Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Update on Dawn's Swollen Neck

I didn't like the look of the swelling on Dawn's neck yesterday evening - the swelling was larger, hot and sensitive to the touch, and Dawn seemed somewhat uncomfortable, despite the bute in the afternoon.  I was also concerned that,  if the swelling got any bigger, it might begin to impinge on her windpipe or throat.  If the swelling were due to an infection like cellulitis, that can get out of hand very quickly. I've never seen cellulitis except in the legs of a horse, but this looked like something similar to me. So I called the vet, who came a couple of hours later.

Dawn is always very cooperative for the vet, which comes in handy at times like this.  Since infection was a real possibility, the vet drew blood.  Dawn's temperature was still normal, and she was bright-eyed but uncomfortable in the swollen areas.  The skin irritation/flakiness was probably due to a reaction to the venom in the stings, whereas the swelling could be due to an overactive immune response to the stings, although the fact that it popped up several days later made it more likely that it was an infection.

The program is bute twice a day for several days, hydrocortisone creme on the irritated skin, hot packs on the swelling when I can, a paste of baking soda on the swollen areas overnight and oral antibiotics (Uniprim once a day).  I'm glad I had the vet out, as the bloodwork report this morning showed an elevated white cell count and also changes in the relative composition of types of white cells, both of which indicate infection.  Oddly enough, the bloodwork also showed that Dawn was dehydrated, although that wasn't evident on examination or by her demeanor, so she's also getting electrolytes twice a day.  The vet recommended shaving the affected area to improve the treatment with hydrocortisone and also the baking soda paste, but I opted not to do that as our flies are just too bad for Dawn to have no hair to protect her.

This morning, the swelling was much reduced - her skin is actually pleated in one area where it had been especially swollen - I guess the skin stretched a lot and now has to shrink back to normal.  She ate her breakfast happily (bute less so - I got a protest of scraping of teeth on the stall wall) and went to turnout smeared with hydrocortisone creme - no flyspray on her neck as I didn't want to further irritate the skin, although I think the creme will scare off the flies.

This afternoon, the swelling was largely gone, although now the whole area on the side of her neck - most of her neck down to her shoulder and then extending down to her chest - was pleated, and there were two small areas where the skin was gone, just at the front of her chest and in the area along her shoulder blade where the pleating had been this morning.  I didn't do the hot packs, as the swelling was mostly gone and it was just too hot. I tried putting the baking soda paste on, but she objected violently - it clearly hurt - so I stopped and hosed it off.  I put more hydrocortisone creme on the whole large area, and put Swat around the edges to try to keep the flies off.  One of the possible complications of cellulitis is sloughing of the skin - I hope this doesn't happen as it's a large area and managing that size of open wound at our barn may be difficult.  She was comfortable again after I was done and started eating her hay.  I'll see how she is in the morning, and probably call the vet to get some advice - hoping a visit to the vet clinic doesn't end up being required.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"But I Don't Wanna . . .!" and Dawn's Neck

Today I had planned to ride Dawn (again) but when I brought her in, her neck was very swollen where she'd been stung by wasps (I think) earlier this week - she came in about four days ago with four big welts on the left side of her neck.  The next day the swelling was gone, but over the next several days her skin seemed irritated - little bumps - and there was some odd black scruffy stuff coming up although her hair was still fine.  I washed her with some EQyss shampoo and the next day put on some EQyss spray.  This morning she looked fine, but this afternoon when I brought her in the left side of her neck was very swollen.  There was a large round swelling at the top, where some of the original swelling had been, but below that was a large swelling - the size of a piece of notebook paper - all ridged and puckered, and running down to her shoulder and chest.  It also seemed hot to me and she was ouchy.

I called the vet.  They advised cold hosing, which I did, and some bute tonight and tomorrow morning, and some hydrocortisone cream for the scruffy areas at the top.  So far she's eating and drinking well and seems comfortable, and has no temperature, but if the swelling hasn't gone down by tomorrow the vet will come take a look to be sure we've not got a secondary infection - after all, Dawn's the master of mysterious illnesses.  I'll go back this evening to be sure the swelling hasn't gotten worse - if it does I'll have the vet come right away.

* * * * * *
Drift and I had a good work session, but we had to work through some things.  When I first got him, anytime we trotted he would try to break to canter.  I think he did that because his prior owner was afraid to canter him and would stop working him when he did it - he's a smart little horse and a bit on the lazy side.  We worked through that, starting at the clinic, and now he trots well and (mostly) willingly whenever I ask.  Today we started our canter work again - and Drift tried to say "but I don't wanna . . .!"  When I asked for canter, I got some balking and some propping (which is basically refusing to move forwards), but when I persisted, he would canter.  We did a number of departures, and I got some canters on both leads that went the length of the ring - he tends to drop out of canter whenever he can.  For our last round, he cantered the length of the ring, tried to break out of canter, I got him back into it and we rounded the corner and kept going for the length of the ring again.  I called that a success, and stopped him and got off and praised him.

I see more cantering - lots more cantering - in our future.  After a while it'll be routine, just like the trot.  Drift's a smart little horse, who will try some things on to see if he can avoid work, but he's basically pretty willing.

* * * * * *
All three horses got to meet a gentleman in a motorized wheelchair who was passing by the barn - Dawn ignored him, Drift put his head over the fence to say hi, and Pie got to sniff him all over and follow the wheelchair as it headed away.  The man in the wheelchair appreciated the opportunity to be close to the horses, and we all benefitted from the training opportunity.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cheating Helps

Today Pie and I had another good trail work session, much like yesterday's.  We went about twice as far - perhaps 1/2 mile out and 1/2 mile back, doing the same type of work as yesterday, but having to do it less often because he was able to march along at the walk and also a nice slow trot for longer stretches without being distracted.  I ride him on a loose rein, and have been keeping one hand on the front of my Mattes pad, which sticks up in the front gullet of the saddle - this is my version of the night latch that Trailrider refers to - I can't use one of those having nowhere to put it on my dressage saddle (must get Pie measured and Western trail saddle purchased/ordered . . .).  I've been doing it to give me a baseline of confidence, because the spin's still in there.  We were walking along a section of trail bordered by some bushes behind some houses when a lady in her yard suddenly popped into view.  Spin!  This one wasn't a full 180 but about 90 degrees, and as is more common than not when Pie spins, he stopped right there - no bolt or continued worry once the object was identified as not threatening.  I guess I'd say he isn't spooky (nervous or looky) but rather just easily startled by visual surprises, and I'm expecting that it will wear off with time and miles.  I stayed in the saddle just fine, probably due to my hand on the pad - cheating's just fine by me in this sort of case - I haven't got anything to prove and it helps me stay relaxed which helps Pie.

Pie and I just kept on trucking after that (we went back and forth over the same section of trail at walk and trot a few times) and he arrived back at the barn in a nice calm condition - better than yesterday.  And there were no more incidences of nasty faces. Good Pie!

I wanted to take Dawn for a ride - it's been a while since I've ridden her - but when I was grooming her I found an aggravated bug bite - all scabby and swollen - just where the girth would lie at the bottom of her barrel, so she got another day off.  Probably just as well - I was pretty emotionally tired after managing to ride Pie on the trail again - taking on Dawn when I'm feeling depleted isn't necessarily a good idea.  Dawn's also got some skin crud and irritation going in the area of her neck where she had her welts from the wasp stings.  She's got skin bits coming off and also some bumpy areas - I scrubbed the dead skin off (there's still hair and the skin bits seem to be coming up through the hair) - she liked that as it's itchy - and soaked it with some EQyss spray, which seemed to make her more comfortable.  I put some on the girth area as well.  I'll keep fly spray off those areas tomorrow and put some Swat on the girth area tomorrow to keep the flies off.

Drift was anxious for some attention, too - he's quite the sponge for it - and got a good grooming.  He's looking more settled recently - his eye looks softer and he seems more relaxed.

Pie and I Work the Trail

Pie and I had a good work session yesterday, involving the trail.  It was our second solo outing since my accident, and although we only went a quarter mile or so from the barn, we were out for about a half hour of solid work.   We started out by walking down the trail away from the barn - the trail runs along the edge of the pastures and next to a pond.  My objective was for him to stay "with" me - I checked in with him (by "addressing" him by lightly taking up contact or laying a rein on his neck, and then asking for him to do something - take a step towards the side or slow, say) every 10 or so steps.  If he stopped being "with" me or his head started to come up - a sign of tension - and he didn't come back to me immediately when I "addressed" him, my job was to give him some direction and leadership to regain his attention and focus.

As we got a ways from home, Pie's head popped up and he started scanning for the other horses - he wasn't with me anymore.  So we started doing some work together so we could both regain our focus and connection.  We did circles - the trail is a wide crushed limestone surface with grassy edges, so there was enough room to turn in a tight circle.  We did serpentines.  We did frequent changes of direction, sometimes involving turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches, and worked going both towards and away from the barn.  We backed and then stood still for a few seconds before moving off at the walk again.  Then we resumed walking along.  When his attention started to leave me again, we did more of this, and added in some transitions, using halt, walk and trot and combinations, and added serpentines at the trot to the mix.

We did lots of traveling in both directions, and kept reversing directions, gradually working our way farther along the trail.  The more we did, the better he was able to stay with me when we resumed walking along.  We did the same thing as we went back to the barn - he tends to get a bit more distracted as we come closer to the barn, but did very well.  There was one startle-spook - the type where the legs splay out stiffly in all directions for a second - but he instantly relaxed.

Short but sweet - very good Pie!

We had one odd thing happen when I was leading him in from the pasture.  He was crowding me slightly and I turned to ask him to back a step out of my space.  I use a variety of noises or hand gestures to ask horses to back away from me, and this time I hissed - "sss".  You'd have thought that I'd insulted his mother, or that he was someone's aged, very prim and proper grandma who heard the baby of the family say the "f" word - he glared at me, his ears went very flat and his muzzle wrinkled up in what looked like disgust and anger.  I immediately stopped hissing at him, asked him to back in hand (moving into his space deliberately after his hostile facial expression), which he did perfectly, and then asked him to back using hand gestures - he was perfectly compliant and back to his normal (somewhat grumpy but not angry) demeanor.  I'm not entirely sure what to make of this - he can be crabby and will pin his ears sometimes - I always make sure to never take a step away when he does this and that I get an ears up that I can reward before I move away.  I certainly don't need to hiss at him to ask him to move out of my space - I can use other sounds (I tried some and he didn't have the same bad reaction) or hand gestures.  We could work on it, but at this point I'm inclined to leave it be unless the behavior shows up again outside that specific context.  Don't know if that's right or wrong - I expect there's some history or a bad experience there to trigger such an extreme and unexpected response.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Drift Steps Up

I was very proud of Drift yesterday.  He had to cope with a number of distractions and ended up doing very well, although it took some time to get there.  Fritz was in a small paddock - he's very lame and we think he's about to blow an abscess - and the small paddock was next to Dawn's small paddock.  Drift did not like this at all.  Fritz was nickering to Dawn - he thinks he's a studly dude with the ladies - and Dawn was whinneying back.  Drift was annoyed - pacing his fenceline - he seemed worried that Fritz was going to get "his" mare.

When I brought him into the barn, he was fretful on the cross ties, moving around and trying to paw (I usually don't pay any attention when horses paw but do stop Drift from doing it since the striking episode - we're on zero tolerance with ground manners).  By the time I finished grooming and saddling up, he was calmer.  When I took him to the arena, Fritz's owner brought him inside the barn to soak his foot and more screaming/calling ensued.  Drift wanted to scream too, but I asked him to stop and he did.  We led to the arena, and he was still distracted - I had to remind him to behave himself and pay attention to me as well as the other horses.  Once in the arena, we did some leading exercises and he began to settle down a bit - I think the arena is a "safe place" for him now where he has the security of clear expectations and a known job.

Just as I was getting ready to mount up, along comes one of the community gardeners with a huge walk behind heavy-duty mower.  It was extremely loud - he was using it to cut the tall weeds and small brush that are on the borders of the community garden.  And it was close to one end of the arena.  I led Drift down that way and we stood for a few minutes to look.  Drift's eyes initially got as big as saucers with white showing and his head went way up.  But I had him on a loose line and he stood there, not moving a foot.  I asked him for some head downs, and rubbed him on the face and told him what a good fine horse he was.  We also did some mini lateral flexes with the bit to get him to softly give me his face and eye.  Within minutes he decided the bush hog, which was still roaring around, was no big deal, and I took him to the mounting block and got on - the bush hog was behind him at this point and he didn't care.

Then Fritz went back outside to his paddock and more screaming from Fritz and calling from Dawn ensued.  Drift and I kept working, and I kept redirecting his attention away from the other horses, who kept calling from time to time.  He was able to do it, coming back to me every time I asked, and we ended up having a really good work session, including some spiral in/out work at the trot and the beginnings of some leg yielding at the trot.  At the end, he gave me a lovely lengthening/stretching down in trot down the center line of the arena - I'm not working much along the rail as it makes it harder to keep him straight when he's as green as he is.

I think Drift is basically not a spooky horse, just inexperienced.  He will startle and spook, particularly if something is behind him, but I think he's beginning to learn he can rely on me when I firm up and ask him to do something for me when he's worried - this is what I mean by a horse learning to "lean into" and welcome firmness (see this post for what I mean as firmness) as reassurance and support.  His biggest issue is distractibility related to what other horses are doing - even though he's not a stud he still sometimes can act like one and I'll continue to handle him as if he were one.

I was very pleased.  His nervousness and restlessness when we started didn't promise well, but he really was able to pull it together when I asked him to - good Drift!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Please Look at Post Below . . .

Please look at the prior post below - it's the one I've been working on concerning the relationship of firmness and softness - I couldn't get it to publish with the correct time and date so it may not have show up in your dashboard or reading list . . .

What's the Connection Between Firmness and Softness?

There's a very interesting post by Laura over at Equestrian Ink on what is a solid-minded horse, with further interesting discussion in the comments.  Laura makes a distinction between a horse that is soft - e.g. responsive and obedient, and with you, even under stressful circumstances and even if the horse is scared - and a horse that is solid-minded - a horse that is self-confident, not worried by much and able to cope, even if the rider is less experienced or the horse is put in a situation where many horses might be afraid.  I guess the distinction she is making - Laura, correct me if I've got this wrong - is that the soft horse looks to its rider for guidance and direction and trusts its rider enough to follow those directions, whereas the solid-minded horse is confident on its own.  She also makes the point that the solid-minded horse may in fact not be particularly physically soft, or even mentally soft in the sense of always immediately responsive to the rider.

I guess what I'm looking for in my horses is what Laura calls soft - responsive and willing no matter the circumstances even if worried - plus that further intangible self-confidence that comes from a combination of innate disposition, good training and handling and also physical softness and mental willingness - I guess I'd call this softness+.  And I agree with Laura that there are good solid-minded horses out there who aren't particularly soft physically or always willing and will pack people around - but I think solid-minded horses can also be soft.

So how do you get from physical softness to mental softness to all of that plus solid-mindedness - the whole package - softness+?  There was some interesting discussion in the post and in the comments of the role the horse's training and job experience played, and about how horses should be best managed to grow into solid-mindedness.  I do think it requires a horse to grow up and mature and have lots of miles under the saddle.  I also believe that there are some horses who just can't get there, or who are so difficult to get there that it might as well be impossible, at least for ordinary, reasonably skilled horse people.  I believe Dawn is one of those never-get-there horses, at least for me - I enjoy working with her and riding her but she's got a hair-trigger, highly reactive temperament - the behaviors can be modified and she can progress down the road of softness, but I don't think she'll ever be solid-minded - the spook/bolt/buck is always going to be lurking in there somewhere.  And as Laura points out in her post, there's no amount of sacking out/desensitization that's going to solve this sort of thing.

Pie has the disposition to be solid-minded but he's only starting down the road of physical softness and the mental softness that brings responsiveness and willingness.  And he's very young - just turned 5 - so there aren't enough miles there yet for him to have enough experience to be solid-minded - there's still some spook in there.  And at this point his compliance can be grudging at times.  He could well turn into a solid-minded (but not necessarily soft) horse just by being ridden lots and lots of miles and exposed to lots of things.  Part of the reason he's as solid as he is is that his prior owner did lots of things with him - he did multi-day trail rides and also cattle gathers and some roping and calf dragging - all of this built up Pie's confidence.  But I think Pie can get to softness+ as well as just solid-mindedness. I also believe Drift, who is 10 but still quite green, has the potential to get to solid-mindedness, and to sofness +, but we've got a ways to go, partly due to some issues with his prior handling and training, and the route to get him there may be a bit different than the route that will work best for Pie.

Laura also made the point in her post that a horse that's never experienced and survived adversity will likely never be solid-minded, and also that horses that have a job to do - she used the example of team roping from her world - and learn to do it successfully, can end up being solid-minded, despite training methods that in some cases might be characterized as rough.  There are a lot of good thoughts in there, and before I get to the subject of "firmness", here are some of my thoughts on the points Laura brings up.

First, on adversity - what is that?  I don't think of it as bad things happening to the horse - like abuse, or a bad wreck.  I think of it more as trials the horse has to undergo - experiencing new and perhaps scary things and having to cope.  I think horses that are coddled, or babied, or never taken outside their comfort zone, will never be solid-minded, or soft+.  And the early handling and training of a horse can affect this too - I have a pretty strong bias against aggressive imprinting of foals (not normal handling and training) as it tends to strip off some of the "horseness" and result in a horse that can be dull or unresponsive on the surface but sometimes not very sure of itself on the inside - a dangerous combination.  Also, imprinted horses whose early training has gone completely smoothly (and it may go smoothly since they probably like people and are compliant) may be seriously upset when something does go wrong - horse #8 at the 2009 Mark Rashid clinic (on the sidebar) is an interesting case of this.

Also, horses that have been mishandled, and who don't know what boundaries are and how to behave around humans - who run people over or push into them or do other things on the ground or when grooming or tacking up that reflect a lack of training, and that can sometimes be dangerous - are heading away from solid-mindedness.  I think some of this stuff unfortunately come from a desire people may have to be "nice" to the horse or from a lack of knowledge of what to do - but horses need consistent boundaries they can rely on to develop their self-confidence and it isn't being nice to your horse to fail to provide them with proper training and direction - these horses aren't being bad, they're just doing exactly what they've been trained by their handlers to do.  My Drift is a good example of this, and it takes a fair amount of work to reverse this sort of thing and get the horse back on the track of progressing towards solid-mindedness.

Having a job to do is a good way for a horse to make progress towards good-mindedness and soft+, but I actually think it's a result of how the human deals with the horse in these situations that makes the difference.  I think it's the human's focus, determination and energy brought to the job that carries the horse who is still learning with the human into accomplishing the job together.  Now this can be done with or without roughness - I think one of the reasons some horses survive fairly rough handling is that their dispositions are basically stolid and less reactive - they just shrug their shoulders (so to speak) and ignore rough handling and get on with things.  Rough handling can be a form of adversity that develops a horse's ability to deal with things - not that I think that's a good excuse for rough handling - but it can also, in a horse that's sensitive or nervous, cause great damage and even permanent impairment of a horse's ability to work together with people (this came close to happening with Dawn).  I don't believe roughness is necessary to produce a solid-minded horse - working softly but effectively with a horse does the job better and can produce a horse that is both soft, mentally and physically, as well as solid-minded - the combination I'm calling softness+.

I did a post a while ago - "An Ode to a Good Working Horse" - that addressed some of the things that I believe are needed to produce a good working horse.  You'll notice if you read the post that most of those things aren't about the horse or the specifics of the situation the horse is working in - they're about the rider.  I've had the privilege of knowing several good working horses - our Norman the pony (now at Paradigm Farms in retirement) was one, as was my mare Snow when I was a teen and my mare Promise when I was showing hunters (just goes to show that mares can be good working horses too).  We believe that Norman may have been abused before we got him - he was somewhat dangerous on the cross ties or in his stall, particularly with children, but was a pro in the hunter show ring - completely unflappable and safe under all circumstances - he was one of those ponies who really cared about winning but would also stop cold if his rider was about to fall off or he thought the distance to a jump was wrong.  When we brought him to our barn after his show career was done, he could be ridden on the trails in a halter or driven in a cart, and other than an inexplicable fear of large boulders (go figure?), was reliable.  He was never dull, or quiet or dead to the world, just reliable.

My mare Snow was like that too.  She was a QH, and I don't know her background.  I showed her English and Western, and she would reliably do every thing I asked her to do - jumping, trails, rollbacks, you name it - and she always was calm and willing.  Promise was an unraced TB who came to me after a job as a 4'6" jumper.  She was somewhat standoffish, although affectionate in her own way, and really did her job with dedication and pleasure - we did hunters together for a year until her untimely death.  I could take her on the trails and do anything else I wanted with her and she was always willing and available.  Both of those mares had a broad range of experiences and also fairly calm, sensible dispositions.

My Noble was an almost solid-minded horse, but his nervous temperament kept him just this side of what Laura means by solid-minded.  Certain things bothered him - he hated being in a ring with other horses all cantering together (he was a former dressage horse) - that freaked him out.  But he would go down the trail with the best of them, and loved to race other horses and would come right back to me when asked.  I always knew he would be obedient and try to do what I asked, even if he was worried.

Now what does this have to do with "firmness"?  I mentioned in my post yesterday that I was really trying to bring firmness to my work with Pie and Drift yesterday.  I think firmness may be the key to getting a horse that is soft+.  I'm certainly no master of it but keep working on it.  Now what do I mean by firmness?  It has nothing to do with being more forceful in interacting physically with the horse - stronger aids, getting bigger, applying more pressure, or punishing the horse for perceived disobedience.  Firmness, to me, means a certain intent, attention and physical and emotional presence - a feel - brought to the horse. It's a way of "addressing" the horse, asking for the horse's attention and then making a request (usually as softly as possible) and standing ready to give the horse the release for the try in the right direction.  It's all the things I mentioned in the "Ode to a Good Working Horse" - clear (not uncertain or wishy-washy), consistent (reliable but also persistent), calm (not frustrated or impatient or angry), confident and caring (not about the horse being my friend) - read the post for the details on those traits.  To me, firmness is getting down to business - being direct, matter-of-fact and focused, but being consistent and fair as well.  Firmness is doing the horse the courtesy of being present in the moment and really paying attention to what you're doing and what the horse's response is - this is very hard work (at least for me) and requires a lot of concentration - this is one reason I do a lot of my riding by myself - riding isn't a social activity for me.

Firmness is not avoiding the holes in the horse's training or failing to confront things - sometimes difficult things - that need doing.  Firmness is being willing to take the horse up to and slightly beyond the boundaries of the horse's assurance or confidence in order for the horse to learn how to deal with things - this is a very tough one involving lots of judgment calls and also being able and willing to help the horse when it's troubled, confused or worried.  This pushing of boundaries and testing/filling in holes is one of the areas I find personally very challenging - how far to push into a zone of discomfort/worry and how to  effectively provide the horse with help.

Firmness is also about being reliable for your horse - in feeding, care, handling and riding.  And it's about building in the expectation in the horse that, from moment to moment in your interactions, that if you ask the horse for something there'll always be a release in there for the horse - a very powerful concept I picked up in Tom Moates's recent book about Harry Whitney.  I'm nowhere near there yet, but I'm working to develop my firmness, so that my horses can progress towards softness, solid-mindedness and ultimately softness+.  Every day I can bring some of this firmness to my horses, address them and engage them in a conversation, is a day when we can make progress together.

That's how I think you get to softness, good-mindedness and ultimately softness+.  What do you think?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pie and I Manage the Trail, and Post Coming on Firmness

Today was a good day.  I had decided that Pie and I would go on the trail solo today, and we managed a ride of about a mile together.  This may not seem like much, but it's the first solo ride we've done since my fall in June.  I "firmed up" and gave Pie the leadership he needed to get the job done for me - he was a bit nervous, but I kept asking him to do small things for me - shallow serpentines down the trails, halts, backing, and some walk/trot/walk transitions.  I deliberately kept him on a loose rein throughout and kept my focus where I wanted us to go.  He was nervous about some yard equipment - a string trimmer and some other piece of loud equipment (I didn't look), and there was one small spook in place when a bunch of doves flew up.  He was anxious to get home but behaved well - we even turned and did some more trot work away from home for a bit.  His anxiety was higher the closer we got to home, and he was distracted once he saw the other horses (particularly the mares who were running in desperation from the terrible flies), but stayed with me.

We went to the arena - with anxiety coming towards home I wanted him to work some more and get to a better place before I got off.  It took a little bit of time, but we ended with some very nice, soft walk and trot figure work using the cones, as well as some transition work emphasizing clean, immediate transitions.  I was very happy with how he did.  In order to give myself some backbone, while we were on the trail, I held the front of the Mattes pad with one hand - if he had really spooked or spun I would have been more secure (I was riding in a dressage saddle - must get him traced so I can get my trail saddle ordered).

Then I had a really good ride on Drift where he dealt with a lot of distractions and just kept on trucking.  Again I think my "firming up" made a difference to him - I caught one slight spook forwards before it happened and kept him working, and he coped really well with a number of things that might have usually made him nervous.

The flies have just now gotten to the point that they're immune to all the sprays - even Mosquito Halt.  They were biting both me and the horses viciously today when we were working.  It's been dry, though, so the mosquitos have eased up a bit.  Poor Dawn came in from turnout with four huge welts on her neck - she may have had an encounter with wasps.  The welts weren't sore to the touch, but she was still uncomfortable so we didn't work today.

Now, what do I mean by "firming up"?  Theres a post coming on the relationship between firmness and softness . . .

Monday, August 22, 2011

Satisfactory Times Three

Today was a good day all around.  All three horses had very successful work sessions and some progress was made.  Drift was up first.  He was pretty relaxed today, which was nice.  We worked a lot on shortening and lengthening the walk and trot, and on our transitions, all while maintaining softness.  He was pretty "with" me and when he did get distracted he came right back to me.  Then, since the trot work was going so well, we then did some work on his canter, mainly on the departures and then transitioning down to trot while maintaining forward.  I was very pleased that he got the right lead with no difficulty three times in a row as he's struggled with that.  He tends to want to come to a halt when transitioning downwards from the canter, so we worked on smoothly transitioning down to the trot instead, and after a nice transition in each direction, we were done.

Pie had an intensive session on being "with" me.  We used a pattern of four cones set in a very large square, with a raked straight path between the cones.  Our objectives were straightness, softness, and immediate transitions (particularly upwards from walk or halt to trot - he has tended to be sticky).  Riding straight takes a lot of attention from me - if I'm with him then he can be with me - I have to focus on where we are going, drawing us along the line, and then maintain his straightness by creating a corridor with my legs and reins, but without doing a lot of stuff with my hands.  We did a number of different exercises such as walking or trotting the straight line between cones, halting in front of the cone, backing, then circling around the cone and continuing with the next straight line.  We also worked on walking and trotting small circles around the cones without bulging out.  And in all of this I asked him to stay consistently soft.  We also worked on getting immediate upwards transitions from walk to trot and halt to trot - I carried my "encourager" (a small crop) and made it clear that now meant now.  Pie did very well and I felt he was much more with me be the end of our session than he was at the beginning - his softness is much more consistent and the quality of his trot is improving.  I rode him in the KK Ultra (a three part full-cheek snaffle with a lozenge in the center) - he was doing a lot of mouthing but rode very well in it - I don't know if this is the right bit but we'll keep using it at least for a while.

Dawn is still in heat, although almost done, so we had another lungeing session.  We started by doing some backing in hand - she was a bit braced so we worked through that until I could get immediate soft backing - that meant she was with me instead of tuned out.  Her lungeing was very good and relaxed - I used verbal commands and changes in my body language/energy.  We did walk/trot/walk and walk/halt/walk as well as trot/halt/trot by the end.  And there were no hissy fits!  We didn't canter on the lunge today because I wanted to keep everything very calm and quiet.

A very satisfactory day - good Drift, Pie and Dawn!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

They All Came Back

I worked with all three horses today, and in all three cases we had a minor "event" that was a good indicator of where I was with each horse in terms of the horse being, or not being, soft inside.  Any horse can spook, but the question is whether the horse has enough confidence in the leadership and direction of the human to look to the human for guidance - this will happen only if the human has provided consistent leadership and direction so that the horse will maintain that elusive "withness" - the live connection between horse and rider that is the meaning of a horse being soft on the inside - even under stressful or unexpected circumstances.  I'm not there yet with my three horses - we're on a journey together that requires me to build and maintain the solidness of that connection with the horse - but I was pleased nevertheless with how each horse responded.

Drift and I have had two excellent work sessions in a row - his transitions are really getting good.  The trot/walk transition is improving markedly - I want him to flow into walk without losing impulsion, and that has to come from me, otherwise he collapses into walk.  He's beginning to offer up the start of some nice lengthening at the trot on a looser rein and is starting to stretch down.  All very nice.  And yesterday I was very proud of him - Scout and Fritz went galloping along their fence line - close to the arena where  Drift and I were working - and Drift just stood there and watched them - good Drift!  Today, while we were walking, he was startled by something happening in the adjacent community garden behind him - just get yourself a nice community garden as a despooking device!  He did a spook/scoot, but very quickly stopped when I asked him, and we went immediately back to work without more ado - and he wasn't agitated or concerned as we kept working.  Although at this stage of his training he's still sometimes nervous and prone to spook, the speed with which he recovers and goes right back to work without carrying nervousness forward is a good sign for the future.

Pie and I went on a nice long trail ride with Charisma and her owner.  I rode him without his bug armor - it was pretty windy so the bugs, although bad, were bearable.  We'll do more bug armor work in the arena before we use it on the trail again - I think the mask either impaired his vision and made him nervous, or some part of the covering moving in the corner of his eye bothered him and made him spooky.  I think our arena work on staying connected yesterday made a difference - he was less nervous - but then so was I so that could be a big factor.  We rode by some scary stuff - he looked, and not only that, wanted to go up and investigate - a flapping hand-made sign and a bicycle lying on its side with other things like a coat and bags strewn over it.  We did some trotting to catch up with Charisma, who has a fast walk, although Pie's walk is now much improved - more stride length and nice swing.  At one point heading towards home, Charisma's owner wanted to trot, but then Pie felt like he was being left behind and did a scoot/bolt.  I stopped him as he getting up even with Charisma to pass her (maybe he thought it was a race? although in the past we've trotted with other horses on the trail).  I think he was just worried about being left behind.  I was pleased that he maintained his composure after that and wasn't more nervous.  Charisma's owner and I will do some trot work together in the arena and also closer to the barn on another occasion.  I was also pleased that this didn't worry me - I just kept on riding.

And then Dawn got a bit of work.  She's been in heat - and when Dawn's in heat, she's really in heat, if you get my meaning.  I don't even bother to ride her when she's in full heat - even grooming her in the barn aisle or picking her feet is difficult.  She's come a long way from the extremely distractible horse she was when I started working with her, but when she's in heat all bets are off.  But she's coming out of heat now, so we did a little bit of lungeing work - about 15 minutes.  She needs the exercise for keeping the weight off and also for her hoof health.  We did walk and trot work with lots of transitions, including halting.  I used my body language and also verbal commands.  She was very sharp and things were going well, when the last horse in turnout disappeared inside the barn - it was dinnertime and she knew it.  She then threw a hissy fit - bolting on the line, and bucking.  I just had her keep moving in a circle around me - it took a few laps of scooting/galloping/bucking for her to come back down.  Then we went right back to work.  Same thing in the other direction - she had another hissy fit and then we went right back to work.  I didn't stop until I'd gotten some acceptable walk/trot/halt work in both directions, and then we did a little bit of leading work.  She was compliant - holding things together - but not relaxed.  That was the best we were going to do today, and it was good enough - for her to be able to do this instead of losing her mind altogether is progress.

All in all, I was pleased with how all three horses came back to me after their "events" - they're all in different places on the road we're on together in search of horses that are soft on the inside.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Healthy Hooves and the Whole Horse

I've been reading a very interesting book - Feet First: Barefoot Performance and Hoof Rehabilitation, by Nic Barker & Sarah Braithwaite, who also do the Rockley Farm blog.  This book isn't just about barefoot horses, and barefoot performance horses (including hunting, eventing and show jumping).  It's about what they've learned in the rehabilitation of horses whose hoof structure has been compromised: the book is about the whole horse, and makes the extremely important point that the horse's hoof health is a direct expression of the horse's overall health, and that simply changing how you trim a horse, or taking a horse barefoot, will not necessarily improve things if the overall health and management of the horse are not also changed.  It is also clear that a lot of lameness attributed to legs or body is really the result of unhealthy hooves, and that setting the horse on the road to healthy hooves can substantially improve soundness.

The book is chock-full of excellent drawings, photos and explanations of what makes for a healthy hoof and an unhealthy hoof from a biomechanical point of view.  There are before and after photos and case histories for a number of horses.  And their standards are high - they define a horse with healthy hooves as one "who is sound, without shoes, over challenging surfaces, at any speed" (p. 14), and are critical of barefoot practitioners who aggressively trim horses in a way that produces lameness or horses that can only work on softer surfaces.  The trimmer should look for feedback from the horse - "As a general principle, any trim which leaves a horse less sound after the trim than it was before, is a mistake.  There may be occasional exceptions, but it should be an extremely rare occurrence for a horse to be less capable after a trim.  It is never productive, let alone fair, to make a horse sore, and certainly no horse should be routinely uncomfortable after being trimmed (or shod)." (p. 130)

The real contribution of this book is the importance it places on diet and feeding, and exercise and the environment the horse lives in - these are what produce a healthy hoof and the trimming is subsidiary, although important.  As they say bluntly: "The truth is that you can't improve a hoof that much by trimming it ." (p. 126)  Positive changes in hoof structure, shape and quality come about through changes in diet, as well as changes in how the horse is worked and maintained on a variety of surfaces.

There are excellent sections on diet and how to deal with and prevent various common foot ailments.  They point out that recurrent abscesses are not normal, and often relate to dietary issues as well as the surfaces the horse is maintained on.

Whether your horse is shod or barefoot, I highly recommend the book (available through Amazon), although it is expensive.  Their blog is also well worth following and frequently is very educational.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Drift's Fan Club, Hoof Health and Mosquitos vs. Hock Sores

Drift is and odd little fellow sometimes - his personality quirks are interesting.  He's often very aggressive with other geldings, particularly when the mares nearby are in heat - that's why he's on solo turnout now.  It seems to arise from insecurity as he's not very confident around other horses, except for mares - he may never have been turned out with other horses as an adult except with mares.  There was an example of this yesterday that I saw from a distance.  Drift and Dawn were in two small paddocks with a 12' aisle between.  Another boarder was leading Fritz and Scout in down that aisle as a pair, rather than separately. Dawn and Drift were both hanging over their fences - talk about Scylla and Charybdis! - it was a great temptation for Dawn to flirt (she's coming into heat) and for Drift to lunge over the fence and try to bite Fritz, who skittered away.  I've been working on this behavior with Drift when I lead Pie by - I proactively shoo Drift away from the fence line by swinging my lead and even turn around and chase him away if he shows any aggressive moves - the boarder yesterday with two horses wasn't able to do this.

But then he often shows his sweet side, particularly with people.  When I came to the barn in the late afternoon, Drift had a fan club - several women and a bunch of children, all of whom were petting his face and nose - his head was over the fence and his ears were up and his eye was soft.  He was clearly soaking up the attention - they said that when they went to visit Dawn (who ignored them), he started pawing to get their attention so they would come back and pet him some more.  He was very good with the children, letting them pet him anywhere on the face or nose.

With all of our rain and recent moderate temperatures, our grass is lush and green - usually at this time of year it's pretty sparse and dried out.  In order to keep my horses' weight under control and to keep them off the grass in the mid to late afternoons when the fructans in the grasses are usually highest, I have been turning them out early in the morning and then bringing them in to a dry lot with a bit of hay (in the case of Pie) and small grass paddocks - really nibbles more than grass - for the other two.  I've also not been turning them back out on grass at night, both to help keep their weight down and also because the mosquitos are just horrible - some of the horses that are being turned out all night are peppered with the welts from bites in the morning.

This regime, combined with regular exercise, is really working - both Pie and Drift are at good weights and Dawn is reducing from her earlier overweight.  There are obvious mechanical benefits to joints and supporting soft tissues, but the most important benefit is metabolic - keeping their weight at an appropriate level and limiting their intake of grass when the sugars are highest is really helping with their hoof health - they all have solid feet and crunch over gravel with no problems.  This has not always been the case - Pie even had a mild laminitis flare up in the spring. I'm a believer that hoof health depends as much on how the horse is fed, worked and maintained as on the trimming/shoeing - hoof health comes as much from or more from the inside of the horse than from the outside of the hoof.  Our farrier was here today and all three horses' feet are looking great - Pie and Drift both have beautifully shaped and solid bare feet with good strong soles and frogs, and Pie's white line is completely tight again, and Dawn's feet are holding up well - she's got thin walls and does wear shoes in front.  And all three were very good for the farrier, which always makes me feel good.

Pie, though, has redeveloped hock sores as a result of being stalled at night - his bedding is thick enough but he seems to really grind his hocks into the ground.  One of the sores has gotten pretty bad - all raw and ugly.  So he's having to go out at night, but he's going in his dry lot paddock with some hay - the fact that he's not on grass reduces the number of mosquitos somewhat, and he also has a shed to escape into.  Last night was his first night back out in his paddock, and he did pretty well, although I did hear his long, high-pitched girly whinny at about 5:30 this morning (my house is about 200 yards from the barn), so I went over to check on him.  He was fine, just calling to the horses who had been out all night on pasture. He did have some bites this morning, but nowhere as many as the horses that were on the grass.  I brought him in and fed my horses and left them inside until a while later when the sun was up and the mosquitos weren't quite so bad and then turned them out.  This may be remembered as the summer of 100 degrees for days followed by torrential rain followed by mosquitos.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blocking and Redirecting Thought Magnets

I worked with and rode all three horses today - the weather was about perfect - low 80s and sunny with some wind.  Drift and I continued our work on consistent softening at the trot, and lots of transitions, and also experimented with leg yield - he does very well with this at the walk, but doesn't get it at the trot yet.  He also gave me some very nice soft lengthening at the trot - almost extension, which he's certainly capable of.

Dawn and I continued our work on softening on circles and making sure there are no braces, and we also worked on shorter and longer trot - interestingly, Dawn really doesn't ever offer extension at the trot, even though her shoulder is nice and sloping - when she moves out at the trot you tend to get more elevation rather than extension.  She gave me some very nice "big" trot as part of our work together to get comfortable with all sorts of trot.  She also showed me how important riding the hind legs is in lateral work - I was able to get her to do very nice leg yield at the walk on a completely loose rein - the feel of her just effortlessly stepping under was lovely.

Pie and I had a specific agenda for our work session.  I need him to be able to respond, and be "with" me, whenever I pick up a rein - this will mean that there's something I can do to help him if he's nervous or spooks.  This, I guess, is what I mean by mental softness - the horse is able to respond and have a conversation no matter what the circumstances.  We worked in the arena, starting with some leading work (making sure he was paying attention to where I was and my body language) and then did some mini-lateral flexion work.  I'm not a big fan of big lateral flexions - nose to stirrup type of stuff - I think that can lead to gumby-necked horses who can bend their heads around while traveling straight ahead (and possibly running into things).  What I was doing was something I got the idea about from  Andrea at Mustang Saga - thanks!

This involves taking up a rein (while standing next to the horse) and putting a bit of pressure on it - the objective is for the horse to give, just a small motion but soft, to the pressure and also "acknowledge" you with a soft eye - there isn't a lot of motion involved but the softening, both mental and physical, are really profound.  When I started working with Pie today in the arena, it took a number of seconds for him to acknowledge me at first, and not just stand there either checked out or distracted.  Once I was getting that reliably, and also some nice soft backing in hand, I mounted up.

Pie and I then worked on blocking and redirecting "thought magnets" - horses in turnout, another horse leaving the barn and then riding off - visible for a long ways in the distance, people working in the vegetable garden.  As he would start to fixate on a particular thought magnet, I would instantly direct him into a circle, looking for some softening in the lateral movement (without any pressure on the outside rein).  We kept doing this until he was able to respond instantly when I asked him to "join" me with his thought and body.  Then we did some trot work - Pie is, to be frank, a slug, so I used a crop as a secondary cue on my leg or the saddle.  He did some decent work at the trot and I was getting some pretty nice intermittent softness.  We did transitions as well, which helped keep him sharp.  By the end of the session he was much more "with" me than he was when he started.  This is beginning to give us a means of conversation if he should become worried on the trail.  I haven't done much arena work with Pie, but it's clear we can benefit from it.  I also may try him in a different bit - he's currently in the ported Mylar D which accommodates his large tongue, but he's doing a lot of chomping so something else may suit him better at this point.

My horse work today went very well with all three - I'll take that!

Monday, August 15, 2011

I Chicken Out

Drift and I had an excellent ride today - whatever his difficulties were a couple of days ago they seem to be past, at least for now.  Perfectly still for mounting on a loose rein, and lots of very nice walk and trot work, including some trot work on a looser rein.  His softening is pretty consistent at walk and trot and all transitions, except when he's momentarily distracted by a "thought magnet" (credit Tom Moates for that wonderful term) such as the goat, a plastic bag blowing by or horses nearby in turnout.  I'm still looking for that elusive softness from the inside - he's pretty compliant with my requests but not altogether "with" me yet.

Pie and I went on a good long trail ride with Charisma.  Pie was sporting his full bug armor, which helped somewhat with the horrible mosquitos and flies, which bit my (sprayed with Off) legs instead.  Pie was very looky on this ride - lots of nervousness and looking over his shoulder at possible demons.  He did ride by the evil blue tarp without too much trouble.  He was very tentative, not wanting to lead and wanting to take any trail fork that led towards home.  I found the ride mask somewhat problematic - I couldn't really judge the position of his ears or expression in his eye.  As we got very close to home, he was all of a sudden very worried about something behind him - I never could see what it was - and scooted a bit forward and sideways and then looked over his shoulder in a worried way.  I chickened out and dismounted, even though I could probably have ridden through whatever would have happened.  I led him the rest of the way back to the barn - he was quite nervous, chomping on the bit, which is rare for him, and when I took his ride mask off the whites of his eyes were showing.  I probably feel worse about getting off than I should - it didn't harm him, or me, although it certainly shows my lack of confidence.  I guess it's going to take as long as it takes for both of us . . .  Dawn was neglected, except for grooming - I was just too worn out to ride her.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Is the Horse Soft Inside? Part III - A Few More Thoughts and Some Good Rides

There are many gems in Tom Moates's book about Harry Whitney (Between the Reins).  A couple more that really caught my attention:

1.  Sometimes you have a good ride because the horse has in mind to do the same thing you do, but not as a result of your direction - if there's no real connection then the next ride might not be so good.

2.  The use of gadgets - tie downs, draw reins, aggressive bits, biting rigs - may result in a horse that performs in a way you want physically, but the horse may be mentally somewhere completely different since all you have done is limit the horse's choices.
If you seek a horse truly willing and on the same page with you, difficulties must be understood and worked through for better understanding and an improved relationship, not just mechanically altered. (p. 27)
3.  It's up to us to work to make the horse feel better inside:
. . . by breaking the connection between thought magnets [something like the barn, the gate in the arena, or another horse or the herd] and the horse we interrupt a way he has developed to seek a kind of comfort in various situations.  Some horses can project their thoughts very strongly to other places hoping to find consolation.  They do this even though they actually ruin their chances of serenity (simply being happy where they are) in the process.  If we block that defense mechanism but provide no alternative purpose beyond it, then we potentially leave the horse in a bigger void and less comforted than he was on his own.
The desire in the human should be to get a horse feeling better about things.  If a thought magnet draws a horse to somewhere else, it means that place represents a longing in the horse to get to some other place. He wants to feel better, which in turn means he isn't confident in his present situation.  If he wants to feel better by going over there then he already is trying to fill an emotional void inside himself over there.
If you block thought magnets, but offer no better deal in trade, then the horse is no better off.  He may even lose what confidence he has in the human.  (p. 35)
4.  It really isn't about pressure and release, which can be pretty mechanical:
Instead of 'pressure', which might be misconstrued as a crude physical pressure, the idea of 'blocking and redirecting a thought' seems more applicable and preferable.  Just asking the horse something as backing up a few steps may be enough to bring his thought back to us.  Sometimes getting a little big may be necessary.  Regardless, if we manage to block the offending thought and offer a new route for the horse to think along which fosters clear understanding and the comfort of our confidence and support, we help the horse to feel better inside. (p. 39)
5.  There's a wonderful section on the use of 'firmness' - not being aggressive or demanding, or negative,  but simply checking in the with horse, in a clear and not wishy-washy way and asking for connection - that I can't begin to describe.  But the basic concept is firm up - ask for the horse's attention, and always immediately ask for the horse to do something with a clear release to follow:
. . . if people handle firmness correctly, it provides the opportunity for the horse to feel good about the firmness before there every is a release to it because he knows a moment of clarity is at hand. Consistent clarity over time builds constant confidence in an outcome, even in the moments before it happens if set up right.
If the human handles firmness consistently, always using it as a precursor to asking something specific of the horse and providing a release timed to build in the horse's attention, relaxation, and understanding, then there is every reason for the horse to consider firmness a very positive experience.  (p. 87)
6.  And how important it is, in order to get that softness from the inside, that we insist - not in a threatening or forcing way, but in a consistent and persistent way:
Think about it, can you consistently always be adamant a horse stays with you mentally and accept nothing less?  It's not always easy to do when leading a quiet horse twenty feet, let alone when riding.  And what about when the horse responds correctly to your cues mechanically speaking, keeping his thoughts with you, but without softness?  Can you hold out further to get all the pieces of the puzzle you want in a horse at one time?  If you're looking for a horse to be right on with your requests and reacting in a relaxed way, then you'll need to build that in there too.  (p. 96)
* * * * * *
I rode all three horses today, in between various storms - I got right back in there with Drift this morning after his difficulties yesterday (see the prior post), and despite the unfamiliar time, he was just fine for his leading and his ridden work.  He's not soft inside yet, but we're taking steps to get there - we're on the road together.  His bolting/bucking/nervousness - which I've now observed when I'm working with him and when he's on his own in turnout - seems to be a reaction to an overload where he's very frustrated and upset - sort of a baby reaction.  We'll keep testing the limits so he can develop some emotional maturity.  Dawn and I had a nice ride building on our recent work on her carrying herself softly.  And Pie and I tried out the Cashel Bug Armor - we use the ride mask as well - other than the neck piece almost not fitting over his (very large) jowl - it fit and worked great, and he was completely unconcerned about it.  We only walked and trotted in the arena, but I think it'll do very well on the trails.  A very fine day with horses indeed.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Is the Horse Soft Inside? Part II - Finding the Holes, and Not Quitting Until You're Done

Yesterday, Dawn and I had a very good, intense work session.  This was much less dramatic than the work with Drift yesterday and today (more on that below), but just as important.  As those of you who've been following along for a while know, Dawn and I have been on the hunt together for physical and mental softness for a while now - read my post "The Horse Is Thinking About Leaving . . . " for my initial take on these issues.  We've made enormous progress over the past two years - the fact I was able to take her to the Mark Rashid clinic in May and have us do as well as we did together is proof of that.  But there's still some ways to go - she's still inclined to be nervous, and to spook (and not just spook in place), and to be mentally braced, and so am I, just the same as her, when riding her.

So yesterday, Dawn and I did a simple exercise that was fairly substantive on these points, as a beginning.  When Dawn worries or is nervous, she tends to rush and/or brace.  I set up a line of cones down the center line of the arena.  First, we worked a bit on mounting - she's recently taken up backing just as I put my foot in the stirrup to mount, I'm not sure why.  Since she was thinking about going backwards, I had her move forwards, around the block, each time she took a step back.  Pretty soon she was able to stand still for mounting, and I repeated it at the end of our work and it stuck.

Our exercise was walking, and then trotting in probably about 20 meter circles around the cones.  The objective was for Dawn to carry herself - for me not to support or hold her up - without rushing.  The way we worked on this was my taking up some contact on the inside rein - very little to none on the outside rein since I didn't want to support her, and since I was only using one rein I couldn't brace either - and asking for the contact to soften as we walked or trotted in the circle.  The softening I was looking for was hard for her at first - she wanted to rush or push on the bit - I just kept asking, and I was looking for a feeling of mental as well as physical softness - hard to describe.  She got it after some work, in both directions - interestingly enough going to the left was harder for her - going to the right is usually her harder direction.  As we began to get really nice softness on the circles, I would take her in a straight line and by the end of our work she was really carrying herself beautifully with the softest of contact on both reins.  That felt very good.  And it corresponds to something I've been reading in Tom Moates's book:
If the human handles firmness consistently, always using it as a precursor to asking something specific of the horse and providing a release timed to build in the horse's attention, relaxation, and understanding, then there is every reason for the horse to consider firmness a very positive experience. (p. 87)
But this firmness is not negative, or from a point of view of getting the horse in trouble - this just leads the horse to want to check out.

Dawn and I made progress, and we hope to build on that in days to come.  I was trying with her to be insistent - in a good way - and absolutely consistent in not releasing unless the physical and mental softness I was looking for came through.

* * * * * *
Drift and I had two work sessions, yesterday and today.  They turned out to be about some holes he's got - his spookiness, which has reemerged since his bolt after being spooked by Scout running up, due to his lack of confidence - as Mark Rashid said at the clinic, Drift is not a very confident horse - and his petulance when asked to do something he'd prefer not to do.

Yesterday was about his spookiness - he wanted to spook at the goat, and did a small bolt/spook when someone in the community garden stood up from behind her plants, and thinking about the horses in the next door pasture.  We did a lot of standing and looking under saddle, with reassurance, and lots of circles.  Eventually he settled enough that we were able to do some very nice trot work.

Today was about finding holes, and not avoiding them.  I think, a lot of the time, we sidestep around areas of trouble instead of dealing with them.  I tried today to step up to the plate, instead of away from it, and make sure that if there were areas of trouble - holes in training - that we made a start in addressing them.  This isn't easy, and it isn't always fun, but I think if you're dealing with a horse who comes with some issues, you have to suck it up and deal with this.  Tom's book has some things to say about this:
When I think about this event, even now, what stands out is how Harry's advice focused on the horse's feelings as the primary concern.  I had adjusted things to gain a pretty good clamp on Niji's 'misbehavior' for years.  Most often I worked to stay ahead of it by keeping him 'with me' mentally to the best of my ability at any given time.  I redirected his thoughts sometimes away from trouble. Plus, I just finished all the working to break the grip of many thought magnets with him. Also, at home (and not in a particularly conscious effort), I developed an environment in which we rarely pushed up against anxiety in any serious mental way that could cause issues in the first place.  I had learned what might get him close to a run off or melt down, and I went about removing those unpleasantries thinking it was improving the horse's deal. . . . In this latest bolting experience, I realized due to Harry's strange advice [to let the horse run and comfort him when he stopped] that I'd missed a big truth: that keeping a horse from blowing his lid by avoidance is not the same thing as diffusing from within the horse what causes that horse to feel he needs to blow his lid.(p. 45)
"The Razor's Edge" is a term I use for that very delicate mental threshold where a horse teeters on the verge of losing it when presented with something he finds distressing. . . sometimes the human must confront a horse with the very things that disturb him and allow the angst to rise to a high level before it becomes possible to convince the horse to view those situations differently.  Pushing a horse to the brink of trouble may be the only way to enable the horse to make new choices about the circumstances and provide the opportunity for a new and positive outcome.  (pp. 117-118)
Drift and I started out our work session today working on his spookiness.  We contemplated the goat; we contemplated the gardeners; we contemplated the piece of farm equipment making rows that made a terrible grinding noise every time it turned rows.  He did very well with this, some big eyes and a few spooks but settled into the reassurance I was providing on the ground.

But then something interesting happened.  I placed my had on his nose - he braced and flipped his nose so I kept my hand there - I try very very hard to never give a horse a release on a brace - and next thing I knew he struck at me with a front foot, catching me a glancing blow on the thigh.  Major league not OK - I aggressively moved him backwards out of my space - he did it but was rearing and plunging, which was fine with me.  We ended up working for more than two hours - lots of backing - in hand, with hand signals (clapping worked well), with the halter, with pressure on the nose, and leading in between making sure he didn't ever - and I mean ever - intrude into my space.  Drift's clearly a horse that needs very clear boundaries and expectations.  By the end, he would back with very soft pressure on his nose, and there were no more incidences of striking - I expect he'd figured out that striking wasn't on the menu of options after my first reaction.

I've seen petulant behavior from him before - when I first got him he wouldn't let his hind feet be handled without cow kicking - we're well past that now - and he would swish his tail whenever he was irritated.  At the end of our session, I got on, a couple of times, and didn't get off until we got some softness in the turns and backing.

Now it was past dinner time and all the other horses had been brought in and fed and Drift could hear that feed was hitting the buckets as next day's feed was made up.  So when I dismounted and brought him out of the arena to lead him to the barn, we got another display of petulance.  Bolting/bucking on the lead - it looked like spooking but the spooking was just an expression of his annoyance/lack of being with me. No way Jose - back to the arena we went to repeat.  A couple of repetitions later and Mr. Petulant made it into the barn only to find that Scout and Fritz had their heads over their stall guards on opposite sides of the barn aisle.  Mr. Petulant went into a screaming, striking display and I backed him up.  Scout and Fritz were shut in and Mr. Petulant and I went back outside to start over - I wasn't interested in ending on that.  We made it back inside, without any bolting or bucking - I certainly wouldn't call what we had mentally soft - and I called that a win.

Drift is clearly a horse that got his way - a lot - by displaying aggressive/pushy baby behavior.  I'm dealing with the fallout from that.  I have no doubt we'll get there - he has no intent to cause harm, he's just acting out how he feels although that can be dangerous as well.  He basically wants to do well and be praised, but his attention span and tolerance for frustration are still at baby levels.  He's a horse I have to be very careful with not to avoid or gloss over holes.  He is only just starting to figure out that he'll feel better if he can relax, trust me and soften inside.  More miles to travel together . . .

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Is the Horse Soft Inside? Part I - Introduction

Getting the horse soft on the inside, not just the outside - now there's a challenge.  I've been thinking about this lately, a lot - with my coming off Pie - possibly because of a spook and spin - and Dawn's bolt and bucking and Drift's bolt - in all three cases my horses weren't "with" me in some fundamental sense when it really mattered - they mentally "left".  As with such things, often something shows up just when I need it - in this case a marvelous book by Tom Moates - Between the Reins:  A Continuing Journey Into Honest Horsemanship.  Tom is a marvelous writer, and very good at conveying his own frustrations and learning process, as well as the teachings he's received from Harry Whitney.  If you haven't read Tom's two books - this one and A Horse's Thought - I strongly recommend that you get them now (available from Amazon) - if you don't need them today, you will at some point in your horsemanship journey - trust me on this.

There is so much in Tom's book that it's hard to even choose what I found most important, so I expect they'll be a series of posts on the various topics that mean something to me, but here's a start.

Tom talks about what he called "the trampoline factor" - he and his horse encountered a girl jumping on a trampoline in the woods and his horse lost his mind:
The trampoline factor is the primer charge that ignites a big explosion in your horse, unexpectedly, which reveals where your relationship with the horse is lacking.  On the one hand, a kid doing flips on a trampoline might be so bizarre as to spook almost any horse.  But a horse that is with you in the Harry Whitney sense will spook then immediately look to the rider to see what to do.  It is automatic because the relationship, communication, and willingness all are real, solid and real solid. On the other hand, a horse like Niji, without a concrete confidence in the human's lead spooks and mentally melts down attempting to take over the situation as the rider works to get through to the panicking horse and have a say. . . . The horse isn't wrong, he is merely doing the very best he can given the sum total of his make up and expectations.  It isn't up to him to figure it out and get right with the person.  It is up to a person to get better with the horse and help him to understand he can count on us in every situation - the ones we plan for, and even the ones we can't anticipate: like a flipping kid on a trampoline! (pp. 28-29)
And here's a related quote from Mark Rashid's Whole Heart, Whole Horse:
Now, for the most part there are two main ways for horses to be soft.  One is physically soft, when the horse completely understands the aids we give and is easily and willingly able to physically perform whatever tasks are asked of him.  The other is emotionally soft, in which the horse is able to stay in a thinking frame of mind, almost no matter what the circumstances or situation, without flipping over into his fight-or-flight, reactive state of mind when presented with something out of the ordinary.  External softness is relatively easy to achieve in comparison to emotional softness.  Being consistent with our training aids and communication with the horse will usually do the trick. In order to achieve emotional softness, as the rider or handler, we must be able to achieve a level of consistency in our overall behavior, so the horse not only sees us as being dependable but also trusts our judgment and has enough peace of mind when we are around to willingly offer up the inside of himself to us.  (p. 197)
That's pretty much where I've been with my horses - I'm beginning to have a handle on how to get a horse to be physically soft, and my three are in different stages on that journey.  But to get them emotionally soft - on the inside - there's the trick - and our various spooks/bolts/bucks have exposed the holes in our training for emotional softness.

Pie may have spooked and spun with bicycles with tall flags on them came up rapidly; Dawn bolted and bucked when a large paper lawn waste bag was shaken out behind her, Drift bolted when Scout galloped up from behind and is generally somewhat spooky.

Today, Dawn and Drift and I worked on some things involving firmness, insistence and beginning to work though to mental softness.  Dawn and I worked on her being immediately attentive and available and on her releasing lateral braces both physically and mentally (this is what I planned to work on with her), and Drift and I worked on his spookiness/reactivity (this is what came up, which makes sense after his bolting the last time I rode him), again looking for that elusive mental softness.  More to come . . .

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How Does the Horse Feel When You Fall Off?

I think, a lot of times when we fall off, we think a lot about how we feel, and our friends/relatives think about how we feel - scared, hurt, mad, betrayed - all the reactions that we can feel when we (unexpectedly - we think) end up on the ground.  And sometimes, we can dust ourselves off and get on with (horse) life, and sometimes we're injured and take time to recover and have fear issues to work through.

But - here's a different question - what does the horse feel about our falling off?  If we're working to build a partnership with our horse, and suddenly we're on the ground, where does that leave the horse?  As Mark Rashid says, a horse expresses how it is feeling with its body - there's no intent there to cause us to fall off -  the horse did something - bolted, reared, bucked, spun - and we came off (I strongly believe that only an abused horse ever "intends" to do harm to its rider - I've met horses like this but they're rare and man-made).  Both Mark Rashid and Harry Whitney (the subject of Tom Moates's books referred to in my prior post) ask how does the horse feel about what we are doing, and what can we do to make the horse feel better inside?

The first time I became aware of the effects of a rider falling on a horse was in 2009 at the Mark Rashid clinic, about horse #8.  I would suggest that you read this post now - it's pretty interesting and relevant to what I'm talking about in this post.  The horse in that post was a young horse, and its inexperienced rider came off on a trail ride - the horse was very disturbed by the experience, and lost a lot of its trust in people and its training.  Now Pie is a very steady and basically calm horse, but I think he was also pretty disturbed by my fall, and although he's more confident in his prior training than horse #8 was, he's had his issues since I fell off.  Here's a set of comments by Laura Crum and me to a prior post:

Kate--Being nervous after a fall is normal--for both you and Pie. Did anyone see your fall? From what I've understood you don't remember what happened. If you had some info on what actually occurred, it might be helpful to sorting out what Pie is feeling. I agree with you that more miles is the answer and that following a solid older horse is absolutely the best way to get those miles. You are a very thoughtful, astute, and positive horseperson, and I know you'll find the right path. But that nervous feeling is no fun, as I know from my own experience. Good wishes to you and Pie.
Laura - we're not really sure what happened when I fell - it could be that I had an arrhythmia and passed out and fell - or Pie could have spooked - when he's startled he can do a big, fast, spin and I've come close to coming off a few times before. Suddenly moving/appearing objects seem to be his biggest issue - he had a lot of trouble when I got him with bicycles and running children, neither of which I think he'd ever seen before. From when I fell, I have a vague (and perhaps unreliable) memory of some bicycles coming along the adjacent road with those tall flags on the back, and turning Pie to face them . . .
Kate--If, for the sake of a theory, Pie spooked at the bicycles and you came off--and were not immediately up and talking to him, making things "normal", which I assume you were not able to do, then it makes sense that he would retain the notion that there was something truly bad/scary about those moving things, and be worried about them. Pie has always struck me as a very well-intentioned horse, but spooking is part of the package with virtually every young horse, as I know you know. I think that following a solid horse on lots of rides and seeing that nothing bad happens and the horse is not afraid, even when bikes..etc are around, will help him a lot. . . 
I think that, for a young horse like Pie - he's only just turned 5 - who's probably never had a person fall off - I'm pretty sure his prior owner, an older, very experienced horseman who started him and was pretty much the only person to ever ride him before I got him, never fell off him - having a person land at his feet, after he was scared, and then not reassure him, must have been pretty upsetting.

Pie's behavior since I fell is consistent with this - he's been more "looky" and more likely to not just march on with confidence, and I don't think this is all due to my own nervousness in riding on the trail - he's just more uncertain than he has been since perhaps he thinks something bad may happen again.  I strongly believe that it's my job to reassure him and make sure he understands he'll be OK, even if something scary (in horse terms - people terms don't really matter) happens.  I had a good example of this the other day.  We were getting a delivery of hay bales at the barn, and in preparation, some old hay bales had been stacked in the barn aisle.  When I brought Pie in from pasture to groom and ride him, he was spooked by the hay in the barn aisle - this sort of behavior would have been very odd for him before my fall.  He snorted and wanted to spook.  I kept gently asking him to step forwards, and he would look at me, snort at the hay bales and then take a step forwards.  Gradually, he made his way into the barn and once he was in there, he was fine.  He was clearly looking to me for guidance and reassurance.

I think we're making progress - today we went on our longest trail ride yet, about 45 minutes, with Charisma and her very considerate owner.  We experienced a bicycle rushing up at high speed from behind on the adjacent road - Pie did a small spook and then relaxed, as well as walking by a large childrens' playset and a very scary blue tarp out in the middle of nowhere - Pie snorted and walked by when I reassured him.  I see my job as making sure he gets reassurance whenever he needs it - I think the idea that we "train" our horses to be spooky by "rewarding" them with reassurance when they need it is just plain hogwash.  If the horse needs to be reassured, then reassure the horse - my job is to make the horse feel better about things so that the horse and I can do more together.

But then there's the whole question about holes in training - holes in the horse being able to stay "with you" - that show up when things cause the horse to spook/bolt/buck - I've been thinking a lot about these things since my fall off Pie, and then Dawn's buck-and-bolt and Drift's bolt - and Tom Moates's book has brought some new dimensions to my thoughts . . .

Posts Coming Up . . .

I think there are a series of posts on the way - not sure yet how many - on a number of topics I've been mulling over.  Some of these have been prompted by my recent horse experiences: my fall off Pie and his reactions to that, Dawn's bolt-and-buck and Drift's bolt, and some have been prompted by my reading Tom Moates's new book Between the Reins: A Continuing Journey Into Honest Horsemanship - I strongly recommend this book and Tom's earlier book A Horse's Thought (both I believe available from Amazon).  As is often the case, the book arrived right when my circumstances with my horses made it important for me to hear what the book had to say.

What does it mean to the horse, particularly a young horse, when the rider falls off?

What is straightness in the horse - physical and mental straightness together?

What does it mean for the horse to be truly with you (this is the same, I think, as Mark Rashid's thoughts about a horse being soft on the inside)?

More coming once I get my thoughts and writing organized . . .

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Working Towards Softness - Riding the Hind Legs

Dawn and I have been doing some lateral work at both the walk and trot - we've started with leg yield, just trying to get a good step or two at a time with the least aids possible.  Doing this work has made me think about how important it is to ride the hind end of the horse rather than the front end.  There's so much horse in front of us when we're in the saddle - the head, neck and shoulders - and that's what we see (particularly if we're looking at our horse's head rather than at where we're going!), and we're holding the reins, so it's natural to ride the front end of the horse.  I also think many of us are taught to ride using way too much hand (I know I was), and to pay too much attention to the position of the head and neck and not enough attention to the "feel" of the horse's movement and the softness or lack thereof.  There's also a (in my opinion bad) practice in certain disciplines of driving the horse from behind into your hands (I was also taught to do this) - that's a great way to get a horse that's braced from nose to tail.  Depending on your discipline, you may ride with contact or without it, but the role of the hands should be to give direction and to allow the motion, and to set boundaries (which need some elasticity) to the horse's head and neck position - but not to pull or force the horse's head into a particular position, or to act like a fifth leg and hold a leaning horse up.

My objective with my horses is self-carriage, where the horse's core is engaged and the top line is relaxed, with the result that the horse can move effectively, with softness.  This requires that I ride the hind legs in terms of their activity and engagement.  I try very hard not to push or drive with my legs or seat - I want my aids to be soft, not heavy - if I need to get a horse moving forward that isn't responding to a soft leg aid I add a secondary cue like a crop on my leg or the saddle (that's what I've been doing with Pie and to get Drift past his balking) - if I up the aid, I'm only training the horse to respond to that stronger aid rather than the soft aid I want the horse to respond to.  Also, pushing or driving with the legs or seat tends to create a brace in the rider's body that the horse will then brace against and also restricts the horse's motion.  I'm a big believer, with a horse that understands basic softening, in doing lots and lots and lots of transitions and also figures - circles, spiral in/out, serpentines, etc. - to help the horse learn to carry itself without my pushing with my legs or seat or pulling with my hands.

Helping the horse move more effectively also requires that I feel where the hind legs are and what they are doing - this allows me to "ride" the individual hind legs to time my cues when a particular hind leg that I want to do something is in the air so that the horse can more easily respond in a correct manner - this is useful for all sorts of things: canter departures (if you time your cue correctly when the hind leg needed to initiate the canter is in the air, the horse will take the correct lead, immediately), lateral work where a hind leg should step under (rather than the front end moving over and dragging the hind end along) and even turns or corners where I want the inside hind leg to step under, and halts - riding the hind legs is a great way to get square halts without the horse falling on the forehand.

So, when I'm asking Dawn to leg yield, at the walk I was focussing on the (outside) hind leg that I wanted to step under and lift her to the inside.  At the walk, the horse's barrel swings from side to side - when the barrel is swinging away from your leg (toward the middle of the horse), the barrel is getting out of the way of a hind leg that is stepping forward.  So to time my leg aid to ask that hind leg to move under, all I had to do was to follow the barrel as it moved away from my leg toward the middle of the horse, applying my leg aid, and voila!  the hind leg would step under and carry her sideways.  I also had to be sure to "allow" her motion by creating an opening for her to move into on the other side by not restricting with my leg or hand - if I think of my moving my own legs in "human leg yield" that feel is communicated to her. The same idea applies at the trot and canter, although learning where the hind legs are as the horse is moving takes some practice - having a helper on the ground practice with you as you say "right" (hind) or "left" (hind) as a hind leg leaves the ground can be very helpful.

It's fun riding the hind legs - all that wonderful power from the hindquarters is at your disposal and you can send it wherever you want - sure beats riding the head, at least in my book, in terms of how it feels and the results. (I've added this post to the "Working Towards Softness" sidebar.)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Setting Boundaries and Another Bolt

I managed to ride Dawn and Drift today - it was too buggy to ride Pie on the trail.  Dawn was fairly up after her bolt and buck experience two days ago, despite how hot it was today.  She settled down to work fairly well, although she did a lot of looking at another one of those lawn waste bags (the same type that had scared her) that had been abandoned by the goat house.  We did more transition work and some shortening/lengthening work, and it was all very good.

Drift and I had to do some boundary-setting today.  He's a very friendly and lovable horse, but will cross lines and even do some pushing back if I'm not careful to set boundaries and abide by them consistently.  He was extremely dominant with other horses in the pasture, and now that he's in solo turnout I have to be careful not to let him try to dominate me. I clearly haven't been quite as consistent as I should be with his keeping his distance from me when leading and also his immediately moving out of my space when I move towards him.  I had to get fairly big with him a few times to get him to move backwards out of my space, but we got there and then he was rewarded with lots of rubs and praise.  I've also been working with him in the stall on his moving out of my space both with hand gestures and also in response to hand pressure - he came to me as a horse that moved into rather than away from pressure and it took some work to get this reversed.  I also got a cow kick when girthing - there's no physical reason for this, he was just being petulant, so he got a smart slap and a verbal reprimand.  I also undid the girth and redid it to be sure I'd make my point, and he was fine.

His ridden work was very good - the softening at the walk and trot was good, and there was not a single attempt to balk.  We did have some excitement - we were trotting down the long side away from the adjacent pasture when Scout came pounding up from the back of the pasture - Drift spooked and bolted but went right back to work when I got him stopped after five or so leaps.  There was no bucking, which was a good thing - I can usually ride a straight-ahead bolt, although Drift is very fast, but bucking (a la Dawn) is pretty chancy.  I was pleased with how well he came back after that, and he also got the chance to ride in the ring with Charisma when she came back from a trail ride and he was very good for that.

I've ordered some Cashel's bug armor and a long nose with ears ride mask (at Jean's recommendation) for Pie's trail rides and can't wait until it comes - for less than $100 including shipping that seems like a good deal to me.  Cashel also makes a nose net for riding that can help horses with head-shaking syndrome.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pie Is a Little Nervous On the Trail - and So am I

Pie and I went on a (somewhat) longer trail ride with Charisma and her owner, who is nice enough to let me know when she is riding so Pie and I can go along as riding alone still makes me too nervous.  Today we decided that we went too late - we need to go earlier - the bugs were terrible - both tiny flies and mosquitos were all over Pie and me despite the spraying I'd done of both of us before we left.

Pie is somewhat more reactive than he used to be - he "looks" at things like downed branches that he wouldn't have noticed before, and he also is more prone to startle at things that move fast - he startled at a car that drove by.  I think he's picking up some of my increased tension, and also I think for a young horse having someone fall off can be startling and even traumatic, and I'm sure Pie's never had anyone fall off him before.  The solution to his concern (and mine) is more miles for both of us - both with Charisma and her very thoughtful owner - and also just hand walking together on the trail so he can see and experience lots of things again.  We'll get there, one step at a time . . .

Thursday, August 4, 2011

One Thing At a Time

I didn't have a huge amount of time to ride today, and so that had the beneficial effect of making me focus on exactly the one thing I wanted to accomplish with each horse - all three of my rides were short but intense.

Drift was up first, and my objective with him was simply for him to transition to trot without any balking, easily and willingly - from walk, from halt, from back - immediately, at any point in the ring, and regardless of how much we might have been relaxing up to the point I asked for trot.  The first time I asked for trot, he started to balk - but I was prepared this time!  I was carrying my pink "encourager" - a short crop with a broad head.  Before he actually balked, I slapped my leg with the crop, twice, as a secondary aid (I didn't up the leg pressure since I want him to move off a whisper of pressure) and off we went into trot.  After that, no problem - in fact I dropped the crop on the ground as it clearly wasn't necessary - his trotting was immediate, every time, on my just changing the rhythm in my mind and very slight leg pressure, and he did some nice lengthenings.  Good Drift!

Dawn was next.  My objective with her was for her to soften at the trot consistently.  In order for her to do this, I needed her to use her hindquarters and engage her core more effectively - if she's heavy on my hands it means she's not using herself correctly.  To get her to do this, we did lots of transitions - trot/walk/trot, halt/trot, back/trot - asking for softness in both the upwards and downwards transitions.  All was very good.  As we were trotting, I noticed a man getting out of his car with what looked like a brown paper grocery bag - fine, I thought, he's going to his vegetable garden to harvest some produce (the community gardens are right next to the arena).  Next thing I know, Dawn and I are trotting in a nice forward, soft trot down the long side of the arena when he takes his (supposed) grocery bag - it turns out it was actually a large lawn waste bag - and shakes it out hard, making a loud snapping, cracking noise, directly behind Dawn.  Dawn did what Dawn does - this is why I don't ride her on the trail, as she's extremely reactive - she bolted and then bucked several times before I got her to stop.  My butt stayed glued to the saddle and I didn't lose either stirrup (Dawn's got a substantial buck) and I kept riding - she stopped pretty quickly when I asked.   I haven't ridden a buck in years, so I felt pretty good about it - my older daughter says I was just lucky and I'm sure she's right but I'll take all the luck I can get.  This is the first time in several years of riding Dawn when she's done anything like this, and I don't really blame her considering the sort of horse she is.  It took her a few minutes to regain her concentration and then we went back to work and finished well.  I led her over towards the gardens when we were done, and asked the gardener to hold up his bag - Dawn looked and went "ho, hum".  I'm going to keep riding Dawn because she's a great horse (but not on the trail), but as Mark Rashid said at the clinic, she's "not an easy ride".  She's my black diamond horse, and we've already come a long way together.  Good Dawn!

Pie was next - my objective with him was no slow steps, ever - I needed forward to get softening.  I carried my pink "encourager" and used it to slap the saddle when he attempted to slug at the walk or trot  - at one point his trot was vigorous enough that he tried to break to the canter.  His softening work at the walk was good; we also did some backing.  Trotting was good as well as soon as he had enough forward - we got our 11 soft steps in both directions at the trot, and some good trot/walk and trot/halt transitions as well.  Good Pie!

Oh, I forgot to mention that I had an appointment with my orthopedic doctor today - he says some aches and pains in my shoulder, upper back and arm are to be expected, especially with the broken ribs still healing.  My collarbone is healing up well and the joint looks very good.  He says he usually needs another follow-up appointment and has patients do physical therapy, but that I'm doing my own physical therapy by using my arm and shoulder normally, including riding and all the other barn work - I just need to work on extending my arm in all directions, particularly upwards - so no more appointments required.  It'll be 8 weeks on Saturday, and I'm glad to being doing so well at this point.

It was a very good day with horses.