Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Final Rides of November, and November Summary

I managed to ride all three horses today - our vet/chiro couldn't come because one of her horses was colicy - we're hoping she can come tomorrow.  It was about 40F with sun and not too much wind - a pretty nice late November day.  Dawn and I had an excellent session, with lots of walk/trot/walk transition work every few steps - she was great.  Drifter and I had a walk-only session - I'll wait and see what our chiro has to say before trotting him again.  He was able to do some very nice, forward, lengthened walk and we took a brief excursion outside the arena again.  He was feeling pretty feisty and bitey in his paddock when I went to bring him in, and got a big "no" and a swat for biting.   I suspect that now he's feeling better, his "aggressive little dude" personality is coming to the fore.  When I was riding him in the arena, he stopped, stepped to one side, and deliberately deposited a pile right next to one of my cones! Pie and I had a nice 30-minute trail ride with Charisma - he had to do some trotting to keep up in the first half of the ride when he was following and felt great, and led the second half of the ride.

Here's the November summary - we did pretty well despite the many days with high winds - Pie: 11 rides November; 124 rides 2011 to date. Drifter: 11 rides November; 93 rides 2011 to date. Dawn: 12 rides November; 60 rides 2011 to date; all horses 34 rides total November; 277 rides 2011 to date.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Would I Hand Feed a Horse That Bites?

Because I'm working on training him not to bite - to keep his mouth to himself - using clicker training . . .

I've only made use of clicker training for a few purposes - helping Dawn with scary objects was an important one (we'll do more of that).  I'm certainly no expert at clicker training.  But I really do like it for certain purposes, and I'm sure if I thought about it more, I could find lots more ways to use it.

Drifter is very mouthy - that's probably part of the "I used to be a stallion and still want to act like one" routine.  Now that he's feeling better due to his EPM treatment, he's quite the sassy little dude, and anytime my hand is near his head there's a possibility that he'll try to nip at it in a (highly annoying) playful way - not OK.  I like to use a hand up, palm out, as a signal to back out of my space, and this is problematic with Drifter - he wants to play at that point, which involves biting - again, not OK.

Clicker training also greatly concentrates the equine mind - if you want them to really focus on something, and learn to respond, clicker works very well.  And it's positive, not negative, reinforcement - swatting a horse that nips or bites is often a very counterproductive strategy as it tends to produce even more of the nippy play behavior you're trying to discourage - just watch two geldings doing "bitey-face" play and you've got the idea.

So hand feed the horse to train it not to bite - sounds counterintuitive, doesn't it?  Here's what I did in the barn aisle this afternoon - I'd brought my horses in out of the 45 mph winds - they were ready - and was doing some grooming.  Drifter already understands the basic principle that a tongue click means he's done whatever it is precisely right, and that a treat will follow - I used clicker to teach him good hoof handling and then faded out the treats and now only use them occasionally.  He's also a very smart horse, and clicker works really well with smart horses - it's amazing how fast they figure out what you want.

I took him off the crossties, and holding the lead loosely, put my hand out, palm up and said "back".  (He already knows what the palm up and out and the word "back" mean, he just often prefers to play bitey rather than do it - I think he sees my hand as a challenge.)  He backed a step - I clicked as soon as the first foot moved back and treated promptly.  Now I had his full attention.  We repeated this a few times and he was very interested in complying.  Then I asked him to step back without my saying "back" - it took a moment but he did it.  We repeated this a few times, then I asked for two steps back and had to wait for a moment for him to do it, but he got there. That was it - about 5 minutes in total but I already feel like we made good progress.

On his rearing/lameness issue, he's pretty careful, despite the cold temperatures and high winds, to not move at a speed above the walk in turnout, which isn't typical for him.  He did spook briefly this morning and trotted a few steps, but it wasn't a good trot - the left hind/right front pair clearly didn't feel good.  This afternoon, he told me that it was his armpit area - where the right front joins the body - that was sore - I'm wondering if he slipped in the mud when he was feeling good and extended his front leg too far to the side.  I'm hoping our vet/chiropractor can help him out, and I'm still feeling a bit bad about making him trot yesterday after the rearing, although I'm afraid it was probably necessary and it's good that horses mostly are forgiving sorts . . .

Monday, November 28, 2011

Muddy Dawn, Sleepy Pie and Drifter Rears

I managed to ride all three horses - the wind chill didn't get much above 30F but the weather's going to be worse for the next few days.  Dawn and I had a nice ride, but first I had to deal with this:

Pie was having a nice nap in his gravel bed - I rode him later, a bit on the trail and a bit in the arena.  In the first picture, he's pretty soundly asleep; in the second, he's noticing I'm there, but still very sleepy:

Drifter's session started out pretty well - nice work at the walk.  Interesting things happened, though, when I asked for trot.  Two days ago when I rode, I had gotten some brief balking but he trotted pretty willingly. Today, first I got some balking.  I asked again and tapped him with the crop on the shoulder when he didn't immediately respond (secondary cue).  (Two days ago, when I rode him, last, this was sufficient to get us into trot.  I speculated at the time that he might be a little sore, as his trot was a bit stiff.) Then I asked again and tapped again - this time he popped up slightly in front.  I immediately asked again and more firmly tapped - this time I got a full-fledged rear, about a 45-degree angle.  I pretty well knew that something was wrong - he's never reared with me in the 6 months I've had him so I doubt it's really a training matter - but had to get him moving forward regardless at that point since rearing is never acceptable.  We trotted, but only a bit, doing a few transitions from walk to a few steps of trot, and repeating this several times.  He didn't give me any more trouble, so I was able to walk from there on out.  I apologized to him for making him move forward into trot, but felt that it was necessary and unlikely to do him any serious harm.  At the end of our ride, since he seemed uninterested in moving at any gait than walk, I decided it might be a good day to try a small excursion outside the arena - our first.  I rode him up to the gate, we pushed it open and then we rode around in the area of the barn a bit, including on the grassy field behind the barn.  He was very well behaved and seemed interested to be out there.  I also figured that let us end on a good note.

He's perfectly sound at the walk - his walk looks and feels great.  After our ride, I went over him very carefully, paying attention to his reactions to my rubbing and massaging and feeling joints.  His original problem when he was showing symptoms of EPM had been the left hind, so I paid particular attention to that and his back and stifle - nothing.  Since it was that diagonal - left hind/right front - that had been the original problem, I carefully checked out the right front - bingo!  He was ouchy in the forearm below the shoulder, and also a bit around the knee and in the sternal area between his front legs.  There's no swelling or heat, so I don't think it's too serious.  I suspect that he may have somehow tweaked something running around once he felt better, or that our work getting back into shape has gone a little too quickly.  The good news is that our vet/chiropractor is coming on Wednesday, so she can check him out.  I gave him a 500-lb. dose of Banamine to help him out - it'll have worn off before mid-day Wednesday so our vet/chiro can look at him unmedicated.  I certainly hope she can help him out - rearing isn't an equine behavior that's on my fun things to do together list.

Two More Test Positive

Two more horses at our barn have tested positive using the new ELISA peptide antigen test for active infections with the EPM organism.  Scout is spending the winter at another barn (with an indoor - lucky them!), so I don't know how he's doing.  Charisma, who is a 22 year old Morgan mare - but in excellent condition and still ridden almost every day - started having some reluctance to move out at gaits other than the walk and on neurological testing had some abnormalities affecting her right hind leg.  She's started her treatment with the Oroquin-10 paste (see my EPM page for more information about the disease and a new, much more accurate blood test and a new treatment that are in clinical trials).

Sugar's owner had recently noticed some oddness about her gaits, and since four horses (out of seven total) at our barn have already tested positive, our vet/chiro will be coming Wednesday to draw blood so Sugar can be tested as well.  I'm probably going to have Dawn tested too, although she has no apparent symptoms - the test doesn't cost that much and it would be a good thing to determine whether or not she is starting an active infection - or to rule it out for now.

Our best theory is that one or more of our loads of square hay bales was contaminated with the EPM organism, since Charisma doesn't go on pasture - she's in a dry lot on hay only due to insulin resistance.  We've used the same local hay supplier for years and his hay is excellent in quality.  There's nothing he can do to keep possums out of his hay fields though, and there sure are lots of possums around here - I see them frequently.

Our vet/chiro will also do some work on Pie and Drifter - they're both a bit sore or stiff, either due to getting back into shape or because of some lingering hind end weakness - it's hard to tell.  I'm hoping to get a ride in today - the temperature's going to get into the upper 30sF and the wind isn't too bad.  This time of year, I have to ride whenever I can since the weather isn't going to get any better until spring.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Balk Is Back

Drifter's ground manners have been just fine the past several days.  Studliness must come and go . . .

We've been restarting our trot work to rebuild his fitness, adding some time every ride.  Yesterday, he started balking a bit when I asked for a walk/trot transition.  The quality of his trot is better in lengthening than when his stride is shorter.  After my ride, he was ever so slightly dragging his left hind toe as he brought the leg forward - this was very worrisome.  But this morning, his walk was normal again - I don't think it's a recurrence of EPM symptoms but rather some muscular weakness/fatigue - we worked pretty hard yesterday.  Today he was balky again in the first couple of upwards transitions, but trotted well in lengthening once he got moving, although when I'm posting the trot tracking left, it's clearly a bit more of an effort for him - on that diagonal I'm weighting the left hind.  After our ride - I kept it a bit shorter today - his walk was normal - no toe dragging, which was a relief.  Next time I ride, I may give him a 500-lb. dose of Banamine that morning - if he trots more willingly, then soreness is likely, if not then weakness may be the cause of his uncertainly.

There's always something with horses . . .

Dawn and Pie are well - Dawn has started some trot work - her first trotting under saddle barefoot - and is doing well.  Pretty soon, I'll be giving her some time in the paddock with pea gravel to help her frogs and heels develop.  Pie has been going on the trail with Charisma, and has been happily trotting and cantering on turnout.  He was very girthy yesterday - unusual for him and probably indicating some sternal soreness - and has a big sore knot on the left side of his neck that I worked on for a while yesterday.  I'm going to have our chiropractor work on him a bit when she comes next week.

Much colder weather is coming and many Christmas prepartions to make . . .

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Some Things Improve, Some Things Stay the Same . . .

Some things get better with time and some things stay the same.  A number of Drifter's prior issues have just melted away - picking his feet is now easy whether he's loose in the stall or on crossties - it's now reliable and he picks up each foot in turn as I go around.  His ridden work is much better and his ability to pay attention and focus is improved - yesterday he dealt well with Sugar tacking up outside the barn and leaving to go on the trail while we were working in the arena - he noticed and was distracted but was able to come right back to work.  He leads much better (caveat in next paragraph), and will even trailer load much better than he did after 6 months of not having worked on it at all.

But Mr. Drifter has also been displaying his "stallion" side lately - he isn't one, we've had him tested - but he likes to think he is and has many stallion-like behaviors.  Yesterday, he was attempting to get nippy with me while I was leading him, attempting to bite my hand, and was also trying to nip when my hand was near his face.  We had a conversation about that where I made it clear that wasn't acceptable, and praised him when he was behaving correctly, and also did some extra leading work after our riding session to reinforce good behavior.  When I turned him out in Pie's paddock (while Pie was out of it) for a while so his feet could benefit from the pea gravel, he walked around, sniffed every pile of Pie poo, and then selected a pile and made a precise "deposit" on top of it to express his dominance.  This morning while I was leading him to the turnout, we were walking by Dawn's paddock - she's coming into heat and was squealing and striking on the other side of the fence - and he decided that he since he was feeling pretty fresh - it was also cold and windy - it would be fun to do several large rears.  Each time he went up, I snapped the lead and told him "no" in a strong voice.  When he came back down and stood quietly for a moment, we went on with our walk.  He seems to get particularly obnoxious when one or more of the mares is in heat.

His behavior isn't particularly aggressive, although that sort of thing can get you hurt around horses so it's not acceptable.  He's more fresh and sassy and playful than aggressive - he clearly feels really good after his EPM treatment and wants to show off his prowess (particularly to Dawn).  When I tell him no, he falls into line pretty quickly but he's one, I think, who's always going to test the limits and see what he can get away with.  I also suspect that he may have been gelded late and have spent some part of his prior life as a stallion, so the behaviors may be more learned than hormonal.  I also suspect he wasn't properly socialized in a herd as a young horse and he can be very aggressive in a herd situation with the other geldings, again acting like a stallion - that's why he's on solo turnout.  One option might be to turn him out with the mares, but we haven't done that due to the risk of injury - Dawn is a pretty aggressive little horse herself and if he didn't injure her she'd quite likely injure him - he'd probably learn a good lesson but the cost might be too high. I suspect that over time, with consistent handling, some of these stallion-like behaviors may abate, but he certainly keeps me on my toes.

* * * * * *
A very happy Thankgiving to all of you in the United States!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why I Don't Ride On the Rail - Attention and Straightness

That's not quite true - I do ride on the rail, but only sometimes.  Here's why - there are a couple of reasons.  I think a lot of the problems we have with our horses are due to momentary lapses in our own attention to the horse, and lapses in our providing direction to the horse.  We need to be there for our horses - how can they have a continuous conversation with us if we're not there? If I'm riding away from the rail, it helps me stay focused and attentive - I can't just mindlessly ride around the arena on the rail, I have to give the horse direction.  This also means that we're doing things together - figures or riding to a specific point - which gives the horse a "mission" - horses love having jobs they can focus on and do well together with their rider.

And here's another reason I like riding away from the rail - horses are shaped like this:

Note that the horse is narrower in the shoulders than in the hindquarters.  The horse in the picture isn't travelling straight - the rail side of its body is parallel to the rail but due to the horse's shape this means the hindquarters are travelling slightly to the inside, and there's also likely to be a slight bend of the head and neck to the inside.  (Aside: are there other horse people out there who, like me, love those pictures of dressage movements in books where little diagram horses move around the figures?)  If your horse travels like the one in the picture, rhythm and impulsion will both be problems as the horse isn't straight.  Watch people riding their horses on the rail - I don't care whether English or Western or in what discipline - and you'll see a lot of crooked horses - it takes a lot of attention to ride a horse straight when travelling down the rail and most horses end up like the one in the diagram.

And when I'm riding away from the rail, I can't use the rail as a "crutch" - the horse and I have to travel with intention and if we're going to be straight, it's because we intend to be straight.  If crookedness and wiggliness are an issue for you and your horse (and it's never just the horse), then riding in straight lines away from the rail, with impulsion and a specific destination, will in my experience do a lot to make things better.  And straightness isn't a matter of steering - it comes from the hind end.  A horse that's braced on the front end - either due to the horse or rider bracing or both, or ridden in a way that constricts the front end like rollkur, cannot effectively use its hind end to carry itself and cannot have proper impulsion - and its proper impulsion that leads directly to straightness and rhythm.  Proper impulsion also cannot exist without softness and suppleness, and straightness also comes from the development of this softness and suppleness through all softening work including the use of figures such as circles and serpentines.

I also don't use the rail to teach the beginnings of lateral work, such as side pass.  If you teach your horse to do side pass facing the rail as a barrier - that's what you've done - taught your horse to do sidepass if the rail is there.  I find it's better to allow the horse the freedom to move - and to make mistakes - that being off the rail provides, and the horse learns the general principle rather than a specific case.

Now I certainly understand that, if you ride in an arena when lots of other people are riding, you may not have a choice about riding on the rail.  But even in circumstances like that, it may be possible to do some things to engage your mind and that of your horse, and to work on straightness, like riding the quarter line, doing diagonals or partial diagonals, or leg yielding away from the rail for a few steps, riding straight for a few steps and then leg yielding back to the rail.  Be creative - there are all sorts of things you can do.  Cones are very useful as focal points when working off the rail.  And most importantly, have fun!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pie and Drifter Featured on Dr. Ellison's Blog

Dr. Ellison (of the new ELISA peptide EPM test and new treatment protocol - see my EPM page for more about this) has a blog with occasional posts about her work and that of others on EPM - better understanding it and how to treat it effectively.  In the most recent post, Pie and Drifter (and I) have our pictures included!

The post is about some technical things - that the primary disease mechanism may be inflamatory rather than central nervous system infection - but the take-away for me is that it is possible to detect very early symptoms of infection with the organism that causes EPM, and that many horses, regardless of the stage of infection, may be able to make a full recovery.  Inflamed abdominal lymph nodes - like what Pie experienced and which probably caused his recurring colic - would be very consistent with this. Many of these very early symptoms are not the ataxia - poor coordination and lameness - that have traditionally been considered the markers of the disease - ataxia indicates that the disease is more advanced. It also makes the very good point that it's not the absolute level of antibodies, but changes in the antibody level over time that most clearly indicate the progression of the infection.  EPM is a very scary disease, and it's good to know that infected horses have significant hope for full recovery.  (Note to readers outside the Americas:  EPM is transmitted to horses through contamination of water, hay or grass with opossum urine or feces - and opossums are a Western Hemisphere animal, so one thing the rest of you don't have to worry about - unless your horse has made a trip to the New World.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Small Triumphs

It was a cloudy day, with temperatures reaching about 42F, but there wasn't as much wind as there's been.  It seems like it's been horribly windy for days and days, and in fact someone I know said that they'd heard it was already one of the windiest Novembers ever.  Tomorrow it's supposed to rain, so I wanted to get in some rides if I could.  In the morning, I took my truck and trailer to be inspected - this is a twice a year requirement - and I'd left it hitched up in the barn parking lot so we could also do some trailer loading practice.

Despite the chill, it was a very good day, with small triumphs with all three horses.  Dawn was first - she was fairly nervous and tense, even chomping the bit which she almost never does.  I took her first thing to the trailer, and she loaded right up - she always does and these refreshers aren't really needed for her.  After we groomed, tacked and mounted up, we worked on our figures - my objective was to get her to relax.  After about 10 minutes, she began to relax and concentrate and we got some nice work done, including some more very nice lateral work.  As recently as 6 months ago, Dawn probably wouldn't have been able to relax and be "with" me under these circumstances - now she can. Good Dawn!

Drifter was next.  He was feeling pretty feisty, but was well-behaved.  I've pretty much dropped the ground work with him now, and just take him to the arena and get right on.  He was nice and forward, and also very soft.  His walk felt good, so we did some lengthening and pole work to get him to engage his hind end.  Then we trotted.  There were a few moments of tentative trot, but then he decided he felt pretty good and off we went in a nice medium trot.  We did a number of sets of this, interspersed with some walking lateral work.  I untacked him in the arena, and led him straight to the trailer.  We haven't done any trailer loading work since May, and his best loading effort at the time involved taking about 3 minutes to load with some resisting and attempts to leave the scene - even this was a big improvement over how he loaded (or rather didn't load) when I got him.  I had mentioned to Mark Rashid at the clinic in May that Drifter's loading still needed more work, and Mark said not to worry to much about it, that it would come together in time as our work progressed. Mark was right - I'm not too surprised by that. Today Drifter's first loading attempt took only about a minute - there were a few slight instances of resistance but they were very brief.  The second attempt was even quicker and there was almost no resistance, although he did want to back off pretty quickly once he was on.  We did one more load - he pretty much walked right on, and this time I asked him to walk all the way forward and put his head out the window before I asked him to back off.  My daughter's using my trailer this weekend, and I'll have her leave it hitched when she comes back so we can have another session, with a focus on him staying on the trailer for a longer time.  I was delighted with him and told him so. Good Drifter!

Then Mr. Pie and I had a ride.  (We didn't do any loading work, since he loads just fine and he got some practice on our trip to the vet clinic.) We did a little arena work, working on getting him to engage his hind end - lengthening at the walk and pole work - and then we took a short trail excursion.  We went by ourselves about 1/2 mile from the barn and back - this is the farthest we've been solo in a very long time.  We actually went a bit farther than I'd planned to go today. Pie's walk was very forward and swinging - the best walk he's had in the year I've had him.  He was clearly happy to be heading out and at one fork actually asked to take the direction leading farther from the barn.  We met some friends walking their dogs and walked back to the barn with them - Pie is interested in and likes dogs so long as they're not barking and leaping.  Good Pie!

I was thinking about these small triumphs with each horse - none of them are about any technique I used - they were offered to me by the horses as a result of the relationship I have with each of them that's been developed over time by each small thing we do and accomplish together.  In Dawn's case, I've focused in her work on developing relaxation and attention.  With Drifter, I've worked on developing his softness and confidence.  With Pie, it's mostly been that he needed to feel better physically so he could enjoy our rides, and for me to feel more confident so that I can provide him the leadership and direction he needs.

Triumphs all around - I'll take that!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Precision Bombing . . .

Do you think someone had an opinion about the hay? (Taken by our p.m. barn lady last evening.)

I believe this is Drifter's doing - he's a master of "precision" deposits . . .

Saturday, November 19, 2011

One Pie Photo

Here's Pie, looking a bit skeptical while he gets in a last few bites before I bring him in off the pasture this morning - he only gets two hours on early morning grass per day until the grass dies completely and the sugars are washed out by rain or snow:

It's about 7 weeks since we made our trip to the vet hospital and about 3 weeks since he began his treatment for EPM - see the EPM page for more details on this - he's completed the 10 days of the Oroquin-10 paste (decoquinate plus levamisole) and is now on the lower dose 90-day feed top dressing with decoquinate.  He's feeling great - sassy and happy like a young horse should be, and completely comfortable moving out - this morning he trotted off when I let him go in the pasture.  There have been no recurrances of the colic attacks, and we're hoping that it was his immune system fighting the EPM that caused the abdominal lumps that apparently were the cause of his abdominal discomfort.  Keeping fingers crossed on this . . .

No riding for me today, since I have my music lessons and it's also going to rain, but Sunday and Monday look like they might be nice riding days . . .

Friday, November 18, 2011

More Wind But Quieter Horses

No riding again today - it's a bit warmer but the wind is really howling.  When I turned Drifter out, he and Sugar had to sniff noses under the electric.

Sugar struck and squealed, and then first Misty -

and then Dawn - had to come up to see what was happening. Drifter seemed to be losing interest - he wants to act like a stud but then seems to lose track of what he might do next - which is just as well.

Dawn was easier to catch today - instead of airs above the ground I saw this - of course this was the day I had my camera - and she didn't even move away when I approached to halter her - I'll take that!

Now if the wind would just ease up a bit . . .

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wind Chill of 22F With Dancing Horses

It's even colder today - low 30sF with a strong wind gusting to 25mph - at noon the wind chill was 22F, although the sun is shining brightly, which helps a little.  When I turned Drifter out, he strutted his stuff up to the fenceline with the mares - Sugar's in raging heat - he did his really big trot and his neck was all arched.  Later, while I was working on catching Dawn, he did some more prancing around, at one point with his tail flagged and even up over his back.  Dawn was excited and did not want to be caught - I wished I'd had a camera - she was galloping, and bucking, and kicking out, and leaping up with all four feet off the ground and twisting - the other mares were running with her and trying to keep out of the way - and she was even doing her huge rears - paw, rear, paw, rear - and some beautiful big trot with her neck all rounded.  I just patiently kept heading to where she was going and she finally stopped and let me halter her - once the halter was on she was as good as gold.

No riding today . . .

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pea Gravel, All Scraped Up and Caudal Hoof Photos

Yesterday, Pie was apparently enjoying his pea gravel at the lower end of his paddock too much.  He apparently rolled all the way over and got his legs through the board fence and managed to scrape himself up pretty thoroughly, including a big scrape down the back of one hind, smaller scrapes on the other hind and a big scrape on the inside of one front leg between the shoulder and knee.  Fortunately, all the wounds were superficial, and he's completely sound.  He must have had his legs well through the fence boards to get scraped up in all those locations.  I inspected the fence this morning, and sure enough, there were bits of hair stuck to one board and numerous scrapes and indentations on the boards made by hooves as he thrashed around.  I'm not sure how he managed to extricate himself - it must have been quite a struggle - but I'm glad he managed.  The pea gravel does slope downhill a bit at that location, so I can see how he could have rolled all the way over pretty easily there without even meaning to.

I'd already planned to install more pea gravel in his paddock on both sides of his shed, to give him dry footing and a comfortable place to lie out of the wind.  Another 14 tons of gravel were delivered and installed this morning - we've now put a total of 28 tons into the paddock.  I certainly hope he limits his rolling to the locations near his shed from now on, and stays away from the fenceline!  The gravel will also help to deal with the run-off from the shed roof, which has been a problem.  The middle of the paddock will still get somewhat muddy, but things are much improved from a footing point of view, and pea gravel is supposedly very good for developing healthy hooves.  I'm planning to get both Dawn and Drifter some time in the paddock so they can also benefit from the gravel - our dry lots turn into muddy messes any time it rains or snows, and are not good for horse hooves at all.  We also leveled up the gravel along the fence line a bit to reduce the chances of him getting stuck again.

Here's some photos of our new, improved, pea graveled paddock - this is what 28 tons of pea gravel put down about 6 inches deep looks like - I believe the depression in the center indicates a nap was had - away from the fenceline:

And just for fun, and in particular to start documenting changes in the heel structure of Dawn's hooves, are caudal photos of all 12 hooves (here's a recent post showing the soles of their feet).  Please excuse the imperfect angles and sometimes blurry pictures.

First, Dawn.  Left front:

Right front:

She's been out of front shoes for about two weeks now.  Note that her frogs and digital cushion are underdeveloped, which is about what you'd expect.  Also note how the hoof wall in the heel area is contracted and compressing the frog - those horizontal lines halfway down the hoof wall are evidence of this. As her feet grow out over the next 6 to 9 months, I would expect some decontraction of the heels and development of the frog and digital cushion.

Left rear:

Right rear:

The rears aren't too bad - her feet would be even better if she had exposure to a greater variety of surfaces of different textures and hardnesses.

Now Drifter.  Left front:

Right front:

Drifter's got a decent heel structure, although it's interesting to note that the right front has a somwhat less developed caudal structure - this is the foot with the longer, narrower frog and some contraction in the heel.  He's extremely sound on all surfaces though, including rocks, so some of this may just be natural variation.

Left rear:

Right rear:

Not too much to say about Drifter's rears - they look pretty nice with decent caudal structures.

Pie - left front:

Right front:

Left rear:

Right rear:

Pie has very nice, well-developed caudal hoof structures.  I believe that the teardrop shape in the center of his heels is evidence of the good development of his digital cushion - his really excellent feet and legs were one of his big selling points when I was horse shopping.

And, for those of you who made it this far through the post, here's a bonus picture of Dawn doing her snuggle thing where she rests her chin on my hand and presses her nose to my shoulder - she loves to do this while I'm grooming her:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Boys Are Back!

I'm delighted to report that both Drifter and Pie seem to be making great progress - it's day 19 of their treatment for EPM.  Drifter was much less nervous today, despite the stiff wind, and we had a great session.  His walk work was very good, loose and relaxed, with nice softening.  So we trotted - and there was no balking, not even a bit - the balk is gone and there were no attempts to trot-a-lope - I expect he was trying to tell me something with the weird behaviors.  At first, his trot was somewhat tentative and a bit lurchy.  We did some straight lines at the trot, with walk around the turns.  And, then, suddenly, Drifter's big trot was back!  Drifter has had an exceptionally fine trot - huge impulsion and lift and the beginnings of extension, and full of fire and brio.  I hadn't felt that trot for a long time, and then, today, it was back in spades!  He really seemed to be enjoying himself - every time I asked for trot, he sprang into it and offered the most amazing, engaged, round trot - it was probably the best trot we'd ever done.  It was almost as if he'd figure out that it no longer felt weird to trot and that it was OK - he seemed relieved and delighted. It was hard not to overdo things - we stopped after about ten minutes of trot work and we didn't do any tight turns, but the boy is back!

Then Pie and I went on a short trail ride with Charisma.  He led most of the way on a loose rein, and his ears were up and he was interesting in, but not alarmed by, what we encountered, including barking, lunging dogs and suddenly appearing school buses.  His walk was swinging and he motored up the small hills without any trouble although he was clearly having to use muscles that were out of use.  He seemed very happy about the whole thing and it was the best trail ride we've had in a long time.  This boy is back too!

And not to neglect Dawn - her tender toes seem to be be better and we had a gentle walk work session in the arena, and she was very good.

It was a very good day with horses . . .

And tomorrow, I'm getting a delivery of another 14 tons of pea gravel for Pie's paddock . . .

The Dangers of Fall Grass

Many people, I expect, know that, when the grass starts growing vigorously in the spring, horses can sometimes have problems, ranging from mild footsoreness to full-blown laminitis and even founder with rotation of the coffin bone.  A caveat - I am not a vet and this post is based on the information I have learned over time. The mechanisms that cause high levels of available sugars - particularly fructans - to trigger damage to the laminae that attach the hoof capsule to the inner structures of the hoof are not completely understood, but it appears to relate to a restriction of circulation followed by excess blood flow - think migraine headache and you've got the basic idea.  This article gives a brief overview and includes some ways to avoid triggering laminitis in horses who are on grazing - they all involve restricting the amount of grazing.  Ponies and certain breeds such as Morgans, and horses which tend to gain weight easily or who are "cresty" are at particular risk, and some of these horses may not be able to graze at all without risk.  And horses who are insulin resistant (who may not have the typical grass-sensitive body type - many racing TBs have been dosed with lots of steroids and this can predispose them to later problems - Dawn falls in this category) or senior horses can also have problems.  The most accurate indication of insulin resistance is a cortisol blood test repeated at different times during the day - blood glucose levels can be indicative but are not determanitive.

But the article also points out that there are other circumstances besides spring where horses may be at risk.  Any time grass is rapidly growing - such as after a drought breaks - can be a problem.  And then there's fall and frosty nights - it isn't the temperature of the grass (in itself) or the frost/moisture on the grass - it's the result of how grass grows.  Grass, like any other plant, uses sunlight during the day to manufacture food for itself - and in the case of grass this includes carbohydrates like fructan.  And there are factors that affect how much fructan the grass accumulates - for example, more will accumulate on a sunny than a cloudy day. (Also, different grass types are more or less prone to accumulating high levels of fructans, and many commercial horse feeds also have inappropriately high levels of sugars.) And then the grass uses the stored carbohydrates during the nighttime hours to grow - grass grows at night not during the day.  In the fall, when nighttime temperatures are colder, the grass has less chance to grow and use up the accumulated fructans from the day before.  When nighttime temperatures fall below 50F, I begin to restrict the grazing of my horses, bringing them into dry lot paddocks in the early afternoon - fructan levels rise throughout the day and are typically highest in the mid to late afternoon.  I shorten things up even more as nighttime temperatures fall into the 40sF, bringing my horses off pasture in the late morning.  Dawn is somewhat insulin resistant, and Pie's had one prior episode of spring laminitis, so I'm extra careful with them, and although Drifter has never had a problem, I keep him on the same schedule as it's easier for me and can't hurt him.

And then we get frosty nights - once that's happening, and particularly if the subsequent day is sunny and warmer, which often happens in our falls - it fact it's happening today - I make sure my horses are off pasture after only a few early-morning hours.  Even a longer day in the big "dry" lot - where there are still plenty of grass nibbles although not a huge amount of grass - was enough to make Dawn somewhat sore-footed the day before yesterday.  She was a little bit better yesterday after a much shorter grazing period, and is even a bit better today - there's no heat in any foot except a little bit on the inner side of the left front, and it's not bad, and she's never had strong digital pulses (Pie did last spring), which is good.  I think she's going to be OK, but I'm keeping a very close eye on her. Once daytime and nightime temperatures are below freezing more consistently, and the grass stops growing, and rain and snow have leached the fructans from the standing grasses, sensitive horses are likely to have less trouble grazing.

A horse's being prone or not prone to being "footy" or worse from grass is fundamentally a metabolic/nutritional issue, not a hoof structure/trimming/shoeing issue, although a horse's metabolism does affect how its feet grow and perform.  Both Dawn and Pie are on a custom magnesium/chromium/selenium/vitamin E to help with glucose metabolism.  If a horse is in shoes, that can sometimes conceal a metabolic problem with grass until it's more advanced - it doesn't mean that the shoes have solved the problem just because a horse is footy without shoes and not footy with them.  This is the first fall that Dawn's been completely barefoot, and I think that she might well have had these issues in the fall in the past but they were concealed by the front shoes. Any horse with abnormal hoof growth patterns or hoof "rings" should be suspected of having some metabolic issues.  And it's important to have a feeling for what's normal for your horse - both in terms of how their feet are looking/growing, how warm/cool the hooves are depending on the time of day and what they've been doing (although cold hooves don't necessarily mean things are OK, since the first stage of laminitis is restriction of circulation - that comes before the excess circulation that produces hot hooves), and how they move on different surfaces.  And it's important to learn how to take a digital pulse and to know what your horse's normal is - here's a video showing how to do it - the stronger the digital pulse the more likely there is to be a problem.

There's a good resource for horse owners out there - it's called  Grazing is good for horses . . . but then sometimes it isn't.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Once a Week Rider

The weather and my schedule finally cooperated and I got in rides on all three horses.  We've had rain, and wind, and more rain and wind - yesterday we had gusts to 50mph - so the last time I rode was a week ago.  That's the downside of having my horses at a place with no indoor.  As we get further into winter, riding will become more occasional, until sometime in December or January where there's about 6 to 8 weeks where I can't ride even on the trail.  The arena becomes unusable earlier due to freezing of the footing.

Today wasn't bad at all - temperatures in the upper 40s/low50sF, with on and off sun and not too much wind.  When I went to the barn after lunch, Drifter and Dawn were both napping in their paddocks, and Drifter got up first so he got ridden first.  He was a ball of energy - several of the mares are in heat - and easily distracted, but we got some good work done and he didn't do anything untoward and relaxed a bit by the end of our session. We worked primarily on him stretching into a nice walk, going over poles and then a bit of trotting.  He was perfectly happy to trot but his trot doesn't feel completely normal yet - he's still feeling it out a bit and it got better the more we did.

Dawn was next.  She's a bit "footy" on hard surfaces right now - I think she got a bit too much grazing yesterday even in the (almost) dry lot, so today I pulled her into a paddock after only two hours.  She had a bit of bute yesterday and today, and I think she's going to be fine.  We had an easy session at the walk, just working on some lateral work, some poles and some stretching down.  In contrast to Drifter, who was a bundle of nerves, she was very relaxed and even stood completely still for mounting (rather than trying to back up - we may have this one fixed).

Pie and I had a nice short walking session, working on him using himself at the walk, and going over poles - his walk isn't 100% right yet under saddle but very close, and he seems completely comfortable and happy.  We also did a few short excursions outside the arena.

Keeping fingers crossed for more riding days soon . . .

Friday, November 11, 2011

Encouraging News

Pie and Drifter had a visit from our vet/chiropractor today.  She did neurological exams on them to check their progress - they're on day 15 of their treatment for EPM - they've completed the full 10-day paste treatment with Oroquin-10 (decoquinate plus levamisole) and are now 5 days into their 90 days of feed supplementation with a lower dose of decoquinate.

The bottom line is that both boys are greatly improved - in fact I've noted sustantial improvement even in the past 5 days.  Pie now does the turning test in both directions without any difficultly, and crosses over with both hinds, although the reach on the left hind is still slightly reduced - this is a big change even from last Sunday, when he still had some difficulty with his left hind.  His backing is also improved - he uses both hinds equally and can easily back straight.  And his spinal nerve responses were dramatically improved - in fact in certain areas he was hypersensative, which apparently isn't unusual as the nervous system recovers from EPM.  He was his cheerful, inquisitive, interactive self again too, and was running and bucking in his paddock this morning.

Drifter is also doing very well - his crossing tests are very close to normal - there is still a very slight delay with the right hind, but his left hind is moving very well - it no longer toe drags and there's no swinging out.  His backing is greatly improved - he lifts both hinds well and there is no pulling/dragging backwards of the feet.  He does have somewhat reduced spinal nerve reflexes generally, although this is also likely to improve.  The only downside of Drifter feeling better is that he is very feisty, wanting to bite and play, which is a good thing but makes him somewhat more challenging to work with.

Both horses also had normal responses when the vet tried to put one hind foot behind the other - both horses resisted and wouldn't put their hinds in that abnormal position, whereas both had had abnormal responses before - Pie had left his left hind behind his right hind indefinitely, and Drifter had difficulty correcting his hind foot placement.  They both clearly know where their hind feet are and are able to control where the feet go.

I couldn't be more delighted - it's clear the treatment has made an enormous difference and that both horses are greatly improved.  Now if the weather and my schedule would cooperate, we could do some riding . . .

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pictures of (12) Hooves

All three horses got trims today - Dawn's was minimal in front as she's only out of front shoes for a couple of weeks.  All were good for the trims - Dawn always is and both Drifter and Pie were much improved, although Drifter was still a bit fussy with the left hind and Pie had to take a rest break with his left hind.

I thought that, since they were newly trimmed, it would be fun to take pictures of their feet to record where they are and document any progress in developing better hooves.  So, without further ado, here they are:

Dawn, left front:

Dawn, right front:

For a horse that's been in front shoes probably continuously since she was very young - she was a racehorse - her front feet aren't too bad - she's got a decent frog, decent depth of sulci, but is still lacking in sole convexity and her heels are still somewhat contracted - but not too bad at all as a place to start.

Dawn, left rear:

Dawn, right rear:

Dawn's been out of rear shoes for about 10 years, and her hind feed are doing pretty well - decent heel development and sole convexity.

Drifter, left front:

Drifter: right front:

Drifter's fronts are a bit odd - the left front is quite round but the heel is fairly contracted.  The right front is very narrow to the back.  His front soles also lack convexity.  I attribute his lack of heel development and sole convexity to the fact that he hasn't had the opportunity to develop a competent foot - he wasn't ridden much if at all for over two years before I got him and only was on soft surfaces.

Drifter, left rear:

Drifter, right rear:

Drifter's rears aren't too bad - decent heel development and good proportions.

Pie, left front:

Pie, right front:

Pie, left rear:

Pie, right rear:

Pie has amazingly nice feet - good substance and convexity, and nice, broad frogs and well-developed heels with good sulci.  Pie grew up on a ranch in Montana and then spent a few years in a hilly pasture in Minnesota with lots of exposed rock, and has never worn shoes.  This is a good illustration of the importance of the surfaces a horse's feet are exposed to.

I've just gotten 14 tons of pea gravel installed in the lower end of Pie's paddock - he and Drifter will each be spending a half day in there and a half day in dry lot, and PIe will stay in there at night.  I expect this will help Drifter's feet develop heel structures and more convexity.  Pie loves his gravel - he has moved his bathroom area out of that area and whenever he takes a nap, he can be found curled up on his comfortable, conformable gravel.

I'll try to document the 12 hooves over time to see what changes occur.  (And many thanks to our wonderful p.m. barn lady who helped out by holding hooves.)  It should also be noted that both Pie and Drifter are completely comfortable walking on all surfaces, including hard surfaces and irregular gravel as in our barn parking lot.

Monday, November 7, 2011


I rode all three horses today - it was a beautiful day in the 50sF with almost no wind and we're supposed to have a lot of rain starting tonight.  Dawn and I continued her lateral work at the walk; she was great - focussed and responsive.  She's getting a trim tomorrow, and assuming she doesn't have any soreness from that, we should be back to trotting shortly.

Drifter continued to show me how good he's feeling by trying on some stuff on the ground - there was one attempt to nip and some pawing while I was asking him to back in hand (both of which got immediate corrections), but we worked through it.  Our goal today was to work over some poles to strengthen his hind end and also have him really lengthen the walk, and if he felt very good, to try a bit of trot in short, straight sections.  We did all of that - and when I asked him to trot there was no resistance or balking, which I also take to mean that he's feeling good again.  And the trot was pretty good too - he was a bit tentative at first but there was no unsoundness.

Pie did well too - we had the same exercise agenda as Drifter, but I wasn't going to trot him yet.  Before I got on, we did the turning test and this time he crossed over a little bit immediately in both directions, which is a big improvement even over yesterday.  And he was able to back straight under saddle without a lot of support with my left leg, which was also a big improvement.  After our short session of arena work, we took a little trail excursion, which he seemed to enjoy.

Drifter and Pie are getting trims tomorrow, too - I had deferred that for a week to allow them to complete their Oroquin-10 treatment.  Pie particularly had a lot of trouble holding his feet up for the farrier last time, and it'll be interesting to see how they both do this time.

I'm encouraged . . .

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Some Videos - Lateral Work and Hind Legs Crossing

My (long-suffering) husband was persuaded to come to the barn this afternoon so we could experiment with doing some videos.

The first video is of Dawn.  First there are a couple of square turns - this is the first stage of teaching her to do walk pirouettes.  It was extremely windy so she wasn't as relaxed as I'd like, and you'll notice that there is a bit of head bobbing and tail swishing, but she's doing it pretty well.  Now we can work on increasing the impulsion and maintaining the softness - right now keeping the forward is important.  Next there's a short clip of her transitioning from a walk to side pass - this also isn't perfect yet - you'll note the front end is a bit "stuck" and isn't swinging over yet and she doesn't make it all the way to a full side pass, but I'm pretty happy with where she is at this point.  And the last clip shows her transitioning from a small circle into shoulder in - this is also a work in process as she's still a bit over bent in the neck and her shoulders are slightly too far to the inside resulting in four tracks instead of three.  But the work is coming along pretty nicely and Dawn seems to like the challenge.

And in case any of you were curious about how Drifter and Pie were doing in the hind leg crossing test that is a good gauge of neurological issues they've been having due to EPM - our 10th and last day of treatment with Oroquin-10 paste was today and now we're on to the 90-day feed top dressing - we did some video on that too.  First, for your viewing pleasure, is a brief clip of Drifter being fractious - he was excited by the wind and the change in routine - he loves his routines - and was trying to be nippy - I wouldn't allow it - so he decided going up would be fun, although I noted that he was careful not to get in my space.  I moved him aggressively backwards to make the point that his behavior wasn't OK and he settled down and we took some videos.

As recently as last week, Drifter was dragging his left hind when doing this test.  As you'll see, that no longer happens and his cross over is excellent with both hind legs (obviously his hind end is feeling pretty good since he was able to rear just fine).  Drifter is the horse with no white legs, and Pie has the one white hind foot.  Pie, on the other hand, still is struggling with this, although he's moving pretty well in the pasture and even jumped a large puddle when galloping in yesterday.  He has great difficulty crossing over with the left hind - he sidesteps, then steps behind, then finally manages to eke out a few small crossover steps - this is the best he's been in a while.   Turning the other way, when the right hind is supposed to cross over, he initially has trouble getting the left hind out of the way but once he figures it out he's able to cross over somewhat with the right hind.

My conclusion is that Drifter's impairments are pretty much gone, and Pie's still are lingering - it may be that Drifter only experienced neurological inflammation and Pie has some actual neurological damage.  The good news is that with time, since his impairments are fairly minor, Pie should recover as his nervous system "relearns" how to move.  He's already making progress on that as shown by his improvement.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cautiously Optimistic . . .

The arena's a sloppy mess, so it's just as well I'm only working with my three horses at the walk right now.  Dawn and I had more fun with lateral movements.  Today we worked on "squaring the circle" - riding a square with quarter walk pirouettes at the turn - I was working on keeping the rhythm of her strides the same and keeping the hind end engaged, but without rushing.  We also did more of our "floating" work - walking energetically ahead and then swinging around into a few steps of side pass, and also more leg yield work, and some poles.  She was great - I think she enjoys the challenge of this work.

Drifter's walk felt much better today - more regular and engaged - no "wallowing".  We worked on him really engaging behind, and also did a little pole work, and some backing.  He feels good under saddle - we have two more days of treatment to go and then I'll do another check on how his trot is looking.  When turned in tight circles in hand, he no longer drags the left hind toe at all.

Pie did do a nice canter in from the pasture - about 200 yards, mostly uphill - that I got to see.  It looked good and even, and he was even on the right lead, which meant he felt comfortable pushing with the left hind.  Picking his feet is also easier - he isn't unsteady or leaning anymore. Under saddle, though, his walk feels short-strided and "stilted" - he's not really using his hind end very well.  When backing under saddle, his hind end tends to swing to the left since he's taking shorter strides with his left hind, although today for the first time he was able to back straight if I supported him with my left leg and really asked him to use his left hind. And when turned in a tight circle in hand, he can manage to cross over with his right hind although it's clearly hard for him, but he doesn't cross over with the left hind at all - he just side steps his way around.  It's possible that he's got some neurological damage that may take some time to heal.  But his affect is very good - he's cheerful and friendly and alert, and it clearly wasn't the Banamine as it's days since he's had any.

I'm cautiously optimistic about both Drifter and Pie's progress, but I'm mainly glad that they're both happy and eating well, and moving pretty well too, all things considered.  Many horses with EPM are much worse off.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Conversation

Working with Dawn yesterday made me think about how much working with horses - from leading to grooming to riding - is a conversation, or should be.  I think horses are much better at this conversing thing than humans usually are - we're often too distractible (I guarantee that if someone says "my horse is always distracted" it isn't the horse that's the problem) and we let the horse down by dropping our end of the conversation.  When we drop the conversation like that - even if just for a second or two, the horse has to carry on by itself and make its own decisions about what to do next.  And then we wonder why the horse isn't doing what we want?  It's no wonder - from their point of view, the line just went dead and somebody's got to keep making necessary decisions about speed, direction and destination and the only somebody left around is them.

There's two things that enter into this for me - attention and timing.  Attention means keeping our minds and bodies engaged in the task at hand, from second to second, and not interrupting the conversation.  It also means that the conversation is a two-way one, where there's an opportunity for both parties to speak and both parties to listen, often in alternating fashion.  Attention and timing also mean listening for the other party's  response and not talking over them just as they start to speak - every conversation needs to have its rhythm, and we need to listen in order to know what to say next.  In certain circumstances, the rhythm of the conversation may be slow, and in others it may be so fast it's essentially continuous.  Attention also helps to clarify where the horse may not understand what we are saying, so we can change what we're doing.

When I was in the process of rebuilding my horsemanship from the ground up (see my sidebar "Steps On the Journey" for more about where I came from and where I'm working on going with my horsemanship), learning to keep my attention engaged - as continuously as possible - and listening, really listening, for what the horse was trying to say, was exhausting and very, very hard for me.  I'm better at it now, but it's still a work in process and probably always will be - I actually find this encouraging as it means I can always find ways to improve my conversation skills with horses.

As Dawn and I were doing our lateral work yesterday, we were having an intense and fairly rapid fire conversation. I would move my eyes, head, weight in a stirrup, hand or leg, ever so slightly and she would respond instantly - that's how Dawn is.  Her response would tell me if what I did made sense to her or not, and if what I was doing was soft enough.  So, if she needed clarification, I would make a very slight adjustment and see what she said - this conversation back and forth occurred with many iterations within seconds and with a continuous, flowing quality to it - we were both "there".  When we were both happy with what resulted, she gave me a release by doing precisely what I had intended and I gave her a release by "allowing" her movement and then we both got a bigger release by relaxing on a loose rein for a few moments - the work is pretty intense for both of us.  Once she understood what I wanted, then I could reduce what I was doing to communicate even more until it was almost nothing.

It's hard to communicate in words how I do this asking and then adjusting of the ask, as it is a very physical thing and not very verbal at all - it's a matter of timing and "feeling" the horse.  I have general ideas of what I plan to do with my hands, seat, eyes, weight and legs - a lot of it involves "duplicating" the motion I want her to do in my mind and also subtly with my own body - in many respects my head and neck mirror in a very soft way what I want her head and neck to do, my hands, arms and shoulders what I want her front end to do, and my seat and legs what I want her hindquarters to do, and the same with weight.  We do the work together, and when the conversation is going well, it's pretty soft and seamless - it just comes together and flows. As I said in my post yesterday, it's like learning a common language where we both become more and more fluent.

Every horse is different - Dawn is ultra-sensative and very expressive so she's an excellent teacher for me.  I've found that most all horses - even those that start out dull, braced or disinterested due to the prior "training" they've had - are willing to have a conversation, once we pick up our end, and that the sensitivity and precision of our mutual communication just gets better and better.  But it has to start with us - our willingness to be open to the possibilities that attention and listening can bring.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why Dawn is "Dawntastic" and Work at the Walk

It was supposed to rain today, but the rain held off until evening so I actually rode all three horses - it was a great day with horses.  Dawn was amazing - "Dawntastic" - she is such an amazing horse and today I was in awe of her.  We worked only at the walk - she's one week out of shoes and I want to see her walking normally on hard surfaces before we move back up to trot.  I love working at the walk - it's the fundamental gait.  I believe that you can tell an awful lot about the quality of a horse's gaits from the quality of the walk.  And if you haven't got a good walk, you've got nothing.  Also, if you can't do something well at the walk with your horse, you're unlikely to be able to do it well at a faster gait - in fact it's likely to be even worse.  So, for me, walk work is fundamental and so important, and so much can get accomplished at the walk.

When I say Dawn is "Dawntastic", it's hard to communicate to you who haven't met her what I mean.  Dawn is a horse who can be very sweet one moment, and very crabby the next - there's a bit of volatility there, and she has strong opinions about everything.  She's supremely athletic - she's got moves that are hard to believe - and she's proud and stern and bold and nervous, all at the same time.  She's very smart, and really tries and wants to do things right. I often call her my "black diamond" horse - to ride her takes a special kind of attention and finesse that really stretches my abilities.  When I ride Dawn, I have to really "be there" - complete attention and being very deliberate and precise about everything I do.  She is so sensitive and responsive that it is possible to dial aids down to almost zero - in fact she demands that of you.

Over the past several years, we've made huge progress on some basics - attention (to one another) and softness, primarily.  We made a start on lateral work - basic leg yielding, one step at a time - in May at the clinic, and she's really ready for more advanced lateral work now.  The fact that we need to work at the walk right now due to her transition to barefoot is a gift - it allows us to really work on lateral in a focussed way.  Over the past several rides, I've been working with her on breaking down lateral work - all lateral work - into its basic components of bend, softness and footfall/tracking - everything, from turns on the forehand and haunches, walk pirouettes, leg yield, side pass and all other lateral movements, including shoulder in, etc., are composed of where the horse's head and forequarters and hindquarters are going, and the precise (mainly extremely soft leg) aids that are connected to the movement of specific legs - it's like a language.  I try to keep my rein aids to a minimum - just inducing bend and providing support are all I'm doing, and she's staying soft, soft, soft - it's a marvel and a delight.

Today the work focussed on a couple of movements - walking straight ahead and then moving without interruption into side pass - where the forequarters need to pivot in one direction while the hindquarters move ahead in the other direction - the objective is for it to be smooth and effortless - for their to be flow - and for the horse's middle to continue traveling (now sideways) in the direction the horse was moving in originally.  Then, after a few steps, I ask the forequarters to move back to the line of travel and the hindquarters to swing in behind.  The transition between forward to side pass is the first step of the floating exercise I mentioned a few posts ago.  All I had to do was support very slightly with my hands, bring them slightly to the side and just barely lay my leg on her and she was right there - it was effortless and just plain beautiful.  She must have taught me to dial down my aids enough for her satisfaction - there was no tail swishing or rushing.

The next thing we worked on was shoulder in off small circles on the rail, continuing down the rail for a few steps and preserving the bend and keeping each foot moving on the correct track.  To move to shoulder in from the circle, all I had to do was support with my hands, apply the slightest amount of leg behind the girth on the inside - again, I had Dawn's approval of my extremely minimal aids - and create an opening with my outside (direction of travel) leg - the instant I let my outside leg move back to her side by a fraction, we seamlessly transitioned to walking ahead in the direction of the original bend - at an angle away from the rail.  For fun, during walk breaks on a loose rein, we leg yielded all over the arena with only very soft leg aids, and walked over poles without rushing or hesitation - remember her pole phobia?

It's hard to express how good this felt - she was Dawntastic!

The two boys got brief walk rides - today was day 6 of their EPM treatment with Oroquin-10, and they both seemed to be doing well and to be comfortable, so I figured the exercise would be good for them.  Drifter was calmer than normal today but not depressed.  He still leans hard on me when I pick his right hind, which means he doesn't want to overweight the left hind. But he's no longer dragging the toe of his left hind at walk.  In tight circles in hand, he does not drag the left hind when circling left - when the left hind is on the inside - and crosses over well with left hind in front of the right hind.  When circling in a tight circle right, he still drags the left hind but does cross over well with the right hind.  I rode at walk for a bit - there's still a bit of a "wallowing" feeling but he was glad to extend the walk when I asked and seemed less tentative.  I'm not planning to ask him to trot again, even on the lunge, until the 10 day initial treatment is over.

Pie was very friendly and interactive - his affect is much improved. He's a little bit easier about having all feet picked, and the right front is no longer a problem, which probably means that he's more comfortable weighting his hind end.  Today was the first day in a long time that he wasn't crabby for girthing, which was a very good development - his insides must be feeling better. He was walking easily under saddle but without much length of stride, although that improved when we went on a brief trail loop, although walking up a small hill was clearly hard work for him.  When turned in hand in tight circles, he wants to sidestep or cross behind with the inside leg instead of stepping over with the inside hind in front of the outside hind, particularly when the left hind is to the inside, although he will cross over properly if the circle is small enough.

I'm encouraged by the boys' progress, and hope it continues.  It was a very good day with horses.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Keeping Fingers Crossed . . . and October Summary

Pie and Drifter are on day five of their paste treatment with Oroquin-10, and I'm encouraged so far.  For the benefit of the clinical trial, I've kept detailed records about our experience, which can be found on the EPM page, and will be providing the notes to Dr. Ellison, who's conducting the trials.

So far, both horses seem to be doing well.  Pie did have a minor colic attack on day one, which was probably due to the immune system stimulant that's part of the treatment - this is intended to help the horse's immune system form long-lasting protection against the organisms.  We think the immune system stimulant, like the vaccinations, may have irritated his abdominal lumps, which may well be enlarged lymph nodes.  I spoke to the senior vet at U. Wisconsin yesterday to give him an update on Pie, including the EPM findings and treatment, and he said that, although most vets would say the type of abdominal issues Pie has are unlikely to be due to EPM, EPM can produce symptoms that are highly variable and he isn't going to rule out that the lumps were an immune response to the EPM organisms, particularly as Pie certainly doesn't otherwise look or act like a horse with lymphosarcoma.  And in any event, the treatment should help with his other symptoms.  Here's hoping the treatment helps the lumps to improve . . .

The biggest change in Pie is that his old friendly, sweet personality is back - he's no longer crabby and grouchy.  Now, he has been on Banamine (at our vet's recommendation) for a few days, and that could explain the personality change.  We're doing our last dose of Banamine today, and we'll see if the friendly horse stays with us - if he stays his normal self, it's the EPM treatment that's doing the trick, if he gets irritable and grouchy again, it was probably the Banamine.  Only time will tell . . .

Drifter has had some improvement in his hind end soundness.  I observed yesterday in the pasture that he was trotting pretty normally, and his walk looks normal.  Today I put him on the lunge, briefly, to see what we have.  And, indeed, although his trot is improved - the toe-dragging with the left hind is gone - he's still not 100%, and was reluctant to move out at the trot.  Drifter is also leaning heavily on me when I pick his right hind foot, which is new for him and probably means he doesn't want to overweight the left hind. Pie seems somewhat tentative in his walking, but willing to move out, and he even whinnied to me from his paddock today, which is the first time in a long time he's done that.

I'm not riding either Pie or Drifter today at my vet's instructions (although I did get on Drifter for a few moments as he was saddled up and I wanted him to feel we had done something together) - she wanted me not to ride much if at all on days 3, 4 and 5 of the treatment as neurological symptoms sometimes get worse during that period.

And not to leave out the Dawn mare - she's doing well with her transition to barefoot.  She's less tentative on the concrete, although still prefers not to walk over the gravel areas.  Her front feet were slightly warm last night, even though she was walking well, so I gave her a little Bute to reduce any inflammation.  Today, she came in walking well from the pasture so we saddled up and had a little ride at the walk in the arena.  It'll take her 6 to 9 months to grow complete new front hooves, but considering that her hoof structure, shape and angles weren't too bad to begin with, we should be able to so some good riding before winter closes in and we take some time off.

Today, Dawn and I worked on some components of the floating exercise - breaking it down into bits so she understands what I want.  We worked specifically on transitioning smoothly from walking forward into side pass in the same direction, and then concluded after a few steps of side pass with walking forward at right angles to our original direction of travel.  One of the aspects of this exercise that's most important is never losing the feeling of forward.  To that end, we also did some work on changing our turns on the haunches into walk pirouettes where the hind end keeps on stepping in place, and on changing the bend in our leg yield to begin to turn it into half pass.  With Dawn, there's a very fine line between keeping her hindquarters active and aggravating her with my leg - she's a good teacher because she always clearly tells me when I'm doing too much.

* * * * * *
I did much better with my riding in October - I felt like getting out there most days and the fears and worries are getting much less troublesome.  But we did have a number of days off due to bad weather, other things I had going on, Pie's trip to the hospital and Dawn's starting to transition to barefoot.  Here's the summary: Pie: 15 rides October; 113 rides 2011 to date. Drifter: 15 rides October; 82 rides 2011 to date. Dawn: 10 rides October; 48 rides 2011 to date; all horses 40 rides total October; 233 rides 2011 to date.  Here's hoping for some good riding weather in November!