"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Wordful Wednesday: Gracie's Awesomeness

This was going to be wordless but I changed my mind. :)

And yes, there is a Lily update at the bottom: it's an excellent one! You can scroll down and skip everything else. ;) I just needed to record the two sessions with Gracie because they were so stellar.

On Sunday, after visiting Lily, I wanted to ride Gracie, even if only for 15 minutes. I just wanted to let my brain be somewhere else for a bit.

They say that you ask a stallion, tell a gelding, and converse with a mare. I find this to be generally true, but there are shades of gray and of course exceptions!

When Lucero was a stallion, he was terrible as a therapy horse when I was upset, which was often because I had teenage angst. I would go hang out with him and his entire attitude would be like, "Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Human problems are petty. Let's play!"

He made me so mad sometimes. "Why can't you be all soft and mushy and loving when I need you to be?" I would ask.

"Because I'm not like that," he would say. "I cannot be something that I am not."

This was true. And it was my first lesson in accepting another as they are. It would take me a ridiculously long time to learn to fully understand and apply that in human relationships, with the drawback being that humans do have the capacity to pretend to be something that they aren't. Animals are far more honest because there is no pretense. But that's another story that is not blog material.

Anthropomorphizing? Yes. I don't do this IRL when I interact with them: I communicate with my body in dog or cat or horse movements, with voice only as a reinforcement for verbal commands, as a reward, to soothe or to express anger at naughtiness. But it makes it easier on the blog for explaining thought processes with animals because I know I'm not the only one out there that has mental conversations with their animals as she interprets their gestures and expressions in a way that her human brain can understand.

Lucero, however, would then say, "I can't be all soft and mushy, but I can certainly make you laugh." And he would make silly faces or lick my hands or be just naughty enough under saddle that I would have to completely tune into him and forget everything else.

He changed when he was a gelding. He was already a gelding when my grandfather was dying, and Indio, my second horse, was also a gelding and had been a gelding for a long time. It was a very strange time in my life. The day my grandfather got sick it started to rain. It rained and rained and rained. There was massive flooding on the island, and even one landslide, from the enormous amount of rain. I was living one day at a time, and I would wake up way too early in the morning but before it started to rain, and go down to the barn and ride both horses before starting the day. The barn arena was too small for what I was carrying with me; I needed wide open spaces, so we went onto the streets. It was the most street riding I ever did, during those quiet mornings under an overcast sky. I took my sadness with me to the barn and let it ride silently with me on my horses' backs.

Lucero and Indio were absolute saints during this time. They never set a foot wrong, never startled, never spooked, never did anything that could possibly upset me more. This was especially epic for Indio, who had been such a nervous wreck when I started working with him. I would forget my sadness and leave it on the side of the road halfway into these rides, abandoned for a while. The sadness would be there to meet me once I was back at the barn with my feet on the ground, of course. But it was good to catch a break for a while, and I was eternally grateful to both boys for facilitating this.

The rain stopped the day my grandfather died. It stopped as he took his last breath, me holding one of his hands and my uncle holding the other. It had rained for 3 weeks straight and the sun finally came out again the day we said our last good-byes to him. One day I will write more about all of that, because magic realism is real.

With mares, you have to check your baggage at the door. It is a completely different approach. A good mare will accept you and then mirror right back at you whatever it is that you're bringing to the table on any given day. It took me a really long time to understand that too.

So on this day, I brought Gracie in from the field, gave her her grain with her joint supplement while grooming her, and tacked up.

I told her, "My time is yours."

Gracie looked at me for a moment, silent for once (because she is always talking: ears, eyes, gestures, all the time, which is what makes her so hilarious to interact with) and we walked over to the mounting block. I asked Charles to meet us at the arena.

She walked off at my request and picked up a gait as we went up the driveway towards the arena. She got a little excited when she saw some of the stalled horses turned out in a neighboring field, balked and tried to turn around but I kept her facing forward and we continued on uneventfully. 

I dismounted to open up the arena gate then hopped on again...and I suddenly had a horse unlike any I've ridden before.

She was AMAZING. A gaiting machine. When Charles arrived I asked him to get pics/video because Gracie was channeling her inner Paso or something. 

I'll just let the photos speak for themselves. These are all video stills.

Somebody's been feeling really good under saddle lately, so we're back to riding in a bit. At least when solo. 

Correct bend can happen when a horse is gaiting.

Spiraling in while gaiting.

Gracie on fire! Look at how high she's elevated her withers!
Also: only one foot on the ground! She is doing a rack in this photo.
Rack gait. (Looks like a phase of the canter but her right hind is on the ground)
And more rack.
Gathering her up into her more collected singlefoot gait...
(Singlefoot is basically the same as the rack, just slower)
Asking for more inside bend...
Continuing with the inside leg as I ask her to step towards the outside rail (I have NO idea wtf I'm doing with my right shoulder...and what am I looking at??)
...and voila! A baby leg yield at the singlefoot!
Crossing her inside hind during the leg yield.

This is not perfect leg yielding but she's doing it at a gait where it's supposed to be impossible. I'm incredibly happy with this right now!
We only did this once in each direction to stretch and supple her; I'm not training her for dressage per se and this is much harder at special gaits, but dressage is good for most horses, including gaited ones.
Her canter...she was so in front of my leg while gaiting that I cued the canter on a whim.

Here is why this is incredible: we haven't cantered her in the arena in nearly a year. She fell to her knees last year the last time I asked her to canter through sandy footing, while just going around a corner, and she always felt so unbalanced at the canter that circles were out of the question. She has been cantered on trail plenty and over varied footing since then but we had not done so in an arena since the day she face-planted last year.

So this might not look like much, but for this horse it is pretty damn spectacular. I asked her to do a 20-meter circle at the canter because she felt so incredible. And she had absolutely no issues with it. She had no issues with cross cantering or picking up the incorrect lead either: both also used to be issues. She had no problems coming to a halt from the canter on a breath either. :D She threw in a couple of walk strides but it's a fabulous down transition for a horse that hasn't practiced that consistently since basically never.

My favorite.

And this one!!! *swoon*
It's not miraculous; it's just a combination of increased strength, fitness, and now minimized pain in her joints.

We did one turn around the arena at the canter in each direction x2, then moved out into the field by BO's house.

Gracie on fire is a beautiful thing to both behold and ride. I was grinning like an idiot the entire time.

We called it a day before she wore herself out, while she was still having fun.

I let her gait back to the barn and then dismounted to cool her off.

She had a bath and I thanked her for the distraction. It had worked.

The next day I went to the barn with similar plans. I started out working her in the round pen to see where her brain was at. She was being goofy and silly but was very much listening to cues. So I mounted up in the arena to finish warming up...and then took her out. 

I was originally just going to ride around the landfill (because she has no problems with the earth texture/color changes) but we were having so much fun that I decided to continue onto the trails.

Gracie maintained a beautiful gait throughout. She politely let me know when she wanted to canter and I obliged when I thought it was safe. We even had a short hand gallop up the rise through the hay fields towards the airstrip. 

It was a lovely ride.

On the way back to the barn we had to walk past the draft field and all the drafties came trotting towards the fence, wanting to say hi to the hot blonde. Gracie got fired up and since we were on an incline in tall grass (slippery) I dismounted and made her move her feet. I lunged her in both directions at the trot until she was paying attention to me again and not the horses (it took only a couple of minutes), took her back down to the main trail, remounted and we headed back towards the arena through a different route. It was uneventful.

Once near the arena, I dismounted and loosened Gracie's girth. BO's yearling Morgan filly (she is adorbs!) was romping around in her field next to us, running towards the fence and galloping away repeatedly, trying to get Gracie to play with her. Gracie wasn't sure whether to pay attention to the filly or me. She was a MILLION times more respectful than she would've been a year ago, staying out of my space completely, but she'd arch her neck, snort and try to walk past my shoulder when the little filly ran up to the fence. Each time this happened I'd make Gracie halt and talk to her. This actually worked really well: her eyes and ears stayed on me and in this manner we walked the fence line past the filly's field and back towards the barn.

We had been out for 1.5 hrs, including the round pen work. She didn't look tired in the least, though! Gracie had a bath and a mash with electrolytes, was thanked again for being an awesome horse, and set free again.


Lily Update 7/8/15

It's our 4-year anniversary today.

She has been calm, eating, pooping, putting weight on the leg and looking overall comfortable. Bandage changes have been going well, with the leg looking better each day. The drain was pulled on Tuesday, and she was switched from IV to oral meds on Tuesday. They did one last antibiotic infusion today...and she can come home tomorrow!!!


  1. What a wonderful ride! It's so nice you got some pictures of it too :) Apollo has no sympathy for me when I'm having a tough day, he generally will be so naughty that I can't think about whatever is bothering me (which is maybe a good thing).

    Happy horse-versary to you and Lilly :)

  2. happy horsiversary with Lily - tho i'm sorry the circumstances aren't better. at least she appears to be healing well and coming home soon!!! those pictures of Gracie really are lovely and it sounds like a very special ride. glad she could be there for you!

  3. Gracie news is great!! Glad Lily is doing well.

    And about the magical realism--I am the epitome of pragmatism most of the time, but yeah. It's a thing.

  4. You're color coordinated with her tack. -_- You knew this was coming.

    And, as commented last night in texts (or whatever evening it was??): DAAAAMMMNNN.

  5. I love mares. I find that they pay way more attention to what I am feeling. Gem has always known when she has pushed me a little too far and the next ride is always spectacular. Gracie knew exactly what you needed and provided it for you. It just shows how much you have worked with both your girls, how much they respect you as their leader, and how badly they want to please you deep down. It is just as much a reflection of your love and care for them.

    I am so glad that Lily is healing well and according to plan :)

  6. So glad for good rides and good healing!

  7. I absolutely love those rides that leave you grinning from ear to ear...and I completely echo you on relating to people vs animals. I always appreciated the fact that what you see with the latter is what you get; their transparency and honesty is a breath of fresh air in a stifling human drama-filled world.

    Mares are the best <3 Happy to see things are going well for you and the girls