Aiden Update

Novels for Horse-Lovers

The Tipped Z Ranch books feature fictional stories but real horsemanship.

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My absolute favorite thing about Facebook is how easy it makes it to keep tabs on the horses we’ve sent on to other homes. This time around, we have the added benefit that the woman who owns the place where Aiden will be living is genuinely a professional photographer. Thus, we got to see some beautiful shots of Aiden arriving at his new home (posted here with permission).

photo copyright Ladybug Photography

It seems like the herd he’ll be living with was pretty easy to settle in with. And Aiden, of course, is also a pretty easy-going guy.

photo copyright Ladybug Photography

Beyond the horse companionship, he’s clearly landed in with completely awesome people. His girl shows signs of being inclined to dote.

photo copyright Ladybug Photography

We’ve had a few updates since his arrival, and it sounds like they’ve already had a number of good rides. And I must say, Aiden looks pretty suave in the svelte English gear.

photo copyright Ladybug Photography

So, anyway, we’re just completely thrilled about where he ended up. We’ve been promised more updates down the road. I think we’re going to see Aiden and his new girl doing some pretty neat things together.

photo copyright Ladybug Photography


Time On Nevada

Novels for Horse-Lovers

The Tipped Z Ranch books feature fictional stories but real horsemanship.

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Today I had a totally new experience. I rode a horse that has been trained solely by my husband. That is to say, today I rode Nevada for the first time.

And I have to say, I thought we got along quite well. Obviously it helps that Nevada knows me, even if I’ve never climbed on her back before. It also helps that I’ve participated in her training in a somewhat indirect capacity, watching Brian work with her and talking with him quite a bit about the particulars of her progression, and also doing hands on work with her from Steen’s back.

Still, Brian hasn’t actually put many hours on Nevada yet. Part of that has been wanting to keep things slow and light so she can finish growing. Part of it has just been circumstance. It has seemed every time he’s gotten in a better groove with her, some life event has popped up to slow them down.

So I was a bit surprised staring out at how comfortable I felt up there. Sure, she’s still super green. But she understood my legs and she was soft to the hackamore. We had no trouble tooling around the indoor arena. We walked some circles, backed, moved the hind, moved the front, trotted around a bit, and basically just got to know each other. I think she even enjoyed herself a little. And, of course, we had Brian and Laredo to keep us company.

In short, I had a really nice ride. And my experience on this little mare got me even more excited for the upcoming prospect of getting my own girl going in the near future.

Ride Time: 0:35
Horseback Hours YTD: 10:20

Because Me Too

Novels for Horse-Lovers

The Tipped Z Ranch books feature fictional stories but real horsemanship.

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It’s probably no surprise to anyone who reads this blog, but with Aiden off to his new home on Thursday, we were thinking we’d start keeping our eyes open for another project. Then the woman who facilitated Aiden’s sale happened to mention she knew of a horse that needed a new home.

Which meant today we went to see some people about a horse. She’s a 5 year old mare, not started under saddle but well socialized. She’s a sweetheart who just needs someone to get her going. We hung out with her for a little while and left to talk it over. But it really wasn’t hard to decide what we wanted to do. We got back in touch with her owners, and let them know we wanted her. All that’s left is to arrange transportation.


So, in spite of being not fully adjusted to the idea of Aiden being gone, we now have this new cutie to look forward to getting to know. This is certainly our fastest transition from one project to another. Left to our own devices, we probably would have waited at least a few weeks. I don’t mind, though. Aiden was always fun to ride, but he was pretty well settled by the end there. I wasn’t actively working on anything with him because K was mostly riding him. This little lady is going to bring about a pretty different sort of learning.

Besides, Brian started a horse last year. That means it’s my turn. Since he’s got his hands full with Nevada, this girl is going to be mainly my project.

Horseback Hours YTD: 9:45

Aiden Moves On

Novels for Horse-Lovers

The Tipped Z Ranch books feature fictional stories but real horsemanship.

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As I mentioned before, we got a call about Aiden while we were in Arizona. I chatted with a woman who was shopping for a horse for her student, and it sounded like Aiden might be exactly what she was looking for.

But we were in Arizona, and they ended up buying a different horse before we could get back and show them Aiden. We thought the case was closed. But it turned out the horse they bought didn’t pass his pre-purchase exam, so they didn’t keep him.

Which meant they were interested in Aiden again.

We had them out to meet him last weekend. The student and Aiden got along beautifully. Watching the test ride, I couldn’t believe how good they looked together. It didn’t take long for the girl to decide she wanted to take him home.

Then it was just a question of getting him through his own pre-purchase exam and scheduling his pick up. Today, I watched Aiden’s new owner load him into a trailer, and drive away.

I think the thing I still haven’t gotten used to about selling horses is how suddenly they leave. We had Aiden for 10 months. In that time, I spent a lot of time riding him, and even more doing groundwork and just being near him. I got pretty darn fond of the guy. The reality of how suddenly a horse goes from “ours” to “not ours” still somehow surprises me.

All that aside, I am so happy for Aiden. Over the course of the buying process, I got to know the woman who owns the place where he’ll be kept. She’s a really lovely person, and clearly has the health and happiness of her horses as a top priority. Aiden’s new owner is already in love with him. It’s exactly the way we were hoping to bring our chapter in his life to a close.

Nevertheless, I think there should be a word for that feeling of getting exactly what you hoped for, but still being a little bit sad. That’s certainly how it feels to say good-bye.

A New Student

Novels for Horse-Lovers

The Tipped Z Ranch books feature fictional stories but real horsemanship.

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Last week, we had a cold snap. Like, highs-in-the-single-digits style cold. While I’m way hardier than I used to be, I find temps that low hard to be comfortable in.

Nevada says, “There’s ice in my forelock? Really?”

Still, I had to go to the barn on Friday because I had a lesson to give. Last weekend, a woman who boards at our barn, M, asked me if I’d be willing to teach her how to do some groundwork with her mare. So I put on approximately every warm garment I own, and tried to pretend the thermometer didn’t say 5°F.

M’s mare is a 15 year old rescue horse. She’s an Arabian, and sweet but a tad standoffish about people at times. She lives in the pasture with our horses, so I know her a little. The trouble her owner is having with her is mostly minor stuff, but it’s the sort of behavior that can grow over time into real problems. The mare can get pretty fidgety during tacking and grooming, and has lately started to move away from the mounting block when M goes to get on. When she’s fidgeting, she doesn’t have a lot of care for where she’s putting her feet or who she’s bumping into.

As far as M knows, the horse hasn’t ever had any real, systematic training. But she’s overall pretty quiet, and (like all horses) just wants to get along with her people. M has had horses before, but she’s never done much training. She’s seen us working with our horses and wants to learn to do some of the things we do.

For the first lesson, I had Steen with me. I started off by showing M some basic ways to move the feet. Then I had her try them on Steen while I got a feel for her horse, Loretta.

Loretta is super responsive. It didn’t take much pressure at all to get to her feet. The bigger challenge was getting her to focus, and getting her to stop once she started going somewhere. Like many sensitive horses, she’s a bit nervous. All the things she does seem to come from a feeling that she needs to stay aware of her surroundings and stay ready to evade any threats. Early on, she was spending a lot of time looking all around the arena and very little time looking at me.

Since Loretta is fidgety, M has gotten into a bit of habit of holding her on a short lead and trying to prevent her from moving. I explained how this strategy backfires, because a nervous horse is only going to get more nervous when it feels confined. We worked on different ways to let Loretta move when she needed to, but asking her to do something productive with her energy rather than just letting her decide where to go and what to think about.

After having M practice some things on Steen, I gave Loretta back to her. M practiced some more, and I gave her some homework. By then we were both thoroughly frozen, so we called it a day. But I ran into her yesterday, and she said she’s been practicing and is keen to learn more. So I’m excited to see how things progress over time.

Meanwhile, all our horses are holding up pretty well, in spite of the crazy cold. Brian’s been getting on Nevada with more consistency lately, and she’s been growing, too. It’s fun to see her start to seem more mature.


Horseback Hours YTD: 07:15

Looking Ahead

Novels for Horse-Lovers

The Tipped Z Ranch books feature fictional stories but real horsemanship.

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Brian and I just returned from spending two weeks in Arizona, visiting my family. While it was a lovely vacation, I must admit I was missing Steen like crazy the whole time. Part of it is the setting. My parents live in a beautiful valley at the base of the Catalina Mountains, surrounded by the land and trails I grew up riding with my first horse.

One of my fond hopes is to someday be able to take Steen there. Right now this isn’t possible for a variety of reasons. Brian and I went for a lot of walks, and I couldn’t help thinking about how great it would be to be riding instead of walking.

Now we’re home, and saying hello to Steen was a kind of relief. Climbing into my saddle and riding off felt like getting back some part of my body that hadn’t been functioning. I’ve had Steen for almost seven years now. I don’t know exactly how much time I’ve spent on his back because I didn’t keep track the first few years, but I know it has to be at least 600 hours. That’s a whole lot more time than I’ve spent on any other horse. The relationship I have with him is unique in my life.

Now that 2014 is over, we’re looking at what we want to accomplish in 2015 with the horses. While we were in Tucson, someone called about Aiden. He’s listed here on our website as for sale, even though we’re not actively trying to sell him at this point. The caller thought he sounded perfect for her riding student, and Brian and I spent a few days thinking we might sell him shortly after getting back. It turned out the timing didn’t work out, though, and the student bought a different horse before we could return to Iowa and show her Aiden.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the near miss. On the one hand, the idea of selling Aiden and getting a new prospect was exciting. On the other, I really like Aiden. He’s fun to ride, and he’s great for Brian’s student. I’m going to miss him when he’s gone.

Part of it is I need to decide what I want to do next. With Steen getting older, it might be time for me to find a promising youngster and start the horse that will be my next Steen. On the other hand, I do enjoy finding horses who need a little help, getting them all polished up, and sending them on to good homes.

Fortunately, whatever happens, it should involve a lot of time on horseback. Our first day back in town, I rode three horses, one after the other. That felt really good.

Horseback Hours YTD: 2:50

2014 in Review

Novels for Horse-Lovers

The Tipped Z Ranch books feature fictional stories but real horsemanship.

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It’s a bit hard to believe that 2014 has already come and gone. It was a really fabulous year with the horses. Looking back, I’m a tad astonished at how much we did. We worked with far more horses this year than any year previously. We found new homes for Zoey and Bear, got Aiden and Oliver, worked with King for two months, started Nevada, and got Oliver back in shape and re-homed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I rode more this year than ever before:

Total saddle time in 2014
227 hours, 45 minutes

That means I have managed to increase my horse hours every year (since I started keeping track) by a good chunk:

I also got those hours spread across more horses than ever before. Steen is still my main ride, to be sure, but I got solid time on a number of other mounts as well:


In short, I’m pretty pleased with how the year has gone. I feel so lucky that elements in my life have aligned to allow me to spend as much time with horses as I do, and grateful to have been able to learn from so many lovely equines this year.

My hope for next year is to spend more time riding than I did this year. I probably can’t stay on an upward trend forever, but maybe I can keep it up for one more year, anyway.

Nevada in Action

Novels for Horse-Lovers

The Tipped Z Ranch books feature fictional stories but real horsemanship.

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As I mentioned a few posts ago, Steen and I have been acting as a sort of mobile round pen for Brian and Nevada sometimes. When I’m setting a boundary and a cadence, Brian can worry less about those things and think more about keeping her in a proper bend and getting her more comfortable with understanding his legs. It also helps add some impulsion and motivation to turning around. Recently, Nevada is starting to get the idea that she can plant her hind and pivot to keep up when Steen and I change directions.

Amusingly, a couple times when Brian has left her in the arena to do something, she’s decided that she’s happiest following me and Steen, sans rider. At least, as long as sticking with us doesn’t become too much work . . .

Horseback Hours YTD: 224:35

Winter Diversions

Novels for Horse-Lovers

The Tipped Z Ranch books feature fictional stories but real horsemanship.

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True cold came early this year. Now it’s shotgun season around the barn, and even on mild days it’s not safe to ride out. Which means we’re stuck in the indoor arena.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful we have the ability to ride indoors. In some ways, it’s even kind of nice. All summer, we ride out in a variety of different environments, each with different challenges. This means what we focus on while we ride changes organically with the seasons. The challenge with the indoor arena is keeping things fun and interesting.

The last few weeks, I’ve been focused on my seat. On Steen, I’ve been starting most rides with no handed figure-eights at the walk and trot, then progressing to a canter on the rail, plus stops and changing directions, all with the reins set down on the horn. In some ways, this is a silly thing to work on. I have no interest in bridleless riding. But I seem to overuse my hands when I’m in the indoor arena for some reason. It’s a good way to force me to think more and about my seat and less about my hands.

Most days, Steen and I accomplish all this easily and consistently. We do lose precision at the canter. He relies on the rail a bit more than me in terms of deciding where to go. If I ask him to come off the rail and cross the center, he often gets confused, and thinks I want more impulsion. That’s led to a couple kind of funny unplanned sprints up one side of the arena.

I’ve also been working on riding Aiden with no hands. This is brand new territory for us. For the last week or so, we’ve been building on our progress at figure eights slowly. For many rides, we’d get the change of the direction and start of the bend pretty good, but we’d always lose it and end up straight before we got back to the center.

Yesterday, though, Aiden and I were having a great ride. We reached a moment where I could just feel he was focused on my seat and legs. I set my reins down, and we walked our first few totally complete no-handed figure eights. Woo. They weren’t as precise as the ones I get on Steen, and also there were on the large side. Still, though, it felt pretty good.

I’ve also been working on finding ways to encourage Aiden to engage his hind end more consistently. This is tricky for me. Aiden is big. He’s as solid 15.3, and he seems to just keep gaining more and more muscle. He’s also on the long side, and he’s the least upright in the hind of any horse we’ve had. This means it’s more work for him to keep his hind engaged.

I’ve been riding him consistently in the hackamore for the last few weeks. When we got Aiden, he’d spent quite a few years doing dressage and jumping. It’s evident he’s pretty used to leaning on pressure. We’ve come a long way with this, but my focus lately has been on getting him to respond to lighter cues, and being more consistent with elevation of the poll. We seem to balance a bit better in the hackamore overall without me having to do as much. Of course, I can always check him back onto his hind end, but I’m trying not to. I’d like him to stay there without me babysitting him quite so much.

To this end, yesterday I worked on figure eights that were a little tighter than what’s naturally pretty easy for him. We were trying to achieve a good bend in the body while maintaining impulsion. Here’s a little snippet of video Brian took.

Certainly, there are all sorts of things that aren’t perfect here. (We dribbled to a stop because I changed my mind about what I wanted to do there at the last second.) But we’re getting better results on less pressure, and working towards more precision one ride at a time.

Horseback Hours YTD: 223:35

Hello Winter

Novels for Horse-Lovers

The Tipped Z Ranch books feature fictional stories but real horsemanship.

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Well, winter has set it in earnest now. We got hit with some truly crazy cold earlier this month. Between that and coming to the end of our most active year with the horses ever, both Brian and I are finding ourselves a little less motivated to get out and ride many times a week. On top of that, Steen got a cough that had me worried for a while, so I wasn’t really riding him much. It seems he has an early case of heaves. Which is a bummer. During the fall, we get a lot of crop dust in our pastures, and there is a gravel road that loops past our barn, too, that kicks up a lot of dust. There were a lot of irritants in the air for a while.

A couple other horses around the barn have heaves. While the bad news is that it’s not curable, the good news is it seems to be fairly easy to manage, particularly if you catch it early. He had the cough for a couple weeks before I caught on to what it most likely was. Then I tried him on an oral herbal remedy that seems to help some horses but didn’t help much for him. Finally, one afternoon he was breathing hard and heavy just coming in from the pasture and the cough was pretty bad. We gave him 5ccs of Dexamethasone. That seemed to clear up the cough instantly, and it hasn’t come back. His breathing has seemed normal since. So hopefully I can treat more effectively and sooner if symptoms show up again.

One night we went out to give him the cough powder and were going to go out to dinner after, so I had on non-barn clothes. I realized Steen and I both dress for harsh weather in the same style.

Polar vortex? Bring it on.

Beyond that, everyone is good. Steen and I have been pretending to be a roundpen lately when Brian and Nevada have been working on walking circles. I’ve been walking Steen around them in a larger circle, so I’m kind of a barrier, an encouragement to go forward, and a little hint about when the stop is going to come all in one. Mostly, Nevada is doing really well, but riding a young horse in the hackamore is definitely a pretty different beast than riding a young horse in the snaffle. There seems to be a lot less margin for error, and it can be harder to get to the feet. Fortunately, we’re not in a hurry and it’s all about learning for all of us. We’re confined to the indoor arena for a few months now anyway, so finding fun ways to work on her confidence and understanding is all we’re after.

She’s got the “relax” part down.

Between riding less and being a bit concerned about Steen, Aiden has been getting more time with K than me lately. She does really well with him, but we have been seeing his overall anxiety level increase a bit in recent weeks. A couple of days I had him in and he was borderline antsy. Antsy Aiden is kind of interesting because (with me, anyway) he doesn’t actually move or act out. He just stares around a lot with his head high and eyes wide. He’ll do everything I ask, but the moment I stop asking for things, he goes back to looking around and worrying.

Last week and weekend I wanted to focus on him a little more and try to get him back to feeling settled and relaxed. I worked with him a few days in a row, doing quite a bit of groundwork the first day in particular to get him focused on me and more confident before I got on. By the last day, I could tell he was in a different place mentally just leading him in. That whole day, he was back to just being utterly placid and chill. So hopefully we can keep him there now.

It’s actually really interesting to see how Aiden behaves with K in comparison to how he behaves with me. I think he gets more support from me than I fully realized. The biggest problem that comes up with him and K is he just loses confidence and gets a little flustered, and tries to go somewhere he feels safer. He does this at a slow walk, so it’s not a huge issue. K isn’t always quite quick enough to block him right away, but she is great at hanging in there until she gets him back where she was trying to go. Also it helps her work on her problem solving skills. But it’s just interesting because when I’m on Aiden he never gets a gate magnet or a barn magnet or any other kind of feeling that he has an underlying opinion about where he’d like to be going.

K on Aiden. Brian in teacher mode.

In other news, I got older again. As I prefer to do, I spent my birthday hanging out with my husband and our horses. Since Brian was with me, I didn’t have to resort to a birthday selfie this year.

Horseback Hours YTD: 217:40