Monday, September 30, 2013

On Hooves and the Whole Horse: Soundness, Flares, Deviations and Trimming

Very interesting post today from Rockley Farm - the barefoot rehab place in the UK whose thoughts on hooves, hoof health and trimming I very much respect.  Take a read and look at the video they have that's linked in the post - I guarantee you'll find it interesting and thought-provoking.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Getting Older, and Spiders' Webs - Sort of Off Topic, But Not Really

I've been somewhat down in the dumps lately.  I'm going to be 60 in a few months, and even if I continue to have good health, that gives me at most another 15, or at a stretch 20, good riding years, maybe a few more if I'm very lucky.  I have some physical ailments - nothing serious, just the stuff that most people my age deal with - some arthritis in various joints and a tendency to back pain that is better than it used to be - my weight is better and I'm fitter than I've been - but which still flares up from time to time.  I don't want the good times to end, but watching the decline of my parents and in-laws, and some of the friends I have at church - I have a couple of good friends there in their 80s and 90s - has been both discouraging and instructive.

And then I went for a walk this morning.  I often go for a walk before church on Sundays - I don't ride Dawn on Sunday mornings.  It was a beautiful, cool fall morning.  There was some fog and mist.  My walk takes me along a pond, with tall prairie plants and grasses on both sides of the trail.  And there were many beautiful spiders' webs - most only a few inches across and some a bit bigger.  Some spiders had been so ambitious as to throw strands all the way across the trail to anchor their webs - the trail is a good 8 feet wide - I stepped carefully over those I could see to avoid breaking them.

When I looked closely at the webs, the spiders were tiny, waiting with their legs outstretched for something to hit their webs.

All these spiders had built their webs, not overnight, but early in the morning before I walked by - none of the webs had dew on them.  So the webs they had the night before had been destroyed, perhaps by the wind and rain we had last night.  And they rebuilt them, because that's what spiders are supposed to do, and they did it well and I expect somehow that the building of the webs was satisfactory to them.

That was a deep realization for me.  It's not about permanence, or having it always turn out right - it's about doing it for the sake of the thing done, over and over and over again until the doing is completed and the race is run and the task completed.  So I ride, almost every day, and dealing with whatever physical ailments and fears come up.  I'm a very experienced rider, but am I somewhat worried about riding on the trail - sure, I am - and by the way (contrary to what some might think) this has nothing to do with the training methods I use, it has to do with my age and my own psychology, not the competence or training of the horses I ride.  Pie still has a big spook in there, in very specific circumstances - he's not spooky by disposition - either due to eyesight issues or whatever, and at my age I'm no longer certain that I can ride through everything he can do - although I most likely can.  He's a very good horse and there's no bad in him at all, but any horse can spook or something can go wrong - as my friend had happen to her yesterday.  And I hate trailering - it makes me very nervous - although I've done a lot of it, including 1,000-mile runs to and from Colorado - I find the responsibility of having a live load incredibly nerve-wracking.

My friend's accident yesterday also brought fully to mind what I experienced in 2011 from my own accident, although fortunately she wasn't as seriously injured as I was.

Do my fears that mean that I won't go on the trail, or won't trailer? - no, not at all.  I believe that like the spiders, it's our job to remake each day anew - it doesn't happen on its own.  I have three fine horses, and I expect to keep being with them, and riding them (or horses I may have in the future although these three may turn out to be my last horses) every day as we are able, for as long as I can - I hope into my 80s or even 90s.  But those years are not so far away as they once were.  I hope, as I age and my physical abilities decline - there is no fountain of youth despite what some may think - that I will find a way for horses to always be in my life - I expect I will as they have been an essential part of me since I was a small child.  I lost my way a bit in mid-life, but now that the horses are back in my life I don't want them to ever leave again.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Glad I Was There . . .

I was at the barn early this morning to ride Dawn before the farrier came for our trims.  Dawn was excellent - lots of nice canter work and also some really lovely collected trot work where, instead of my doing things to have her become soft, instead I just waited for her and she did it all by herself - much more satisfactory.

One of our boarders - a woman who is a very experienced rider with a nice, steady horse - also uses the same farrier, and had gone for a trail ride before he was due.  While she was gone, I went out into the far pasture to collect the boys - they came with me although they were a bit reluctant at the start.  As we topped the rise about 200 yards from the barn, I had a view of the adjacent pasture, which is the route to the trails.  Over near the mounting block near the trail gate, there was a blue blob on the ground - I couldn't really see what it was at that distance.  Pie and Red and I kept walking, and as we got closer, I thought "that looks like C's jacket" - C was the one who'd gone on a trail ride.  Just then, her horse came thundering by in the adjacent pasture, dressed in bridle and saddle but sans C - uh oh.

Pie and Red and I made it to the barn, I stuffed them in a pen, and went to check on C - it was now clear that the motionless blue blob was her.  By the time I was out in the pasture, she had sat and then stood up and was slowly walking back to the barn.  I met her and helped her come in.  She was pretty woozy and disoriented - she'd clearly been knocked out as the blue blob had been motionless for some time.  She didn't know what day it was, and couldn't remember what had happened.  The left side of her face and body was dirty - that's where she'd fallen.  And no, she wasn't wearing a helmet . . . my helmet police mode is on hold for the moment but will be back in action later . . .

I got her into the barn, and sat her on the mounting block.  The other boarder who was there called the barn owner and also an ambulance - C was in a lot of pain and having some difficulty breathing, and felt as if she was going to faint.  The ambulance came quickly and she went to the hospital - fortunately she's going to be fine - a concussion although not a terrible one, and no broken ribs or collarbone but a broken scapular - the big shoulder bone lying along our backs.  She was able to go home and I talked to her by phone this evening - I'll be checking on her horse and picking his feet until she's able to.

After she left for the hospital, I retrieved her horse from the pasture - he was fine and hadn't even broken his reins, which was fortunate.  Then we had our farrier appointment - 6 horses total but it didn't take too long - all 6 are barefoot.  All horses were very, very good for the farrier and Red gets a gold star for perfect behavior - he's come a very long way.

It's not at all clear what happened - her horse is very calm and she was actually back inside the pastures and not outside on the way to the trail when she fell - fortunately.  Her horse may have been spooked by something or stung - we may never know - but she's a very competent rider so it's odd that she came off.  We just don't know.  I'm just glad she wasn't hurt any worse, that her horse is OK and that I was there to help.  It just proves that you never know what may happen when you're riding, no matter how good a rider you are or how calm your horse is. Wear that helmet every single time, no excuses.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Odd Thing . . .

When I first got Red, he had a huge brace built in.  Any time you asked him to do something new, or he was worried or stressed, the brace showed up.  Its usual form was that he would raise his head, inverting his body, and bend to the right - unless you did something to change things, it was like having concrete in your hands and his body would be stiff as well. There was often a brace against moving forward as well - a balk - although the brace could show up when he was moving forwards as well.

One of the reasons he stayed up with my trainer Heather for 90 days was how imbedded this brace was.  Every time he was asked to do something new - even if the brace had been absent in the recent work - the brace would show up again and would have to be worked through.  Red's pretty much past that now, although if he's really worried it can show up momentarily.

The one place where the brace has been more persistent is, oddly, in the first walk/trot transition - all walk/trot transitions after the first one are just fine even if the first one is braced/balked.  It's almost like a bad habit.  If there's any tension at all in my ask, I get the brace/balk, or else he bursts through that directly into canter - it's like there's a barrier there.

I'm pretty certain that it's a learned pattern of behavior, but that doesn't really matter.  I'm part of the problem - the natural reaction to a balk is to push, which just is a counterbrace, which intensifies his brace/balk in response.  I have to have him soft and relaxed and just think/lead him into trot for it to work.

The past few days Red and I have been riding bareback at the walk, since he's lame.  He insists on this - he's not content to just hang out in his stall like most horses would be.  Since he's sound at the walk and seems happy about it, I oblige him.  Most rides, we take a few steps of trot - it seemed a bit better today, but I'll put him on the lunge Thursday to see if it's really better.  Now the odd thing is that, when I'm riding bareback, the walk/trot transition just flows - no balk, no brace, even though he's probably a bit sore.  It's clear I'm doing something differently when riding bareback than when I'm riding in a saddle.

I think it's a combination of my posture and my legs.  My posture riding bareback is inherently better than when I'm in a saddle - I really can't lead forward when bareback - so the front end is freer.  I can have better posture in the saddle and I've been working a lot on that.  And I rarely use any leg when riding bareback - my lower leg swings freely while my upper leg is in contact with the horse.  I think Red reads lower leg cues as braces and braces against them, and this is partly where the problem is coming from.

Three days in a row we've had absolutely flawless first walk/trot transitions bareback.  Now I have to duplicate that in the saddle once we're ready to do more trot work.  Funny how it's almost always what we do that creates a problem, isn't it?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Red is Lame (Again)

Red incurred a fairly serious injury to his hindquarters - a torn muscle and strained Achilles tendon - last year in June.  In the past week, he's come up lame again - he's happy to trot on the lunge but pretty gimpy - I'd grade him at least a 2 out of 5 lame, maybe even a 3.  There's a contusion low on the outside of his left hind, with some hard enlargement, but increasingly I think that this isn't the problem and that he may have aggravated his injury from last year - these things are prone to reinjury.  There's no significant swelling around the left hock as there was last time, but he's been asking for a butt and left hindquarters massage every time I groom him for over a week now - something's up.  Tonight I put him on the lunge (very briefly) and he's certainly lame, although not at all reluctant to trot.  Since he insisted, we rode bareback at the walk, with lots of nice figures and some lateral work.  He was happy with this, and went back to eating his hay (instead of banging on his door or nickering to come out), while I slathered on some Sore-no-more gel in all the possible sore places.  He seemed to enjoy this, so it must have felt good.  One day at a time . . .

Bummer . . . but at least I have two other fine horses to ride in the meantime.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pie Herds Geese and Red Insists

It was a beautiful day today, so, although I don't usually ride on Sundays, I did ride today.  I was all by myself at the barn, which suited me just fine - no bozos to be seen (see last post if you don't know what I'm talking about).

Pie and I had a lovely, relaxing, walking pasture ride.  The front pasture had a flock of about 75 geese, picking grass blades.  Pie and I thought that was a great opportunity to practice our herding work - Pie's done some cattle work and I think he misses it.  Our goal was to herd the geese where we wanted them to go, but without spooking them and causing them to take flight.  Mission accomplished, and we had a lot of fun doing it.  We herded them along, then split the "herd" to left and right and drove one group up the hill until they were strung out in a line, then collected them and drove them back down the hill again to join their fellows.  Then we pushed the entire "herd" across the ditch to the other side.

After our herding, we continued our pasture ride for quite a while, including going very far back in one of the pastures - about a half mile or so from the barn.  Pie was great, and it was fun to be out enjoying the good weather.

Before I got Pie ready, I'd groomed Red.  Red was somewhat fretful, which is unusual when I'm grooming.  He'd had a minor injury to his left hind last week - it looked like he may have been kicked across the cannon bone and splint bone about half way between the knee and fetlock - there is a hard, lumpy swelling, but no heat or sensitivity or fluid.  I don't think he has a splint fracture, but he's clearly got some bruising. I haven't ridden him in several days as he was gimpy at the trot on the lunge - I'd have rated him a 2 out of 5 lame.  While I'd been tacking Pie, Red was very active - pacing in his stall and nickering to us.  When I brought Pie back, Red made it clear he wanted more attention.  I think he was saying "ride me too".  So I brought out his bridle and we rode bareback for a little bit.  We mostly walked, but he was happy to trot when I asked so I think he's feeling better - we've been doing bute for a few days.  I didn't ask him to trot for more than a few steps - I want to see what he looks like on the lunge before I do.  He was soft and relaxed and very happy with our ride, and when I put him back in his stall, he settled down to eating his hay.

It was a beautiful day with horses - I love the fall with its lovely riding weather.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Bozo Quotient

I sometimes tell our barn owner (sort of as a joke but really not) that when a boarder leaves and she's looking to fill a stall, that she should look for a boarder who will reduce, not increase, what I fondly call the "bozo quotient".  The bozo quotient is the ratio of bozos to non-bozo boarders.  Bozos include those who don't care about the welfare of their horses - never visit or take care of them, or do things that aren't in the horse's best interests - like ride them very hard for two hours once a week and not at all the rest of the time.  Bozos also include those whose regard for the safety of their horses, themselves and other boarders and their horses is minimal.  I try not to ride when those people are riding and I'd never go on the trail with them - they're the type who will gallop off without warning, or gallop up to and past you on the trail.  I've actually had one of them run into me and Red while we were riding in the indoor. They tend to be rough and ready riders - lots of air between their rumps and their saddles as they're galloping around - with limited control of their horses.

Today Pie and I experienced bozodom.  Two women who were more than old enough to know better - I know plenty of teenagers who aren't bozos - were riding along with two male relatives.  The women have absolutely no sense and their horses are tense and worried, for good reason.  The male relatives, who didn't know the first thing about riding, including basics such as steering and how to stop and start the horse, were "riding" the women's two horses, who deserved better but were trying very hard.  One guy's idea of how to get the horse going was to kick, heave himself up and down and flap the reins (pulling on the horse's mouth in the process).  No helmets on any of them, male or female.

Pie was very alarmed by this - he's got very good sense.  He knew those folks were bad news.  We rode a bit and then called it quits before the bozo women and their bozo male friends caused us a problem.  Good, smart, Pie.   After we left the arena, they closed all the arena doors and one of the women was going in there with a lunge whip - apparently to chase the horses (with bozo men aboard) so they would gallop around the ring.  I didn't look.  As I was leaving, I told the other boarder who was there - a fairly inexperienced horse owner about my age - she said "I don't know that much but I know what they're doing is reckless and I shouldn't ride while they're here" - to call 911 if anything bad happened.

Even Pie is smart enough to recognize a bozo when he sees one - any bozos at your barn?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fuzzy Lil

Many of you probably follow the Paradigm Farms blog, but for those of you who don't, here's an amusing update on the furry Lil - and if you scroll down there are bonus photos of Maisie and Norman-the-pony.

It always makes me feel good to see the great care they're getting.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Red is Still Worried

I rode both Red and Pie today.  Pie didn't get a ride yesterday, so he was up first.  We had a really excellent ride in the indoor, with lots of forward, soft trot and also some really excellent canter work - he's come a long way.

Red was still somewhat "jangly" after yesterday - he's a very sensitive, high strung horse.  We ended up having a good ride, but he started out very braced and head high - this is his "I'm worried" default behavior - it doesn't show up that often but when it does it's pretty noticeable.  We kept working at the walk, with some backing thrown in - it took a while - for him to relax just a bit and offer me some softness rather than bracing through his head and neck.

When I first asked for trot, everything fell apart again and we got the balk/brace.  I went immediately to a secondary cue - tap with dressage whip - and got an ugly walk/trot transition.  We kept working on it - the key was to have him soft, sometimes through backing, before the walk/trot transition - don't make the transition if the softness isn't there, no matter how long it takes.

This bracing behavior indicates the degree of his worry over the Mikey incident.  As with yesterday, we worked through it and he was able to find a place with good softness at walk and trot.  Every day, I expect he'll be feeling a bit better and be able to find the softness faster.  Poor Red - he takes things like this very hard.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Sky Weeps for Mikey

Today it rained hard almost all day, with temperatures in the upper 50s.  The horses were out for quite a while, but the mares got cold (even Dawn, who was wearing her rain sheet, was chilled and shaking) from the soaking rain, and the barn owner brought them in before 11 a.m.  At noon, she started bringing the geldings in too.

The gelding herd - Pie and Red are in this herd - is by and large a young, active herd of horses - there is lots of running and playing.   They were milling around near the gate, with some running and sliding in the mud.  The barn owner was out with them, and somehow in the commotion a gelding named Mikey fractured his right front leg - I don't know if it was an accidental kick from all the high spirits, or if he slipped and twisted his leg or if another horse ran into him.  Mikey was 22, although he looked much older than that - he wasn't that sound, no one ever rode him and I'd have guessed he was closer to 30.  Mikey was a very sweet horse, and would always come up and greet me when I was out in the pasture.

Since she was there, the barn owner was able to hold him still - he was still standing - until the vet came - quickly, which was a blessing - to euthanize him.  Others brought the geldings in.  I got there after all the other horses were in and she was out there with him and the vet.  When I came to the barn, and went into the aisle where my horses were, all the horses whinnied to me and some seemed agitated - this is very unusual - usually they're quiet when I get there.  Most of the horses in our aisle are in the same gelding herd, and it was clear they all knew something was wrong.

Red was particularly upset - I think he for some reason feels responsible for all the horses in his herd - he worries about them.  His head was high, his eyes were huge and he was very tense.  I took him out of his stall and walked him around, then took him to the door of the arena, which had a good view of the pasture where Mikey was lying near the barn.  He looked and looked, and snorted and snorted, but he didn't try to leave - he wanted to see and I think it made a difference to him.  I comforted him and told him he didn't have to worry, that Mikey was OK now.

I don't usually ride on Sundays, but today, after I groomed and hoof picked all three horses, Red and I rode.  I figured moving out would help him let go of tension and feel better, and I know it helped me.  It took a while for him to relax, but we ended with some lovely stretching down forward trot work, and he seemed much more content when I put him back in his stall.  I felt in some way that we were honoring Mikey with our ride.

Cherish your horses - you never know how long they will be with you.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Which One is Best?

People sometimes ask me which of my horses I like best.  I always tell them I don't have a favorite, and it's still true and maybe even more so than it's been.  I've had three really outstanding rides on my three over the past three days, and they were each so excellent in their own way - when I debate in my mind which horse I like to ride the most, there's no answer, since they're all so excellent.

A couple of days ago, my back was sore (too much poop shoveling, I guess), so I only rode Pie and we only rode at the walk - letting my back move with him at the walk helped ease the soreness.  We were by ourselves, and walked all around a couple of the big pastures.  He walked along on a loose rein, went where ever I wanted with no effort at all on my part, and was relaxed and forward at the same time.  We went all over, and went way back in one of the pastures well out of sight of the barn.  He called once, but just kept right on motoring.  It was very nice and very, very relaxing.  We stopped for our usual drink at the water tank, and he did his charming "big drink - tongue sucking - big drink" thing - it always delights me.

Yesterday, Red and I had a fantastic ride.  We started in the indoor and did a lot of very nice trot and canter work, and then went outside.  We walked all around the big pasture by ourselves - there was a lot of noise and machinery for the road work on the adjacent highway but he was relaxed and happy.  At the top of the hill a hundred yards or so from the barn, we did a bunch of very nice trot sets with lots of figures and some straight line more forward trot - he was completely soft and very responsive while also very forward - a lovely combination.  Then we motored on a loose rein back to the indoor and did a bit more trot and canter work.  It was just delightful.

This morning, Dawn and I had an excellent ride too.  It had gotten much cooler overnight - I think the low was near 40F.  Dawn was very happy with the temperature, and was quite forward but very responsive.  We worked in all three gaits, and she was such a pleasure to ride - very soft and using herself nicely from behind.  We finished with some short/long trot work, and she gave me some very energetic collected trot with a slow cadence but great power - another delightful ride.

Who can say which one is best - I certainly can't!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Hard/Easy, Boundaries/Softness

This is a follow-on post to my post on Making the Right Thing Easier, and it's been incubating for a while, since these concepts are much easier to do, and to feel, than to talk about in words.  But I'll give it a try . . . let me know if it makes sense and if there are any questions.

Some more thoughts on the make the wrong thing hard/right thing easy concept: there is an aspect of it that makes sense to me - and I think this may be what the masters who spoke some of those things may have meant - I don't know for sure.  And this relates to my own concepts of helping the horse find the soft spot that you continuously offer.

I think a better way of thinking of it - for us regular horse owners where the specific words may make a big difference - is, instead of "make the wrong thing hard" - substitute "give the horse boundaries", and instead of "make the right thing easy" - substitute "reliably give the horse a soft spot to find".  Come to think of it, these concepts really relate as much to dealing with people as dealing with horses . . .

I've said this before, but it bears saying again - helping the horse find the right thing by making it easier has nothing to so with being a pushover, letting a horse walk all over you on the ground, being "nice" (one lady at my barn told me "I've tried being nice to my horse and it didn't work" - well, no wonder . . .), kissing your horse on the nose or feeding them lots of treats (with the exception of carefully done clicker work).  I think making the right thing easier is all about setting boundaries and limits - this is what active direction is all about - and then giving the horse the freedom to find the boundaries that define where the softness can be found, having the horse - not you, the horse - control the amount of pressure as a result, and then choosing to be with you in that soft place where the pressure is zero and there is lots of relaxation and praise.  It really isn't at all about putting pressure on the horse - horses are pretty good at that themselves.

It's all about setting it up so the horse can be successful and then praising and rewarding the horse for getting there, and giving the horse the gift of the softness they can find together with you.  Security for the horse comes from knowing there is a reliable, consistent soft place you are providing that they know how to find - that soft place is defined by the boundaries you set.  A horse without boundaries is an unhappy horse.  Boundaries, and the corresponding soft place, are what build self-confidence and trust in horses.  Boundaries, and the soft spot, are about consistency and fairness.  Boundaries softly guide the horse to the soft spot where they can be with you in connection.

A word on pressure - I think it needs to be variable, not rigid - the farther the horse is from the soft spot, the greater the pressure, and the closer, the less the pressure, and it needs to be something the horse creates, and therefore can remove, on its own - not something we apply to, or do to, the horse.  We set up the conditions, and the horse has to explore those boundaries until it can reliably find the soft place we are offering. Pressure also has to be directive, and not a brace that creates a counterbrace in the horse - that's the definition of rigid, and that's not a boundary, it's a blockade or a coercion.

A couple of examples that may help explain what I'm trying to say.

First, leading, and ground manners - they're closely related.  There are many, many horses with poor ground manners and that don't lead well.  This is all about boundaries - if you don't define your boundaries, how is the horse supposed to know what to do?  For me, leading and ground manners are fundamental - and it's not about "respect" or "dominance/alpha", it's about the human defining the boundaries that the horse can have confidence in and relax into.  Horses without boundaries - that don't know where the boundaries are from moment to moment - are unhappy horses.  Take a look at the sidebars for some leading exercises that can help the human half of the partnership live up to his/her responsibilities to the horse.

Second, softness in ridden work through the jaw, head, neck and body, with a relaxed top line and engaged core.  Softness is many things - it's about vertical and lateral flexion (but please, no chin to chest or head to knee flexions - I believe those to be very counterproductive in producing overall softness as they disconnect the head from the rest of the horse's body), it's about forward and engagement from behind, it's about bend, it's about listening to one another and wanting to be together in the soft spot - once the horse starts to find the soft spot you're offering - if you can be consistent about it - the horse will always want to return to that spot and you can reliably go there together for relaxation and connection.

I don't know that any of this makes any sense to you - it might not have for me several years ago . . .

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pony Power!

Here's a great photo of our pony Norman (in the middle) hanging out at feeding time down at Paradigm  Farms in Tennessee with a couple of pony friends - it's great to see him looking so relaxed and well cared for: