Wednesday, May 30, 2012

First Mark Rashid Clinic Cancelled; Dawn Teaches Me

The first Mark Rashid clinic in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, that was to be held from Saturday, June 2 through Monday, June 4, has been cancelled, and may be resceduled.  The second clinic - the one I'm riding Red and Pie in - from Tuesday, June 5 through Thursday, June 7, is still being held.  Hope to see some of you there!

* * * * * *
I rode all three horses today.  Dawn was up first.  It was a cold, windy day, but we had an excellent session in the outdoor arena.  I worked on lifting my right shoulder when tracking right, and Dawn approved - she maintained a lovely bend, went deep into the corners and used her inside hind leg effectively.  Then we spent a while on trot/canter transitions in both directions.  My goal was to not lock up for that fraction of a second but to keep my hands and body soft and moving through the transition, and to get the transition by just "thinking the legs" with a focus on the initiating hind leg.  It worked like a charm as well - we did a large number of transitions, many of which were pretty good, and Dawn was less fussed about the whole thing and was able to both maintain the canter and also to do repeat canter/trot/canter transitions without getting too excited.  All my canter transitions were done without any physical aids - I just thought the new rhythm and focussed on the initiating hind leg. Dawn's feeling good about being an excellent teacher - she is a big challenge for me to ride and has taught me so much already.

Then up to Wisconsin to ride Red.  Still cold and windy, but I carried a dressage whip for our session to remind him that forward was his responsibility.  Heather said that he's fit enough and far enough along in his training now that "just good enough" isn't really what we're after - he can do better and do what we're asking with more precision.  So I was focussed on getting forward in all gaits, keeping my focus up and forward through transitions, and getting the quality of transition and subsequent gait from the beginning.  I tried the right shoulder fix when we were cantering on the right lead, and it made a noticeable difference in the quality and "togetherness" of his right lead.   I'm beginning to work on eliminating my fraction of a second brace at the transition, and I think that'll make a big difference to him, although he's still letting go of his mental issue requiring him to brace as well.  His depo provera shot has had some effects - we were riding with a cute mare today, and he nickered at her a couple of times - but it was a "hey, cute babe" nicker rather than a "I want to have babies with you right now" nicker, and he was less distracted by the other horses and their doings.

Then back to ride Pie.  We had a good session continuing to build his strength and stamina at trot - lots of short to long trot and back.  Then we did some up and down hill walk conditioning in one of the pastures with a friend from the barn and her horse.

A very good day with horses!

Monday, May 28, 2012

If My Horse Can't Bend Right . . . a Detective Story

I mentioned to Heather in passing last week that all my horses have some difficulty tracking right - they tend to fall in around the corners and have trouble maintaining a right bend, no matter what I did with my inside leg or reins.  The odds are pretty low that this is the result of this being something going on physically with all three horses, in the same direction, and it was also clear that doing more wasn't the solution.   I told Heather that I thought it was quite likely my horses' difficulty tracking right was the result of something I was doing with my body. Pie is the most affected, as he's still learning to carry himself, Dawn goes into the corners and bends but tends to get braced and Red is the least affected since he carries naturally carries himself so well that he can compensate although his right lead is weaker.  I'd also noticed something a bit odd.  I ride in riding tights, but without chaps, boots or half chaps.  I'd noticed that my right calf often had horse hair on it after I rode, while the left one did not, which meant I was using my right leg differently than my left one.  Hmm . . .

Now for some detective work!  Now what were the horses doing with their bodies?  They weren't maintaining a right bend easily, which meant that the right shoulder was tending to fall to the inside and the right hind wasn't able to step under well.  My suspicion was that I was doing something with my body to affect their balance, that required them to assume that posture to carry me.  My work with Heather on my posture has really make me aware of how important small changes can be - just lifting my chin and keeping my eyes and focus up completely changes my horses' balance and way of going - freeing up the front end and allowing forward to happen.

Those of you who've been reading this blog for a while will have heard about the concept of mirroring - the idea that a problem in a particular part of the horse's body often will be due to a problem in the corresponding part of the rider's body.  So right shoulder of the horse falling in - right shoulder!  My suspicion was that my right shoulder was the problem.  I tested my hypothesis this morning when riding both Dawn and Pie.  All I did was, when rounding a corner, was have my head turn slightly to focus on the turn while keeping my chin up, but also make a conscious effort to lift my right shoulder - I probably only raised my shoulder an inch or less.  Bingo!  Both horses motored around all corners and circles to the right, stepping under themselves with the right hind and moving deep into the corners with a proper bend - and I was doing absolutely nothing with my hands or inside leg to make this happen! My whole right side felt longer, and I felt completely straight and centered in the saddle. I think I had been dropping my right shoulder a bit as we turned to the right and probably also slightly tipping my head to the right, putting extra weight on the horse's right shoulder.  The result of my right shoulder coming down was also to bring my right leg up slightly into the horse, effectively shortening my right side and also blocking the movement of the inside right hind.  I tested my hypothesis multiple times on each ride and the result was the same - mystery solved!  And after my rides - no horse hair on my right calf.

Just for fun, I went back to the videos to see if I could spot the problem I'd identified.  Sure enough, there it was.  Here's Pie trotting - look carefully at about seconds 5 and 6 - it doesn't help that I don't have my chin and focus up.  And here I'm asking Dawn for a right lead canter departure at seconds 18 and 19 - my head and right shoulder drop to the right, weighting her right shoulder and making it harder for her.

My horses seemed pretty pleased that they'd finally managed to get through to me, although they say I'm sometimes a slow learner . . .

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Blocking, Braces and Forward Plus Relaxation

Having videos of my riding is so helpful.  It helps me confirm things I already suspect that I am doing which are getting in the way of my horses doing their jobs.  The things I've been working on with Heather have already helped a lot.  First, she's had me work on keeping my chin and eyes up and my focus up and forward - this immediately makes a big difference to my horses as it takes my focus and weight off the forehand and leads to better forward, including in downwards transitions.  This is particularly important with Pie and Dawn, as they are both built somewhat downhill, but Red also benefits as he's so sensitive that all I have to do is drop my eyes and he will go onto the forehand instead of carrying himself from behind.  The second thing she's been having me work on is keeping my elbows back and close to my sides - this improves my torso position and also lets me more easily have a following/allowing hand.  Both of these changes in my riding are on the way to being new habits - I work on them every time I ride, and I can see progress in my videos of Red.

As these things have improved, they've clarified what needs working on next.  I'm also fortunate to have great teachers in my horses. In about a week, I'll be riding both Pie and Red in the Mark Rashid clinic, and I've got a pretty good idea of what I want to work on.  There are two main things - eliminating blocks/braces I'm doing that interrupt the energy and flow, and continuing to work on following/allowing. Starting to fix these will allow my horses to give me real forward with relaxation too - asking for forward by pushing/driving, or blocking forward movement with your body/breathing/energy, are two of the quickest ways to make a sensitive horse less relaxed.

These issues are showing up in a couple of ways.  First, I need to be clearer with Pie and Red that forward is their responsibility - they need to do it consistently without my nagging or pushing.  And if they're not moving forward, then I've fallen into bad habits by overcuing or driving with my seat and body, both of which create blocks to forward movement.  I'm doing better on this with Pie right now - I always carry a dressage whip when I ride him so I can immediately move to a secondary cue if he doesn't respond to my ask with the lightest cues possible - if I move to a heavier cue all I'm doing is training him to that level of cue and also blocking his motion at the same time.  With Red I'm on and off with it - some days he carries himself forward without any need for secondary cues.  But if I start pushing/driving with my legs, body or seat, stop breathing properly or direct the energy down with my posture, eyes or mind, we lose all forward and he gets "sticky" and our flow disappears.  Right now I need to be carrying a dressage whip when I ride him so I can avoid upping my cues - which with his level of sensitivity should be pretty much just breathing and mental cuing - he's very sensitive to both "good" cues - no physical cues - but also super sensitive to "bad" cues - overcuing or blocking/bracing.  Due to his history, he's expecting to get cues while his rider is braced/blocking, and we're still in the process of teaching him that he doesn't need to expect that, and I certainly don't need to reinforce that old learning.

Heather and I will work on this when I'm riding Red in my lesson with her next Wednesday - at this point it's a lot less about him than it is about me.

Second, upwards transitions.  Downwards transitions are improving already just with the changes in my posture and focus - all I need to do to continue to fix this is to reduce any physical cues to the bare minimum - and with Red just a thought and breath will do.  With Dawn, I have to be careful to never cue for a downwards transition while she's braced, even a little bit - otherwise that builds the brace into the transition and that's what she learns.  That means we can't get those downwards transitions at a precise location - say, C, yet - but that's fine at this point.  Once the transition itself is OK, then we can decide where to put it.  With Red and Pie, so long as I maintain my posture, focus and mental flow, the downwards transitions aren't too bad.

In watching the videos, I can see that I really need to work on my upwards transitions.  I can see if I look closely that there are moments, even if I'm not overcuing, where I brace/block and stop following/allowing physically and mentally.  This results in my horses bracing back and eliminates the softness, if only for a fraction of a second (if I'm overcuing, things are much worse).  I think this is going to be the primary focus of my clinic riding - getting those braces/blockages out of the way so that my horses can do what I'm asking with softness.  Getting the timing right for the mental/breathing cuing - where the hind legs are in the right spot to be able to execute what I'm asking - will also help.

Here are a couple of videos that illustrate pretty clearly what I mean - if you want to view them in slow motion, which may help, hit play then immediately hit pause, then just hold down the space bar to view in slow motion:

Dawn trot to canter - my brace/block happens in the first second or so - I basically stop following/allowing with my hands and body as I cue for canter (and with Dawn that's an outbreath and a mental change of rhythm, so it's not the cue itself that's the problem), and my focus turns down - so of course she braces through the transition.  This Dawn video shows the same thing - it's not quite as bad here, but it's still an issue - watch how my hands/body lock up for a second.  Here's an example with Red that shows the same thing in the first second or so of the video - not as bad but still there.

Third, following/allowing forward/softness, particularly at the canter - this is more an issue of mental relaxation/hand/upper body position for me.  I've begun to be able to follow/allow at walk and trot while providing a soft spot mentally for the horse to find, but canter is still harder. Here's an example of what I used to do all the time, that Red and Dawn and Heather have taught me (mostly) not to do - I'm not following with my hands in a way that allows Red to fall behind the contact, and my reins are too long, which doesn't help. The two Dawn videos show my lack of following/allowing at the canter really clearly.  I am trying to ask her for some softness a few steps at a time here, and that can result in some momentary bracing, but I need to be following/allowing with my hands.  This is a particular challenge with Dawn, as she's so naturally forward - but in canter forward tends to become gallop pretty quickly since that's all she knows and she's built downhill so can want to lean.  So allowing forward - so she can relax and actually canter instead of feeling revved up and moving up to gallop - is a particular mental challenge for both of us.  The video of Red above shows where I'm trying to go with following/allowing at the canter - my hands and arms aren't too bad although I'm still somewhat braced in my back - but he's forward and relaxed at the same time which is what I want.

So lots of good stuff to work on - my horses say they're trying hard to teach me but maybe Mark can help them out!  I'm adding this post to my "Steps on the Journey" sidebar . . .

Thursday, May 24, 2012

(Somewhat Better) Videos

I have revised yesterday's post by uploading the videos in a different format - they're not as blurry/distorted, and you can see what's happening, although the image quality is still low - I used export out of iMovie into Quicktime, in MP4 format.  And we now have a YouTube channel - I think you can find it by searching for ayearwithhorses . . . Red's videos are up there - you can actually see his true deep red color, although some of the videos have some image quality problems.  I'll be adding Dawn's videos shortly, and perhaps some Pie ones as well . . .

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Red (with Videos)!

Today is Red's 11th birthday, and I was up in Wisconsin to ride him, and Heather agreed to take some videos. &njsp;I was delighted with how well he's doing - there are still lots of things we're working on but a lot of the big things - the big braces, worry and inability to let a human make the decisions - are pretty much gone.  When he moves back to my new barn in June, I expect some of that will reappear, but I also expect it'll go away again pretty quickly.  Just within the last two weeks, he's clearly started to really let go of some of his old worries and bad learning, and just relax into human leadership.  Sometimes the bracing reappears when we ask something new of him, but it also goes away much more quickly than it used to - instead of "I have to do it this way or I'll die!" we get "should I do it this way or that way? - which would you prefer?".

Video one is a short sequence of trot to walk:

Video 2 is some big to short trot work, with a bit of bending around poles at the end:

Video 3 shows some walk to trot work - with some loose rein trot work in the middle:

  Video 4 is a very short sequence of backing:

Video 5 is some trot to canter to trot to canter work:

Video 6 shows some trot figure work before right lead canter - his harder lead - Heather and I think his left hind is still a bit weaker due to his EPM episode:

Video 7 shows a trot/canter right lead departure, and later a canter/trot downwards transition:

Video 8 shows walk to trot to longer trot:

Video 9 shows some more trot work:

Video 10 shows some left lead canter work - his easier lead:

Video 11 shows some right lead canter work, including several transitions:

Red is an extraordinary horse - I'm very fortunate to have him - he's taught me a lot already and I expect I have more to learn - happy birthday, Red!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Perfect Red and Out of Town . . .

Got a text from Heather last night - she had an amazing ride on Red - he was forward, and soft, and did everything she asked as perfectly as he could with no bracing, at all three gaits - he was so wonderful that she put him away as a reward after only riding for about 20 minutes - great progress and I can't wait to get up there to ride him this week.

I'll be out of town for a few days . . .

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dawn Video - How Far We've Come Together!

Thanks to the long-suffering husband, we have some videos of my work with Dawn!  We're working now on canter - departures, softness and relaxation - but there were some interesting things to see before that part of the work session too.  All of the videos are very short - hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Video one shows how we always start out our work sessions - with a nice, relaxed, loose rein walk - Dawn is a horse who tends to always be extremely forward and who easily gets revved up, so we focus on relaxation from the beginning:

Due to our work on moving correctly with softness, Dawn now has a big overstep at the walk, which is a new thing for her.

If you watch video two very closely, it's actually possible to see what I'm working on with having a "allowing" contact, offering softness when she thinks about bracing and mentally softening when she's carrying herself softly but without throwing away the contact.  This is a big step for me - learned in my work with Heather and Red - and it made an immediate big difference to Dawn.  Before her head would be all over the place - braced by falling behind the bit and onto the forhand, then passing through softness and bracing above the bit, then repeat.  This is pretty much gone - there is a lot of going into and out of softness in this short video, but the intervals are very, very short, her head position is much more consistent, and my contact stays alive but soft.  Huge progress for both of us:

When she's been working hard for a bit on carrying herself correctly while staying soft, we take a break to reward her and let her rest by trotting on a loose rein - we do this frequently throughout our work and it also helps her relax - she generally no longer revs up during trot work to the degree she used to:

She's handling the variable terrain in the outdoor very well now - there's a good bit of slope and she also crosses the lumpy boundary between the sand track and grass with ease - for a horse that only recently was so wobbly with EPM that I couldn't ride her, this is wonderful:

Video 5 is more trot - she is such a lovely mare:

Video 6 shows our first canter departure, and also what we were working on - three steps of softness followed by a bigger release for a number of steps, followed by three more steps of softness.  Cantering under saddle without leaning on the forehand and galloping is a big challenge for her - Dawn is built a bit downhill and her prior experiences with my younger daughter included a lot of galloping flat out on the trail.  The upwards transition isn't too bad, and she offers some softness right away, but the softness is far from consistent and there's some bracing at the end.  I'm also not worried right now about the bracing upwards as she transitions - one thing at a time and we can deal with that later:

Watch the tail in video 7 - Dawn's tail is a big indicator of where her mind is - she's staying pretty soft but she's worrying about canter - she's a big anticipator/worrier:

One of the primary things we're working on right now is staying soft and relaxed in between canter sets - this is still a big challenge for her.  Video 8 shows a downwards transition from canter to trot.  There's some softness on and off in the canter, bracing through the downwards transition (I'm not worried about this either so long as I ask for the downwards transition while she's still soft) and then I wait at trot for some softness before asking for the transition to walk:

Video 9 shows another upwards canter transition - the tail swish a stride or two before is when the thought of canter crosses my mind - I need to collapse the timing on my thoughts - no "pre-thoughts" - with Dawn to get rid of that:

Video 10 shows some trot work that I'm pretty delighted with - this is after a number of bits of canter work and she's extremely forward but she's moving like a dream, not anticipating canter and offering softness while forward - it's like riding a rocket ship where the throttle is oh-so-light to the touch - magical!  She's not 100% mentally relaxed here - maybe 80%, but I'll take it since she's giving me her best:

Video 11 shows a final sequence of three canter transitions in a row (there was a fourth but it's not on the video) - this is very, very hard for her.  While most of our canter work on this day was on the left lead - the one that's easier for her - I did throw in a few right lead departures on the straightaway.  On the second departure - right lead - I do throw away the contact a bit and also overcue.  Each time, I wait for a few moments of softness at trot before asking for canter again.

I couldn't be more pleased!  My posture and riding are much improved (still far from perfect, but I'll take better) from my work with Heather, and the work we've been doing with Red on following/allowing contact and mental softness has really improved my ability to offer consistency to Dawn, and she's sure rising to the challenge!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

All is Well . . .

Dawn got a rest day today - she's been working hard.  I hope to get some video tomorrow of her working, courtesy of the long-suffering husband . . . stay tuned for that.  You may get to see Forward Mare in action . . .

Pie continues to improve.  We had a very good walk and trot work session today, with some longer sets of trot.  His trot is engaged and powerful, and there was only one very slight bad step - it wasn't bad at all, just the left hind coming down slightly wrong.  We did some pole sets at walk, and he dealt with that very well.  Trotting around corners is improving.  He's building back his strength, and it shouldn't take long as he was very fit when hit by the EPM.  After our ride, we did our new neck stretches - he seemed to enjoy that.

Today I had my best ride ever on Red.  His walk work, backing and trot work were soft and engaged from the beginning, forward was there from the beginning and he was even walking straight in free walk - this from Mr. Wiggle-man.  There was no bracing at all, even in the upwards transitions to trot - his head came up a bit a few times but that was the end of it.  Downwards trot/walk transitions were much improved - forward and fluid.  I had a lovely, soft contact throughout - just a 0.5 of pressure in my hands (where a zero is no pressure and a 10 is the most pressure you could have) - a live contact with his mouth but no weight at all - it was magical.  We did  a lot of work on canter transitions - they were very good after all the work Heather has done over the past few days.  All I have to do to get a trot/canter transition now is to have a good trot - soft and engaged and not too fast, change the rhythm in my mind from 1-2 to 1-2-3 and exhale - and he just lifts into canter.  Both leads were fine, although his right lead doesn't feel as good - we worked a bit on establishing a good right bend and softness for a circle at a time, followed by resting by going straight.  I had only one instance of the wrong lead - this happens when you've cantered, then trotted, then ask for canter again - he invariably wants to take the other lead - Heather thinks he was drilled (badly) on lead changes and this is the residual.  To prevent this, after each canter bit, we did figures (figure eights, serpentines, diagonals) so here was no pattern that he could use to anticipate.

Every time we do new work with him, we encounter another layer that has to be undone and rebuilt - but it seems to be going faster now since the mental/emotional bracing is starting to go away.  And the spooking/bolting may be related to his eye injury - it's been six weeks now and it's still healing (it's what the vet called an "indolent ulcer") and it's possible it affects his vision.  The times he's bolted have all occurred when movement occurred to his left and somewhat behind him - this is the area the ulcer is on his left eye.  The ulcerated area may be throwing a shadow that confuses his ability to see things in that area of his visual field.  But we don't know for sure.

The weather was beautiful, and all is well.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Peeling the Onion, Continued . . .

Got a series of texts from Heather (Red's trainer up in Wisconsin) - she's great about updating me about their doings.  The past two rides they've been doing a lot of work on transitions from trot to canter.  Apparently one day, he decided he could only do left lead canter, and kept offering that, and the next day all he wanted to offer was right lead canter!  He's an interesting horse - every time we move on to a new level of demands - new gait, new things he has to cope with - he becomes anxious and braces and anticipates - he worries about what you're asking and feels he has to brace due to his anxiety, which means he checks out and stops listening.  Each time, we get through it, and this canter work represents the next level of peeling the onion.  She worked through it with him on both leads and things should now be better.  While she was working with him on one of the days, Midnight's owner took him for a walk.  Now, this happens almost every day at lunchtime - Midnight is an elderly horse, and his dedicated owner comes out almost every day to groom him and take him for a walk through the surrounding trees.  Red has seen Midnight come and go for months now. But when you're braced, and anxious and distracted, Midnight can be a killer - Heather said she had one spook-and-bolt, stopped him and went right back to work.  It wasn't a problem, just a challenge presented by Red's physical and mental bracing.

Every layer we get through is another layer dealt with . . . Red's depo provera has been ordered and should be here soon.  I'm going to get our very good vet/chiropractor Dr. Marold to go up there and give him his shot when it comes, and also do some chiro work on him if he needs it - he's been working hard.  The shot, in addition to making him less inclined to be "studly" with other horses, should also dampen down his reactivity/distractability around other horses - this tends to go with the studiness - and made it a bit easier for him right now.

Dr. Marold had a good visit with Pie today.  His EPM symptoms are almost gone (he's at about day 15 of treatment for his second bout), although occasionally he'll still take a bad step with his left hind - he just needs to build some strength back.  His back needed some fixing, but his neck really needed work - he had a lot of cramps.  By the end, he was yawning, stretching and shaking his head out - he really appreciated what she did.  His walking down and up hill is much improved, and he now rides very well with a big, swinging, sound walk and trot.  We're slowly building up our trot time, but still avoiding trotting downhill or tight turns for now.  He's schduled for a trim on Thursday, and I noticed that his front feet are no longer wearing more at the outside front edges - the wear is now even around the foot, which means he's loose in the shoulders and using himself better.

Before Pie's session, I rode Dawn.  She's doing very, very well.  Her EPM symptoms are completely gone.  We're doing lots of trot work and beginning to build in canter.  Her idea of canter is "gallop as fast as you can", so this presents its challenges.  She's a very forward horse at the best of times anyway.  I'm trying to show her that she can canter in a soft relaxed manner.  We're making good progress - in her good direction - the left lead - I was able to get three soft steps of canter, followed by a fairly big release where she could keep cantering on a looser rein for some steps, followed by three more soft steps, and also some decently soft downwards transitions.  Right lead is still quite a bit harder and more braced, but we did get some soft steps - it's a very good beginning.

Link Fixed

It was pointed out to me that one of the links in yesterday's post wasn't working - it should be now - please go back and read it if you can - it's a very valuable article.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Changing Shapes and Saddle Fit (with Interesting Links)

Over the past several weeks, I've noticed that my saddle - a Kieffer dressage saddle - no longer was fitting either Dawn or Pie correctly - it was nosing down slightly in front and the back was tending to come up.  And this was when using the same dressage pad, with the Mattes pad with two foam inserts in each front pocket, that I'd been using with both of them all along.  (The saddle had been reflocked for Red, who is the broadest of the three through the shoulders, but had fit both Dawn and Pie well with the Mattes pad.)  Hmmm . . . It fit Dawn fine when she was at her thinnest, so it wasn't weight loss that was the issue with either of them.

And another piece of the puzzle . . .  I'd had a number of good conversations with Dave Ganadek, the About the Horse saddle maker.  I'd sent him photos and tracings of Red and Pie, and his advice was to go with the #1 tree - all the angles were correct.  This is the tree size of the saddle I recently bought used for Pie, and it fits him very well.  He did say that correct work would change Red's shape in a way that would result in a good fit with the #1 tree.  The only issue we noted for Red was that there is a bulge of muscle just behind the top of his scapula (shoulder bone) just below the wither - this makes saddle fit difficult, since just behind the bulge is a hollow.

Here's what I think is going on with Dawn and Pie - likely with Red as well since he was measured although I haven't tried riding him in my dressage saddle recently.  All three horses originally had a tendency to travel inverted through the head and neck, and all three had the "bulges".  Dawn would obviously brace through her head and neck, even when her face was vertical and someone might think she was "on the bit", or would fall on her forehand and invert through her back when her face was behind the vertical (this is the reason over-flexing and rollkur are so detrimental to the proper muscular development of the horse).  Pie was very inverted - he had an upside down curve to the top line of his neck, an obvious dip in front of his withers, and more muscling on the bottom of his neck than the top.  Red could mimic softness very well, with a beautifully arched neck, but he was braced just in front of the withers and hollow through his back.  Our work with Heather has resulted in big physical changes in Pie and Red, and Dawn and I have been on the same track.  What I think is happening, is that all three horses are in the process of changing shape as a result of correct work along the road of self-carriage, which means the saddle no longer fit.

That lump of muscle just behind the top of the shoulder and below the wither?  Take a look at this picture of the deep (not surface) muscles supporting the neck - it's a particularly useful picture since the horse's neck is inverted:

See the long muscles that run along the top of the ribcage just below the top line?  Those are the culprits - they tend to be over-developed in horses that are inverted - hence the bulges that all three horses have had.  But now the bulges are disappearing, and here's why, I think - they are now developing the muscles for correct self-carriage and losing the bulges, so they're changing shape.  Adding extra inserts to both sides of the Mattes pad has solved the problem for both Dawn and Pie, although the saddle may have to be reflocked again or replaced.  So it turns out the saddle fit problem I've been having is a good one - it reflects positive changes in their bodies and carriage.

Here are two very interesting discussions of the musculature of the horse and how it is affected by proper (work leading to self-carriage) and improper (braced, inverted or over-flexed) training - I think you'll find them as interesting as I did.  The first article is by Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, and the second is by Dr. Deb Bennett - some of you may already recognize those names.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Three Good Rides and Now We Rest

Today all three horses and I are getting the day off - it's been a busy week - all of us have worked six days in a row and we need a break.

My day yesterday was long but very satisfying. It was a beautiful day, and I took advantage of it. Grooming, tacking and riding three horses, with two one and one-half hour drives up and back from Wisconsin - I slept very well last night.  I recently did a calculation of the maximum number of rides I'm likely to have in my lifetime, if I'm able to ride until I'm quite old, and the number isn't that large, so I'm motivated to ride my three fine horses as much as I can.

My day started with a morning ride on Dawn.  We rode in the outdoor arena, which is adjacent to the mares' dry lot, so Dawn had lots of company with mares grazing outside the arena while we worked.  The outdoor is nice and big, with a sand track around the outside and a mowed grass area in the center.  The arena is on a slight slope, so there's the added challenge of some up and down hill, and the sand footing can be a bit deep.  Dawn gave me a superb ride - her walk and trot work and transitions were absolutely continuously soft with lots of engagement and her lengthening/shorting work was also very good - we tend to lengthen on a long side and then the uphill bit and shorten on the downhills, although we did do some shortening work in other places to mix things up.  I gave her breaks at walk or trot on a loose rein after sets of softening work, to let her relax and also tell her clearly how well she was doing.  Then we did some canter work, sticking mostly to the grass area and the firmer parts of the sand track to make things easier.  We worked on getting a quiet engaged trot/canter transition, getting some steps of softness at the canter, making sure we did our downwards transition to trot when she was soft, and then getting softness at the trot, followed by a loose-rein reward at the trot, then a short walk break and then more canter out of soft trot.  I'm not worried that she braces right now through the downwards transition - that'll go away with time - bracing/anxiety are really built in for her at the canter and we need to get relaxation/softness before the bracing can go away.  We've done that in trot, so I know we'll get there in canter.  I took her back to the barn, telling her repeatedly what a fine mare she was, untacked and then turned her back out - she sprinted away and galloped down the very steep hill away from the barn and then up the opposite slope with no trouble - it looks like her recovery from EPM is complete, although she'll be on the low-dose meds for another 6 weeks to help build immunity.

Then into the car and up to Wisconsin.  Red didn't whinney at me this time, but he did come right to the gate, so I'll take that.  We had a really fine ride - things are really starting to come together.  There was almost no bracing at the walk or trot, and the transitions were mostly very good as well - particularly the downwards ones where I'm keeping my eyes and posture up and thinking forward.  There was very little bracing in the walk/trot transition, although his head did pop up from time to time - the brace is almost gone but the thought of the brace can still be there.  Every ride, the percentage of excellent transitions goes up. There were a couple of occasions where he thought for a second about popping his head up but then chose not to - he's beginning to feel like it's no longer necessary and I think pretty soon it will just go away on its own.  Trot/canter transitions were a bit sluggish - it was pretty warm and he was a bit tired - he tended to fall on the forehand and brace, but we worked on it for a bit in both directions and it got better.  I asked Heather about walk/canter transitions, and as I suspected, although those are likely to be easier for him than walk/trot, we're not doing those with him yet because of his residual issues with the walk/trot transition.  I told him what a fine horse he was, and then back in the car to drive home.

Then Mr. Pie and I had a fine ride in the outdoor - he likes it out there, although the bugs were getting pretty bad.  I led him out there rather than riding him down and back up the steep slope to get there - last time we did that he had real difficulty due to the EPM.  This time, although he was careful, he walked down and up straight and didn't hesistate.  He wasn't fully engaging his hindquarters, though, and was taking shorter steps than normal - we have some minor rehab work to do.  When walking in the outdoor, if I didn't ask for forward and soft, he tended to fall on the forehand and "scuff" a bit with his fronts when the footing was deep - he wasn't carrying himself from behind - but there was no tripping.  Once he was forward and soft at the walk, that went away.  His trot work was really excellent - we did short sets interspersed with soft walking, and he was moving very well on both diaganols, and there was good softness and engagement.  We worked on forward and didn't do much shortening, and stayed away from trotting in the deeper parts of the track or downhill.  Our total work session was about 30 minutes, and as he rebuilds strength and fitness, we should be able to keep on adding time and intensity.

A really fine day with horses!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mark Rashid Clinics in June

There will be two three-day Mark Rashid clinics being held at Black Star Farm at 1971 Granville Road in Cedarburg, Wisconsin on Saturday June 2 through Monday June 4, and Tuesday, June 5 through Thursday, June 7.  There are a maximum of 8 riders per three-day clinic, and all sessions are one-on-one.  Rider slots are filled, but auditing can be very valuable, and auditors are included in the clinic and encouraged to ask questions.  Clinics run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day with a short break for lunch, and sessions are held rain or shine.

Auditing fees are $40 per day (bring your own chair and food), or $35 per day with pre-registration. I’ve been riding with Mark now for about 10 years, and have found it immensely beneficial. Mark is about making changes in you - your softness and internal direction of the horse’s thought - in order to make changes in your horse. So it’s a lot more about fixing riders than fixing horses, although horses get changed in the process.

Mark works effectively with riders in all disciplines, English and Western. He takes people and horses where they are, as individuals, and works with whatever needs addressing. There tends to be a lot of variety at the clinics in terms of what people are working on, since there's no "program".  For prior years' clinic write-ups, see the sidebars - this will give you a good feel for what the clinics are like.

I’ll be auditing the first clinic and riding two horses in the second clinic - Pie and Red (who is up at Black Star right now with my trainer Heather Burke, who is a student of Mark’s). To preregister, contact Deb Goelz at Hope to see some of you there!  If you do come, be sure to let me know so we can introduce ourselves.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Changing Ourselves to Change the Inside of the Horse

Dawn and I had an excellent session today.  Her softening work at walk and trot is now very good and consistent - which means I'm being more consistent with my following/allowing and also mental softness. We did a fair amount of shortening/lengthening work at trot, using my mental imaging of my own body and legs doing shorter/longer.  Her transitions were also very good.  Then we did a bunch of canter work.  My objective was to help her with her anticipation/anxiety about canter - she tends to get worked up and lose her softness.  We made a lot of progress today in some important ways.

Here's a comment that I left for Story on her post today on her blog All Gear No Skill, where she was talking about how her mare tends to anticipate:
My Red is a big anticipator, too, and he's also a mind reader - if I even start to think about something, he's already on it. And he tends to brace when he anticipates - it causes him anxiety, I expect due to the way he was ridden in the past. I have to be really clear in my thoughts and energy with him - only thinking it if I want it and being sure to think - and direct him to do - something else [instead of what he's anticipating] so there are no mental gaps (in me), if that makes any sense. So getting ahead and leading him with my thoughts and never leaving him to fill [in] with his own ideas of what might be coming next. And I also have to always stay very soft with him, even when he braces - never brace against brace but instead redirect - don't know if that makes any sense either. Because I don't up the ante when he gets anxious or braces or starts to anticipate, he's starting to let go of the behavior. So it's not so much that I'm trying to change his behavior - bracing, anxiety, anticipation - as trying to change the degree to which I'm engaged but still soft with him. In my experience, horses that anticipate tend to be worriers, so helping them let go of the worry will reduce or eliminate the anticipation - making a change on the inside of the horse results in a change in the outside of the horse. Hope that helps.
This is also so true of Dawn - she works herself up because she anticipates, and wants to perform oh so perfectly, and becomes more and more up and braced as we do canter work.  My job is to stay very centered and calm, direct her and not worry about her anxiety but instead reward those moments when she's able to calm herself and respond to the softness I'm able to offer.  So we did a number of canter departures, right and left lead, and then I asked her to soften for a number of steps - on the straightaway for the right lead where she has trouble bending to the inside on turns, and on a large circle for the left lead - followed by a downwards transition - I didn't worry too much if she braced on these transitions at this point - all I do is think the new rhythm and exhale, then trotting until she's able to soften again, then walk on a loose rein as a reward.  The point for her was to end each canter sequence with softness and calm trot.  She was able to do this, and did very well not getting worked up as we repeated our canter sets.  I told her many times what a wonderful mare she was.

And then Pie and I had a very nice short ride - about 10 minutes of forward walk, working on getting softness and engagement, with some halts and backing thrown in - and once he was consistently soft at the walk, some walk/trot work, keeping our trotting sets brief and with big turns - about another 10 minutes.  He did very well, his trot felt good, and there were no bad steps.  There's one more day of his paste Oroquin-10 treatment to go, and then we're on the low-dose decoqinate for another 90 days.

And here, on the same topic of making changes in ourselves to help our horses, are a set of posts from The Horse in the Mirror about a recent clinic experience she had with Peter Campbell (I don't know him personally, but he reminds me a lot of Mark Rashid in what he says and also seems to be very much of the Ray Hunt school of thought) - the posts are very good and get right to the heart of the struggle that's involved when we need to make changes ourselves to help our horses make changes, particularly in circumstances where we've really gotten crossways with our horse - Red and I, and also Dawn and I, have been on this journey as well and a lot of what she said resonated with me - read them - I think you'll benefit:

One Right Way to Work a Horse
One Right Way to Work a Horse - Day Two
One Right Way to Work a Horse - Day Three
One Right Way to Work a Horse - Day Four

When I'm at the Mark Rashid clinic in Cedarburg, Wisconsin in June, when Mark asks me what I want to work on, I'll say I want to work on me - my horses are fine and if anyone needs to make some changes it's me and my horses will be happy to cooperate once I can do that.  (The clinic is at Black Star Farms, and the first clinic runs from Friday night, June 1 (the pre-clinic demo/workshop for riders and auditors), with riding from Saturday, June 2 through Monday June 4, and the second clinic (I'll be riding both Red and Pie in this one) from Tuesday, June 5 through Thursday, June 7 - hope to see some of you there - Pie and Red and I will be there throughout the seven days.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Brief Update on Pie and Dawn - Situation Normal!

Dawn's legs are back to their normal size today - the vet thinks the filling may have been a reaction to the rabies vacinnation.  We had a nice walk/trot/canter lunge session, and she's moving well.  She still has some difficulty sustaining the right lead canter, but I think this is her usual normal - she tends to want to carry a bend to the outside - rather than anything related to her bout with EPM.

Pie had his eighth dose of Oroquin-10 today, and we had a short lungeing session at walk and trot.  I'm delighted to say that he is now completely sound and moving well at both gaits, his transitions were normal, there wasn't a single bad step or trip and he looked great.  Tomorrow I think he'll be ready for a short session of trot under saddle.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Outstanding Ride on Red, Saddle Fit, Trailer Repairs . . .

A lot happened today, most of it very good.

I took my 4-horse gooseneck - a Featherlite - in for service this week.  I asked them to repack the bearings, but to also check it over for anything else that needed fixing: tires, brakes, electrical, condition of floor, etc.  It turns out that the brakes were in need of serious maintenance, so that got done - it costs some money - likely $600-700 - but well worth it.  Everything else was good - I've had the trailer for 8 years, so I'm not surprised it needed some major maintenance.  Better to find this sort of thing out when it's in the shop instead of when it's on the road.

Today I had an outstanding ride with Red.  Our session started with him nickering/whinneying to me as I went to get him out of the pen, and he came to the gate to great me.  I think this is the first time he's really greeted me when food wasn't involved - I was pretty pleased by that.  Heather said he'd been pretty feisty yesterday, with some head shaking and crow-hopping - she'd given him a day off and it was windy and chilly, so she got off and did some ground work with him.  After he'd worked off some steam, he was good for her ride.

Everything about our ride today was good, from the moment I got on.  He was reliably soft at the walk and trot, and his halt and back were as perfect as they could be.  There was almost no bracing at any point - his head did pop up a bit on a couple of early walk/trot transitions, but he didn't brace and the head popping up stopped almost immediately - I just ignored it and kept on working.  The quality of his trot was amazing - big and strong and engaged, with lovely softening and a real live connection with the reins.  That was going so well that we moved up to canter - we did little canter work last year since I had my accident in June, didn't ride until August, then he developed EPM, then it was winter (with no indoor at the old barn).  The canter work was very good from the start - it's a bit easier for him on the left lead, but the right lead isn't bad at all, and we had almost no bracing and some very nice softening work from the start.  And the quality of his gaits is amazing - his canter is big, and round, and engaged. All I had to do to get really nice canter/trot transitions, where the forward was preserved, was just exhale while thinking the new rhythm. It was just all around lovely!

 Red's looking very good - lean and fit and his summer red coat is really glowing.  At long last, his corneal ulcer on his left eye seems to be starting to heal up - I brought him a new fly mask to wear in his paddock.  Heather and I agreed that he's a real blast to ride, since he's so sensitive and athletic - not always the easiest horse but a very fine one. Red would be about ready to go home with me at this point, but the Mark Rashid clinic is in about 3 weeks, so I'll be leaving him with Heather until then since he's already up there - less stress for him.

Then, after sharing an apple with Red, I drove home and rode Dawn and Pie.  Dawn, unusually for her, had some fill in both hind legs - not sure what that's about as she never stocks up - but walked and trotted sound on the lunge, so we had a quick 30-minute ride with only walk and trot work.  She worked very well, and the swelling was reduced when we were done.  Before I rode, I adjusted the saddle fit - she's been telling me for the past few days by shaking her head and snarking that the saddle wasn't right, and when we cantered, the pad was working its way under the saddle even though the girth was snug - a sign of bad fit.  Somehow, the saddle and shimmed Mattes pad that used to fit her no longer does - I expect she's developed some more back muscles and that's throwing things off - she's naturally a bit downhill and the lift in the back is throwing the saddle down and forward.  I added two more small felt shims to the front pockets on the Mattes pad - we're up to three shims on each side now - and that seemed to do the trick.  "Her snarkiness" was much less so, so we must be on the right track!

Pie and I had a quick 20-minute vigorous walk work session.  He's improving neurologically - he's on day 7 of his EPM treatment.  His backing is almost normal again, he does the turning test well in both directions with good hind leg crossover, and he's starting to really resist putting his hind legs in the wrong position in the foot placement test, and corrected both hinds on his own pretty quickly.  I'll likely lunge him to watch him trot before doing it under saddle, but we're very close to that, I think.

It was a very good day with horses!

Monday, May 7, 2012

EPM Symptoms

I was filling out the questionnaires for the EPM group on Yahoo, and it was interesting to see a list of the various symptoms Pie, Red and Dawn have had in their bouts with EPM.

Pie's case is most complicated, as he's now had two separate infections, first with antigen strains 5/6 and then with antigen strain 1.  Dawn only had strain 1 and Red only had strains 5/6.  Strain 1 is purportedly more serious, and Dawn certainly had a serious case in a very short time - she was a bit wobbly both in front and in back - all my other cases only affected the hind legs.  Pie's strain 1 case wasn't as bad symptom-wise, but that might be because he'd earlier had an infection with strains 5/6.

Some symptoms were common to all three horses and some were different.  All four cases were diagnosed after neurological exams and ELIZA peptide antigen tests.  Here's my summary:

Pie, strain 5/6:  head shaking, head pressing; tongue lolling, frequent yawning and some "gulping" noises while swallowing; swollen glands in throat; heat intolerance; body soreness; strong reluctance to move forward; gait abnormalities - little impulsion and toe dragging/tripping/catching with left hind; difficulty backing normally; felt off at trot; very difficult to pick feet; chronic resolving colic - he would have severe pain, lie down and groan and then would be OK after about a half hour - this went on for several weeks and was diagnosed at U Wisconsin with abdominal "lumps" that may have been inflamed lymph nodes - they did not suspect EPM.  He may have had this for a while before we caught it.

Red, strain 5/6: extreme reluctance to move forward and irregular gait, left hind most affected - toe dragging and short striding; very difficult to pick feet.

Dawn, strain 1: swollen glands in throat; gait and balance abnormalities - tripping, odd steps, little impulsion, foot dragging - particularly left hind; felt wallowing and fronts also affected as well as backs - stopped riding because she was so unsteady.

Pie, strain 1: swollen glands in throat; gait and balance abnormalities - tripping, odd steps, little impulsion, foot dragging behind, difficulty backing, trouble going downhill.

So far, treatment with Oroquin-10 (levamisole plus decoquinate) plus the 90-day decoquinate feed top dressing, seems to have fixed our problems and all horses are currently doing well.  Dawn is at about day 30 in her treatment for strain 1 and is doing well, although I have to careful not to overdo as her deficits were pretty extensive after a short period of infection.  Pie is on day 6 of treatment for strain one, and is walking under saddle and doing well - we're not ready to trot yet but we'll get there.

I must say this EPM experience has been interesting, although I would have preferred to have avoided it!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Pie Shows Signs of Improvement

Pie has had four doses of his Oroquin-10 paste treatment (levamisole/decoquinate) for his new bout of antigen strain one of EPM.  Today was the first day he began to show signs of improvement.  His front foot placement has been normal throughout - Dawn showed deficits in her fronts and backs.  Today, he began to resist incorrect foot placement with the right hind; the left hind was still abnormal.  The biggest change was in his backing - he'd been dragging his hind toes and "searching" with his hind legs for where to put his feet.  Today, he backed almost normally in hand - lifting rather than dragging hind feet and putting them down toe first (in diagnonal pairs with the corresponding front), and he could back straight and there was no "searching" with the hind feet.  Walking forward, his walk was more deliberate.

So we rode at the walk for about 20 minutes - his walk was forward and free-moving and rhythmic, and he was able to do softening work at the walk.  He also halted well and backed well without dragging any feet.  There were no trips, stumbles or odd steps. Tomorrow if he continues to feel well, we'll try a little trot to see how he feels about that.

I'm encouraged - I think we caught his new EPM infection very early and I'm hoping the treatment will take care of it in short order.  He had his fifth Oroquin-10 paste dose tonight, and there'll be five more after that - he's very good about his paste but I expect he'll be glad when that's over!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

88 Rides, Two Baths and a New Saddle

Today Dawn and I had our 50th ride of 2012, bringing my total rides for the year to 88.  This time last year, I'd ridden only 42 times - having an indoor arena makes a huge difference - it doesn't matter what the weather is doing and the footing is never too wet.   This time last year, I'd only ridden Dawn 9 times and only rode her 61 times in all of 2011.  And Pie and Red have had many additional rides in their training with Heather - lots of miles for all three horses.  I find with my horses, riding them consistently is the best way for us to really make progress together.

Dawn and I have worked hard five days in a row, so she'll get two days off starting tomorrow.  In those five days, we've been working together on developing our mutual softness, using my new found understanding of consistently of using a following/allowing hand and providing the horse with a "soft" spot by not pulling/bracing and also not throwing away the contact when the horse finds it but instead mentally softening.  Every day Dawn and I have worked, we've been more consistently finding that softness together, and today was probably the best ride I've ever had on her.  Today, she was almost continuously soft at the walk and trot  - only a few moments of bracing - and her short and long trot work was both soft and exhilerating - she was in self-carriage for most of it and it felt amazing - great drive and impulsion without any bracing.  And the most amazing thing is her head position has changed - her original impulse was to go low and in with head behind the vertical.  Today she was upright, lifting from behind, with her head and neck raised just so and head not behind the vertical . . . just amazing to feel in my hand and body.  And this is a horse who is built somewhat downhill - for her to achieve this at almost age 15 is a testimony to her athleticism.

Since it was hot and humid, when we were done I gave Dawn her first bath of the season, using EQyss Micro-Tek medicated shampoo - I rarely bathe my horses to perserve their skin oils, although I do rinse and scrape them off if they're hot.

My work with Dawn has been seriously improved by my work with Red.  I've been working on the same allowing/following hand and mental release with him - he's at least as sensitive a horse as Dawn and perhaps more so, and he's got at least as much fire and forward.  As Heather said, he'll never be a beginner or intermediate ride and neither will Dawn - they both require a very careful and sensitive ride and they're both in the process of taking me where I need to be.  Pie, on the other hand, could be a beginner ride at some point in the future - he's a stoic and also basically very easy-going.  My ride with Red last Wednesday was the best ride I've ever had on him - this week is a week of bests.  He came out very up and forward, and we worked for a bit on directing him in various figures to help him focus - there were lots of distractions but he managed to come back to me and focus.  And then we worked on transitions - there were no hops and very little bracing, and pretty quickly we had lovely, soft, engaged transitions.  And, as with Dawn, his head position is now different - he no longer does the head to chest, I'm-all-cramped-up thing, but his head and neck were raised with his head just relaxed and soft.  He's built more uphill than Dawn, which makes it somewhat easier for him - his bracing is more mental than physical.  And we had some amazing moments of softness and self-carriage - the feel in my hands was soft and relaxed, and he was able to do short and long trot with ease - it was just outstanding, and by the end our transition work was effortless. Tomorrow I go up to ride him again, and I'm hoping for more of the same . . .  And Heather said he dealt very well with a serious distraction the day before I was up - she was riding him when another horse decided to dump his rider and "leave" (as Heather said) at a water crossing obstacle - Red just observed the whole thing and didn't get upset.

Pie is getting a few days off until his hind end is a bit more stable and he's comfortable working.  He's on day two of his 10-day paste treatment for the new strain of EPM.  He's developed some loose manure, so I've started him on probiotics.  Pie was also stressed a bit by the heat today - he's very sensitive to the heat - nostrils big and breathing hard when I brought him in around 11 a.m.  I cold hosed and scraped him and left him in his stall and then washed him after I was done with Dawn.   To finish up, since I (momentarily) have two clean horses, I washed my brushes.  I don't expect Dawn and Pie will stay clean - lots of rain and mud coming up - but at least some of the accumulated winter dirt has been washed away.

And a big piece of news - I've bought this saddle:

It's an About the Horse Saddle, size 16 seat and #1 tree (which is the tree size Dave Genadek, the saddle maker, says is right for Pie and Red based on the photos and tracings I sent him) and it's cordura, which means it's lighter to lift- it's shipped and with a little luck it'll be just right - keeping fingers crossed and waiting for it to arrive - the seller is a very nice lady from Michigan who has agreed to my trying it for 10 days to be sure it fits, with a right of return if it doesn't - and we used a written agreement and Paypal to be sure we're both protected.