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Kathy's Journal

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Sunday June 1:  First work session with my project horse, Phoenix.  Phoenix is a 10-year-old American Saddlebred gelding and is western trained, but I'm not sure how much riding experience he had while in his previous home.  I decided for today I'd just start on grooming and leading him around to work on his ground manners.  I led  him to his stall where he normally eats, tied him off, and started brushing him.....Well, he was a bit antsy and managed to loop his head under the lead rope.  As soon as he felt the pressure of the lead rope on the top of his head and the bind of the angle, he panicked.  Fortunately, my tie was not that secure and he was able to get some slack but not before taking down the plywood divider on the stall.  NOT a good start but we can work on that.


For the next 40 to 45 minutes I led him around in his familiar area asking him to stop, turn, and back up.  I like a horse who knows "whoa" and he was pretty good at responding quickly.  At the end of the session I showed him the plywood divider that he had knocked down.  That caused him to hesitate and back off initially but much to his credit within a few moments he was "ok" with sniffing the board.  That's a good sign!
I rubbed his head one last time and took off his halter to let him go and he immediately walked lingering for extra petting.  Guess we've not quite bonded yet.


Sunday June 8:  HOT day today. 
Phoenix had his breakfast and was in his stall waiting for the morning feeders to complete their med rounds and let him out.  He turned away from me when I got into his stall.  I followed him to the corner where he had stopped and he let me put the halter on. I brushed him..picked out his front feet and then picked up his back up.    He did his step routine.  My goal with his feet is to get him into a routine of having his feet picked up and to make very small advances..for whatever reason he's not comfortable.  Deborah Baker is with me today and I asked her if the farrier had any problem with trimming ( he has nice feet)..she was not aware of any issues...hmmm.
I brought him out into the barnyard and worked on leading him around practicing "whoa", "turn", and "back up".  Occasionally, I stopped, patted down his body and picked up his feet.  He's not fazed by the patting, front feet OK...back feet antsy.


I had brought a saddle along with me and after the leading routine I took him back to his stall area to be saddled.  I rubbed the saddle pad across his neck, back, and rump.  No problem...good!  I put the pad up over his mane near his ears like a big shawl...he looked funny...but was still ok  I mad the pad 'accidentally' slip off his back and fall to the ground.  He didn't move.  I put the saddle on him and cinched it fairly snug.  He's OK.  Although we're treating him as a green horse, he doesn't seem to have any problem with the saddling routine.


I asked Deborah if she wanted to get on.  She's game!  I led him around and then tightened the cinch while she went to change shoes.  Deborah brought back the big yellow plastic mounting block and set it down near Phoenix.  His reaction?...Hey, let's look closer at that thing!  He's a very curious boy.  I moved the mounting block around with my feet...kicking it and bumping him.  Not an issue.  Deborah stepped up the mounting block and laid across the saddle.  His ears reacted, head raised a bit higher but he did not try to walk off.
She went ahead and sat in the saddle...I did not adjust the stirrups.  We decided it was ok to just let her feet dangle.  I led him around the barnyard.  He noticed Deborah up there.  He held his head a bit higher than he had been and walked hesitantly.  We did a small circle and came back to the mounting block and Deborah dismounted.  Good job!  Enough for today.


I took off his saddle.  Deborah wanted to get a few pictures.  Plus, she suggested she hold Phoenix while I tried picking up  his feet again.
Guess what..he did much better.  He let me pick up the hind foot and I pretended I had a hoof pick (where'd I leave that thing).  So we joked..all it takes is someone holding him, talking to him, and rubbing his ears!  I'll work on it!


Sunday June 15- Happy Father's Day!   Phoenix is in his stall finishing up breakfast.  The morning feeders are about done with feeding and have started meds.  They will keep all the old barn horses in their stalls while I work Phoenix (Thanks!)  I brush him and then as in the previous session I tied him off, moved him against the stall wall and worked on picking out his hind hooves.  Still a job!  I took him out of the stall and saddled him -- he's good about that.  Today I brought a bridle with me..a sof snaffle bit to try on him.  He stood quietly while I brought the bit up to his mouth and the headstall up around his forehead in preparation of going over his ears.  However he did not open his mouth!  In fact he seemed to clench his teeth tighter.  I had to use my fingers to open the side of his mouth and then he took the bit.  He let the bit rest in his mouth..did not appear to be uncomfortable with it.  I put halter on over the bridle.


We walked around the barnyard practicing "whoa", "turn" and "backup".  We went over my made up obstacles, the "bridge" (4x* plywood) and the "puddle" (sheet of plastic).  Deborah Baker came by and held him for me while I asked him to give mehis back feet for cleaning.  He responds better with a holder and I was able to pickout his feet.  Deborah couldn't stay long though she was one of the morning feeders and had to get back to chores.   Told her I was going to get on Phoenix today and asked her to keep an eye in my direction!  I patted down the sadddle...made lots of noise..let the stirrup fall against his side...tightened the cinch a little more.


I led him back toward the barn area before going to the mounting occurred to me to ask him to trot on the lead.  I did and he did!  Good Boy!  Just about that time one of our feeders's nine-year-old daugher, Kelly who was helping Mom, Robyn, feed this morning came around and was watching.  I asked if she'd be interested in leading Phoenix.  "Yes" she was!  She did great.  Phoenix turned with her, "whoa'd" pretty good, and trotted next to her (going toward the barn...going away he's a bit lazy). 


I asked her if she wanted to ride him...Again "yes!"  I moved the mounting block around his legs...bumping him a little...he's fine.  Kelly stepped up the block and onto the saddle.  Nice!  She's had riding lessons and told me the instructor made her stretch when she first gets on...reach for the ears..reach for the tail.  So she did that...and Phoenix waited patiently.  I lead him around in a small circle.  Kelly squeezed with her legs when I told him to walk.  She repeated with me "whoa" and "turn" as we made our way around.  I thought that was enough for one session.  Phoenix and Kelly did really well.  Deborah came back and hadn't gotten a chance to take a picture of Kelly riding.  Would Kelly be willing to get back on?..."YES!" I  had Phoenix back over to the block...she climbed up and slid onto his comfortable..and we walked off.  No fuss.  Picture taken.  I asked Kelly to just slide off him without the mounting block.."OK" and off she came. 
Thanks for your help Kelly...I think Phoenix has a new fan!


Sunday June 22:  Good news!  I got to ride Phoenix today!  When I arrived and headed down to Phoenix's stall with the saddle, Deborah Baker was giving Midnight a bath.  She wasn't planning to ride Midnight, just giving her a spa treatment but thought she'd take Oswego for a short ride.  GOOD!  "Can we ride together?"  She thought that was a fine idea. 
I brushed Phoenix and picked his feet.  If I were a teacher and had to give status on a student to a parent, I would say Phoenix's hoof picking tolerance had "improved".  Not where it needs to be, but better.  I pick his hooves in the stall so that I can move him against the wall.  There is less "dancing" and I've narrowed the problem hoof down to the left rear.  He's pretty good about the right hind.
I saddle him up and because the mounting block is way over in another field Deborah and I decide to ride in that field.  Leaving his pasture and going through an electric wire gate is a new thing for Phoenix.  Deborah had to help with that.  He was pretty wide-eyed about going through the fence.  His ears were perky and he was looking at everything. 
Several horses in the other field came over to investigate Phoenix and he became nervous.  Not a good situation.  Deborah volunteered to move them out and I went out to the front of the new barn and practiced "whoa", "turn" and "back up" with him and he seemed to relax a bit.


Deborah got the other horses out of the field and we headed in.  I walked him around the field to get him use to being there.  He looked at everything.  Having Oswego there helped.  He's a calm, easy going horse...a good influence.
Time to get on!  I took him over to the mountng block...move it around him..he's ok.  Deborah held  him and I stepped on the block and slid into the saddle.  He seems relaxed...good!  Deborah got on Oswego...our plan was to have the two walk together...give Phoenix a buddy to follow.  And that worked well.  Phoenix walked calmly around with Oswego.  After walking around for 10 minutes or so I asked him to go on his own.  He's ok.  I asked him to trot.  He did.  What a nice trot!  Joanie Benson, who was out in the field with us, said that smooth trot is because he's a Saddlebred.
I asked Deborah if she wanted to ride.  "Yes"  She's a trooper.  She got on and took him around the field.  I led Oswego around just to keep him company.  They did good.  At one point I thing Phoenix decided he had enough as they rounded the field near the gate he stopped and really thought he should be going out that gate!  Deborah turned him and got him going again.  Shortly after, we decided that was enough.  We did not want to push our luck.  We both had a great ride on him.  And as Joanie reminded us..."leave it on a good note".   Agreed!  Good Boy Phoenix!


Sunday June 29  Nine-year-old Kelly was out at the ranch this morning helping mom, Robyn do the feed chores.  She came over and asked if she could ride Phoenix today.  She rode him the previous Sunday and did well so..."Sure". 
Together we brushed Phoenix.  She did the left side.  I did the right.  He was amazingly good about having his hooves picked today.  He gave Kelly a little trouble with his left front. He wouldn't pick up for her so I go him to pick it up and she took over from there.  Get this...she lifted and picked out his left hind hoof!  That's good.  No dancing.  I picked out his right hind and he was even good for that foot today. 
I got the saddle in position and Kelly cinched it snug.  I'll tighten it a little more after we've worked him for a few minutes.  We took off the halter and Kelly put the lead rope around his neck and held him while I put the bridle on.  He's pleasant to bridle...holds his head low so its easy to get the headstall over his ears.  I put the halter back on over the bridle just so we could lead him around more easily.


Kelly led him around he barnyard and practiced turning, "whoa" and "back-up".  I set up the jump (about 6-8 inches) and she walked him over that.  She took him through the "puddle" (green plastic sheet)  The she trotted him to and from the barn.  They both trotted over the jump.  Good job!  She brought him over and I tightened the cinch. 
She walked him a few more time and then we brought him over to the group of tree stumps that are in the barn yard.  We didn't have the mounting block handy so the tree stumps were a good substitute and pretty typical of what you might do while trail riding.  I don't know if Phoenix will always be so cooperative but he walked up next to the tree stumps and stopped.  Kelly climbed onto the stump, put her foot in the stirrup and slid into the saddle.


For the next little while, Kelly took him back and forth between his stall and the old barn.  She trotted him.  She tried to line him up to take him over the little jump.  He did pretty well.  One time...he started to trot over and then at the last minute skirted around the end.  That quick sideways movement surprised Kelly and she grabbed the horn.  "Whoa!"  That was exciting! 
We took him up and down the ditch.  He wanted to trot without being asked to do so.  I don't trust him not to pull the reins from Kelly's hands and make his way back over to his buddies so we stayed in the comfort zone of the barnyard.
After a few more minutes of riding in the barnyard, he got a little lazy.  When Kelly took him towards the barn then asked him to turn around, he stopped and would not walk.  She turned him hard and had to give him a pretty firm kick with her heel before he walked on. 
Ok...lets wind this session down.  Kelly is learning to ride bareback and asked if she could do that when we take the saddle off.  "Alright let's see how he does."  I took the saddle off, patted him and brushed him for a few minutes then gave Kelly a leg up.  I walk next to them and she took him around the barnyard.  We trotted the final lap!  She agrees with me...he has a really nice trot!  Kelly slid off and we lead him away from the barn, took his bridle off, and let him go.  Later we go carrots out of the fridge and took them to him.  He had his nose buried in a bale of hay but it didn't take too much coaxing to get him to take the treat. 
What a nice ride he gave Kelly today!

Sunday July 5  When I arrived at the ranch Deborah Baker and Cathy Morris were making final preparations for moving the horses including our boy Phoenix into the new barn. 
We led Phoenix into his new field with his buddies.  I took him to see the covered hay feeder.  He was not interested in hay at all!  He wanted to run with the other horses.  I left his halter on, took off his lead line, and let him go!  He took off to be with the other horses...running with high tails around their new pasture.  We moved horses around for the next hour. 
Nine-year-old Kelly who has been helping me with Phoenix was anxious to get to work on him.  Well, he's been in the new area for about an hour...he was nibbling on some blades of grass looking calm.  "OK" lets see what he does. 
Kelly got the brushes and we went to the new barn.  It's a good thing I left the halter on him.  He wasn't interested in being caught.  He was doing this thing where he'"ll let you approach just in reach and then turn away.  But because he's such a curious boy, he keeps coming back and I was finally able to grab his halter.  He's wide-eyed as we go into the new barn.  I think the sound his feet make on the rubber mats surprises him a bit. 
I put him in the stall and Kelly starts to clean his feet.  She started with front feet...normally his "good end" and he refuses to pick them up.  She squeezed his leg with as much effort as she could muster but he held his leg rigid.  So we double teamed.  I managed to get his foot up and Kelly took over to clean.  The good news is Kelly did the right hind foot with no trouble at all.  She moved to the left hind and he started "dancing".  I picked up his right hind and he flung it out like a kick.  That was NOT called for and earned him a sharp smack on his belly.  I tried again and had success.  Kelly took it from me to clean. 
We decided it was best not to saddle and ride today.  He just had an overall "antsyness" about him.  Kelly's mom, Robyn, had a good analogy....moving into a new barn was like suddenly moving from North Carolina to time to take luggage, say good-bye...just move.  He needs some time to settle in.  I thought that made good sense!  We gave him a pat and let him go back out to explore.


Sunday July 12:  This is a great day for Phoenix!  He gets to impress his own "two legger", a nice lady from Huntersville.  That's right ... very soon he will be headed to a new home!  She's here to ride him and get a better idea of what he's all about.  I brought the saddle, bridle and brushes, etc down to the new barn where Phoenix was finishing up breakfast.  After putting on his halter and giving her a few tips about Phoenix that I thought would be helpful she took over and got him ready to ride while I went up to the house on an errand.  Later Deborah and I met her up in the pasture.  I asked if Phoenix did ok...she said "Yes...even picking his feet!"  Good!  I rode Phoenix first.  I took him around the field.  He's nice and calm.  We jogged in a large circle...a car and a motorcycle went by onthe road but he doesn't mind.  "Ok"  She's ready to ride. 


We took it easy..she got on and I started out leading Phoenix but he was being so good it wasn't long before she said she was ok to go alone.  Around the field they went.  The only thing I would say Phoenix gave her grief about was when they neared the corner where the gate is...he thought that they really ought to head back to the barn.  She managed just fine convincing him otherwise!


When we were done riding, she said "What's next?" in the process for getting Phoenix to his new home.  He had done a great job!
Good Luck Phoenix and Happy Trails!
This is my last entry to the journal and I'm thrilled to end with a "riding into the sunset" scenario for Phoenix.  Please come out to the sanctuary and write your own story of when you met the perfect "four legger" to add to your family.

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