Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Successful Horse, Every Day

A few thoughts on a beautiful Wednesday . . .

Find ways, not to make the wrong thing hard - it's hard enough for the horse already - but to make the right thing easy - open a path for the horse to find the right thing.

Every day, even if things are going badly, find something good that the horse is doing - the smallest inkling of a thing - praise the horse and build on it - pretty soon you'll be on your way together.

Find a way, every day, to have your horse be successful at something you're asking him to do.

Clear, consistent, patient, quiet direction and guidance - from the inside of you - will get you where you want to go.

Horses perform much better for praise than they do to avoid punishment.

If the horse is emotionally upset, don't get caught up in the drama - keep your cool and provide a safe, quiet center for the horse to find his way back to.

Ignore what you don't want and keep your focus on asking for what you do want, consistently, and pretty soon you'll have what you do want, consistently.

Find a way for your horse to be successful every day . . .

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pie is Clear on EPM and Lyme

Pie has survived a lot of trials.  He (as well as Red) was diagnosed, using the new peptide ELISA antigen test, supported by standard neurological tests, with phenotype 5 of EPM in the fall of 2011.  They were both treated (using the new protocol which is clinical trials), and all apparent neurological symptoms abated.  Then, in the spring of 2012, Pie (as well as Dawn) was diagnosed by the same methods with phenotype 1 of EPM.  Both Pie and Dawn were treated and made full recoveries from any apparent neurological symptoms.  Pie had some persistent muscle soreness and extreme crabbiness, and had had some symptoms that would be atypical for EPM in the spring and summer of 2011, so he was tested in late fall 2012 for Lyme, using the new Cornell antigen test.

Here's a quote from the EPM/Lyme page, with Pie's results from last fall:
Antigen A - Negative.Antigen C - Negative.Antigen F - 1,726 (cut off for active infection is 1,250).  This is a positive result, although many horses with Lyme have much higher titers.  This indicates an active, chronic Lyme infection that is more than 5 months old.  Our vet believes that some of the acute symptoms Pie experienced in the summer and fall of 2011, including an episode of laminitis, severe muscle pain/soreness, acute sensitivity to touch, severe grumpiness - to the point of biting, and his continuing muscle tightness and unusual visual reactivity to movement may have been/be Lyme related.
Pie was treating using oral doxycycline, using a new protocol that dosed once a day at a higher dosage, in an attempt to kill the critters when they were most vulnerable - Lyme can be a bear to treat.  He finished treatment in November 2012 and has been symptom-free for Lyme since.

Both Red and Dawn have had minor neurological flare ups of unknown cause, and have continued to test negative for EPM, and made complete recoveries on their own.  Pie also had a minor occurrence of neurological symptoms in May, 2013 and was retested and showed a slightly elevated EPM titer, where before his titers had been negative.  As a precaution, he was treated for 10 days using decoquinate, which is one element of the EPM protocol that is in clinical trials.  He has been symptom-free since - although Lyme and EPM can have some overlap in clinical symptoms since they are both neurological, in my personal experience with Red, Dawn and Pie the symptoms of EPM and Lyme were quite different.  

This month, he was tested again for EPM, to see if the treatment made a change in the antibody levels - it did - he was back to negative status again.  We don't know if he cleared the possible new infection on his own - persistence of immunity after treatment is still not known - or if the treatment did the trick.  At the same time, he was retested for Lyme - it's necessary to wait for at least 6 months after completion of treatment for antibody counts to decline.  We were delighted to hear that Pie is below the threshold for active infection for all three Lyme antigens.  Dawn and Red were not tested for Lyme as they are asymptomatic - and I keep a very close eye on them for any Lyme-related symptoms.  I am aware of other horses with Lyme whose treatments have not been as effective - my vet says the level of antibodies and length the horse has had the disease, as well as the treatment protocol, can affect how successful treatment is.

The EPM/Lyme page will have more specific details about Pie's test results for those interested in those technical details (once I update it).

Pie's quite the Pie, to have come through two episodes of EPM as well as Lyme so well - I told him today (well, I do every day) what a fine Pie horse he is (and we had a lovely ride in the much cooler weather).

Looking for Fly Masks . . .

Dawn lost not just one, but two different, fly masks - nice Cashell masks with ears and long noses - in her pasture over the past week or so.  I've been looking, and not finding - the pasture she's in isn't that big, maybe 5 acres.  The boys don't wear fly masks in turnout - Red won't tolerate one and the boys also play too much face tag to keep one on.  Their pasture is a lot bigger than Dawn's, and I wouldn't want to have to search for masks in all that acreage.  Dawn appreciates her mask - she has a terrible problem with tiny flys that like to get in her ears - but when she rolls she often dislodges the mask from one or both ears and then it just falls off - whenever I find one of her masks, it's always still fastened.

So today I had a little time, and was systematic about it.  The masks weren't in the shorter grass - they would have been easy to see - one was gray and the other black.  They had to be in the rough - the mares' bathroom areas, where the grass and weeds get taller - or in the weedier areas along the stream.  So I slogged through every one, and found not one, but two masks, deep in the weedy areas where she'd rolled - it made sense that she wouldn't roll in the roughs and now I know where to look next time.  And I found a shoe - pad, clips and nasty nails protruding - and two boots . . .

We'll see how long she keeps her mask on this time . . .

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Three Splendids, and a Note on Bracing/Blocking

Finally, the hot weather broke - it was still hot and humid yesterday - mid 80s - but oh so much better than it had been for days.  And I got to ride . . .

I rode all three horses.  Dawn had had three days off from riding, Red four and Pie an entire week, due to the extreme heat and in Pie's case to let him grow a little more hoof.  All three horses couldn't have been better after all those days off, mostly spent confined in their stalls - I've taken to calling them my "splendids".

Dawn was forward and enthusiastic, and would have happily done a lot more trot work than I let her do - she's still rebuilding strength from her layoff for the minor hind leg injury.  Pie happily walked and trotted briefly in the indoor - completely sound again - and we then went on a short trail ride with two other boarders.  He was very alert and forward, but very well-behaved.  He and I herded off a horse who was pestering us as we were exiting the pastures to the trail - I can swish my dressage whip at the other horse, right by Pie's neck, without bothering him at all.  He did some calling, and was distracted at moments by what the horses in the pastures were doing - at one point a whole herd of them galloped past going back to the barn - but came right back to me immediately each time.

Then Red and I had a wonderful ride - one of the best we've ever had.  I think he was happy to be back in work - he's a horse who cares about working and seems to find it very satisfying.  The walk/trot transition problem has gone away completely, just by my changing how I think about the transition.  This is a perfect example of the importance of keeping my focus on what I do want, instead of what I don't want.  Instead of thinking about the balk that I came to expect, instead I think only about the transition I want and how it should feel.  It may seem odd, but I think expecting the balk in fact was at this point actually causing the balk - it was creating a brace/block - not physical but mental - and the fussing Red did was him hitting the barrier of the brace/block I was offering him, and the springing into canter instead of trot was him having to use extra energy to get past the block.  Now that I'm just thinking about the smooth, soft transition I want, and offering him that feel, he just does it.  I find this stuff pretty magical, but it's really pretty matter-of-fact from the horse's point of view.

Red and I also did lots of other transitions - walk to halt, to back, to walk or trot, trot to canter to trot.  His sustained canter work was really excellent, and to finish off our ride we took a brief walking tour of two of the pastures.

Three splendids, indeed!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tomorrow . . .

Today was very, very hot . . . the heat index is still 97 at 5:00 p.m.  Horses came in early - I caught Dawn and Pie when then were just getting uncomfortable and didn't need to be hosed off.  Red was way out in the far pasture - about a half mile from the barn, and as usual, cool as a cucumber.  But once his halter was on, he was on a mission - to get to Pie, who was already in the barn.  He tried to trot, and tried to pass me, a few times, and kept calling to Pie.  Finally, I unclipped him - he walked free next to me for a few strides, then I told him to go and he exploded into gallop and headed back up to the barn.  I met him there - he took a huge drink - and had to hose him off because he was all sweaty from his run.

The horses were comfortable under their fans, despite temperatures in the barn over 90.  I picked stalls in the afternoon, groomed and put on fly spray, and topped up hay and water - taking each horse to the outdoor tanks for a drink.  Tomorrow, after the cold front comes through, we ride . . . three days without riding seems like an eternity to me . . .

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Rinse . . . and Repeat

Today's hotness was worse than unpleasant - it was disgusting.  Our heat indices today and tomorrow will be in the 105-110 degree range, with lots of sun and a hot wind.  Friday night, we're supposed to have a cold front coming through with thunderstorms - can't wait.

Our barn doesn't do night turnout, so my days have consisted of going to the barn early - around 9 a.m. - making sure stalls are set, and then bringing my three horses in.  As I bring each horse in, I stop in the wash stall - it's handy having the wash stall be the passage between the pastures/indoor and the barn aisle - and rinse each horse with cold water until cool, scrape off and then use a wet sponge to wipe off their faces, polls and foreheads.

Today, Pie, that grass demon, didn't want to come in.  This was despite the fact that he was grazing in full sun, soaking wet on his neck, chest and shoulders, with nostrils the size of dinner plates and panting - he doesn't do at all well in the heat.  Once I got his halter on, we headed for the barn.  Red today stuck close, walking right next to Pie all the way - no halter.  Red, as usual, was as cool as a cucumber. When we got to the barn, both Red and Pie took long drinks - I'll bet Pie swallowed several gallons of water, he drank so long.

Both got rinse offs and put under fans in their stalls.  Dawn, unlike Pie, saw me and immediately galloped up to be brought in.  She was sweaty too, not as sweaty as Pie but still uncomfortable, and appreciated her rinse off.

This afternoon, I stopped by to groom, fill water and replenish hay and put on fly spray.  I led all three horses to the outdoor water tank to have a drink - both Red and Pie took advantage - I think this also helps convince them that conditions aren't suitable for being outside.  Everyone was happy and comfortable.

One more day of this . . . and then we'll ride . . .

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Red's Eyes Get Big . . . But He is Very, Very Good

Today the weather was miserable - temperatures in the 90s with heat indices approaching 100 - it's supposed to be even hotter tomorrow and Friday before a cold front is supposed to move in and cool things off.

It's interesting to see how different each horse's response to heat and humidity is.  Pie gets hot the fastest - when I went out to get him about 9:30 a.m., he was already sweated up but still reluctant to stop eating grass.  He got a hose off and then went into his stall under the fan.  Just after that, I went to get Dawn - she was started to sweat and seemed glad to come in and get hosed off and put in her stall under the fan.  Red - he's the cool cucumber - when I went out to get him just after 10 a.m., he had come up for a drink out of the water tanks, but was still completely dry.  He didn't get hosed, but came in anyway - reluctantly - since I had to leave for the city and wouldn't be around to bring him in later.

In the afternoon, I stopped by to top up water and add hay, groom and apply fly spray, and pick stalls.  There's a "pony camp" at our barn, held by one of the trainers, with a group of 8 to 11 year old girls in the afternoons.  They were all in the (air-conditioned) viewing room when I took Pie out for a brief walk in the arena - he stuck his nose up to the glass to examine the visitors and then we went to the pasture water tank for him to take a big drink - he prefers drinking out of the big tanks although he'll also drink out of his stall buckets (one of them).

When I took Red out for a walk around, there was a gaggle of small girls in the barn aisle.  I invited them to come out and say hello to Red - he likes children and any sort of attention at all - and they swarmed him, petting him and saying hello.  One small girl even came up to his chest and grabbed him around the base of his neck and held on - his eyes got big but he didn't move a foot - good Red!  They had lots of questions: "what's his name?" "how old is he?" "is he easy to ride?"

Tomorrow and Friday will be about the same, although since I have more time flexibility tomorrow, Red may be able to stay out a bit longer - he seems OK up to a heat index of 100, where Pie and Dawn are more heat sensitive.

Looking forward to some cooler weather, and some riding, this weekend . . .

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Too Hot to Trot . . . Red Begs to Differ

A lot of the country has been broiling this summer, and now we're getting our share.  Temperatures are supposed to be in the 90s every day this week, with heat indices around 100 most days.

Dawn and I continue with our early morning rides.  She's doing well - we had a brief ride this morning with 10 minutes of walk work followed by 10 trotting lengths of the arena.

Pie's getting the week off - it's too hot for him.  When the other horses get slightly sweaty in the pasture, he's wringing wet.  He's always been sensitive to the heat, but it's a bit better since he was treated for Lyme.  I've been bringing in the horses early, hosing them off and putting them under fans.

Now you'd think that, with it so hot, the horses would be content to enjoy their (somewhat cooler) stalls, with nice hay.  Not Red - from the moment I bring him in, he's begging for attention - to come out and do something with me - anything - yesterday, he was even banging on his door (I ignore him when he does - he knows this but sometimes just can't help himself).  So I took him out and we went for a bareback ride in the sweltering heat.  Although he was cool as a cucumber when he came in from turnout, he got pretty sweaty in our short walk/trot ride.  But he seemed to be enjoying himself.

And that problem with walk/trot transitions?  Going, going, gone . . . just as I expected it would be once I was clearer about exactly what I wanted from him.  On the first transition, there was a fraction of a second where he thought about doing his old routine, but you could almost hear him thinking "no, she wants me to trot right now" and he did.  No fuss, no muss.  Now to maintain this and develop his new habit, I need to be absolutely consistent with what and how I ask him, every time.  If I deliver, he delivers . . . funny how that works.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Dawn's Rehab Continues, Pie Update and Not Futzing about with Red

Dawn had several weeks off after the injury to her left hind, and we've spent the last two weeks working up to 30 minutes of vigorous, engaged, soft walk work per session.  So today was the big test - we did 5 minutes of loose rein walk work, followed by 10 more minutes where I was asking her to carry herself properly, with forward, engagement and softness, doing lots of figures, and then we trotted.

All we did today was trot 5 lengths of the arena - no turns - we walked around the corners.  She was willing and forward at the trot - I could hear her thinking "it's about time!", and felt perfectly sound on both diagonals.  If things continue to go well, we'll add more straight line trot work each session all week, and then start doing some big turns next week.

Pie's feet - specifically the left front - continue to do well.  He had no pulses last night and seemed to be walking slightly better.  He got one more gram of bute last night - he's very good for it and I don't even have to halter him, and this morning very early I hiked out to the far reaches of the pasture to give him one more gram of bute.  I checked his feet, and all four were cool with no pulses.  So far so good.  He's going to get most of this week off anyway as it's going to be very hot and humid - 90s with higher heat indices - so he can grow a little bit more foot.

Red and I have had a series of really excellent rides.  The day before yesterday, I rode him in the outdoor arena by himself for the first time.  This is more challenging than it sounds, as the outdoor is way across one of the pastures, several hundred yards from the barn, with no horses in sight.  He's been out there several times with other horses and done well.  By himself, he was very alert and forward, but completely responsive and soft in all our work, including at the trot and canter.  It was nice to be out there as the outdoor is somewhat bigger than our very small indoor, and he could move out a bit better.

Then yesterday we worked on eliminating the slight "hitch" in our walk to trot transitions.  Ever since I've had him, Red has tended to balk on the first, or first couple, walk/trot transitions.  He either tends to "ball himself up" - it's the only way I can describe it - he shortens his body and neck and loses his straightness - it's almost as if he's hitting an invisible wall - or alternatively, he springs into canter instead.  After the first couple of walk/trot transitions, this issue vanishes completely for the rest of our ride.  I think he came with this - either due to "more energy" meaning canter from his past training, or due to his hock soreness.  It doesn't really matter.  He's sound at the trot now, and his hocks are doing well.

So I decided to stop futzing around.  It's important, I think, with all horses, but particularly with a horse like Red who came with a lot of baggage and is also very sensitive, just to be very matter of fact, precise and direct about what you want, and don't accept anything less.  It's a matter of my making my intent clear and handling and riding him expecting him to be just the horse I want him to be.  It certainly isn't ask/tell/make at all and there's nothing harsh or punitive about it - it's about being clear in communicating my intent - this requires that I know exactly what I want.  This is exactly how all his other issues have just fallen away with continued handling, consistency and clear communication of my intent.  He's now perfect for hoof handling for both me and the farrier - when I got him, he would snatch his legs away and even kick or strike - he's pretty much perfect to handle on the ground and lead - he moves away on a touch, he backs away if I even hold up a hand, he doesn't run me over even if he spooks, he no longer head butts, pushes into pressure or nibbles or bites.  He ground ties, stands for mounting and stands still in hand or under saddle on a loose rein or lead without moving a foot.  He's just plain wonderful.

I pretty much decided that the problem with the walk/trot transition was me, not him.  I was futzing around.  I'd ask for trot, get the balk or the canter, and ask again, and after a couple of tries we were fine.  He's basically holding onto an old behavior pattern, and I've allowed him to. But that's not what I wanted - I want an immediate, clean, soft walk/trot transition.  I needed to make it clear and not accept any substitutes, just as I did with all the other issues.  It's very much like getting forward - from the first step in any gait, I want and expect the rhythm and implusion I've decided I want - nothing unclear and no futzing around.

So for our past two rides - it's interestingly only an issue indoors - I've been clear and consistent.  This means that as I mentally up the energy and change the rhythm to trot, if he doesn't instantly - I'm talking fraction of a second - softly step into trot I immediately go to a secondary aid (taps with dressage whip behind my leg) to get an immediate response.  (I don't up my aids, say by applying more leg, as that tends to lock up motion and also teaches the horse that that's the level of pressure you want them to respond to.)  By being clearer with him about my expectations, the problem is already starting to disappear, and I expect it'll be completely gone, like all the other issues, in short order.  And since I'm paying more attention and trying to be clear about what I want, this carries over into other things - his forward was much more immediate and consistent in our whole ride yesterday.

I love figuring out what I need to change about what I'm doing in order to get the best response from my horses - it's one of the delights of horsemanship.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Headache in the Foot

Pie's feet were very broken up before his trim last Friday - he'd grown a lot of hoof wall - he usually does between trims - and there were big chips and splits.  So our trimmer, I think, took a little too much off the fronts in cleaning things up - I need to do a better job of between-trim maintenance so Pie's feet don't get quite so long.  The other two horses do well on a 6-week trimming schedule, but Pie grows too much foot, and our dry and hot conditions, with lots of flies, can lead to problems for him.  The trimmer did the best job he could, but Pie's fronts ended up shorter than I'd like and than the trimmer usually does him, and there were several hoof-wall divots from chips and cracks where the foot was even shorter than the trim.  The trimmer did leave the sole and frog almost entirely alone, as he always does.

But after his trim on Friday, and all day yesterday - I checked both a.m. and p.m. - he had no digital pulses in any foot, although he looked just slightly short-strided in front to me.  I rode him only at the walk yesterday, and only briefly, and he seemed fine, including over some pretty challenging surfaces.

Then this morning, when I went early to turn him and Red out into the pasture, Pie had very strong digital pulses on both sides of his left front foot - this is the foot that was more chopped up pre-trim and looked too short to me after the trim, and where he'd had some slight sensitivity when turning tightly on a hard surface after his trim, although he was walking and standing normally.  The other three feet had no digital pulses.

Here's how I check for digital pulses - there are different methods and this is the one that works for me. I place my palm over the front of the pastern joint, fingers down.  I feel for the suspensory ligaments - they're the cords that stand out, running from the pastern joint, over the sesamoid bones - the little bumps - down both sides of the pastern, angling towards the front.  Just behind the suspensory ligaments, and just below the bulge of the pastern joint, on both sides - inner and outer - there's a hollow - this is where the blood vessels and nerves travel.  I rest my thumb on one hollow and my other first couple fingers on the other - not too hard, just slight pressure.  A faint digital pulse can be felt by this method and any digital pulse at all, in most horses, is a cause for concern. I find this test much more useful than feeling the temperature of a hoof - that can vary a lot by time of day or for other reasons (although if 3 feet are cool and one is hot, you may have an abscess).  If there's a strong pulse like the carotid artery pulse in your neck, that's a strong pulse - that's what Pie had - and indicates that blood flow to the foot is restricted due to inflammation - which can be due to a variety of causes.  A strong pulse probably feels to a horse like a pounding headache feels to us. If the horse is having trouble moving or is obviously very sore footed, that's cause for serious alarm.

A side note on shoes - putting shoes on a horse with sore feet can conceal the symptoms without solving the underlying problem.  The absence or presense of digital pulses is a better indicator - putting shoes on a horse with an underlying metabolic problem due to feed/grass may allow the horse to appear sound.  This is not to say that a sore horse should be forced to be barefoot, and any barefoot horse, particularly one transitioning from shoes, should not be forced to walk or work over surfaces he can't tolerate.  Boots can be very helpful for horses that need some extra help, and it takes a long time - perhaps as long as a year - to grow a complete new hoof capsule.  And also keep in mind that a barefoot horse with sore feet may appear sounder on a hard surface like concrete than on a soft arena surface - the soft surface puts more direct pressure on the sole and frog - this is the same reason a shod horse may appear sounder.  As with all horse health issues, remember that treating causes is more important than masking symptoms, although making the horse more comfortable may be necessary in the short term while causes are being addressed.

Anyhow, Pie had a strong pulse in only one foot - none in the others.  He was standing and walking normally, although just a little short-strided, which meant he felt a little sore. This made me suspect - although it's not definitive - that the problem wasn't with the grass but rather due to the trim.  I gave him 2 grams of bute, to reduce the inflammation, and turned him out with Red, crossing my fingers (and toes) that it wasn't the grass that was the issue and that moving around in turnout wouldn't make him worse.  He and Red cantered off into the distance as usual.

When I came back at 11 to bring Pie in, he was walking and standing normally.  I put him in his stall under his fan, rather than in the paddock - the paddocks are very dry, hard, have no shade and lots of flies, leading to stamping.  He seemed perfectly comfortable, and when I felt for pulses, there were none in any foot.  Now, the bute was surpressing any inflammation, so he may still have an issue - it'll take a few days to be sure.  He'll get another gram of bute this evening, and then one more a.m. and p.m. tomorrow and then only one gram the day after.  We'll see if the pulses/sensitivity reappear or not as he's weaned off the medicine.  If it's a too-short trim, every day he should be improving.  If it's the grass, he won't improve.

I'm betting for the too-short hoof theory and hoping things improve over the next day or so . . .

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pasture Photos on a Sunny Day

Sometimes on the weekends, I have the time to take some photos in the pasture.  It was a beautiful, sunny day today, so when I went to retreive Pie from the pasture - he's up to 4 hours of grazing and doing just fine - I took my camera along and got some fun pictures of the boys.  So, without further ado . . .

Red hindquarters:

Red legs and feet:

Red silouette:

Pie hindquarters:

Pie legs and feet:

Pie scratches himself:

Pie hind feet:

Red approaches:

Red profile:

Red scratches - love the shadow:

Red (left) and Pie (right) together:

Pie in shadow:

Pie in sunlight:

Red tail flip:

Pie head and leg close up:

Red next to a very large friend:

Pie bites the grass:

Red in sunlight:

Hope you enjoyed our photo shoot!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Red Sweetly Waits for Pie

Red has done something very sweet the past two days.  When I get there in the early morning to turn them out into the pasture from their adjoining paddocks - this is so I can keep exact record of how much  grazing time Pie is getting - I turn out Red first - he gallops off into the distance to join the herd and disappears - and then I turn out Pie - he gallops off too, often stopping to grab a few bites of grass as he goes.

Yesterday, Red did something different.  He stopped halfway up the hill and waited for Pie.  Pie galloped up to him and when he got close, Red took off and they both galloped away at very high speed - racehorse speed - with Red leading and Pie close behind.  Those boys both have a fair percentage of racing Quarter Horse blood, and they can move out when they want to.

And then today, Red waited for Pie again, but this time they cantered away together at a nice relaxed pace, side by side.

What fine horses they are, and I love that they have a close bond.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Red and Pie Don't Care About Making Hay

Well they do, really - hay is important stuff and very good.  But they said they don't care about the equipment and noise and people that go with making hay in the field next to the closest pasture . . .

Dawn and I had a very nice 25 minute walking ride this morning.  After our first few laps on a relatively loose rein, we work.  I work on my position - eyes and chin up, shoulders up and back as best I can do, and moving with the horse through my hips and back and giving a nice, steady, allowing contact with my hands.  I find that all I have to do to get her to soften, relax her head and neck and step under herself well is just engage my core and focus up and where I want us to go, while offering a nice soft, steady spot for her to relax into with my hands.  She'll have a day off tomorrow, then we'll move up to 30 minutes of walk work for a day or two and then try a bit of trot.  Her left hind is looking better every day - I think our light work has been good for her healing.

Pie had three hours of grazing this morning, and his feet seem to be doing fine.  I think he'll be out on full day grazing pretty soon, with us adding 30 minutes a day for a couple of days and then an hour a day for a few more.  I think that'll be our regular routine from now on - no point in playing around with laminitis risk - if the horses go onto pasture on June 1, he'll spend the month of June in a paddock and then slowly come back onto the grass in July.

Red and I had a pretty vigorous work session this afternoon.  We worked on his maintaining forward at the trot - I use a secondary cue with my dressage whip much as I did with Pie - and on his maintaining the canter until I ask him to come back down to trot.  His walk/canter transitions remain excellent - now we're working on a better trot/canter transition.  At one point he broke to trot from canter before I asked, I tapped him to ask for canter again - he took the wrong lead and then he did a huge buck/leap flying lead change into the correct lead.

After our work session, we went for a pasture walk.  There was a lot of hay making equipment in the hay field next to the pasture - empty hay wagons, tractors, trucks, people, and while Red and I were riding, even a winnowing machine marching around fluffing up the mowed hay.  Red was alert and interested but was very, very good.  From the moment he started looking we went right into some work exercises - circles and serpentines at sitting trot.  He couldn't have been better, and I praised him immensely.

I finally got to ride Pie - the swelling on his face, while still there, is much less and the bridle wasn't too uncomfortable for him to wear.  But we only walked and I didn't ask him for a lot with his head and neck, figuring that things were still a bit sore.  We did a bit of nice loose rein walk work in the indoor first - his walk felt marvelously free and engaged - what a pleasure he is to ride now - and then went out to the pasture - I wanted to have him work around the haying equipment.  He was also marvelous - he noticed the equipment, but the moment he did, I didn't leave him to his own devices but started asking him for circles and serpentines at the walk.  Pretty soon, we were working right along the fenceline where all the equipment was, and he didn't blink an eye, even at the people crawling over and under a tractor that was having some sort of problem.  I think this is the way to preempt his spookiness - if I'm not just blopping along on a loose rein, where he doesn't really know I'm there, but rather actively ride and maintain the connection while we do something together, the spookiness isn't really an issue.  Neither Red nor Pie at this point are the type of horse you can just blop along on, and that's fine with me - I just have to remember to "be there" for them so they can connect with me and borrow my confidence when they might be uncertain.

After I rode Pie, I iced his face for a bit while he ate hay - he really wasn't that interested in the ice, which probably meant he felt he didn't need it anymore, so I didn't do it for long.

It was a good test to ride the boys out by themselves past all that equipment - particularly a good test of me and how I offer them guidance and direction to preempt spookiness, and I was very proud of all my wonderful horses today.

Pie Sees the Eye Vet

Pie's face is slowly getting better - it's still swollen but everytime I see him it's not quite as bad.  I'm continuing to ice it when I can - he's very good about letting me ice his face without him even being haltered, and he even let me run cold water on his cheek when I was hosing him off - I guess it felt good (I never spray my horses in the face or on the head when I'm hosing off - they don't like it and I can easily take a wet sponge and sponge their faces and around their ears).

Pie had a visit with the eye vet yesterday - more vets? he says - to check out his cyst and also evaluate him for any damage from Lyme.  It was good that they made a barn visit - the other eye vet in our area doesn't and you have to trailer to them and we are at the moment trailerless.

He has no retinal or optic nerve damage from Lyme, which is very good news - another horse at our barn, who'd probably had Lyme for a long time before it was detected, has permanent eye damage from it.  The cyst, although good sized, is on the lower, rather than upper, edge of his iris which means it interferes with his vision less than it could.  His spookiness may just be adjusting to the changes in his vision due to the shadow cast by the cyst - the vet agreed he was one of the least nervous or spooky horses she'd looked at - he just stood there half asleep as she examined his eyes.  He can clearly see, the question is how well - horses can't take eye tests.

So for now, we're watching things - if the cyst gets bigger or his spookiness worsens we can do the laser procedure, which simply deflates the cyst.  The procedure can be done with standing sedation at the barn, and is fairly straightforward and low risk, although pricey.  For now, I'll just keep working with him, including taking him on the trail some more - wearing my helmet (of course) and also a body protector, and not taking to the trail alone.  We may also experiment with some things - the vet suggested trying some obstacles - rails, step up platforms, tarps, etc. - with one eye covered and then the other to see if that makes any difference.  I can also play around with race horse blinkers, which could make things better or worse.

And then, later in the day, another vet stopped by to take his blood for two tests - a follow-up on the slightly elevated EPM titer he had a while ago - he was treated and we think he's fine now - as well as a Lyme retest since he's now 6 months out from the end of his treatement for Lyme.  As usual, he was a saint for the vet.  His personality has changed a lot since I got him - he started out being aloof and a bit remote, got very crabby and unhappy when he had Lyme, and now he's just plain sweet, sweet, sweet. Everyone who meets him comments on it.  He loves to meet with new people - even vets - is interested and alert and just is a real doll.  That's my Pie Pie!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Poor Melon Faced Pie

Pie had two and a half hours of grazing this morning.  When I hiked out to the pasture to retreive him, he and Red were grazing right next to each other.

Poor Pie - he had a swelling the size of a cantelope on the right side of his face, from below his eye, extending back to his ear and all down the side of his jaw.  It didn't seem to be an injury - there was no wound, and he was chewing just fine.  It seems that he got stung, perhaps more than one time.  I brought him back to the barn, gave him a gram of bute and iced it.  Pie was very cooperative - he would take a bite of hay from his hay bag, then stand chewing it while I held the ice to his face.  We did three separate icing sessions and the swelling already was looking a bit better.

Red's reaction to all this was interesting.  As I led Pie in, Red came galloping up behind us.  He waited at the top of the hill, calling to Pie several times, until I put Pie in his paddock, then went back to the herd.  About an hour later, Red came up to the gate - the rest of the herd was still out in the far pastures - and once again took a good look at Pie to be sure he was doing OK.  Red must have know that Pie had been hurt and wanted to be sure I was taking good care of him.

My vet was at the barn that afternoon to see some other horses and was able to take a look at Pie.  She said it was likely to be a sting, although it could also be an impact injury.  She gave him an injection of antihistimine, and he got some more bute this evening and will get one more gram tomorrow morning.  I'll continue icing as often as I can. If it's a sting, as we believe, the swelling should be down even more tomorrow.

Red supervised the vet visit by peering at Pie between the slats between the stalls and nickering to him - it was very sweet.

Poor Pie - he was a good sport and very sweet about all of this.  Here's his face this afternoon - much reduced from the morning but still pretty swollen (the left side of the picture - below and behind his right eye):

Poor Pie - I hope he feels better soon!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

(Almost) Too Pooped to Pop

I seemed to have managed to come down with some sort of unpleasant virus - coldlike symptoms, with lots of sneezing, congestion and sore throat, with some digestive quesiness to add to the fun.  Nothing terrible, but stuff like this drags on me when I'm as physically active as I am.  The weather is hot and humid too, and the flies are just awful - the face flies have joined in - this just adds to the fun.

But I managed to get all three horses ridden today.  Dawn had another 20 minutes of walking ride - sometimes I love walking as it allows me to really work on me - my position and my focus and my intent not to block or brace - we did lots of big figures - circles, serpentines, etc.  She offered some very nice moments of softness.  Her left hind is still enlarged on the inside just below the hock, but it's not particularly sore to the touch and she trots and canters well in the pasture - it could be a splint bone fracture but I'm inclined to think it's just bruising from a kick injury - we'll know more when we start a few minutes of trot work next week.  Dawn is wearing a full Cashell fly mask with ears and long nose in turnout now, and it's made a big difference to her comfort - she seems particularly susceptible to the small flies that get in the ears, and the mask thwarts them.

Pie made it up to two hours of grazing with the herd today with no appraent ill effects - Red is pretty much out all day now and has the whole gelding herd firmly, but gently, under his thumb (or hoof).  Pie gets a blood draw Monday to retest his EPM levels (his titers were slightly elevated last time we tested him) and a retest for Lyme as he's now 6 months out from his treatment.  And then we have the eye vet on Tuesday. He seems happy and healthly, and has lost a little bit of weight and is close to the weight I'd like him to be.  We had a nice ride today, with a cold sponge off afterwards.

In the afternoon, I was just plum tuckered out.  So Red and I had a very nice, short bareback ride.  He's just recently - as of yesterday - developed an aversion to walking through the wash stall between the barn aisle and the indoor - it's never been a problem before and perhaps he slipped going out one morning with the guys (the surface can be very slippery and it's often wet).  We worked on that yesterday and today - when things come up we just deal with them as matter of factly as we can - as I led him through, if he stopped, I didn't look back but just reached back and tapped him with my dressage whip until he started moving - I only tapped if he was stuck.  It took a while, but then we managed two walk throughs without any extra encouragement.

Then we rode.  He was outstanding - we had a very nice walk/trot ride with excellent engagement and softness.  He seems to really like being ridden bareback - perhaps he likes my lower center of gravity.  When we were done, we walked back out through the wash stall again to confirm that things were good and they were.  I told him what an excellent Red man he was.

Even though I don't feel that good, I really enjoyed my rides with my three fine horses today.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Riding the Feel

Laura asked an interesting question a while ago:

I have a two-part question for you: (maybe you have tried to explain this already and I just don't remember) could you describe what you think of when you say "you ask the horse to do what you feel"? And when you are thinking about "the feel", are you giving leg/seat/hand aids and cues?

I'll try to answer - I'm sure I've made attempts before, but it's a hard concept to communicate in words - it's really not a "words" thing . . .

Start with yourself - just yourself - no horse. Now just walk, and feel what it means to walk - where are you looking, how are your feet moving forward and back, what does this all feel like . . .

Now break into a jog - just yourself, no horse - it just happens naturally, doesn't it?  You don't think "trot", no one gives you leg or seat aids, the energy just comes up and with your thought - maybe hardly any thought at all - you're jogging.  And now come back to a walk - again there are no aids, or even really thought - you're just walking.

That's how it can be for you and your horse, and that's what riding the feel is about.

When I ask the horse to do something, I think/feel in my body how what I want would feel, and offer that feel to the horse - this is a mental thing, there are no aids involved.  I feel my own body move into the corners, and step longer or shorter, bringing the energy up or down, or change the rhythm from walk to trot to canter, or move laterally.  I offer the connection and the horse joins into that and we do things together.

Aids - leg, hand, seat - are just boundaries and come into play only if the horse needs assistance understanding what I want - more and more these aren't really necessary.

The trick, I guess, is to feel yourself doing it and have the horse take up that feel and do it as well.  With practice, it can become a pretty seamless connection . . . pure magic, but really not - just ordinary, like moving yourself from a walk to a jog.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Two Gentlemen and a Lady

My horses are really making me feel proud lately.  Pie and Red are my gentlemen and Dawn is my lady - they are mannerly, and well-behaved, and eveything else you could wish.  I can get and ride them any time of day, no matter what else is going on, and they're well-behaved and responsive.  I never have to lunge before I ride - even with Dawn, who'd been off for two weeks.  If they spook - and Pie and Red occasionally do - they immediately calm down and just go about things as if nothing had happened.  If they're in the pasture grazing, and I halter them and ask them to come with me, they come right along without protest and without diving for grass on the way.

They lead well, stay out of my space, stand still for mounting, and ground tie when asked to.  They stand still on a loose rein whenever and for as long as I want, but move off immediately in any gait I ask. If I get off them in the arena, they stand where I leave them, unless I ask them to follow me, when they do.  No matter the distractions, they just go to work, and although they may be aware of what is going on around them - particularly Red - they just keep on going and paying attention to me as well.  They ride on a loose rein and with contact, it doesn't matter.  They're just plain connected to me now, and it's wonderful.

Some recent occasions come to mind.  I started riding Dawn again at the walk two days ago, and although she hadn't been ridden in two weeks, she just went around on a loose rein with no complaints.  Then today, I decided to ride her bareback - she was lovely, although a bit bony in the back for bareback.  Red, yesterday, was a perfect horse despite a mare entering and leaving the arena repeatedly and even heading out to the pastures in his sight line - he was aware of her but perfectly behaved for me, and then he escorted her on a very lovely pasture excursion, although he hadn't been out there for weeks.  Today, Pie and I had an exceptional ride - I was working on him lifting and engaging his hind end and some of his trot work was outstanding, and his bending and stepping under himself in the corners was excellent at trot and canter - he used to be hard work to ride (my issue, not his) and now is just a delight.

I  can't even begin to say how delighted I am with all three horses - people have asked me if I have a favorite, and I have to say no - they're each just marvelous in his or her own ways.