Lincoln Again, and Again!
It is getting to be a lovely habit, trailering a couple of the horses to Lincoln to meet up with Anne Dykiel and her little pony Ice (formerly Nitelite) The trails are so beautiful and the footing fabulous. Very few of them are marked so I'm completely dependent on Anne. Normally we go out for 1-2 hours but given the abundance of trail networks we've apparently just scratched the surface of what Lincoln has to offer. Here I am along the Sudbury River, mounted on four-year-old Elementa, with Dana Dykiel and Kip. Kip is a ten-hand (barely) Shetland cross and proof that great things really do come in small packages. No matter your size or age, when you come to Windflower you begin with Kip. Not everyone rides her, of course, but everyone learns round penning with her. And there is no better pony for our smaller students on which to learn. She does it all and will even come into the most adorable little dressage frame when ridden by our more advanced little ones.
Kip was a freebie when I got her. Plucked out of field she was completely untrained, but now she's worth her weight in gold. I frequently pony children on the trails, where they get loads of posting practice (16 hand Tica only has to walk.) The students learn how to adjust their bodies as they ford streams, cross bridges, and go up and down hills. Kip never puts a hoof wrong. Thanks to this Mighty Mouse of ponies, her riders become confident and quickly develop great seats.
Red Rail pony greets Kip Anne Dykiel copyright 2011
Elementa, a four-year-old Saddlebred/Andalusian cross, is the smoothest horse I've ever ridden and she has three lovely gaits. When I sold my five-year-old Dutch Warmblood/Andalusian cross several years ago, I started looking for another Andalusian cross but younger. With a son in college it was all we could afford. I looked at many candidates on the web. Elementa kept coming up in my searches but I really didn't want a a half Saddlebred and didn't bother clicking for the details. I thought that for the non-Andalusian half something with a dash of Sandro Hit or Totilas would have been nice. Scrolling down on yet another site, there was Elementa yet again. This time I clicked on the information. There were the usual words I associate with Andalusians: "Great temperament, sensitive, upper level dressage prospect." There was a YouTube, so I clicked on that, too. "Wow!" It was in slow-mo and I could see that her trot was huge. And the canter, well, there were only two strides of it then, but it seemed pretty expansive. Hmm, time to call in the big guns. I grabbed my cell:
"Lois, are you near your computer?"
"Yes." A few clicks and USEF S-level and FEI I (Four Star) level judge, and very dear friend, Lois Yukins had the site. "Saddlebred? I love Saddlebreds!" ( I'd forgotten Lois had trained one to Grand Prix.)
She clicked on the YouTube, "Oh, buy her. She's so balanced," she urged with soft excitement. "You can always sell her later."
That was it. Another phone call and Elementa became my first, and so far only, "YouTube baby." Just four years later I wouldn't think of selling her, though I do wish she were a bit bigger. Her parents were 16.1 and 16.3. Elementa is just 15.2. However, she has demonstrated herself to be a very slow grower, so I'm hoping she'll put on another couple of inches, entirely possible. We backed her at three but haven't really begun real work until now at four and a half; she was just too gangly.
While teaching I frequently sit on one of our young horses: they learn patience and the fact that they don't always have to be rushing off somewhere just because there's a rider on their backs. I was in the middle of the dressage arena on Elementa while a student was on Firefly riding the perimeter. Elementa wanted to keep her eye on her equine friend but knew she was supposed to stay in place. She solved that problem by doing beautiful turns on the forehand. And so I did what Juliane did with Dolly on the trails: I gave the aids for the turn on the forehand as she was doing them.
Elementa is a supremely confident, mischievous lady. She once galloped full-tilt across the pasture, lost her footing and fell. Naturally, I was worried, but not for long; she didn't get up for nearly a quarter of an hour but only because she'd landed where she found herself on a patch of grass that caught her gustatory attention. She grazed where she fell.
Another time she was grazing on the front lawn. This I allowed her to do frequently because she was so very slender and the grass there is rich in early summer. I hadn't noticed that Juliane had taken a student out on the trail. Apparently, Elementa took no notice either. But, according to Juliane, a few minutes later she did. Elementa came galloping down to edge of Nagog Pond. Juliane was still well ahead of her but could see what happened. There was a couple standing at the water's edge. Now, Elementa is a very friendly horse and saw no reason to deprive this pair of her royal presence. And being young and energetic she continued to canter up to them. Well, if you're not experienced with horses and you see one heading full-tilt in your direction, what do you do? Of course, you get the hell out of Dodge. Unfortunaely, for this couple, the only route out of Dodge was Nagog Pond. They took it.
Juliane yelled, "She's friendly!" but it was too late. I didn't hear about this until later, but apparently the rather wet couple was quite good-natured about the whole thing. Here follows a photo, taken a year ago, which might explain why Elementa has a high opinion of herself:
Elementa Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011
The next day I returned to Lincoln with a different group. I rode Firefly, Ben returned to ride Brit, Anne was on Nitelite, and Juliane rode precious Dolly again. Late in the day it was too dark for pictures but we had a great time. Juliane briefly got on Firefly and deftly rode over a series of cross country jumps. Dolly was perfect and clearly enjoyed the trail. In fact, at want point she just started up at the trot with all of us following. Normally, Juliane would have immediately done a one rein stop but Dolly was so clearly being brave and enjoying herself we wanted to reward that initiative.
Clem In Basic Training
We are fortunate to have the wonderful "Especially for Pets" less than a mile from our house. They proffer every item you wish for your dog or cat and offer classes in obedience. Two weeks ago Clem began obedience training with Jim under the tutelage of trainer Christine Macdonald. Below is how the class began. Clem was sure he was there just to play with this charming cockapoo (cocker spaniel/poodle) Brodie. The feeling was mutual.
Clem and classmate Bodie Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011
The other member of the class was a handsome American bulldog named Ginger. She was more reticent to mix it up with boys, and who could blame her? Here they all are at a relatively quiet moment:
Bodie, Clem, and Ginger Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011
The first command they learned was "Watch!" The human students pointed to their own two eyes with their index and middle fingers. If the dog did watch, a nice treat followed. The watch command is given to gain the dog's attention for any other command to follow. In this case, it was "Sit." Here is Clem politely cashing in on good behavior.
Clem's reward Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011
Clem and the others were already prepared for this. Jim found it difficult to teach "Sit" after "Watch" because Clem had already learned "Sit" and would sit as soon as he made eye contact with Jim, even before Jim could give the command. In fact, at home when we call Clem to come, he will run excitedly to us, and at a distance of three or four feet will do a screeching slide until he's seated squarely in front of us. Ty Cobb couldn't slide better into second base, though Clem's a gentleman and has no spikes up.
Clem and Christine Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011
The second week consisted of a review of week one followed by the introduction of "Watch, step 2" accompanied by a distraction. The handlers would hold a treat out sideways but wait for eye contact from the dog instead of the dog's looking at the treat to the side. Every self-respecting dog wants the treat, but only when the dog stops watching the treat to the side and correctly looks back at the owner's eyes does a different treat materialize from the owner's other hand. This teaches the dog to pay attention to the owner's face and voice, not the distraction, even if the owner happens to be holding the distraction.
Then there was the "With me" command, in which Clem needed to learn to keep watching Jim while they walked forward. This was hard. Stacks of dog food piled nearby, coupled with knowing that the toy aisle was just around the corner, formed a compelling alliance of distraction. So did the other dogs. The trick was to reward Clem in that nanosecond in which he was "watching" Jim. Not easy. Clem has become good at this at home, but home is usually much less stimulating than the pet store, lots of other dogs, or walks in the woods with myriad fascinating scents.
We're still working on the "Wait" command in which Clem must sit and wait for one among many things: before going out the door; before getting out of his crate; before getting out of the car. As well as the subsequent "Let's go!" command when Clem must follow us.
Christine is a wonderful, warm teacher and we have great fun.
Every once in a while Christine will demo a move with her own beautiful, black standard poodle Mercedes Ann. It's truly impressive to see her eyes absolutely riveted on her human, despite a multitude of distractions, including our own little Clem straining at the leash in order to get acquainted with this gorgeous girl. Dream on, Clem--too old for you now.
On the home front, Bella has come round--not all the way--but she actually now likes Clem some of the time:
Peace in the Valley Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011
A Wonderful Boy Hopes For A Home This Holiday:
This is Tommy, a two year-old American Staffordshire mix who deserves a great big apology from mankind and lots of compensation in the form of love and care. This charming fellow was pulled in terrible shape from a high-kill shelter. He formerly served as a bait dog for some of those sick twists out there who get a thrill watching dogs tear each other apart. The "job" of a bait dog is to teach other dogs to attack. He can't fight back because his muzzle is taped shut. Additionally, he's physically held in place by his handler. To add to his horrendous suffering, Tommy's despicable owner cut his ears off with a a pair of scissors in order to "dock" them.
Incredibly, Tommy has come through all this with a wonderful temperament. Look how he wraps his paws around his rescue friend Jeff! And he bares no grudge against those who assailed him, man or beast. Contrition is not even a requirement for his forgiveness. And, as you can see, he wears his heart right on his--well, adorable face. So, please, please, if any of you have room in your ark or know anyone else who might have room in theirs, please contact my friends at: www.dejafoundation.org
Winter is Here!
Flies, mosquitos, and ticks have exited stage south, but frozen water buckets, heavy winter blankets and frozen arenas have entered stage north. We had one premature snowstorm in late October, but there's now not a flake to be seen, and all is brown and gray with remnants of faded summer green. But snow will come. Already many horse people with the means, skill, or the desire to do so have migrated to compete in jumping or dressage in the "Sunshine Circuit." More will leave after the holidays. Winter was once regarded in New England as a restorative time for riders and horses: we practiced rather than competed, or we even let our horses do nothing for a month or two. But now, if you're really serious about pushing you and your horse forward, winter tours in West Palm, Ocala, or Wellington seem de rigueur.
But my horses wouldn't like Florida nearly as much as their trail rides through a foot of powder. And here they are constantly turned out though, of course, with shelter. I haven't yet decided whether I have gotten a better passage through the tide pools of Crane Beach or the snowy trails outside my door. I think it's a toss-up. And I can't decide whether I like galloping on the beach or in the snow better. How lucky I am to have trouble deciding between these glorious choices.
A part of me, of course, would like to go to Florida: have great lessons, get great scores, all the while feeling fit, loose, and tanned under the whisper of rustling palm fronds. But another part knows that, in the end, this desire doesn't have a jot to do with what really--and, I mean--really matters. Beyond saying that what matters is the care, love, and well-being of friends, family, and the citizens and critters on this crazy planet and all the life it contains--even the invidious forms--I'm not certain. But I'm working on it.
My family, including our puppy Clem, and all the animals at Windflower Farm, wish you the very best for this holiday season:
Elf Clem Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2011
Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly, and may you enjoy the happiest of holidays. From Windflower Farm,