Friday, January 31, 2014

The Calm Horse Revisited, and Finally a Ride on Dawn

This morning I had a lovely ride on Dawn and she looked very pretty in the new black bridle.  It was about 20F in the arena, so we rode with the rump rug.  She'd had 8 days off, but I just got on and we went about our usual routine.  She was wonderful - plenty forward but also delightfully responsive and soft.

Then all three horses had their hoof trims, and all three were polite as can be.  Red was done before Pie, and when I turned him out he waited calmly at the pasture gate for Pie to come out after his trim, without any calling that I heard, and then they cantered off together.

There was an interesting (at least to me) moment during my ride with Red yesterday.  We were trotting, and he kept asking to halt.  I wasn't sure what that was all about . . .  But then I reached down and felt that the cinch was pretty loose, so I got off and retightened it.  I wouldn't put it past Red to have been telling me that I needed to attend to the cinch by stopping . . .

After doing some chores this morning - Dawn had "beshat" one of her water buckets (again), so I washed that out and made up some feed baggies.  As I was walking through the arena on my way to my truck, there was a boarder in the arena with her horse, loose.  She had started to free lunge him (really run him, if truth be told), but had to stop because another boarder was wanting to ride.  She said "he's going to kill me if I don't lunge him".

And then she said, "my horse has a lot more energy than Dawn, that's why I have to lunge him before I ride him."  Um, no.  Her horse doesn't have a lot more energy than Dawn, but I didn't say anything.  Dawn isn't calm when I ride her because she's tired or out of energy - far from it - she's calm because she's calm. A lot of people seem to have the misconception that the only way their horses can be calm is if they're tired - that's not calm, that's just tired.

My horses are at a point now where they can pretty much consistently carry their interior calm with them into our daily work, regardless of what's going on in the arena, how many days off they've had or how cold it is.  I'm delighted that we've gotten this far.  The next challenge is to have them carry that calmness into unfamiliar situations - riding out on the property or the trail, or going to another location.  Red and Dawn also still tend to lose some of their softness when we do a lot of canter work. We're not to consistent, total, calm yet, but I'm hoping we can get there over time, and we're closer to that than we've ever been before, and every day we get closer.  It's mainly about work I have to do on me, and what I can present to the horse . . .

More posts coming on the calm horse . . .

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dawn Gets a Pretty - are Quarter Horses Only in Petite Now?

The lovely new black headstall that I got for Red, to match his black saddle, doesn't fit him very well.  It's supposedly a normal horse size, and it's from Tucker, a pretty mainstream manufacturer.  Red isn't particularly large - he's 15 hands and normally wears a headstall only one hole larger in the cheekpieces and throat latch than Dawn, who is a fairly feminine 15.1 thoroughbred mare.  Red's head is nowhere near as large as Pie's - Pie uses a 5.5 inch bit and has to have a one-ear bridle because I've been unable to find him a headstall where the browband and throat latch aren't way too short - even his side pull had to have an extra extender strap added to the noseband and he can only wear a halter with an adjustable noseband.  But Red does have a very masculine head, with a well-defined jaw and forehead.

Anyway, the new bridle is a bit too tight in the brow band, and also just barely adequate in the throat latch on the last hole.  And it's a bit delicate for Red's face, although the tooling is beautiful. What's up with this sizing issue?  Are Quarter Horses only being produced in petite these days?

So, Dawn's getting a new bridle and will be very pretty in it.  I haven't tried it on her yet, but expect it will fit her perfectly, and it'll go very nicely with her black dressage saddle and saddle pad.  Red is keeping the new Mylar bit and reins, which he's happy with, and will be using his old (natural) headstall - it's very nice but doesn't match his saddle.   But then I have lots of tack that doesn't match - I use Western saddles with English bridles (without nosebands) or vice versa and I'm happy with that.  Pie didn't get any new tack, but he doesn't care as long as there's enough hay . . .

The horses got their first full day of turnout today since the latest cold snap, so this afternoon, finally, I rode.  Red and Pie both had 7 days off, and although it was in the 20s and windy - banging arena door and howling wind and buzzing roof - I just got on and rode like I always do and they were both just about perfect.  So long as I put the feel of the transition into my body before asking Red to do it - feeling as if I were moving from walk to trot or back again - and keep my contact soft, there was no problem.  If I failed to do that, there was only occasional bracing.  Red kept all of the learning we'd gained in our last three days of work despite the long layoff.  I'd say he's at about 70 to 80% now with perfect transitions.

Pie was also wonderful.  We were in a very crowded ring, but he just motored around in a lovely, soft, forward trot, and so long as I kept my position neutral and eyes up, his corners were wonderful, deep and round.

It was such a delight to ride again - I usually ride at least one horse, and usually two or three, every day except Sunday, and it had been too long.  May spring come soon . . .

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mark Rashid Book/DVD Review . . . and a Birthday (with Wild Horses)!

During our blast of extremely cold weather, since there was no riding going on, I watched the two DVDs that accompany Mark Rashid's new book A Journey to Softness.  I had already read the book, and its accompanying book of quotes collected by Mark's students.  All I can say is . . . wow!  This set is a distillation of Mark's philosophy of working with horses, and touches on almost every important point I've heard Mark articulate over the years - many of you know that I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to ride with Mark on a number of occasions over more than the past 10 years, and this has been transformational for me and my horses.

The book of quotes is great - lots of pithy wisdom.  The book A Journey to Softness spells out how Mark came to some of his thinking on various issues, usually by contact with a specific horse and situation - the stories are very powerful.  If this was all there was, the package would be great.

And then there are the DVDs - almost 3 hours of them.  There are two of them, and very little in them is about mechanics or technique, although that is touched on - this isn't a set demonstrating training a horse to do something specific.  There about the foundations of Mark's thinking about horses, and the relationship with horses, in the form of question/answer interviews (his friend Skip Ewing is the questioner), interspersed with some demonstrations.  That foundation is what the training arises out of.

If you attend one of Mark's clinics, he doesn't start with groundwork for horses, he starts with groundwork for people, demonstrating some of the basic principles in a way that is very powerful.  The first DVD is all about the human's role in developing softness - it starts with us, not the horse.  Although experiencing the demonstrations - I've done most of them and lots of others Mark uses - is of course a more revealing experience than just watching them, the DVD conveys some of the power they have to transform how we think about and approach our interactions with our horses.

The second DVD covers a variety of topics concerning our interactions with our horses, and Mark's philosophy about how to most effectively work with our horses by building softness, one step at a time.  He even covers some of what I would call the most advanced topics, such as using thought and energy, instead of physical aids.  Mark demonstrates some of this with his horse Rocky and it's delightful to see.  It's actually very simple - we often overcomplicate things - and it all starts with us.

The road of horsemanship Mark lays out isn't quick or easy and requires us to look inside ourselves.

A couple of highlights for me:
I now know why my horses often brace on the first ask for backing in our work sessions, while they don't later on - and it isn't because the horse isn't soft yet, it's because I'm not soft yet.  This has to do with how I first take up contact with the reins - I'm offering a brace instead of softness, so that's what the horse gives me. 
There are different types of braces - emotional, mental and physical. 
A lot of our disappointment/frustrations with our horses are because our expectations exceed the horse's knowledge base - everything we teach has to be connected to something the horse already knows. 
If we teach a horse something, and the horse is able to repeat the behavior, we pat ourselves on the back and call ourselves a good trainer.  If we teach a horse something we don't mean to, and the horse repeats the behavior, we call the horse a bad horse - there's something wrong with that picture.
Anyway, get the set, read and watch it - highly recommended.

* * * * * *
On a minor personal side note - I've turned 60 today.  I'm pretty darn excited about life and where it will take me and my horses next.  No riding today - horses are finally going to get some turnout time and I've got my music lessons.

I was at the barn in time to turn my own horses out - lots of excitement as they hadn't been out since Sunday.  I took Pie and Red out together - I let Pie go first and he galloped off, and then Red tried to as well - he bolted but I asked him to stop and he did and stood until I took his halter off.  Then he took off like a shot after Pie - Red is very fast - and all the geldings did a lot of galloping around, bucking and rolling.  Dawn went out first in the mare pasture, and when I let her go, squealed and did a rear/pirouette and galloped all the way up the hill and then back again before the other mares went out, then there was more running around.  Everyone then settled down to their hay - there will be tired horses this evening!

Monday, January 27, 2014

-8 and Dropping . . .

Right now, the temperature is -8F with a wind chill of -28F.  And overnight, temperatures are supposed to drop to around -17, with wind chills in the -30s.  My horses have been in their stalls all day, and will be in all day tomorrow - things are supposed to improve somewhat by mid-day Wednesday, so they'll probably get a few hours of turnout.

Today, I was at the barn twice to pick stalls, groom and hand walk the horses.  Everybody's doing fine - Dawn is resigned and hates the cold weather anyway, Pie is happy to get out for a few minutes but glad to go back in his stall if there's hay, and Red is very fretful and dissatisfied, although he settles down once our routine is completed.

More of the same tomorrow, and perhaps I'll have some time to start watching the Mark Rashid videos, on softness, that came with the books . . .

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Dawn Doesn't Kill the Mini, and the Boys Say Hello

I had a busy morning at the barn, even though I didn't ride.  It's warmer than it's been - it was 19F this morning and we're supposed to get up in the 20s, but the wind was howling.  Dawn wasn't happy about the wind and was huddled by the gate.  I brought her in so she could take a break in the warm barn while I washed water buckets and made up feed packets.  When I was out getting her, I also discovered that the geldings' water tanks had frozen over - some sort of problem with the heaters - so I broke the ice and texted the barn owner.

When I turned Dawn back out, all the other mares had gone out to eat at the bales despite the wind, but Dawn refused to budge from the gate.  Fortunately, one of the paddock horses had been taken inside for a lesson, so I was able to put Dawn in a paddock on the south side of the barn out of the wind.  She was happy with that, and was enjoying her hay.

I saw the boys down at the bottom of their pasture, and they both came up to the gate to say hi to me. I took a few minutes to talk to them both, and rub their faces and just hang out, which they seemed to enjoy.

I waited a while for the barn owner to get there so we could work on the water tanks, and in the meantime I did an impromptu massage on a horse that was in the aisle - whenever I'm talking with a horse (and the horse's people), I find it hard not to rub and massage the horse - this horse seemed to be really enjoying it.

The barn owner and I tested the heaters and they seemed to be fine once we reset the breaker, but she swapped in one bigger heater since one of the older heaters seemed to be not working well.  Not sure what caused the problem and we'll have to keep an eye on it.

When we went out to work on the heaters, we discovered that the mini who was in the pen next to Dawn had squeezed through the small gap between the gate and the post, and had ended up in Dawn's paddock!  He was in the far corner, as far as possible away from Dawn, but was uninjured.  Dawn can be quite aggressive with horses she doesn't know, so that was lucky.  I guess he came to say hi, and she told him to mind his own business and go over there, and he complied.  We moved the mini over to another paddock to prevent further shenanigans . . .

Snow tomorrow, and then back into the deep freeze for several days - highs aren't supposed to get above zero, and lows at night will be much colder with ferocious winds.  Not much looking forward to that, as horses will be in and there will be no access to the indoor for hand-wallking as it will be occupied by the pasture horses.  I'm usually one who enjoys winter, but this winter has already been very cold and hard - every day is one day closer to spring . . .

Thursday, January 23, 2014

It Isn't About Fixing the Horse, and a Note on Cantering

One of the most important messages of Mark's new book, and his teaching in the years I've been watching him work, is that working effectively with horses isn't about fixing the horse - it's about making changes to ourselves and how we present ourselves to the horse so that the horse can connect with us and find the solution we are seeking.

It's really about developing, in addition to physical softness, a quiet mind and internal softness.   This of course is a lifelong path of seeking connection with ourselves at a deep level first, so we can offer that connection to the horse.  And most importantly, a point Mark has made over and over again - this connection and softness has to be developed in every aspect of our lives, not just when we're with our horses.

I'm certainly not there yet, but it's something to aspire to and work on, and I expect to be working on it for the rest of my life - to me, this is immensely challenging but also heartening.  To quote from the book:
To be really good at it, and I mean really good at it, softness must be practiced in all aspects of our life - in everything we do, all the time, without exception.
As one of Mark's students says:
In the end, it really isn't about working on the horse.  It is about what level we are willing to work on the inside of ourselves, and in turn, offer the horse.
* * * *
And a note on cantering.  My work with Red and Pie this week has made some things clear to me.

Lesson one: With Red, one reason the bracing issue on walk/trot transitions had been such a persistent issue (in addition to the fact I was counter-bracing against him) was that, every day, I had blown past it and just gone on to do lots of trot work, and even quite a bit of canter work, with Red.  His trot is magnificent and his canter is powerful and round - it's just so much fun to ride so that's what I wanted to do.  But the brace was still in there at walk/trot, and the more canter work we did without dealing with that, the more the brace showed up.  His canter work wasn't soft as it could be because the softness of other things was missing. The foundation wasn't as solid as it needed to be and by skipping over something we needed to deal with, I was baking it in.

Lesson two: With Pie, I was so focussed on him staying in canter to get the breathing issue fixed that I was creating/amplifying the breathing issue by being too insistent with him and much less soft than I need to be - I was forcing the issue rather than staying soft and letting him figure things out.  I was in a hurry to get it done, because his canter is improving so rapidly that I can see how nice it's going to become.  The fact that he was getting all revved up and losing his softness, even at the trot after cantering, meant that my softness was lacking.  I need to offer him softness in canter transitions and during the canter, and deal softly, rather than insistently, with what comes up.  We need to take our time and stay soft together.

I've got work to do - on me . . .

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Offering Softness in a Brace to Red, Dawn Excels and Pie and I Take a Step Back

First, on Dawn.  Despite the extreme cold - this morning it was barely 10F in the indoor, and Dawn had been in almost all the day before, she was exceptional - soft, willing and relaxed.  She had her "rump rug" and I had my balaclava, so we were comfortable. I turned her out after my ride and she seems to have survived the below zero wind chills well, eating plenty of hay to keep warm.

Second, on Pie.  He and I have been making good progress on our canter work and his breathing.  Today he got a bit too revved up about the canter and having to keep cantering, and it caused him to lose his relaxation - his early trot work was very good but after the canter work he struggled a bit to relax - we got there eventually.  We need to slow things down a bit and I need to offer him more softness and relaxation from the beginning, with more trot work and a lot less cantering for now.  Pie is much less demonstrative than Dawn or Red, and I have to remember that he has feelings too, even though they're not as easy to see sometimes - or they would be if I paid more attention.  I need to remember to offer him as much softness as I'm working to offer Red - Pie needs it just as much even though he doesn't say so as clearly as Red does.

Third, on Red. Many people would interpret Red's bracing up and to the right on transitions as disobedience, or avoiding the aids, or him "acting up" or "getting away with something" - all interpretations of his behavior that might lead his rider to up the ante - bigger aids, "making" him do the transition, using a martingale or tie-down so he couldn't "avoid" keeping his head down, or punishing him.

But think about it - do you really think a horse that is doing this sort of thing is happy about it?  Do you really think the horse wants to brace (or in other cases, that the horse wants to spook, or pull on your hands, or be anxious).  No, that's an unhappy horse who is only doing what he does because he feels he needs to do it to protect himself.

What Red was doing was defensively bracing against an anticipated hit to his mouth that could come when he was asked to go faster.  I have no idea really why he was worried about this but it doesn't really matter.  What matters is that his behavior was learned, and that it could be unlearned - provided what I did simply didn't reinforce what he was worried about.  And bracing against his brace - by pulling on the left rein and using a strong left leg to try to keep him straight - simply confirmed to him that he was right to be worried - there was in fact strong pressure on his mouth - I was simply bracing against him.

What I needed to do was offer softness to his brace, so he could find his way to a more comfortable place.  There was a story in Mark Rashid's new book that really resonated with me, although on the surface it doesn't seem to have much to do with Red's situation.  The story involved a mare, and trailer loading. Mark was loading the mare, whom he had never handled before and knew nothing about, when she suddenly and violently pulled back and flew backwards out of the trailer.  It turns out that the mare had a history of this sort of behavior and was considered very difficult to load. In contrast to what most of us would have done - trying to hold on for dear life - he let her go backwards but put very slight pressure on the rope as she went backwards.  She backed out twice more, with Mark going with her and putting slight pressure on the lead, and each time she put less and less energy into the backwards movement.  The next time she loaded right up with no problem at all.

This approach - not getting into a fight with the horse or offering a brace to their brace - was what I needed to be trying with Red.  Instead of trying to block his movement to the right, I needed to go with him, while softly maintaining contact and indicating to him by this that I wanted him to straighten up and go forward into the transition.  This is a good illustration of the principle I try to follow of focussing only on the thing I do want - a straight and soft transition from walk to trot - and ignoring everything else he was doing.  If he felt he had to do that "to the right" thing, well and good, but I was going to continue to softly ask for what I wanted without attempting to block him.  I wanted to offer him a better place to be, and a better way to feel.

I also added as much softness as I could to other aspects of our ride - our grooming, tacking, mounting and how I took up the first contact with the reins and how I applied my aids, keeping things slow and soft, not fast and abrupt.  I also tried to remember, and implement, that softness isn't just about what you do with your hands and arms, it's about your whole body, and in fact is about what's inside of you and offering this to the horse. These are things I'm trying to build into everything I do, not just my work with horses, so it was a good reminder.  I also made sure to generously praise each thing he accomplished, however small.  We also did some in-hand softening work and then a generous walk warm up with lots of turns to the left with a soft opening rein.

Our "dialogue" might have sounded like this:

We're doing our "big" walk . . .

Me: "I'm thinking about trotting . . ."
Red: " . . . thinking about trotting . . ."
Me: "Do you think you could trot now?"
Red: "Must . . . brace . . . hard . . . to . . . right . . ."
Me: OK, go right if you need to but I'm still asking for straight and trot with this little bit of rein pressure."
Red: "I'm turning to the right?  But you're not pulling on me? How can I brace to the right if there's nothing to brace against? What??"
Me: "I'm just asking you to straighten and trot with this soft, following left rein pressure and a little rubbing of the right rein on your neck. Isn't it a lot of work to turn in circles when you could just trot off straight, since there's nothing to pull against?"
Red: "Bending left to straighten, lowering head and trotting off straight . . ."

So, over the past three rides, we've been working on this together.  In our first session, we had to do lots of walk work first to get him to turn left on a soft opening rein - interestingly enough, the bracing behavior even showed up at the walk, probably because I was noticing more. By the end of our first session, he'd already given up some behaviors he'd used in the past - he didn't any longer balk or stop going forward (even though forward sometime meant turning to the right), or spring into canter instead through the "blockage" - mainly because I no longer was counter-bracing against him or upping the ante with aids.

We got a bunch of nice transitions in our first session.  In the second session, the issues at the walk were pretty much gone, and good transitions were up to 50% of the total, including some on the straight sides of the arena, which I'd been avoiding previously since sometimes his throwing his body to the right had the effect of slamming my leg into the wall when tracking right.  Sometimes he still circled or took up the trot with his head and neck bent to the right, but he was experimenting with what I was asking - this meant he was already much less worried.  (Empowering our horses to experiment until they figure out how to do what we're asking can be very effective in reducing anxiety and tension.) Sometimes all I and to do was gently redirect his head and neck to the left just as he was thinking about bracing to the right, and that was all that was needed.

Our third session today went as I had hoped it would, despite some excitement in the ring - snow sliding off the roof (Red jumped but then calmed right down) and horses jumping all over the place (and humans overreacting to this and forcing horses where they didn't want to go - no softness there and trust me, Red noticed and didn't approve).  There was almost no bracing on upwards transitions - just a hint a few times but he stayed straight and went willingly right into trot, and 90% of the time he was straight when he did it.  What a very fine horse . . . I told him so, too.

Over the past week or so, Red's demeanor has also changed.  Although he's now off his chaste tree berry, despite the very cold weather, he's noticeably more calm and relaxed, in the stall, on cross ties and when we ride, even if circumstances are challenging or distracting in the arena due to the number of horses and people.

We've got more work to do to improve the consistency of our transitions, particularly since the behavior was very embedded (and reinforced by some things I'd been doing) but I think the hardest part is already done - and as usual the hardest part was about changing how I was dealing with the horse, to make it easier for the horse to find the solution.

Tomorrow, it's going to be even colder and windier - hard to believe that's possible but it is - and we're all taking a day off.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Some Things Come into Sharper Focus - and Mark Rashid's New Book

I've been attending clinics with Mark Rashid, either as an auditor or a rider, for more than 10 years now.  And slowly, with his guidance, my horsemanship has been improving.  Horsemanship is a never-ending journey, one where you never are done learning and experimenting and changing how you approach what you do with horses.  Mark says this is true for him too, even though he's assuredly a master.  And I've seen it in action - he tries new things and has new ways of explaining things.  Mark also has no "system" or one-method-fits-all-horses way of going about things, but instead works to give you the tools to take your own journey with horses.

Mark Rashid's new book (actually books as there's also a book of quotations his students have collected) and DVD set just came out, and I've read the book (once - I'm about to start going back through it again it's chock-full of extraordinary stuff) but haven't viewed the DVD yet.  I think it's one of his best books ever.  It's a series of stories that explain how he came to his current views of horses and how to work with them, and a distillation of his philosophy.  Now, I've heard a lot of his thinking over the years but some of the concepts take a while to sink in and are best learned in the context of an actual situation you're facing with a horse.  Many of the concepts can seem almost abstract or even "mystical" in themselves, but when you hear the concept in the context of a real story, you can almost see it in your mind, and for me at least, it becomes concrete.

Several of the stories were total eye-openers for me in the context of what Red and I have been working on.  I knew the concepts already and could have repeated them to you, but reading them again in the context of Mark's stories and distillation of the concepts really changed how I was approaching working with Red.  The story about the mare who pulled back while loading into a trailer . . .

More later about this and the work Red and I have been doing . . .

Monday, January 20, 2014

Strategies for Red and Me, and Pie's Canter Much Improved

I've been thinking about how to help Red with his walk/trot transitions.  One of the quotes from the previous post is a good place to start - the horse's state of mind before the transition will in large part determine what happens during the transition.

I'm realizing that one of the reasons Red does his brace-up-and-to-the right thing is because he's not soft yet, at the point in our work sessions where I ask him to trot.  He may seem soft - the body posture and movement at the walk appear soft, but he's not mentally soft yet, which is why walk/trot transitions later in our work sessions are no problem at all.  The tell is the backing.  If we halt early in our work session, and I ask him to soften and back softly, big brace.  Later in our work session, after trot work, no problem, beautiful, soft steps backwards - in fact, I often use no rein pressure at all and only have to think back to get it.  He's soft and connected to me.  Not so at the end of the walk work I've been using for our warm up.

What we're doing already isn't working consistently, so I need to change things. So I think the solution may be more in what we do before I ask for the first walk/trot transition, rather than the transition itself, although there may also be some things I can do to help him stay soft through the transition.  But to stay soft, he has to be soft, before the transition, and that's been lacking.

* * * *

I wrote that before my work session with Red today, and before I read more of Mark Rashid's new book A Journey to Softness.  The timing of the book arriving was uncanny - it gave me some pieces that I needed to help Red and I solve our problem.

The things - some of these I was on the track of already, and have heard from Mark before, but the book really brought them into focus - that made a difference to me and Red from the book are the following:
  • Softening at the point of resistance.
  • Changing how I made first contact.
  • Nothing sudden or abrupt.
These are all about softness in its various aspects, and how I needed to offer Red softness even when he was thinking about bracing.  I can't say enough how good this book is, for me at this point in my horsemanship journey.  More about these concepts later . . . but suffice it to say that Red and I made a huge amount of progress today.

And an update - after Pie's and my hard work on the canter Saturday, and getting Pie breathing properly, we tried some canter today and things were orders of magnitude better - Pie's canter was relaxed and soft from the start - and/because he was now immediately breathing and relaxed.  All that canter work yesterday unlocked things.

This journey with my horses never ceases to amaze and delight me.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Red and Pie and I Work on Figuring Some Things Out

Red and Pie and I had a very good set of work sessions yesterday.  The barn was practically deserted - Red and I had two people to ride with and Pie and I were all by ourselves.  (It always amazes me how few people at my barn actually show up and ride, or even visit with their horses, on a regular basis.)  We love it when we get the opportunity to get some good work done without a lot of other people in our very small indoor arena.

All of the new tack items have arrived, except for Red's new black headstall.  So, before I rode, I moved Pie's stirrups (copper colored) back on to Pie's saddle, put the new stirrups (silver colored) on to Red's new saddle, and put the new mohair cinch (brown leather) on Pie's saddle and left the old mohair cinch (black leather and neoprene) on Red's saddle.  I also had two thin wool pads to try, one single thickness and one double.

I saddled Red with the new single thickness wool pad, and it made the new saddle fit him perfectly, and the green suits him very well.  We did a lot of work in our session on transitions.  Red still has a residual anxiety brace that shows up on upwards transitions early on in a work session - if you're carrying any contact in the reins, even if very softly, he braces hard up and to the right as you think about an upwards transition.  On a loose rein, it's a little bit better, but he still raises his head and tends to bend his body to the right.  This is a very baked in response, and is clearly tension/anxiety related.  He's looking to have someone grab him in the mouth and to hit a tie down, and to be expected to go into a gallop.  I guess his barrel racing experience has something to do with it - it's out of the box behavior - but who knows.  After a few transitions, the behavior evaporates.

So keeping him soft in the early part of our work, and helping him to find a way to transition while he's soft and not bracing, is the challenge.  We got trot instead of canter reliably, but the brace was still showing up. I'm still in the process of having him help me figure things out - we're trying various things, like doing transitions off of small walk circles to the left (so he is bent left and it's harder to brace right and up), and some loose rein work.  I may have to slow things down a bit and just laze around with him for a while until he gives up his anxiety before the transition.  A quote from Mark Rashid's new book/DVD set A Journey to Softness, that just arrived today - I've only just started looking at it - may be appropriate:
Some horses don't like being pushed; you need to ease them into things to decrease their worry.
Pay attention to the state of mind before asking for a transition.
 We've got a ways to go on this, but Red is trying very hard to help me figure out the best way to get there, so I know we'll get there.

The other thing Red and I worked on is his tendency to get all worked up when we do any significant amount of canter work - his canter on both leads is just getting better - more engaged and smooth.  When we come back down to trot, he gets all elevated and "jittery", wanting very much to break back into canter and anticipating that.  Again, anxiety issues.  But I'm not worried about any of this, as he's so willing and 99% of the time so soft - we'll get there, too.

Then I saddled Pie up with his old saddle, which fits him a bit better than Red's new one.  I tried the doubled over wool pad, but no go, as it was too thin and his saddle nosed down in front.  We went back to his Diamond Wool 1" felt pad, and all was well.  He moved much more freely in the old saddle, and his ears were happier throughout our ride.  We did lots of cantering, since we had the ring to ourselves.  My objective was to get him breathing correctly, one breath per stride, to help him relax and be able to give me a better canter.  It took a fairly long time to get there - for him to have to breath every stride - more than 5 minutes of straight cantering on one lead.  He stuck for a while at a breath every two strides.  Finally we got there, and we took a rest break.  We switched to the other lead, and it came through very quickly, and then back to the original lead and things were immediately OK.  And lo and behold, the quality of his canter - its engagement and softness, were already much better.  I'll bet the next time we canter things will be very nice . . .

Today we're all taking a much-needed break.  Back to riding Monday . . .

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Dawn Knows the Drill and I Freeze My Face

Now that we have our quarter sheet, Dawn and I are good to go even when it's pretty cold.  We had lovely rides both yesterday and this morning.  Yesterday morning it was 11F as I headed to the barn.  When we were done with our ride, I discovered that my face was numb - I guess we generated enough "wind chill" while doing our session of mostly working trot to freeze my face.  So this morning, when it was 9F, I wore a balaclava - much better.

Yesterday morning, Dawn told me that she knows our routine.  As I approached her as she was eating from the round bale, she left the hay and very deliberately headed to the water trough, picking a safe pace through the snow and ice.  I followed along, and put her halter on when she was done drinking.  We always make a stop at the water trough on our way in for a work session - she knows the drill.

Dawn's been extremely affectionate lately - I have trouble getting our grooming done because she insists on being affectionate every time I get anywhere near her head.  She asks for lots of nose resting, with my holding her chin with one hand and stroking her face with the other, and lately a lot of muzzle snuggling - I put my had around her muzzle, supporting the far side, bring her muzzle against my chest and bend over and put my face on the other side of her muzzle - sort of a muzzle wrap.  We just stand there and breathe each other's breath - it's incredibly calming and almost meditative.  She'd do it indefinitely, I think, if I let her - I've never tested how long she'd stay in a muzzle wrap but will have to do that some time.  A muzzle wrap, or two, or three, is a great way to start the day!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Blanket Review

Here is a very useful opinion on various brands of turnout blankets from Melissa at Paradigm Farms - where my retirees live.  Melissa has more experience with blankets than anyone else I know.  I agree with all her opinions of the various brands.  I don't mind rear leg straps as much as she does, but I only have three horses to tend to, but the straps do have to be replaced with some frequency.  I would also add that some of my horses wear Dover's Rider sheets and turnouts some of the time - I've found that these relatively inexpensive blankets fit well and rewaterproof reasonably well, but they're not as well made as some of the others - snaps and seams particularly - and rewaterproofing them after more than a year or two is a gamble, but since they're relatively cheap replacing them isn't so painful.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dawn and I are More Winterproof

Today Dawn and I tested out the new quarter sheet - it was 13F when I got to the barn, and probably not that much warmer than that in the indoor.  Things were a bit out of the ordinary when I got to the barn.  Yesterday, three of the mares (not Dawn) had gotten trapped at bring-in time on the far side of a ice-banked small stream of water that had formed in the pasture, and the staff had a hard time bringing them in.  Ice conditions in that pasture were pretty bad.  So the barn owner prudently decided to keep the mares in until the guys could spread more manure for traction in the mare pasture.

So, when I got to the barn, I found Dawn in a paddock - the guys had nicely put her in there with some hay since otherwise she would have been all alone in the little barn, where all the other 10 horses are geldings and were already out.  She was a little bit up due to the circumstances, and also due to the other mares calling from their stalls.

But we just went about our usual routine of grooming and tacking.  She was very alert, but also moderately snuggly, which I took as a good sign, and there was lots of yawning, which meant she was releasing some tension.  I put the quarter sheet on while she was still on cross ties and she seemed to have no issue with it.  In the picture I linked to in my post yesterday, the rider has the quarter sheet across her legs.  I elected to instead put it under my stirrup leathers so I would have my legs on top of it - that way if I were to come off, I wouldn't have a piece of equipment attached to my body - seemed like a better plan.  I also don't grip at all with my legs, so it didn't matter that the polar fleece was slippery against the sides of the saddle.

Dawn and I had a wonderful ride - our second in and row and only the fourth of the month.  She was quite forward, but very responsive and soft and settled to work well.  We did a lot of long trotting since the horses aren't getting to move around much in the pastures due to the footing.  At the end of our ride, we did some lovely shortening/lengthening work at the trot.

So far this year, I haven't ridden when outside temperatures are lower than 20 - now I think we're good to go down to 10, with the quarter sheet for Dawn.  The boys are more cold hardy than Dawn, and I usually ride them in the afternoon when it's a bit warmer, but they're also fine down to 10 without a quarter sheet so that's what I'll do. If we want to get any riding done, we have to be a bit more weatherproof . . .

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dawn is Wonderful, and Some Fun Shopping

Even though it was only our third ride of the new year, and it was cold and windy, this morning Dawn and I had a wonderful ride this morning- one of our best ever, I think.

After being in for two days due to ice, the horses finally got out for part of the day yesterday.  They were out today, and I wasn't sure about how Dawn was going to feel about coming in to be ridden, but she was perfectly fine with it.  And while I was grooming her, she was very snuggly - some days she ignores me entirely but today she was very interested in communing while she nose rested.

When I saddled her, I added extra shims - she's lost a little bit of weight and the saddle was sitting a bit too low in front.  I use the shims that come with the Mattis pad, but not the pad itself - I like to be able to arrange, or fan, the shims as I want.  Dawn and I are currently using three shims on each side at the front of the saddle, between it and the pad, fanned so they fade off to the back.  Dawn also wasn't at all girthy today - she's often a bit snappish about girthing.

We went on to have a wonderful ride - she was relaxed, and soft, and responsive and just delightful.  She seemed to be having fun as well - her ears were up and her look was relaxed and happy.  Since I'd done so much shopping for Red yesterday (more on that), I decided that Dawn needed some stuff, too.  I stopped by Dover, and although I didn't find the royal blue dressage pad I wanted for her - all she has is black pads - I did get a quarter sheet, so that we can ride on the days that are too cold for her to be naked while riding - we haven't been riding unless the arena temperature is in the 20s, but now we can survive if it's a bit colder, and it doesn't look like this winter is going to be a warm one.

Yesterday's shopping was fun, although time consuming to find all the items I needed for Red due to the new saddle, so that I can go back to riding Pie in his old saddle, and Dawn can have exclusive use of the bridle she and Red have been sharing - I ended up buying from several different sites.  I almost never buy horse gear as I rarely have occasion to.

We got:

Another set of aluminum barrel racing stirrups, this time in the silver color (Pie's are copper).

A new Mylar bit, very nice looking with black rings with silver-colored dots.  It has a slightly different mouthpiece than his existing single-jointed Mylar, but I think he'll like it.

A new black headstall with chrome fittings.

New yacht rope reins in blue with silver-colored snaps - Pie's has brass snaps.

One saddle pad, and another saddle pad.

Another mohair cinch - this one may turn out to be Pie's as it's in brown leather and Red may use the one Pie uses now which has black leather.

And it turns out the back cinch that came with the new saddle (and was original as the tooling matches) is too short - it's 28" and we need a 32". I've been in email correspondence with Dave Genadek, the About the Horse saddle maker (both my western saddles were made by him), and he's going to make me the longer black back cinch and connector to match the tooling on the saddle.

Whew!  My credit card is hurting but now all three horses will be properly outfitted.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Canter, Canter, Canter - I'm Tired and We're All Happy

Today was a day with much cantering.  And since I participated in all that cantering, whereas each horse had only their share, I can perhaps claim to be more tired that they are - though, of course, they did all the work.

My day started early this morning.  The horses had not been turned out due to ice - we got a lot of rain last night on top of a lot of snow - not nice.  But I took Pie and Red out to the paddocks to spend the day.  Then Dawn and I had a lovely ride, with lots of forward trotting so she'd get some exercise.  At the end of our ride, we did just a bit of cantering on both leads.  Her canter felt very round, and it was lovely.  We didn't canter long, as she's still rebuilding her fitness.  Then she went out for some paddock time, too.

In the afternoon, I had wonderful rides on both Red and Pie.  And there was lots and lots of cantering.  Now that I have my new saddle, Red and I can work on some real, sustained cantering, and he's also much more happy to move out with the better fitting saddle.  His canter is already feeling more even and cadenced, even on the right lead which was always rougher.  We did trot/canter and walk/canter transitions and he seemed to really be enjoying himself.  There was also a lot of very nice, forward trot work, and some more collected trot work.  Although cantering that much got him fairly revved up, we worked on him not anticipating the canter and there was a big change from the past - he used to start bracing upwards when anticipating canter - there was none of that today, he just stayed soft.

Pie and I also did lots and lots of cantering.  We've been working on him sustaining the canter and maintaining good engagement and not falling out of the canter.  So we went around and around and around - if he started to think about trotting, I asked him to continue.  There was at certain points some rushing and some speed, but my objective today was just for him to keep cantering, the best he could.  His canter has already come a very long way - he balances well, including around the corners, even without any support from my hands. I was also looking for him to breath every stride, so he can let go and relax - his canter, which is now fairly rough, should improve substantially when that milestone is achieved.  We're not 100% there on that yet, but we're close.  A session or two more of sustained canter should get us there.   We took some standing still breaks, did some side pass, turn on the forehand and haunches, and also did some long trotting.  When we briefly went back to canter at the end of our ride, his canter was relaxed and cadenced on both leads.

Canter, canter, canter - who could ask for anything more?

Friday, January 10, 2014

"Why Are Your Horses So Calm?"

Another rider in the arena asked me that one day.  That day, I rode Dawn after she'd had 5 days off, and Red and Pie after 4 days off.  And it was pretty darn cold in the arena - 20s - after several days of much colder weather and some extra time off for the holidays.  This person's horse was propping, and threatening to buck and rear, and head-shaking, and just a little bit crazy - after being run around loose in the arena.  While this was going on, Red and I, and then Pie and I, were motoring around doing our regular work, without any lungeing, groundwork or running around before hand.

And yesterday and this morning I rode my horses after they'd had a lot of days off over the past two weeks. All three horses were just about perfect from the moment I got on - no running them around or lungeing first, just get on and ride.  When I was riding Red and Pie yesterday afternoon, another rider commented again on how calm they were.

This got me thinking about my horses, and how completely wonderful they now are to ride, almost every time.  What makes this possible?  It isn't just temperament - both Dawn and Red could be described as high-strung and even somewhat reactive - they're very sensitive and alert, and Red came to me as a horse who was very anxious and insecure.  Pie is still young - he's 7 and is capable of some big spooks.  But under almost all circumstances, I just get on and ride and they deliver.  How come we're able to do this?  There's no real magic to it, it's all very straightforward.  I'm no expert, but here's what I've found that works, for me and my horses.

Firs, what does "calm" mean?  I think when most people say my horses are calm, they mean that they work well, without signs of nervousness, and without rushing, pulling or acting up.  I mean those things, too, but I mean something else, too - that leads the horse to look calm while allowing them to really perform for me.  There's that magical combination of relaxation with true forward - from the hindquarters - responsiveness and consistent softness.  Think fire plus ice and you've got what I want from my horses.

Here are some things that I don't think qualify as calm.  Calm isn't a horse that's exhausted from being lunged to death or ridden into the ground.  Calm isn't a horse that's dull, shut down, checked out or that's given up due to coercion.   Calm isn't a horse that's been desensitized or sacked out - that can be a horse that's shut down or that has given up or can be a horse that's comfortable with specific objects - that's not calm, that's just desensitized to those objects.  Calm isn't a horse that's "broken" or coerced into submission.  Calm isn't a young horse that has been imprinted - there may be an appearance of calm but the horse may not have the ability to deal with challenging situations.

Calm requires a horse that is secure and self-confident, together with you.  This doesn't just happen - horses are prey animals and for them to feel secure and confident in partnership with a human isn't something that comes naturally to them.  (That's why the term "natural horsemanship" is such a misnomer - there's nothing natural about humans working with horses.)  Calm has to be learned, and the horse, in order to learn it, has to feel secure with you as a leader - which has, as far as I'm concerned, nothing whatsoever to do with being your horse's "alpha" - interacting with horses in that way is just another form of dominance/submission in disguise, and that's not calm, that's just dominance/submission.

A calm horse isn't necessarily a horse that won't ever spook, although spooking is likely to be less common - but it's what happens right after the spook that will tell if the horse is calm or not.

To my mind, a calm horse arises from a combination of things, all of which need to be present for the horse to be able to be secure and confident.  They are:

  • Management (handling and stabling) practices
  • Training and experience
  • What the human brings to the party

I'll be doing some other posts on those aspects of calmness.

A side note on the nervous or insecure rider, or beginner rider.  Riding a well-trained horse that has a basically quiet temperament can really allow a nervous or beginning rider to develop skills and confidence.  A nervous, anxious, high-strung or mistrained/undertrained horse is a very bad combination with a nervous or inexperienced rider or handler.

More to come . . .

Life Gets Back to Normal

Our temperatures finally inched up to almost 20F yesterday - it felt like a heat wave - so I finally managed some rides.  The last time I'd ridden Red and Pie was January 4, just short rides to test out the new saddle.  Red had been ridden only one other time this year, briefly, the day the saddle came, and Pie not at all, since December 29.  So Red had had 9 days off out of the past 10, and Pie 10.

One other reason I finally rode yesterday was that the horses finally had a full day of turnout - they had been stuck in their stalls on Monday and Tuesday due to the extreme cold and had only a short day of turnout Wednesday.

I rode both Red and Pie in the new saddle, using a much thinner pad for Red - the saddle still wasn't 100% level but it was much better and he seemed very happy with it.  The pad was a doubled over one, and I think with a single width thin pad things will be just fine.  Pie also seemed to approve of the new saddle.

And this morning - temperatures were in the mid-20s - I rode Dawn - the last time I'd ridden her was December 28 - that means she'd had 12 days off - this was our first ride of the new year!

With all three horses, I didn't do any lungeing or groundwork first - I just got on. All three horses were absolutely fabulous - forward, responsive and soft.  All three seemed happy that we were working together again, and all three rode just like they always do.  Pie even came to the front of his stall and waited for me to get him out to ride, which is unusual for him - usually he's more interested in eating. It sure feels wonderful that things are getting back to normal.

I'm working on a post or posts about the calm horse . . .

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Ultimate Goal - Understanding

It's still too cold to ride today, although the horses should get some outside time.

In light of all the plans we're making for 2014 with our equines, here's a wonderful post from Mare at Simply Horse Crazy.  Puts things into perspective . . .

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

More of the Same - But Heading in the Right Direction

Still very cold, horses still confined to quarters.  Better than yesterday, though - temperature was -5F with a wind chill in the -20s when I went to barn in the late morning - felt like a heat wave!  And it got to zero by my afternoon visit.  There is some hope that tomorrow will be a bit better - highs above zero and wind chills in the negative teens - and that the horses will get back out for at least part of the day.

Dawn continues to be resigned, Pie is fretful, and Red is agitated.  But this morning, after we did our "new" routine of stall picking and hand walking in the barn aisle, everyone settled down pretty well.  Red greeted all his herd mates and stopped to watch water buckets being washed in the wash stall.  In the afternoon, he wasn't too agitated (for him) and seemed relatively content with our routine.  I'm mighty tired of hand walking up and down and up and down our short barn aisle, and I expect the horses are too.

By the end of the week, we're supposed to be in the 30s, which will seem like summertime . . .

Monday, January 6, 2014

Too Cold

Today was the coldest day, in terms of wind chill, that I've experienced, ever.  Those of you in the upper midwest probably have been colder, but it's way too cold for me.  When I drove to the barn this morning, the air temperature was -17C with a wind chill in the -40s.  Fortunately, my truck started, although it didn't want to.

All I could do at the barn this morning was check on the horses.  They're stuck in their stalls.  Our small barn - 11 stalls - exits through the indoor arena and the indoor arena is full of pasture-boarded horses who were brought in there last night and were in there today.  So there was nowhere to hand walk except our very short barn aisle.  So Red, Dawn and Pie took short walks with me.  Dawn's not too upset about staying in - she knows it's cold and she's used to staying in or coming in early when it's very cold - she really doesn't like the cold.

Pie and Red are much more cold-hardy - they're usually good down to a -20F windchill - and they didn't really understand why they were trapped inside.  Pie was anxious to come out of his stall, but when I put him back in, he resignedly started eating his hay again.  Poor Red was frantic - he's not much of one for staying in a stall at the best of times - he'd be a good 24/7 pasture horse but the shelter at our current place isn't great, and there's no way to control how much the horses get to eat.  He and I did some fast walking, but he really didn't want to go back in his stall and tried to come out again, and kept bumping the door with his nose.  His head was high and his eyes were white-ringed - he was pretty upset.  He didn't like it when I took Pie out for his walk, either.

This afternoon, the temperature had made it all the way up to about -13F, with a wind chill in the -30sF. I made it back to the barn to check on the horses, do some grooming, pick stalls - a fair amount of work as they'd been in all day - and do some hand-walking in the barn aisle.  Dawn was fine.  Pie was very restless, pawing, biting the cross ties and doing some head-bobbing - this is extreme restlessness for Pie.  He clearly had a lot of pent-up energy.  His lower back also seemed a bit tight when I groomed - probably from standing around in a stall all day and night.  But we did our walk, with some head lowering at the end of each lap to stretch out his back, and when I put him back in his stall he went right to eating his hay.

Red started out very antsy - lots of nickering and pawing while I was walking Pie, and a lot of fidgeting on the cross ties, and pawing, while I was cleaning his stall.  But he seemed to enjoy his grooming, and we had a nice aisle walk.  He started out very energetic, and wanted to greet all the other horses - we do this when we walk - but the more we walked the more he hesitated as we passed his stall door.  Finally I asked him to go in, and he went right back in the stall without any resistance. He did think about trying to go out again - I said no and he responded - but then he took a big drink and settled down to eat his hay.  I was glad to see that he wasn't as agitated as he'd been.

More of the same tomorrow, and then things look like they might start to warm up . . . here's hoping.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cold and Two Dynamos

Friday the horses were in - I took Pie and Red out to the paddocks to hang out for the day with lots of hay - they're pretty happy with their herd of two regardless of how cold it is.  Since no other horses were out there, I opened the gates between paddocks - they're small, the size of a couple of stalls put together - so they could roam if they wanted to, but they seemed content to stand and eat.

Dawn also went into a paddock briefly while her stall was cleaned - I like to get them out during stall cleaning since the dust is so bad.  Then I hand walked her for a bit, and we even did some trotting along together, with lots of stops and starts and changes of direction for fun.  Then she went back in her stall for the day.

Saturday it got into the 20s - heat wave! - the horses were in turnout all day, and I finally managed to squeeze in two rides, on Red and Pie.   I really wanted to ride - I've only ridden one other time in 2014 and that's way too few rides for my taste.  And I wanted to try the saddle out on Red one more time before making a decision.

Before I saddled up, I switched out the stirrups that came with the saddle - perfectly nice tooled leather stirrups - for my barrel racing stirrups, which I adore.  They hang perfectly, put my feet in an excellent position and have very nice grip pads - and they come in many cool colors and aren't terribly expensive.

Red and I had a very nice ride - he was a bit feisty, and we had a bit of "dolphin" bucking - sort of an up and down leaping/roller coaster movement - on our first canter departure.  After than he settled down, although he was very forward at the trot and very much enjoyed his cantering.  He was really strutting his stuff, and was delivering some excellent work. The saddle felt good to me, although the seat is quite a bit harder than the seat on my existing saddle.  In looking at the saddle after I rode, it was tending to tilt down a bit towards the back, and I think my Diamond Wool pad is a bit too thick - it ends up raising the saddle in front a bit even with the wider tree.  Later, I tried the saddle on Red again with a friend's much thinner wool Navaho pad, and it seemed much more level - I'll have to get one of those along with the other new things Red needs (to go with his new saddle).

Then I also rode Pie in the new saddle - it actually fit him very well with the Diamond Wool pad and sat quite level - he's a bit narrower in the shoulder than Red and is also not as uphill.  Pie was a dynamo - much more forward than usual at both the trot and canter, which was a lot of fun.  The same boarder who'd asked me before "why are your horses so calm?" was riding again and said "he's a dynamo?"  (Her horse was fussing, and balking, and pretty much as usual.) I said, yes, for Pie, since he's usually so calm and forward isn't always automatic.  He was being very, very good, and settled right down to work, doing some really lovely canter.

Today the horses were in again all day - wind chills below zero.  Dawn got a couple of hours out in a paddock and was happy to come in, and Red and Pie stayed out for almost 5 hours and came in covered in snow that had blown off the roof.  Monday and Tuesday we're supposed to have record-breaking cold and wind chills, so horses are in and we're all going to huddle up.  Hoping for a warm up later in the week . . .

Thursday, January 2, 2014

One Ride in January - and New Saddle Arrives!

I finally managed a ride today.  Not entirely because I wanted to - the temperature was in the teens and it was very cold in the (unheated) indoor, and none of the horses had been ridden in days due to the cold, but the new saddle arrived . . .

And who can resist a new saddle?  So Red and I tried it out.  It arrived in very good condition, and was just as represented in the photos.  And I can lift and carry it - it's a light trail model, although all leather and no cordura  (my existing saddle is part cordura so it's a bit lighter).  Red didn't object to saddling - no shifting around - which was a good sign.  There was plenty of room in the shoulders, which has been a problem with the existing saddle.

Red was plenty feisty - it was 15 degrees and he hadn't been ridden in 4 days.  But he was very, very good - there was a bit of bracing, and one episode of head bobbing and shaking at the canter - but otherwise he was very willing and cooperative.  He didn't seem to mind the saddle - the seat is much harder than my existing saddle, which will take some getting used to, and I need to replace the stirrups with some of the barrel racing stirrups I have on my other saddle.  The back cinch is also too short and doesn't have an attachment strap to the front cinch (pretty important).  But these are all minor issues.

The only question I have is about the rear skirt of the saddle.  Red is quite short in the back, and I need to be sure that the skirt of the saddle doesn't catch him in the lower back.  I was riding him in a 1/2" wool pad that is short, and may need to go to a longer pad and perhaps one that is a bit thicker.

The weather tomorrow is supposed to be nasty - we got 17" of snow yesterday into today, which is one thing, but tomorrow morning wind chills are supposed to be in the -20sF.  Saturday is a bit warmer - upper 20sF and Red and I should get another good shot at a saddle try out, but then Sunday afternoon we're back in the deep freeze and Monday and Tuesday look positively nasty - one day the high is -7F with wind chills of -40F.  Winter . . .