to stand still. He likes to try and use me as a human scratching post, which obviously isn’t allowed. He crowds me sometimes, but he’s learning that I don’t want him in my bubble and he needs to stay in his own. 

Beginning groundwork is a lot like dancing when one person isn’t a good dancer at all. In this case, Choctaw has no idea how to dance and I’m an adequate but not gifted instructor. Our first efforts look a little rough, but we’re learning how to dance with each other and the steps are getting smoother each time. 

I’ve never started a horse under saddle before, which is why I initially declined to foster Choctaw. I didn’t think I was the best person for the job. Surely someone more qualified would step up, right? Nope. I was the only one interested in taking him on, so I thought I would give it a try. Everyone tells me that if you do your groundwork well, the riding part isn’t usually a big deal. I hope that’s the case, and that’s why I’m committed to spending as long as it takes to get our groundwork on point before I even think about getting on him. 

1st Solo Ride! 

Today I took Heidi on her first off property solo ride, just me and the Heidi Monster. Not a big deal for most horses, but a huge deal for mine. Riding alone isn’t on her list of approved activities and there was a time when I couldn’t have done this with her. She would have bucked me off. #byefelicia

All by our lone, as my son would say, at the trailhead.

I left the barn at 7:15 a.m. and trailered 45 minutes north to my favorite trail. When I got there, there was one car but no other horse trailers. Heidi was a little freaked at first, looking around and being hyper alert. She isn’t spooky in the least, so freaked for her means dancing around and being a pill about getting tacked up. I rode her in the bitless bridle because if we’re going to do this thing, let’s really do it. You know, alone in the woods with Mrs. Spaz and no bit. 

Very alert on the trail

I had prepared myself for the possibility that I might be walking the whole time because, when Heidi is freaking, she freaks hard. She goes from zero to rearing faster than I care to deal with. The only thing that sets her off is when she wants to head for home and I try to stop her. She’s gotten much better, but still not perfect by any means. 

Crossing logs like a boss.

I started off riding her and she headed down the trail with no problem. I didn’t even know if she’d do that. We went a quarter of a mile and she couldn’t deal, tried to turn and head back. I got off and decided to walk her way out into the woods and try riding her back. My plan worked!

Walking on the trail. You can tell by her facial expression that there are places she’d rather be.

I walked with her for 2.5 miles. By the time I got back on her, she was completely relaxed. We rode the 2.5 miles back and it was one of the best times I’ve ever had with her. It’s hard to capture in words, but I felt like we were a team, that she was enjoying herself just as much as I was, and that she wanted to be there with me. I’ve had a long, hard road with her and it finally felt like we were partners. Me and Heidi against the world. 

She’s great about drinking on the trail. 

I tried to make it enjoyable for her. I packed my fanny pack full of carrots and, every once in a while, I’d reach down and give her one. That really perked her up. I wanted her to have fun while she was working, and build a positive association with our time on the trail. “See, it’s fun out here! The human packs snacks!”

Ears up. Happy, relaxed horsey and so fun to ride. 

Trust has been the struggle for us. Heidi is hesitant to trust anyone else to lead her. She’s boss mare and humans have to earn her respect. It’s not automatic with her; I’ve fought for every ounce of respect and affection. But I’ve also struggled with trusting her. When a horse bucks you off and rears with you, you gain a certain amount of caution and hesitancy. 

This is my favorite local trail. It’s beautiful!

When I got Heidi she was totally unfit. She didn’t feel balanced on trails and many times I felt like she could take a tumble at any moment on less than perfect footing. I found myself having anxiety that I had NEVER had before with any other horse. 

On this ride, it was like she was telling me to trust her. “Relax Human, I got this.” And she did. She picked good footing and carried us both safely up hills and over rocks and through some tricky terrain. A lot of the trail was on the edge of some steep slopes, and normally I would be trying to steer her away from the edge, but she felt sure footed, so I let her do her thing. I relaxed, gave her head, didn’t try to micromanage her, and she took care of me. She felt like she had some purpose on the trails, like she was going to get us both home. Before it felt like she was a reluctant participant that was only looking out for number one. I was elated. That trust has been a long time coming. 

Back at the trailhead. Other ponies! 

When we made it back to the parking lot, she got a small mash as her reward. We loaded up and went home without incident. It was just a trail ride, but it was huge for us. 

Slurping up her mash. Compare this to the first picture. When she sweats, you can really tell she’s a paint. 

Recently one of my horse friends was looking to rehome one of her horses. On paper he’s totally my type. Big, grey, warmblood cross. Another friend was asking me if I was interested. When I said no, she was shocked because he seems like he would be right up my alley. But I’m completely happy with Heidi. I bought her with the intention of selling her, but I have totally fallen for her. When she’s cooperating, she is so much fun to ride and a blast to be around. After a year of work, we’re really clicking and becoming partners and it feels great! She’s the horse for me. 

Trailer renovation is complete!

I bought Little Red for $450 off Facebook. She had a good floor and good tires. I had a rusty spot welded and reinforced and had her re-wired. My friend’s husband installed new brakes. Then I sanded and painted. The whole thing took a few months and cost about $1200, including what I paid for the trailer. I’m really happy with how she turned out, and excited for all the adventures I will have with her!

I fostered the horse…

I just couldn’t resist. I fostered the horse.  His name is Choctaw and he’s a 7 year old appaloosa gelding that has been in a pasture his whole life and knows almost nothing as far as manners, personal space, etc… He’s never been ridden. But he’s sweet. Very sweet. And he needs a home. I can help him find one. 

At the rescue. He’s so skinny. 

He is a varnish roan appaloosa and he’s little, 14.2 I believe, which makes him technically a pony. I happen to love ponies. Maybe he’s a future endurance pony. We’ll see!

Poor little dude needs some groceries. 

I brought him home yesterday and let him get settled in. Today I did a tiny bit of groundwork with him just to see what he knows. Nothing. He knows almost nothing. Like every horse, he can read my body language and figure out that I’m asking him to move over or back up, but I can tell it’s all foreign to him. He’s happy to comply but it’s all new. He leads well and he’s easy to catch and halter, which makes my life so much easier. My first foster horse was almost impossible to catch! 

Cantering around when I first brought him home. 

He is very vocal and whinnies to greet me and he enjoys being groomed and petted. He let me fly spray him and touch him all over. When I realized how mellow he is, I decided to put a saddle pad on him just to see his reaction. When he didn’t protest, I went ahead and put the saddle on and he was fine with it. Couldn’t care less. 

He looks pretty good in English tack!

I wouldn’t even think of trying to ride him until he gains a significant amount of weight, but at least he was chill about the saddle. You never know with rescues what their issues are until you trigger something and get a reaction. 

I’m going to keep conditioning Heidi and trying to get her fit for a 25 mile ride. I’m just a sucker for a rescue and I thought I could help little Choctaw find a job and a home!

Decisions, decisions…

No sooner do I join the AERC than I start second guessing my desire to do endurance. I want to do endurance, real bad, but I also love fostering horses for my local rescue. I can’t afford to do both, and I have to choose. 

I had a mini all lined up to foster. He wasn’t at a rescue; a friend of mine bailed him out of the Bastrop, Louisiana kill pen and he’s at her house. He’s just about totally wild and she thought she’d like to have me train him and try to find him a home. When it came time to pick him up, she couldn’t part with him. No hard feelings on either end. It just wasn’t meant to be. 

I wanted to foster a mini because they’re cheaper to feed, but I’ve been offered a big appaloosa gelding to foster by the rescue. I really want to do it but, if I do, endurance is out. I can’t afford allllll the things. 

I’m leaning toward spending my money on fostering. The appaloosa is 7 and has never been ridden. He needs a home, but he needs some training first. I have never enjoyed anything in my life more than I’ve enjoyed fostering. It is the most rewarding thing. Each horse has something to teach me and I have so much to learn. I’ve never broken a horse to ride and I’d need some help, but boy do I want to try! 

I also would like to finally pick a discipline and stick with it. Endurance feels like I finally found my tribe, my niche, my place in the sport horse world. But maybe my place is fostering and finding homes for homeless horses. 

I need to figure out what I want to do…

The conditioning plan…

I’ve heard many different opinions about how to tell when your horse is ready for a 25 mile ride. One guy says any healthy, sound horse who lives on pasture 24/7 and gets moderate exercise can safely do a 25. Other people have a mileage formula. A certain mileage in a certain amount of time equals a fit horse. Another rider told me if you’re regularly riding 12 miles a week, you’ll be fine. 

Heidi blowing bubbles at the lake. 

As to which of those is most correct, I have no idea, but I’m going to do my best to have my horse as fit as possible for her first ride. My goal is 12 miles per week. I’m about to move to a new barn on an old country road. The area doesn’t have a ton of traffic and the shoulder is wide, so I can ride safely on the road and get decent mileage in. 

She makes epic faces at the lake. 

Heidi is barn sour, and although she is improving, it still may be something I have to work on with her to get her to go out alone. That is my big goal for her, to be a horse that goes out alone with no problem. I don’t have a ton of time to ride, so I need to be able to get on and go. 

The noble horse 

Now that I have a truck and trailer, I’ll be able to go off property and ride as well, but only once a week because I have kids, job, responsibilities, etc… I’ll have to ride on my own during the week to get the conditioning miles in. Between a longer weekend ride with friends and a couple shorter solo rides during the week, I think 12 miles is a reasonable goal. 

I want to get in better shape, so I may walk Heidi out and then ride her back to the barn.  In the past, that has helped her with the barn sour thing. It gives me some exercise and avoids the fight about leaving the barn. I don’t want to do that forever, but I’m willing to do it for a while to help ease her anxiety. 

So that’s my plan. Start with a goal of 12 miles per week, mostly walking, and go up from there. I’ll keep you posted!

I joined the AERC!

I paid my money and I am now a card carrying member of the American Endurance Ride Conference! As part of my decision to quit being afraid and really pursue this endurance thing, I joined. I registered Heidi as my mount. We are officially partners in this gig!