Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Plan for 2012, or Why Horses Are about Life

Warning - long post ahead, with links to some suggested year-end reading . . .

Horses are about life, just like everything else - it isn't possible to separate life with horses - how we are with them and they with us - from the rest of life.  Due to the immediacy and "thereness" of the horse - you can't bullshit a horse - our interactions with them tend to reveal a lot about us and where we are in our journey in life, and about where our lifework needs to go next.  If we listen to our horses, they have a lot to tell us.

So here's where I am - I've got some work to do as a result of my continuing reactions to my fall in June.  And some of this even goes back as far as June 2009, when Dawn kicked me in the jaw (reminder to self - be extra careful in June). I've been riding horses and working around them for many, many years and prior to my June 2009 incident with Dawn and my June 2011 incident with Pie, it'd never really worried me that horses are big animals and you can get seriously injured working around them or riding them.  I managed to get my confidence back with Dawn, although it took a while and I'm now more careful around her, and I've never ridden her on the trail and don't plan to - she's too reactive (and fast-moving when she does react) - could that be fixed?  Maybe, but not by me.

I'm still not sure why I came off Pie, since I can't remember the incident - it might have been heart-related or he might have spooked and spun - but it really doesn't matter.  What matters is that, even though that was my first fall in over 10 years despite hundreds and hundreds of rides, it was my first fall of many I've had in life to ever result in broken bones and a hospital stay.  I've had concussions before in my youth, but I've never had one that took 6 weeks to recover from or where my balance, vision and strength were affected.  And then Pie and Drifter developed their issues related to EPM, which in Drifter's case led to things like balking and rearing - not fun - and to Pie and Drifter feeling much better (and feistier) after recovering.

Although I'm back to riding and I don't any longer get that gut-wrenching adrenaline kick every time a horse takes a funny step, it's still very hard.  I've been pushing ahead but I keep imagining disaster scenarios . . . The hardest part is getting started - I'm always finding excuses not to work with the horses or ride - it's too cold, or too windy, or it's raining (or it's going to rain tomorrow which means I can't work two or three days in a row) or I'm too tired, etc., etc.  Once I do get started, I'm able to do it, but I feel (although I try not to act) tentative and I'm always looking out for the horse to act up, or the deer to jump out of the bushes, etc., etc.  As a result, I'm not providing my horses the leadership they need and deserve, and my timing, feel and comfort in the saddle aren't quite as good - whether due to mental distraction or some persistant low-grade neurological issues - which means that Pie is somewhat worried (which makes me worried) and Drifter is showing me when he's resistant that he's not sure I should be in charge (Dawn seems fine, bless her sweet/feisty heart).

But really, I'm just as good a rider as I ever was - however skilled or unskilled at certain things I am - although I sure don't bounce any more.  So where does that leave me at this turning of the year?  Here are some things I plan to do in 2012 to get things back on track for me, and therefore for my horses - it isn't really about them, it's about me, and as I get things straightened out they'll come right again.
Make sure I'm fit and that my balance is good and that my body awareness is there - I plan to do some strength and aerobic work and also something like t'ai chi chih to improve my balance and motor skills. 
Get a Western saddle that fits Drifter and (probably with some padding) Pie, so that when we're on the trail I'll feel more secure than I have been riding in a dressage saddle. 
Allow myself to fully experience, when not on the horse, my feelings of fear/incompetence/shame for my fall, and learn to observe them and let them be what they are without judging - creating some mental distance between "me" and those negative feelings and thus (I hope) allowing them to resolve.  Develop a regular mindfulness/meditation practice, both for relaxation and also to give me better skills to cope with fear or adversity in my horse work or for that matter in life in general. 
Have a plan for each ride/work session but make sure that while I'm working with the horse, I'm "with" the horse and not overthinking things, and staying in the moment and focussed on the task and not on the many things that could distract me and make it harder for my horse to do what I'm asking.  (On that topic, I recommend that you read this really excellent post by Mark Rashid on how we can introduce multiple degrees of separation between the cue and response by not keeping our focus on the task.) Don't ever hurry but get the job done.
Don't just stay with what's easy or comfortable - make sure that the plan for each work session involves taking the horse a bit out of its comfort zone and presenting the horse with a problem to solve and giving the horse the time and space to solve it - and then release, release, release at the appropriate instant.  (On this topic, read this post on Mugwump Chronicles on presenting your horse with knots to solve.)  I need to remember that it's OK for the horse to be (somewhat but not excessively) anxious or stressed while figuring something out provided I provide a route for the horse to find the solution, break things down in small steps and give the horse time to relax in a "safe spot" in terms of the work from time to time. 
Take some lessons to help me with my body position and feel, on trained horses - I have my eye on a local dressage trainer who's low-key and of the classical school - I need to go over and look at his place and watch him teach in the new year and, if I like what I see, arrange some lessons.  At some point I'd like him to take a look at Drifter, who I think has the potential to be a fine little (at least lower-level) dressage horse. 
Get some training direction/assistance.  Mark Rashid has one of his very few "approved" students (I believe there are fewer than 10 worldwide) who is less than a two-hour haul from me - she's at the place where I went to the clinic last May.  I've seen her ride over the years, and she's really good, and I like her and her approach.  I'd like to trailer two horses at a time up there every two weeks or so starting in March (they have a small indoor) to get her to work me me and my horses and help me direct my work. I've been working on my own for a number of years, except for occasional clinics with Mark, and some quality "eyes on the ground" and "adult supervision" could really make a difference, I think.  I've already e-mailed her to try to set something up.  And if there's a Mark Rashid clinic there next year, ride in it.
So, how about the individual horses - where would I like to go with them in 2012?
Dawn and I need to continue to work on our mutual relaxation and then on the canter (which right now is certainly not relaxing for either of us).  Our lateral work has just started and there's lots we can do to develop that.  
Pie and I need to develop our softness at all three gaits and get back out on the trail in a way that builds our confidence.  Pie also needs to learn to lunge and ground drive - these are holes in his training - and we've already started work on that. 
Drifter's ground work needs to be improved and become a "safe place" for him - this is an area where I could use some outside help as I'm not that skilled at ground work.  Our under saddle work should progress - making sure forward is always there instantly and continuing our softening, transition and lateral work at all three gaits.  If he does well and starts to be able to calm down and relax, we could start on the trail, although I need to think about how to deal with his aggressiveness with geldings and obsession with mares when riding in company, and I'd like to teach him to ground drive first since he can be pretty rmactive - we can make a start on that over the winter.
I can't say that I'll be sad to see the hindquarters of 2011 as it leaves the barn - here's to a great 2012 for all of us!

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Year In Review, With Some Pictures

2011 was certainly an interesting year, and had its ups and downs.  Here's a brief summary, with a few pictures.

January was mostly snowless, and Pie and I managed a few good trail rides.  Here are Scout and Pie being camera hogs:

In February, we had a snowstorm that produced huge drifts, and once we got shovelled out, the horses had fun in the snow.  First, Dawn - love the snow mustache:

Then Misty:

In March, Drifter arrived, and we began the process of figuring each other out:

In April, Pie turned 5 and Drifter showed his aggressive side, against a much larger Scout, during integration with the gelding herd:

In April, Drifter turned 10 and Pie had his odd tying up/laminitis attack, and was pulled off grass into a dry lot paddock.

In May, Dawn had part of a fractured tooth removed:

and Dawn and Drifter and I attended a 3-day Mark Rashid clinic, and learned many things:

Dawn turned 14 in June. In mid-June, I had my accident, coming off Pie, getting a severe concussion, breaking my collar bone and two ribs and wrecking my helmet (thanks be for helmets).  After spending 5 days in the hospital, including getting a pacemaker, I spent the next 6 weeks recovering, and although I sat on Pie a few times, no real riding or horse work got done.

I rode a few times in July, and in mid-August, I finally felt well enough to start really riding again.

In September, Pie started repeatedly colicing and made a visit to the vet hospital - they couldn't figure out what was wrong with him although he did seem to have enlarged lymph nodes in his abdomen.  And weird stuff started happening with both Pie and Drifter - reluctance to move out, gait oddnesses and difficulty picking feet.  In October, both horses were diagnosed with the earliest stages of EPM using the new peptide ELISA test (see the EPM page for more information on this saga), and began treatment.

In November, Dawn went barefoot, joining the two barefoot boys.  Drifter and Pie slowly went back to work, and are feeling much better.

To conclude the year, three sleeping beauties wish you and yours an excellent 2012:

Tomorrow, I hope to post about my thoughts about where I am with my horses and my hopes for 2012 . . .

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday Wishes From Norman, Lily, Maisie, Dawn, Pie and Drifter

The following equines (and I) wish you a most excellent Christmas as well as an equi-excellent New Years!






and Drifter:

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Blog Winter Vacation

It's time for a vacation from blogging.  I don't know about you, but it's too easy for me to spend too much time on blogging - reading other people's blogs, commenting, reading replies to comments, thinking about what I want to write on my own blog, writing and editing it, taking photos and editing those, checking to see if anyone has read it and commented, replying to comments . . .  Blogging started for me as a way to keep track of my horse work, and to have a place to think and write about issues related to horsemanship and horses - I'm one of those people who finds writing very helpful in thinking things through.  It's certainly served that purpose for me, and I hope has been interesting for those who read the blog, whether they comment or not. And it's fun to have comments, and sometimes a dialogue with others about the horse things that are important to me.  And yet . . .

But it's also too easy to fall into the trap of "blogging as entertainment" - not that entertainment is bad at all so long as it doesn't eat up too much of my life.  I think of it as "horse TV" - since I otherwise don't watch TV - seeing and enjoying other people's lives with horses.  Nothing really wrong with that either.  And I do feel that I have several good "blog friendships" with horse women and men whose opinions and thinking I value.  That's good too.

But, now that it's winter, and my riding and work with my horses will be much reduced, it's time for a blogging vacation.  After this post, I won't be posting or reading and commenting on other blogs for a while. I plan to spend more time with family and friends, read and think, and maybe do some pieces of writing, some of which may be about horses or horsemanship and might eventually end up on this blog.  I don't think this blog will go away - I expect sometime in the New Year or the spring, I'll be blogging again about the continuing adventures of Dawn, Pie and Drifter and reading and commenting on blogs again.

Last chance to comment for a while - what does blogging do for you and what about it is positive or negative?  I wish you all a very Happy Holiday and New Year - may 2012 be a fine year with horses!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Very Good Session With Drifter

Drifter and I had an excellent work session today.  The wind chill was about 30F and the arena footing wasn't fabulous but it's about to get much colder and windier and I wanted to get a work session in. I wasn't sure at the beginning how it was going to go - he was pretty up and made one attempt to nip me when I went to halter him in his paddock - he got a firm swat to the muzzle for that and after giving me a peeved look didn't try that again.

We've been doing a lot of work with him moving out of my space whenever I ask by moving towards him or holding up a hand or touching his body, and also on his maintaining an appropriate distance from me - I can come up to him but he can't come right up to me.  And we've been doing lots of backing away from me if I ask him to back using my voice, holding up my hand or moving into his space.

Today I carried a dressage whip for our lungeing session - I had a lunge whip on the ground in the middle of the arena just in case but never needed it.  I worked on being very clear with my body language and position, and our lungeing session went very well after he settled down a bit and realized I didn't want him to run in circles, even though I was carrying a whip.  There were no major meltdowns or difficulties - he did turn in a few times but I just calmly started him out again in the correct direction.  I worked on doing the least I could but doing as much as was needed, and ended up not having to get very big at all. By the end, we were doing lots and lots of walk/trot transitions with some halts thrown in - I used verbal commands as well as body language and if an upwards transition wasn't immediate, I used a flick of the whip instantly to reinforce it.

Once that was going well, I mounted up.  I carried my short crop, and my objective was to get immediate transitions to trot without a moment's hesitation - I was to give him the aid and if he didn't instantly move into trot add the secondary aid of the crop tapping his shoulder.  The first time was almost perfect - I cued and a fraction of a second later used the crop, not all the hard and voila we had an excellent trot transition.  I've been waiting too long to use the secondary cue - if I can be right behind the primary cue there's not time for hesitation/balking to develop.  I think the secondary cue won't be needed for long, although I'll probably continue to carry the crop just in case.  No secondary cue was needed on any other trot transition during our work today.

And, as suggested by several commentators, we did lots of standing around after he did something well, with lots of verbal praise and rubs thrown in.  I was pretty pleased - he just looked tired but his eye was softer and he seemed to understand he had done well.  We're pretty close weather wise to losing the ability to work in the arena, and I wanted to get things in decent condition with Drifter before I'm shut down for the middle of the winter.  I felt good about today - if this was our last work session before Drifter got the winter off, I wouldn't feel too bad.  But there are some warmer days in the forecast next week, so maybe we're not done yet for the year . . .

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Toning It Down for Effectiveness

I've been mulling over my ground work with Drifter - well, stewing would be a more appropriate description.  I'm disturbed by the resistance/dominance behaviors - balking/rearing/acting out - that have shown up, both in his ridden work and in the ground work.  There's some interesting stuff going on - he's a pretty dominant little horse who's often gotten his way by pushing his handlers/riders around, or intimidating them, particularly on the ground.  This has all been complicated by the EPM episode, where he wasn't able to move comfortably under saddle at the trot and where I gave him the benefit of the doubt if he couldn't/wouldn't move forward - we'd done a lot of work to establish a good work ethic and some of that has been compromised.  And now he's feeling great again - probably better than at any time since I've had him.  I'm pretty certain none of it is physical any more - I always try to rule out physical issues first - his saddle fits well, his teeth are fine, he's had good chiro care - although there may be some memory of physical issues due to the EPM although that's no longer a real problem for him in terms of his ability to move.

He's one of those horses who cares a lot about routine, and things being done "properly" - if you stay inside his comfort zone he is very cooperative and even friendly, but if you ask him to try something new or something he's struggling to understand, he can become frustrated and worried very quickly, particularly if you overdo your aids - he doesn't deal well with pressure.  And he has a strong sense of fairness - if you get big with him when he doesn't understand or thinks it's unfair, he becomes quite upset.  A lot of the work we're doing now is outside of his historical experience and he's uncertain - this is one of the times where he tends to get frustrated or dominant.  He's also very smart - all three of my current riding horses are very smart - which means he's always trying to figure out how things work and what the angles are.

With him, I need to think about whether I'm going about things in the right way and whether there's a more effective way I could work with him.  Obviously, my first priority is to stay safe - he must always respect my personal space, no ifs ands or buts.  We're getting that ironed out with reinforcement of his leading work, and by making sure I always say something if he tries to nip or head butt - this work is going well.

I think a lot of the issues we have with groundwork are due to my ineptitude - he's a sensitive horse who is very responsive to the signals I send him with my body.  In our recent sessions, I've tried to be much more deliberate and clear about what I want - my position vis-a-vis his shoulders and hindquarters is critical, and as Breathe pointed out in a recent comment, the angle of my shoulders is important too - I have to be sure I'm not inadvertently giving him mixed messages as that can lead directly to his frustration with the work.  And if I'm more deliberate and careful about the messages I'm sending, then my aids and direction will not have to be as big, which will go a long way to prevent his frustration.  Generally, if the horse is making big moves, then either your timing isn't right or you're overdoing the aids - this isn't always true and sometimes big stuff does need to happen but the general rule usually applies.

So one of my objectives is to tone things down to be more effective - if my position and timing are better, then I have to do less to influence his behavior and I won't be reacting to things he decides to do out of frustration or confusion.  (I was able to watch a good "tone it down" lesson at the Mark Rashid clinic two years ago - see this post.) We made a small start today - it was quite cold and windy today so we just went to the parking lot for a few minutes.  First, we reinforced his backing out my space using clicker - that went well.  Then we did a little bit of lungeing at the walk, just using the lead line - I use a 10' line - and a dressage whip - I thought he might find this less threatening than a lunge whip and that was so although he clearly understood that it was an aid to forward.  There was no resistance or difficulty in either direction, although I had to stand pretty far back towards his hindquarters to keep him moving forward and not turning in.  I kept my aids very minimal to see how little I could use, and it worked very well. We were both pretty satisfied with this little bit of work and now we need to continue to build on it . . .

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Drifter and I Continue to Work it Out

Drifter and I had another ground work session today, and although we're not yet where I ultimately want to be, we did make some progress.  I started by moving him around in his small paddock.  I got some resistance - some rearing, some kicking out in my general direction and some avoidance of my asks to move in a particular direction at a particular speed - I was using a 10' lead line as my aid.  He was particularly sticky moving from a halt into a new direction.  We made some progress and he was doing well walking and trotting in both directions at my request, but then his patience started to wear thin and he was starting to think about coming in towards me when he was rearing - I don't know if he would have actually charged me or not and he wasn't angry but rather petulant.  But horses are big - even 14.3 horses - and that wasn't going to go anyplace good, and I didn't want him starting to think along those lines, so I decided I needed a way to look a little more formidable, and the footing in the paddock was pretty slippery.  I got the lunge whip, put him on the lunge line and took him out of the paddock and into the arena.

I started out holding the lunge whip - I didn't actually use it at all - and he started out by running in circles out of apprehension.  After a few seconds of that, I dropped the lunge whip and was able to go back to lungeing him using only the tail of the lunge line and my body language.  The only time he kicked out close to me he got swatted firmly on the rump with the tail of the line and that made a big impression on him and he scooted off - that behavior wasn't repeated.  There was still some resistance initially, particularly on taking up a new direction, but we worked through it and pretty soon things were going fairly well.  I took care to maintain a better body position this time and to watch his ears and head posture carefully to improve my timing, and we had no unintended changes of direction.  We started doing some serious transition work, using both my body language and verbal commands - he doesn't know these but is picking them up quickly - we did lots of walk/trot/walk transitions, and ended up with some inside turn changes of direction at my request.

He finished much calmer and more reponsive than when we started.  We finished by doing some just standing around work in the parking lot - his job is simply to stay out of my space on a loose lead, and ideally to just stand there and relax with me - he startled once but didn't move his feet which is good progress. I want to get to the point where he comes out and goes straight to work on the lunge without resistance, including changing directions and gaits whenever I ask.  We also need to work on desensitizing him to the lunge whip - I started today by holding out the butt of the whip for him to touch with his nose - this was still pretty scary for him.  The next thing we need to work on is accepting ropes touching his body and leading by the legs, together with outside turns, in preparation for ground driving.  It's clear that for him, this ground work is needed to fill in some holes.

It felt cold today - wind chills in the 20sF, but I certainly stayed warm!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Norm Spam!

For all you Norman-the-pony fans, and thanks to Melissa at Paradigm Farms, here's a great picture of Norman, dressed in his winter woolies, and surveying his kingdom:

It's great to see him looking so good, and as handsome as ever, in his retirement!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Watching the Thought Turn Into Action: Individual Frames From the Video

I thought it would be interesting to see if I could take individual frames from the video (see last two posts) of my lungeing work with Drifter and look for the thought of turning in beginning to form in his mind, and where the thought turns into action, and how and when I reacted.  Here's what I found - I thought it was pretty interesting and hope you do too - there are only fractions of a second between each still frame and the next.  If you haven't read/viewed the prior two posts, I'd recommend that you do that now as it will help things make sense:

Post one - video of our work
Post two - getting ahead of the thought

The thought forms - his head has come up and his ear is on me - he wants to come in but is checking to see if I'm going to say something about it or not - this is the "ask":

One stride later - he's still traveling straight but the head is tipping to the inside - he's decided to turn in but if I'd moved him forward at this point I still could have redirected his thought:

One more stride - the head is starting to come up and the inside hind is stepping to the outside and the outside front is getting ready to move to the inside - it's almost too late at this point to easily redirect the thought as it's starting to turn into an action:

But I say something to him - I'm swinging the rope at his hindquarters - and although he's cut in towards me - note the excess slack in the line - this is enough to keep him moving forwards - my response would have been more effective if I'd acted to move him forward at the time of the first picture:

But he accepts my direction and continues on, but I haven't really interrupted the thought yet:

He's already moved in on me, and here the thought is starting to turn into action again - note the head and ears, and his momentum is slowing in preparation for the inside turn I didn't ask for:

Here the inside hind has stepped to the outside and the outside front has stepped to the inside, and he's focussed on me to see what I'll do - note that I'm out of position to be effective as I'm in line with his shoulders instead of his hindquarters:

And now the action is occurring - his hindquarters are coming to the outside and his shoulders to the inside - I'm reacting but far too late:

I get the job done - he doesn't manage to complete the turn to the inside - but it's pretty ugly:

Here's the next time the thought of turning in is beginning to form:

Once again, I'm late and out of position, and he's got the thought firmly in mind as he takes action, so we get this:

And then this - he completes the turn after this point - since he's facing me by now I have little ability to influence him:

But I get him turned around and we get this - but look at all the energy we're both using:

The good thing about Drifter is he is a horse who will tell you if you're not leading him with your thoughts - he's ready and able to have his own thoughts and carry them through, and unless I catch the thought he's forming as it's coming into his mind before he starts to take action, he's going to get ahead of me.

But sometimes I get there in time - here's an example where my timing is much better - I say something to him as soon as the thought forms and he keeps moving forward:

But he's still holding on to the thought - it shows in his body language but the action hasn't fully started yet - note that his body is still travelling straight even though his head is tipping and his ears and eyes are on me and also note that I'm already saying something to him - I'm swinging the tail end of the lead and making sure I'm further back towards his hindquarters:

And although I was a little late, here's the result - he keeps on moving forward although he's showing his irritation at not being about to carry out his thought - if I'd caught the thought as it was just forming I think my direction could have been softer and he would have accepted my direction more easily:

The next step for me is to be more active in my lungeing - not necessarily bigger but giving him more direction so he doesn't start to form thoughts in gaps I leave - and also being sure I'm in a better position with respect to his body so that if a thought forms I'm in a position to say something effectively to him.   And my timing needs to be better - I need to catch the thought before it forms fully and then things will go more smoothly.

This video stuff can be pretty useful!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

More Video: Getting Ahead of the Thought - What Do You See?

A lot of the time, what we do in our riding and in our work with horses is to react to something the horse does, after the horse is already doing it.  For the horse to do something, the horse must have a thought and then act on it.  One of the most important things I learned from Mark Rashid is that, if you pay attention, you can feel/see the thought forming so that you get ahead of it and provide the horse with direction before the thought turns into action.  Since I had the video of the work Drifter and I did yesterday (see yesterday's post), I went over it in slow motion to see how many cases I could find where he was starting to think about reversing direction, what the signs were and how many times I caught the thought before it fully turned into action and how many times I was late.  All of this is to improve my timing - it's something I'm working on in all of my work with horses and it's always a work in process.

The clips are very short and are in slow motion - see if you can spot where he starts to think about turning in - it's usually a number of strides before he actually does it.  Then, see if you can spot the signs that the thought is forming - what's he doing, precisely?  (And, as a bonus feature, at the end there's a clip of the work we've been doing for him to back out of my space simply as a result of my moving into his space - he gets a nice face rub for doing so well.)  I'd recommend double-clicking on the video so you can view it in full screen - even in slow motion the details pass by pretty quickly.

And in the couple of cases where I get ahead of the action and interrupt the thought, I was interested to see that it took very little in terms of action on my part - whereas once the action started, I had to get much bigger.  Hmm . . . .  This also makes the point that if we can "lead" our horses with our thoughts by giving them active direction - which doesn't have to be big - they're less likely to form thoughts that are out of sync with what we want them to do but are more likely to have shared thoughts with us as we do the work together.  Whereas if we leave gaps in our direction, they're going to be forming their own thoughts . . .

I'll be interested in what you see.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Working To Resolve Drifter's Issues - With Video!

It was a really beautiful day - for December - the high just touched 40F, with sun and almost no wind.  Since Drifter and I had unfinished business (see the prior couple of posts), I started with him today - if I've got a hard job to do I always try to do it first.  My objectives were simple - to get some decent lunge work at the walk and trot - my definition of decent work includes changes of direction and speed only when I ask for them, and when I do ask for them, that they be smooth and without resistance.  If that went well, I would get on and do some walk and trot work - with the key here being no balking (or worse, rearing) on the upwards transitions. After Drifter's performance yesterday on the lunge (see the prior post), I wasn't sure how things were going to go today, so I took along a companion for safety - my husband - who also did duty as a videographer.

I'm not usually one who goes in for dominance-based methods of training, or theories about how horses interact with people.  I don't believe that most horses are trying to dominate the people in their lives - but there are exceptions.  Drifter, like our Lily, is one of them.  Give him an inch, and he'll take a mile - if he gets away with nudging you with his nose, or head butting, or pushing through you when you're leading, next thing you know you've got nipping, then biting, then worse.  He's not mean, just trying to figure out who's dominant in his world, and he's always watching very carefully to see where he stands. So in his case, I need to pay attention to where his body and feet are at all times, and never let down my guard - he's a challenge to work with but I think he's worth it.

The following video - it totals about 4 minutes (double click on it to see it full screen) - has a number of clips from our work session today - he was actually much better today than yesterday - we've been working on leading and personal space issues - with lots of backing out of my space, and I think that's helping.  It's very interested for me to be able to see this in detail - I experienced it but seeing it is very helpful.  I hope you enjoy it - pay particular attention to the timing of how I interact with him - I don't always manage to get ahead of him but I try to be right in there and not hesitate.  Also pay attention to his body language - where he's looking, where the feet are going and his head, ears and tail - they all say a lot about what he's thinking. (And note that there are some things I'd like to change about how he lunges - I don't like it that he tends to turn in without being asked to, and that his cue for a change of direction is a jiggled line - I didn't teach him these things but they're minor problems at this point and we can deal with them later.)

In the first clip, he makes at least three attempts to change direction without my asking him to - I correct all three as quickly as I can.  In the second clip, there's another attempt to change direction, which results in some spectacular rearing and plunging as I block it and tell him that isn't acceptable behavior.  This clip ends with some nice licking and chewing - note the pick tongue coming in and out - he's beginning to decide that maybe I'm in charge.  Clip 3 is the first changes of direction at my request. In clip 4, we're able to do some nice walk work with changes of direction - note the lowered head - he's not tired as we didn't work that long, but he's much more relaxed and willing to cooperate.  In clip 5, I'm mounting up - it's far from perfect as he tries to move out a few times, but is able to stand when I ask - this clip is included mainly for contrast with a later clip.  Clip 6 gives a picture of his excellent walk work.  Clip 7 is where I'm letting him know I'm carrying a crop, which I want him to know I'll use if there's any balking (or worse - like the rearing I got earlier this week) when I ask for an upwards trot transition.  Clip 8 is the trot transition - he thinks about balking (watch the tail and head) but doesn't follow through although there's still some resistance and reluctance to move forward.  Clip 9 starts with him beautifully springing into trot from the halt, and some nice trot work.  In clip 10, I've gotten off, but instead of putting him away I lead him straight back to the mounting block and get on (much better this time) and we immediately go off in trot - there's only a little tail swishing this time and no hesitation.

Drifter's definitely a work in process, but I feel good about what we accomplished today.  Until everything is routine, I expect we'll be doing groundwork before our riding.  Oh, and not to leave out Dawn and Pie - I rode them both today and they were both excellent - Dawn and I had a great session with much trotting and lots of transitions, and Pie and I did some trot work in the arena and also had a nice trail ride with Sugar.

Pretty good for a December day with horses!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chiro Visit and Drifter Puts on a Show

Our vet/chiro visited today - her old horse who was a bit colicy seems to be doing fine now.  The three remaining horses who haven't been blood tested for EPM - Dawn, Sugar and Misty - were all given neuro exams and had blood drawn.  Sugar's owner has noticed that her gaits have started to feel a bit "mushy" and that she's somewhat unwilling to move out on the trail.  And there was one weird episode where Sugar's owner was grooming her and all of a sudden an area of muscle along her back started to twitch and spasm.  And in fact she had some spinal nerve deficits in that area and also some other abnormalities related to her hind end.  Dawn and Misty had their minor issues, but nothing significant, which may mean that they aren't infected, but we're drawing blood anyway to make sure since the four other horses at the barn - Pie, Drifter, Charisma and Scout - have all tested positive.  It's likely that all the horses have at least been exposed, as they share hay and pasture.

Pie had a good chiro session.  He did have some very crampy areas in his neck and shoulders - lots of little tiny cramps which were probably more from his nervous system and muscles recovering from the EPM, and also a sore area below the withers, which explains the soreness when saddling.  His neuro symptoms are basically gone.

Drifter's neuro symptoms are also gone, but as I suspected he showed signs of ouchiness in his right shoulder, right withers and in the sternal area - it is likely that he slipped in the mud and pulled something.  Then we put him on the lunge to watch him move, and that's when the fun began.  All we wanted was a few trot circles in both directions.  But he had different ideas at the start. He put on quite a show - rearing - I saw a lot of belly and flailing front feet - and plunging, and kicking out, and attempts to bolt, as well as lots of blowing and snorting.  I had the chiro fetch a lunge whip to give us some reserve ammunition and discovered that he is very respectful - even afraid - of lunge whips - I'd never used one with him before.  I didn't have to use the whip at all, just hold it and the acting out (other than the bolting) stopped instantly - ultimately I dropped in on the ground behind me so he would stop tearing around like a mad thing.  Finally, I got some trot circles - he was slightly short-strided on the right front in both directions.  I stopped with each direction change to go up to him and pet him on the face to tell him he was (now) a good boy. I ended with him walking part of a lap in both directions so we could end on a good note.   When I do lunge work with him, I'm going to keep a lunge whip with me (although I may not have to hold it) both so he can learn how to respond correctly on the lunge line and also learn that he doesn't have to be terrified of a lunge whip.  I'll also use lots of praise - verbal and rubs - to tell him when he's doing things right.

He was too hot by that point to do the chiro work right away, so he got to chill in the paddock for a bit while other horses were being seen.  His chiro work went pretty well - he did have some pretty sore places that the chiro was really able to help.  I'm to give him a day off tomorrow and then we can start back to work.  He clearly feels more like himself than he did when he was afflicted with EPM, and "himself" is a feisty, challenging horse who's willing to be somewhat aggressive and see where it gets him - he may also have been sore but that wouldn't have justified the degree of acting out nor the amount of balking and ultimately rearing under saddle earlier this week.  I see more groundwork in our future - despite his performance today he actually does know how to lunge (we have no roundpen and our arena is big and doesn't have a fence that's in good condition so liberty work isn't really an option) - and his leading is already much improved as a result of some brief work I did with him at turnout time this morning, and there were no attempts to bite me at any point during our work with him today, which is already a big improvement.  He's a horse who needs clear and firm boundaries and I need to set and maintain them and never let things slip - his increased feistiness came on pretty quickly after his treatment and I didn't get on top of it to the degree I should have.  And even though his testosterone levels are within normal limits, his adrenal glands may be a bit overactive - this can lead to aggressiveness - so we're starting him on some cyproheptadine which can reduce adrenal over activity.

Just another exciting day with horses!