Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Saddle Fitting

Pie, Dawn, Drift and I had a visit from a Master Saddler today - he's a real English Master Saddler, trained according to their rules - apprenticeship and numerous tests are part of this - and certified as such - he worked for many years in England before coming to the States and even worked on the bridles that were part of the harness of the horses that pulled the carriage at the recent royal wedding.

His visit was to evaluate my horses so that we can have my Kieffer dressage saddle reflocked - it's at least 15 years old (it came with Noble when I got him back in 1997), and the flocking is compacted, particularly in the front along the gullet and in the back panels.  The goal is for it to fit Drift - the tree is just right for him and with the reflocking the saddle should sit just perfectly on him.  Pie is a bit narrower in the withers/shoulder area than Drift, and Dawn has narrower withers and is also built a bit downhill, so they will likely still need shims (I use a Mattes correction pad).  I'm also planning to get a custom trail saddle for Pie once he's back in work and muscled up - I think he may have finally stopped growing and has probably filled in about as much as he's going to.  Here's the saddle - it's the Lech Profi Professional model, and is a really nice saddle that is very comfortable for me - in this picture, it's on Dawn without any shim pads, so it's sitting somewhat low in the front:


With each horse, the saddler used a flexible jointed stick to do a tracing of the top line, with regular intervals marked off - he used a washable marker to mark the intervals right on the horse.  Then separate tracings were taken for each horse at each interval.  Here are the results - you can see how differently shaped the three horses are.

First, here are Dawn's tracings (she's about 15.1 hands and is a TB) - she has high, although not narrow, withers, and isn't that broad, and her top line - the last tracing at the bottom - rises towards her hindquarters - hence she's downhill:


Here is Pie - he's about 15.3 hands and is a QH - he's got some withers, is a bit narrow through the shoulder and is fairly broad behind, with a nice, level back:


And here's Drift - he's a QH, and although he's only about 14.3 hands, he's quite broad through his whole body and also has a nice level back:


All three horses - even Drift - were perfect for the saddler, standing still and being completely cooperative - he complemented me on their excellent manners (apparently many of the horses he sees don't have good manners).  I had taken the precaution of riding Drift before the appointment and giving him a good workout, which I think helped, but I was very proud of him for not fidgeting.  Dawn and Pie are mostly pretty good for things like this, and lived up to their reputations (Pie made a couple of "Pie faces" at the unusual goings on).

I'll be dropping my saddle off on Friday and it'll be ready by Sunday, all refurbished - the all in cost of $375 for the fitting and reflocking is a lot less than the cost of a new saddle.  The horses and I should be happy with the results.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pie Passes a Test and Escapees

Today it's supposed to get pretty hot - almost 90F, which is a big change after all the cool, wet weather we've been having.  I rode Pie early this morning, but it was already warm and humid - almost exactly the same weather conditions when he tied up after our easy trail ride almost 3 weeks ago.  We rode almost the same trail - it has some slight inclines but no hills.  Pie strode out happily - we were out about 30 minutes - and had no problem with the ride at all - his muscles were the right texture and he didn't even break a sweat.  If he continues to do well, we'll add a little trotting to our rides at the end of this week.

An interesting thing has been happening on my trail rides with Pie - we just started going out two days ago.  There are many shrubby willows by the trails, and Pie stops and asks if he can browse them - he's never shown any interest in them before, and they're the only trees or shrubs he's interested in.  He picks off the ends of small branches and eats the whole thing - leaves and stems. I can only suspect that somehow he knows that there's something in the leaves and bark that will help his body heal.

I rode Drift again this morning.  I've given him the nickname "The Screamer" for his behavior when the mares are in heat, although I've got a no-tolerance policy at this point for screaming when I'm leading or when he's on the cross ties, and he rarely screams now when I'm riding.  He's still pretty distracted by the mares, so we did a bunch of leading work in the parking lot to start.  I'm absolutely strict about the distance he maintains from me, that he stay behind me and that he instantly move out of my space if I move towards him.  His behavior on the cross ties was a bit better, and I insisted that he not paw or call.  With some horses, I might ignore this sort of behavior, but not with him - he needs clear rules and boundaries. When we got to the arena, we worked some more on leading.  All of a sudden, there was a lot of galloping in the pastures.  He wanted to be distracted, but we just kept on working.  He was able to lead as I wanted (I did have to get pretty big with him on a couple of occasions) despite the distractions - it was hard for him but he did it - and galloping horses is a pretty big distraction.

Once I got the leading I wanted, I mounted up.  After about 15 minutes of good walk work, he was starting to settle and relax, when all of a sudden I heard galloping again - the geldings had gotten out of their pasture (I thought I had closed the gate when I brought Drift in - but who knows whether it was me or a prehensile horse mouth that opened the gate) and were racing up and down the aisle next to the mares' pasture and Pie's and Charisma's paddocks.  I jumped off and put Drift in his stall and went to retrieve the escapees, who at that point were mostly hanging around next to Pie - Scout, who misses him a lot, was grooming him over the fence.  Once the escapees were back in their pasture, I went back and untacked Drift - that was enough excitement for anyone (or any horse) for one day, and he'd been very good considering all the distractions - and we did some more leading work until he was properly "with" me and then I let him back out.  Trot work can just wait until another day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Foggy Morning Ride and Great Ball(less) of Fire

We're supposed to get big severe thunderstorms starting around noon, so I decided to try to get some rides in.  Pie was up first, and we went on our first real trail ride since his tying up episode more than two weeks ago.  It was very foggy, and cool, and still - just lovely.  Pie seemed to really enjoy his outing - we walked for about 30 minutes - he stepped out nicely, was interested in everything, got to greet a small child - one of his favorite things - and was calm and happy.

Then I got Drift out.  It was immediately clear that he was nervy and distracted - several of the mares are in raging heat, including Dawn, his special girlfriend.  We needed to do a leading practice session in the parking lot first to remind him of his ground manners.  Then I saddled up - he was very fidgety in the cross ties.  We did more leading work, both in the parking lot and the arena.  He was still very up and distracted, but (mostly) paying attention to me by the end of our leading work, although it took a while to get to that point.  He was distracted while I was mounting, which made standing still difficult for him.  Once I managed to get on, we did some figure work at the walk.  After a while, he was able to do what I asked and (mostly) pay attention.  That was it for the day - we could have done some trot work, but he wasn't relaxed enough yet at the walk for my taste - at least we ended up much better than we started and I was pleased that we were able to achieve that much.

Dawn's in raging heat so I let her be - I'm getting over some sort of little virus and was pretty tired by that point.

Tomorrow is supposed to be very hot - 90F with a higher heat index - so don't know how much riding will get done - early morning will be the only possibility.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Back at Work

Today was the first nice weather day we've had in a while - although it was still chilly and windy.  Pie and I took two hand walks, one in the morning and one in the afternoon - he was very good for both, including when all the horses in the pastures came stampeding up and then stampeded away.  I also rode him for about 15 minutes in the arena at the walk.  He was fairly up, and decided to spook and throw a small buck when a group of children came running by.  Tomorrow he'll get to go out in the morning for a bit in the (almost dry lot) Drift paddock, and I'll increase his time every day.  I've also started bringing my horses - Dawn and Drift - in early, at about 2 p.m. to avoid the highest sugars in our very lush, profuse grass - they've both looking over-stuffed in the evenings.

I worked on my "prescriptions" from the clinic with both Drift and Dawn. Dawn and I had a nice ride, despite her being in raging (lean on the fence and try to knock it down) heat.  We worked a lot at the trot, focussing on consistency of softening and shortening and lengthening at the trot.  Drift and I also did a lot of trot work, and although he offered to canter a couple of times, he was able to come back and continue trotting, and by the end of our session his trot was pretty nice.

It was a very good day with horses.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

2011 Mark Rashid Clinic - Day Three, Drift

On day three, Drift and I were outside again - I'd had only an hour break between my ride on Dawn and my ride on Drift, and I'd eaten some yoghurt and fruit and been sure to drink a lot of water before I got him ready.  We started out working on confirming our mounting work - it didn't take any time at all to have him standing nicely on a loose rein as long as I liked as I mounted and until I asked him to move off.

Then we did more walk and trot work on softening, pace regulation and transitions.  He was doing a bit of his head popping up in downwards walk/halt transitions - Mark just had me not release and ask to soften - initially he would brace and keep moving his feet backwards, but pretty soon he figured out he could just soften his head instead of moving his feet.

He was able to do walk/trot transitions pretty nicely and consistently without trying to leap into the canter - he did a few but was able to come right back to trot and keep going, and pretty soon he was just trotting when I asked.  Now that he's breathing better, he can handle the trot work better, even though he was tired on day three. He's still learning to do a bigger, more open trot but Mark said that'll come along with time and miles.

Mark said he was doing very, very well - he has come an enormous way in a very short time and we're very much on the right track - his softening work and backing are already working really well and he's very athletic and well-built - this is really promising for the future.  Mark said not to worry too much about the rough edges at this point in his training.  I explained that his foot handling had gone from terrible to pretty good but not perfect for the farrier yet, and his trailer loading had gone from 30 minutes to a minute or so but not perfect yet, but Mark said not to worry about any of that, as it would all come together pretty much on its own as his training and confidence/trust progressed - work on it as we could but don't obsess about any of it.  Our main assignment at this point is to continue doing lots of trotting and cantering  - just allow him to move and don't worry too much about the details while continuing to work on his softening and transitions.  He's not a very confident horse and really benefits from leadership and direction - this builds his trust since he knows I'll be there to help him out.

During our session, from time to time Dawn would call to Drift and he would answer, or he would call to her.  Mark said that trailering any distance is hard mentally on horses - a horse can travel on the ground 15 miles in a day, but the horse will see every object in that distance and determine if it is safe - putting the horse in a trailer, particularly for a multi-hour trip, means covering many days' distances (in horse terms) and that can be very disorienting to the horse - sort of the horse version of jet lag.  It's no wonder they're stressed by it.  Horses will often, when turned out in a paddock, orient their bodies to face their home.  And when a horse calls to a buddy in a strange place - like Drift calling to Dawn - that's orienting to a familiar horse - listening so he knows where she is - she's part of home.   Despite his calling, Drift was very good and still able to listen to me and work - very impressive for a horse at his stage of training.  Mark said his interest in mares wasn't excessive and wasn't going to be a problem - he was able to concentrate and focus well.

Mark said that Drift is a really nice horse as evidenced by how much progress he's already made in the short time I've had him and considering where he started - he has a good mind and Mark said he may end up being your number one go-to horse once he's trained up (I told Mark he hadn't seen the one I'd left at home - Pie - although it looks like Drift's going to be pretty good too) - he really has try and wants to do what you ask when he understands it.  Mark said he's likely to be a pretty nice trail horse too - although he was very worried and spooky when I got him, he did very well at the clinic with all the noises and sights and Mark confirmed that having him on a magnesium oxide supplement was a good idea.  Now that some of the worries have been resolved for him and he's able to breathe, it's just a matter of time and miles - there's really nothing wrong at all and the little things will fall into place over time.  Just let him move a lot at trot and canter - don't worry too much about the details as he learns to carry himself - a lot of the "gumbiness" - wiggling around and tendency to overflex vertically and laterally will just go away on its own - he's basically a green/baby horse in his response although due to his age he should come along very nicely.

I must say I was delighted that Mark liked Drift so much and thought he had such potential - that's what I was hoping for when I got him but you never know and our first several weeks together were pretty challenging.  I think Drift's everything I thought he would be, and miles and time will do the trick.

I can't say how delighted I was with my clinic experience with both horses - it was an amazing opportunity for all of us and our path forward is now clear to me.  Riding with Mark is such an empowering experience and both horses and I really benefitted.

March In May, Pie Ride, Book on Massage and Sugars in Grasses

This post has miscellaneous subjects - our miserable weather, finally a Pie ride, a new book (to me) on equine massage, and sugars in pasture grasses.

Today, after the several inches of rain we had yesterday and last night, the wind is howling, temperatures are in the mid 40sF with wind chills in the 30s and it's still drizzling and raining on and off, and temperatures are supposed to fall into the 30s tonight.  The horses are out in either their winter blankets - no one has any winter coat left - or rain sheets with polar fleece coolers underneath.  There is standing water everywhere and the arena is a swamp.  No riding for Drift and Dawn today - this will be their third day off, which I'm sure they're enjoying but I'd like to get back to work.

But I did get to ride my sweet good Pie yesterday.  In the morning while he was inside, I hand walked him for about 10 minutes in the barn aisle - the different surfaces, including the concrete barn aisle, are good for his feet right now.  He's walking very well and moving around his paddock during turnout, including doing some trotting and cantering.  In the afternoon, after the rain let up, I saddled him up and we rode for about 15 minutes at the walk, up and down various trail segments close to the barn, including one with a slight incline.  He's moving very nicely and his back had lots of swing.  He was very alert and clearly brimming with energy, but never once shook his head or attempted to jig.  Don't know if we'll get in a ride today considering the weather, but it was sure good to be back on him again after two weeks.

My excellent vet/chiropractor recommended a book to me - it was originally published in 1985 - Beating Muscle Injuries For Horses, by Jack Meagher, who worked for the U.S. Three Day Event Team and U.S. Driving Event Team at the Olympics and World Championships.  The book is about using deep massage - sports therapy - to prevent and help heal muscle strains and injuries in horses.  It has numerous good, clear explanations and drawings and looks like it's going to be a very useful book.  The book is also spiral bound, which means you can lay it flat if you're using it in the barn.  The main focus is preventative - to notice the beginnings of a strain - tightness and soreness - and try to improve things before they get worse.  I enjoy using my hands on my horses, and they seem to enjoy it as well, and this book should help me do a better job.

One of our local horse rescues (Hooved Animal Rescue and Protection Society - beware of graphic photos on their home page) has a printed newsletter, and the most recent issue had an interesting article on sugars in pasture grasses.  It doesn't seem to have an electronic version, so I can't link to it, but the author was Heather Smith Thomas.  The point of the article is the variability of sugars in pasture grasses, depending on the climate, the type of grass (cool season grasses tend to have more sugars than warm season grasses), and the immediate weather (rainfall, temperature and sun/shade) conditions.  Basically, pasture grass metabolism involves the creation of sugars during the day, which are then used during the night to fuel growth of the grass.  The result of this is that typically, grasses are lowest in sugars in the early morning and highest in sugars in the late afternoon, and a sunny day amplifies this effect.  Under conditions of stress - a cool night, frost, excessive heat or drought, for example, which can slow grass growth during the night - grasses can also be high in sugars in the morning.

There is a wide spectrum of tolerance to sugars in pasture grasses in horses - some horses cannot have any grass without experiencing effects (and these effects, including heat in the feet and/or stronger digital pulses, often show up first in the rear feet), and others can be out on rich pastures with no adverse effects, and everywhere in between.  For example, Maisie had bad reactions to our cool-season grasses in  two successive years, but now that she's in Tennessee and grazing mostly warm-season grasses, she's doing fine.  Pie had an adverse reaction this year but may be able to do some grazing later in the year when the cool season grasses are not so vigorous.  Charisma, who is a Morgan and is insulin resistant, can have no grass - not even hand grazing.  In our climate, spring and fall are the most dangerous times for sensitive horses.  If you're interested in reading more on this topic, visit safergrass.org.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

2011 Mark Rashid Clinic - Day Three, Dawn

When Dawn and I came out on day three, we first worked on fixing our mounting, using the same techniques as with Drift - it only took a few minutes and she was standing on a loose rein for me to get on, and Mark just watched - this often happens on day three if things are going well and is also the way things often go at the week-longs in Colorado - he leaves you to do your work and only comments as needed or if you ask for help.

Then Dawn and I worked on confirming our softening at walk and trot and worked on transitions.  We just worked, and Mark said it all looked really nice.  She was a little bit less consistent with her head position at the trot at the start - Mark said that, although her energy level was still pretty high (a mental/emotional thing - as I told Mark, Dawn is a horse that always moves at a canter or gallop, even in the pasture - she's a high energy girl),  she was pretty tired physically from having to use herself differently - this is common on the third day of the clinic.  He said that after about 20 minutes of trot work (with some walk breaks), the lactic acid in her muscles should flush out and she would be more comfortable and consistent with her softening, and this was in fact what happened.  We also did some work on her stretching down at the walk and trot, with my gently combing the reins with my fingers to ask her to stretch.

Then we did more lateral work.  I was using just the thought of leg and then, in order to avoid losing the front end when the hind end moved over, Mark had me work on creating an opening for her to move into - not blocking the motion - and on doing the lateral work "with" her instead of it being something I was asking her to do.  First I did this with a bit of opening rein and then I started stepping in my own mind (no physical cue) with my inside leg in that direction I wanted her to move.  This worked really well - her trot slowed down, became more rhythmical and she stepped over evenly in front and back.  Then we did the same thing in the other direction without much difficulty.  Mark said that converting her work at home from leg-yield (bent away from direction of travel) to half-pass (bent in direction of travel) would be easy now that I was creating an opening for her to move into.

Then we tried a bit of canter work - Dawn and I have done very little of this as we've been working on her walk and trot work, softening and helping her to relax.  She tends to get very rushy in the canter, and has a history of bolting and bucking (and I mean rodeo-quality bucks) when she gets excited.  To be fair, Dawn's never, ever done any of these things under saddle since I've been working with her, although she's done them plenty of times in the past with my younger daughter.  (Mark said that at prior clinics Dawn has attended that Dawn's name should have been "Wyoming" since that's where she'd end up if you didn't pay close attention.) I freely confess that cantering her, particularly in a big open space, made me nervous.  We did some canter circles to the left, and Mark had me try to let her go so she could move forward - not holding her with the reins but just maintaining a soft contact - this was the same thing we'd worked on at the trot but it was hard for me.  The footing was pretty deep from the heavy rains the night before, and her canter was a bit "plungey" - lots of up and down.  After a walk break, we tried a canter to the right - this is her harder direction - she was pretty revved up by this point and it felt to me after a few strides like she was seriously considering taking off, and I didn't feel at all comfortable letting her move out so I was holding on to her face, so I pulled her up after a partial circle.  So we could end on a good note, we went back to trot and did some very nice, soft, forward trot work in both directions.

As those of you who've been following this blog for a while know, Dawn and I have had a long journey together - she's not a horse I would have chosen to have (she was my younger daughter's "soul" horse and my daughter now lives out of state), although I now love her dearly and we're building a strong connection, and she is a very challenging horse to work with, both in terms of her mind and emotions and her reactivity coupled with her athleticism - she has taken me to the limits of my confidence and abilities and challenged me to grow and learn.  In fact, if I hadn't done the work with Dawn that we've done over the past two years, I would never have been able to take on Drift - she gave me that confidence. But I was not ready to canter her at length in this setting - Mark said I didn't trust her enough yet to provide her the support and confidence she needed in the canter and was holding on to her, which upset her and made her rush more, and that she therefore didn't trust me in the canter - but that we would get there in time.  He said that she'd made enormous progress in her work since the last time he saw her, and that her athleticism (and fire and brilliance) would allow her to do anything I wanted once we further developed our mutual trust.

He then told a story about the chestnut gelding who was one of the two horses he was riding at the clinic.  He's had the horse now for a number of years. When he first got this horse, all he did with the horse for the first 6 months was walk it - things didn't feel right yet to trot.  Then he gave the horse to his wife Crissi to work with, and all she did was walk the horse for another 3 months.  So for 9 months, all they did was walk work - the horse needed that and only then were the horse and rider both ready to trot and move on.  One of the things I've always liked about Mark is that he believes in taking the time to allow things to be right between horse and rider - there's never any hurry.  I considered for a moment that perhaps he was just being nice to me, but then I realized that Mark's not like that - he just tells it like it is.

What Mark wants us to do next is to work in trot - slow and fast, collected and lengthened, including lateral work - until we're both totally comfortable and I can allow her to move and she can trust me to support and be with her, however long that takes.  Lots and lots and lots of trot - allowing her to move until our connection is soft and well-established.  At that point, when it comes (and I have no doubt it will), cantering will no longer be an issue and we can just slip from the trot into the canter together without any worries - the canter will no longer be a big deal for either one of us.  No rushing, no deadlines.  I must say, after my momentary disappointment that I wasn't able to move up yet to canter with her, that this was a big relief.  I have confidence that we'll get there in time, and it's just a matter of miles and hours together and building our trust.  Mark said that Dawn is not an easy ride at all - she's extremely sensitive and enormously athletic, which is a double-edged sword.  The fact that we were able to do this clinic at all together was a big confidence builder for me (I can't speak for her) even if there are things we're (or at least I'm) not ready to do yet.  It was both a humbling and empowering experience - and I'm very proud of my Dawn mare for going to the clinic with me and working and trying so hard.

2011 Mark Rashid Clinic - Day Two, Drift

On day two, Drift and I rode outside for the first time.  (In fact, all my rides except for my day one ride on Drift were outside.) If you look at the pictures of my day one ride with Dawn, you'll see that the outdoor arena is a large unfenced area - it's very open.  This was the first time I'd ever ridden Drift outside an enclosed arena, and I was curious how he'd do.  I had been taking him outside to hand graze next to the arena while others were riding to get him used to the sights and sounds.

The first thing we did was refresh our mounting work.  Mark talked a bit about something he had me doing with Drift on day one - breaking the pattern.  Our pattern had been for me to have Drift come up to the block, get on and have him start to move off, lead him around and start.  On day one, Mark had me do something different with him to have him approach the block - he'd been coming up with his hindquarters a bit to the outside and so Mark had me move him around, whenever I had to reposition him, without having him move forwards and in a way that required him to move his hindquarters and then approach the block from a position where his hindquarters were a bit to the inside.  The purpose of this wasn't to change his position but rather to break up the pattern and get him to think about things. Visualize this if you can - our starting position was with Drift standing near the block with his head to my left and hindquarters to my right.  I took the left rein - the one closest to me - and directed him to bring his head around in front of me and then take some steps around to my right - his head would then be to my right and hindquarters to my left (a 180 degree inside turn).  Then I would take his right rein, ask him to swing his hindquarters around away from me and bring his head back across in front of me, ending with him standing next to me at the block (another 180 degree inside turn) - getting the hindquarters to move was important to break up his thought pattern and get his mind working on figuring out what I wanted.

Within minutes, he was standing still as I got on.  Mark then had me wait for a while, sitting there, still on a loose rein - 10 seconds or so - before asking him to move off - the objective again was to break the pattern of my getting on, and moving him off pretty quickly - we wanted to put a gap in between mounting and moving forwards so he wouldn't anticipate and would wait for my signal.  It worked like a charm.

Then we moved on to confirming our softening work at the walk, working on softening and speed regulation at the trot, and walk/trot/walk transitions, with some halts and backing thrown in as well.  Mark said the softening work at the walk and the backing looked really nice.  We spent some minutes refining the walk/halt transition - I was using my breathing and changing the internal rhythm to ask him to halt - if there was any hesitation in his halt - I wanted it within two steps - we turned in a quite small circle until he offered to stop, and then backed until he softened.  It didn't take too long for that to be working pretty nicely.

Then we worked at the trot.  Mark said his head position at the trot looked pretty good for a horse at his stage of training - it could be refined later - the most important thing was to have him move and learn by moving.

After we worked on the trot for a while, the attempt to canter showed up again - probably when he was getting a bit tired at the trot - Mark noted on day one the leaping into canter showed up as soon as we tried to trot but that he was able to trot longer today before he felt the need to canter.

His breathing still wasn't all that regular, although it was a lot better already than on day one - in the canter initially it was much more rhythmical than on day one but Mark said it was still a bit tense and shallow.  So we did a lot more cantering - we cantered and cantered and cantered some more - until he was able to start breathing properly.  Cantering with the space in the outdoor arena was much easier for him than in the small indoor, which helped.  The right lead was more difficult for him - he had some trouble picking it up and it started out pretty rough, although it got a lot better as we worked and as his breathing started to become regular and deep - his failure to breathe properly was interfering with his movement.  Mark suspects he just needed to move his body until he was able to breathe properly again - the trot work was stalled because he was no longer able to do the more intense trot work I was asking for while breathing incorrectly.  (For a simple lead change, cue for change of lead after 1, 3 or any odd number of trot strides.)

After a good walking around rest break, we did a bit more trot work - he was able to move much better and very rarely offered to canter - at the end the quality of the trot was really improving.  And his ability to focus and work were also very good - Dawn was screaming for him from time to time and he would sometimes call back, but was able to come right back to me and keep on working.  Any time another horse was moving around nearby, he also got distracted, but only for a moment.  I was very proud of him.

To be continued on day three  . . .

2011 Mark Rashid Clinic - Day One, Dawn Photos

Here, thanks to Lea of A Natural Horsemanship Journey, are some nice photos of Dawn from day one of the clinic - these are the only photos I have.  Read this post about day one with Dawn to understand what we were working on.

Here I'm talking to Mark about what we want to work on - we started with consistency of softening at the walk - you can see here that her head's popped up a bit and she's not soft:


We're starting to get a bit more consistency at the walk here and she's looking pretty good:


Momentarily distracted by the audience:


Nice, forward walk and I'm sitting up reasonably straight and keeping a soft leg to help her relax:


This is beginning to look better - her neck isn't completely soft - there's still a bit of brace at the base - but the quality of the walk is good and she's got the "Zen face":


Taking a walk break and she's somewhat distracted again:


Here I'm working on "allowing" her to move and use her power and athleticism - I'm pleased that she's not going (much) behind the vertical even though she's pretty revved up - you can't see it clearly because of the size of the photo but I'm also pleased that I'm actually not pulling on her here - there's just a soft connection:



And here is the beginning of one of our innumerable small circles to help her calm and self-regulate her pace - I haven't taken enough pressure off the outside rein yet - there should be no pressure there for her to be able to follow her nose around and relax:


Thanks again to Lea for the pictures!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pie Update and Maisie Picture

We interrupt our set of Mark Rashid clinic posts for a Pie update.  It's almost two weeks since his muscle soreness/foot soreness/tying up episode.  He was negative for the most common version of PSSM, and his thyroid and insulin levels look just fine.  He clearly did have some sensitivity to our lush grass - it's been a perfect storm of lots of rain, cool nighttime temperatures and warm days - and he may also have had some heat stress on the day he tied up.  He's now walking well on all surfaces, even gravel, and his feet are cool and the digital pulses are gone.  The last area where he was a bit tense and sore - the long muscles next to his spine - are now relaxed and soft.  He appears to be completely back to normal.

We're going to continue him on the magnesium/chromium supplement twice a day, and he will continue to get electrolytes once a day.  He's going to stay off the pastures until we get enough heat to dry up the grass a bit and slow its growth - mid summer sometime - and then we'll reintroduce him to the grass very slowly. Until then, he'll get his nighttime dry lot turnout and will gradually be exposed to the small amount of grass in the Drift paddock - starting with about 1/2 hour and slowly adding time until he can be in there 24/7.  I'm also hoping that Drift can join him in there at night.  I'll give Drift a couple more days to eat down the growth that occurred while we were at the clinic.  During that interval, Pie will gradually go back to work - we took a short hand walk today and then I'll start riding him, gradually increasing his work but watching very closely for any signs of trouble - Pie is such a stoic that I'll really have to pay attention.  His digital pulses will be checked frequently.  I'm also planning to have a truckload of pea gravel delivered for the lower end of the paddock - it's very good for hoof health for a horse to move on surfaces with different textures.

I'm very happy that he's doing so well - I was glad to see my Pie when I got back from the clinic.  If he ever has another episode of tying up - and he might well never have another - we'll do a muscle biopsy to check for the possible causes of his problem.  But for now, Pie's back in action!

And here's a lovely picture of Maisie enjoying retirement down at Paradigm Farms in Tennessee - thanks, Melissa!

2011 Mark Rashid Clinic - Day Two, Dawn

Dawn came out a happier and somewhat more relaxed horse on day two.  We started out working on our transitions - the upwards walk/trot ones were going well - all I have to do with her is mentally change the rhythm from 1-2-3-4 to 1-2 and exhale, and she trots, maintaining the softness through the transition.  Her consistency of softening in the walk and trot was much improved from the prior day.  In the downwards transitions, there was a slight interruption in forward movement - just a slight hesitation - just as she stepped into walk from trot.  Mark said my release (which could be very small - just a slight give) was slightly too late - the time of the release should be when the horse thinks about making the transition, not when the horse's body is already transitioning - that's too late and that's where the hesitation was coming from.  Dawn was able to do some very nice downwards transitions, using herself properly and stepping in a fluid manner into the walk.

To continue the theme from the day before of "allowing" Dawn's forward motion, and to help me with relaxing tension in my upper arms and shoulders, Mark talked about feeling energy in your hands, arms and shoulders and making a change in thinking about how that energy flowed to change the feel.  Mark is a very serious student of the martial art of aikido, and this thinking about energy and how it flows is the sort of thing that he brings into the discussions at the clinics. If you're holding your reins two-handed, as I was, there's a pressure point where you hold the rein between your thumb and forefinger.  He said that if the energy from that point travels up your arm from the outside of your thumb - the side farthest away from your other fingers - it then flows up the inside of your wrist and arm, resulting in tightness and bracing in the wrist, elbow and shoulder.  He said to feel that and then change the feel mentally (no physical movement required) to have the energy flowing from that point of pressure between thumb and forefinger up the inside of the thumb, and down the top of your forearm, upper arm and then over your shoulder and across your upper back and all the way down to the other thumb and forefinger - in this mental image the energy isn't blocked and tightness and bracing are eliminated or significantly reduced, and your upper body can be more effective and relaxed.  I found this really helped me out with the tension I tend to carry in my arms, shoulders and neck, and I've been using it even when I'm not on a horse.

I found that Dawn's softness in the trot improved substantially when I used this mental image - it helped me be more giving with my hands and she could really move forward.  Mark says she's such an athletic horse that she really needs this freedom to use her body without being cramped up by my "holding" her with my hands - I need to "allow" her movement and go with it.  It's only very recently that I've begun to be more comfortable with how forward Dawn can be - not fast but just powerful - and I still struggle with letting that power flow rather than trying to rein it in.

Then we worked on leg yields at the trot (we did a bit at the walk first), in only one direction on this day.  We worked on two things - first, reducing and reducing and then reducing some more, my leg cue until Dawn was stepping over with her hind leg on my merest thought of putting on leg.  As we did more, she was starting to speed up and get tense, so we stopped and I walked and Mark talked about how, when teaching a horse a new skill, it is so important to start by only focussing on one thing - in this case, the horse taking a step over, and not worry at the beginning about things like the horse speeding up or slowing down, or moving its head up or down - the horse might need to change those things as it was learning the new movement and those things can be refined later - just work on the one thing - taking a step over and don't fuss or fiddle with the other things at the same time - it's expecting too much of the horse, particularly a very sensitive horse like Dawn.  That's why she was starting to worry and tense up - I was asking her to think about too many things at once and she wasn't sure what I wanted - make it clear and keep it simple.  If her head bounces around and she needs to go slower or faster, don't worry about it at this stage - she may need to do this and it can be refined later once she's got the new thing - sideways - working well.  In fact in our case, just focussing on the one thing allowed her to calm down and concentrate, and most of the postural and speed issues just went away on their own - Mark said this often happens - Dawn already knew how to do hold herself correctly and move at the correct pace, and once she understood sideways the rest just fell into place.  We got some very nice leg yields at the end of our session.

That was day two with Dawn . . . to be continued . . .

Monday, May 23, 2011

2011 Mark Rashid Clinic - Day One, Drift

Drift and I had our first session inside, as it had started pouring down rain.  He was very curious about all the people - there were lots of auditors on day one - the noise from the speakers, seeing himself in the mirrors down the side of the indoor and the noise the coffee percolator was making (!).  But he was very well-behaved throughout, which I thought was very good for being in a new situation.

After I told Mark some of his history - 10 years old, not ridden much for the past two years, came to me very worried and thinking he had to be in charge of decisions, extremely bracey, not much steering and no stop, couldn't lead well and didn't load well, and that I had had him for only a short while and had fewer than 30 rides on him.  Drift was basically a baby horse even though he did have some previous training.  I told Mark I wanted to work first on our mounting - he had learned to come up to the mounting block and stand while I got on, on a loose rein, but the moment I sat in the saddle, he would walk off.  I had been trying to get him to choose to stand by dismounting and then bringing him back to the block and then repeating, but it wasn't working and we weren't making progress.

I knew that I needed to change something about what I was doing, but I wasn't sure what.  Mark then did something I've seen him do on a number of occasions - he had me do what I was doing, the way I'd been doing it, a number of times - we maybe did our mount/walk off routine 7 times.  This meant that Mark was looking at what was happening - really looking - to figure out the point at which things were going wrong and where a small change could have a good impact - he looks for that inflection point where things start to go off track and what is needed to change that.

He then came over to the mounting block and took Drift from me and started pulling on the saddle - by the pommel and then the stirrups.  Every time he did this, Drift had to move his feet since Mark was pulling him off balance.  Mark said the problem started as soon as I put a foot in the stirrup - Drift was having a typical "baby horse" problem - when I put my foot in the stirrup, his head would come to the right, when I put a foot in the stirrup and sat down he had to take a step, or two, to rebalance himself and then, since I wasn't saying anything to him he would just walk off - he didn't really understand that I wanted him to stand still.  By just letting him walk off a ways before I stopped him and tried again, all I was doing was to confirm for him that walking off was what I wanted.  One auditor asked why Mark didn't just have me hold him at the mounting block, and Mark said that's not what we wanted - we wanted a horse that knew how to and chose to stand still on a loose rein on his own, not a horse that was just constrained to do what we wanted - he said that would just be giving him the answer (1 plus 1 is 2) without teaching him how to add (here's why 1 plus 1 equals two - which is a principle that can be carried into other areas and empowers the horse to think and choose).

Mark worked for a few minutes pulling and pushing on Drift until Drift began to figure out that he didn't really have to move his feet so much but could balance against the pulls and pushes, with maybe a step to the side and then standing still.

Then I worked on mounting - Mark said to not fuss around but just get on - but be sure to immediately stop any forward motion to clearly tell Drift that that's not what I wanted.  After a few tries, where I had to jump off and remount, within about 5 minutes, he was standing still, on a loose rein, without walking off, as I mounted and sat there and took up my stirrup  - Mark said to be sure to have him just stand there for a few moments before moving off to interrupt the pattern of mount/walk off.  The audience clapped - he was startled - ears up - it was very cute: "they're clapping for me?"

Then we did some walk work - his softening was really nice.  Then we did some trot work and walk/trot transitions - focussed on making transitions based on breathing out on the transition and feeling the rhythm in your own body first.  His transitions down were pretty good, but I had mentioned to Mark that I'd recently had an issue with Drift breaking into the canter whenever I asked for an upwards transition to trot - he'd been trotting pretty well before that and this was a very recent development.  And sure enough, this showed up.

Mark said that he wasn't ordinarily a big fan of just letting the horse do whatever he decided to do, but in this case Drift was trying to tell us something - he really needed to move, and his breathing wasn't very good, so as we asked for more in trot, he wasn't really able to do it - he wasn't breathing well.  He needed to canter and move his body until he was able to breathe well.  Horses who are worried and emotionally tense often express that by not breathing well - a horse that is cantering well should breathe out noticeably, and deeply, at the moment of suspension.

So we cantered and cantered (in small circles in the small indoor) (I'd barely ever ridden Drift at the canter before) - Mark said to keep cantering until the horse had to start breathing and no longer could hold its breath - this begins to release the internal emotional tension.  The canter was very rough, in both directions - lots of jolts and leaps - Mark said this happened because he was breathing intermittently and at the wrong point in the canter - finally we began to get some regular breathing, and although it wasn't very deep breathing, it was still a lot better than what we had to start with.  And that's where we stopped for the day - to be continued . . .

Oh, and before I forget, it's Drift's 10th birthday today! - this is particularly appropriate as the clinic has really confirmed that he's well on the way to being a grown-up horse.  (And we're all safely back home tonight from the clinic - more posts to come to catch up on everything that happened on days two and three.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

2011 Mark Rashid Clinic - Day One, Dawn

I've never been to a Mark Rashid clinic, either as an auditor or rider, where I haven't learned things that made a substantial difference to my horsemanship.  And this clinic will clearly be no exception.  One of the things I really enjoy about working with Mark is that he really looks and and "sees" each horse and rider pair, and makes the (often very small) adjustments needed for success.  Every rider and horse are taken at whatever level they are at, with whatever issues they may present - there are common principles, but no "program" or one-size-fits-all approach.

Since I am riding both Dawn and Drift at this clinic, I wasn't able to take notes on all the other riders or even see all their rides.  I would say that a common theme - this is usually the case at the clinics - is how profoundly the rider's biomechanics - posture, breathing and carrying tension in some part of the body - affect the horse, either by allowing or blocking the desired motion or action.

I rode Dawn first.  There are photos in this post.  She wasn't very settled when I got on - she would have preferred to head back to the barn to join her new friend, Drift, who was helping us out by doing quite a bit of screaming for her.  The outdoor at the clinic is a large open unfenced space, without the visual barrier of a fenced arena.

As usual, Mark started by asking what we wanted to work on. I said improving the consistency of our softening work at the walk and trot, our transitions, canter work (which Dawn and I haven't done that much of) and some leg yield at the trot progressing to half-pass.  We started by working on the consistency of our softening work at the walk - Dawn will hold her position for about 5 steps and then her head starts to pop up or move around a little bit, then she's soft again, repeat. Mark asked me to have her soften for 7 steps and then give her a noticeable release.  Then 9 steps.  He said she wasn't sure if she were doing it right.  Within minutes, she was consistently soft at the walk and able to find the soft spot I was providing her - with Dawn the theme of the day for me was "allowing" with my hands and making sure not to hold her in place.

Then we  moved up to trot work and did the same thing.  When she softens at the trot, her movement gets very big as she uses her hindquarters and she feels if anything more dynamic as we get true forward and not just forward motion.  But when she was soft, we were able to get some pretty nice trot/walk transitions. But again, I needed to allow her movement when she was soft, and separate softening work from speed regulation work by never pulling on her or holding her in with my hands when she was soft and being sure to release tension in my arms and shoulders.  She was doing pretty well until there were too many cumulative distractions - horses calling, coming and going and her high energy level - then she started to fuss at the end of the ring closest to the barn and expressing her desire to leave - there was some attempts to bulge out and some near balks.

Mark said a natural inclination many people have when a horse is troubled in a particular area of the arena, or by a particular thing, is to keep them near it and make them work through it.  He says getting in this sort of fight with the horse is rarely useful - instead, take the horse to an area where they can cooperate and then gradually work back into the troublesome area as the horse is able to cope.

So we moved Dawn down to a different area of the arena and continued to work.  Since her energy level was now way up, we worked on speed regulation at the trot.  This involved many, many, many small circles at a pretty fast trot, with constant changes of direction in a figure 8 shape.  I also had to do some "allowing" here - which can be hard to do mentally when your horse is close to taking off with you - by only putting pressure on the inside rein to get the turn but by keeping the outside rein loose - I just put my outside hand forward next to her neck - so that her body could follow her nose.  I didn't get dizzy, which was fortunate. We did this for a while, and when she'd start to slow a bit, Mark would have me continue to circle in one direction and if she was able to offer a trot with proper pace, then allow her to move in a straight line.  We were able to get at least 7 nice soft steps without rushing in each direction, and then I'd let her walk for a bit.  We repeated this several times, and on our last try, as we came out of our circles, she was able to do 7 soft steps down towards the end of the ring that had been the problem.

Mark pointed out that her sweat patterns - she was very sweaty on her neck and shoulders and not so much elsewhere - indicated that she'd been overusing her front end and not using her hindquarters as much except in the moments when we got softness - and that this would change as she used herself better.  Mark seemed to think we'd done pretty well, particularly considering that, as he put it with his characteristic understatement, Dawn was "not an easy ride".

One thing I also like about Mark is that he challenges you to do what you're able to do (even if you're not sure you can), but I've never seen him put a rider in a position where they were unsafe or overfaced, nor does he ever force a rider to do something they just aren't comfortable doing.  That was certainly the case with my ride on Dawn - some of the stuff we were doing was pretty mentally challenging (letting a very dynamic horse go forward when soft, riding through an issue with a horse who's starting to mentally check out and leave), but I just kept riding, knowing that Mark wouldn't have asked me to do it if he didn't think I could handle it.

Dawn and I were pretty pooped when we were done - I put her away - would have liked to hose her off but it was too cool - and then I went off to rest and eat something (I packed yoghurts and fruit) and watch the other riders.  And then, later in the day, I had my work session with Drift.

To be continued . . .

Friday, May 20, 2011

Wild Horses

The ride up to the clinic went well.  Drift loaded (moderately) well and Dawn jumped right on, so off we went.  I wrapped Dawn's legs due to her propensity to injure herself. It was about an hour and 40 minutes drive mostly on crowded interstates, with some construction slow downs.  I'd forgotten but the last segment of interstate is very rough - almost like a washboard - and we'll be taking a different route home.  One amusing thing - I noticed in the rear view mirror that Dawn had poked her nose through the screen on her window (now why do I keep replacing these screens?) up to the cheekbones and the mouth was flapping - she was engaged in her favorite travel sport of eating bugs.

When we got there, they were very excited by all the other horses, who started calling to them as we drove in.  Dawn and Drift are bedded down in adjacent stalls - they're the only horses in their area of the barn, and they are now wedded at the hip.  Any time I take one out to graze or go in the round pen for a bit of turnout, they scream back and forth, and when Dawn is left by herself in the stall, she tries to kick the place down.  I expect Dawn to come into heat any moment.  Drift actually settled down a bit more than she did - she was pretty spooky and reactive.  I kept alternately hand grazing each of them and turning them out for a moment in the round pen - Drift did some trotting around and Dawn made her displeasure known by bucking and squealing.  I haven't (yet) been mowed down by crazed horses - Drift actually remembered his leading after a bit and Dawn, although crazed, was able to restrain herself from running into me.

We'll see how they are tomorrow - over the course of the three days they'll both settle down some, I expect, and it doesn't really matter how they are as we'll have good stuff to work on regardless.  I doubt that Drift has ever been much of anywhere, and Dawn hasn't been anywhere for at least 5 years - although she's made two trips to Colorado and is a seasoned traveler.

More tomorrow . . . (and here's a nice post by Jill, Scout's owner - she made it up to the first clinic - I'm riding in the second one - for part of yesterday - with some great photos - enjoy!).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Working Until You're Done, and Clinic Plans

Drift and I had two really good work sessions today, each lasting about an hour.  At turnout time, before I turned the horses out, Drift and I did more trailer loading practice.  I wanted two things from our work today - for him not to stay on until I asked him to back out and then to back out slowly, without rushing, and for him to walk on fairly nicely.  I expected a bit of back sliding after our closing up and cruising around the neighborhood the other day, as that made him nervous, and back sliding there was.  I got some pulling back, some fish tailing from one side of the the trailer to the other, and some attempts to turn away from the trailer ("if I don't see it it doesn't exist") where he would try to pop his shoulder towards me.  We worked hard for almost an hour - he must have loaded at least 40 times - but I wasn't going to stop until I got what I wanted.

The backing off part was paradoxically easier than the loading on part.  I discovered that, for reasons that are a mystery to me, he appears to understand the word "wait".  I would get him on, ask him to lead all the way to the front and stick his head out the window.  I would rub him and praise him and then ask him to back.  After a step or two, I would say "wait" and he would stop.  Praise and rubs.  And so on.  After not too long, his backing off was really pretty good.  I didn't close the partition today, since we worked so hard on loading and unloading - I think that'll be less of a problem now that he's only backing out at my request.  The getting on part was harder - there was pulling back, heading around the sides of the trailer (what I call fishtailing), attempts to ignore the trailer by stopping moving or standing sideways in the doorway.  I just kept asking, and every time he did get on, eventually - sometimes it took a while but I wasn't going to accept any less.  Finally, I was able to get him to the door without him pulling back, and although he didn't just lead on, he came in after a few moments and that was good enough after one repeat.

When I work with a horse like Drift, I always do so when I have no time constraints - sometimes things take a while and I strongly believe that if I quit before we get to an appropriate stopping place, I'm doing the horse a disservice - the horse needs to get to a better place and know that for us to progress.  The same rule applied this afternoon.  I was interested to see if Drift's attempts to spring into canter when what I wanted was trot were due to saddle fit.  I asked him to tell me about the padding as I saddled - I rode with no riser pads today and he was much more comfortable while we were saddling and tightening the girth.  I also massaged the area just behind his withers on both side, which he seemed to appreciate.

My conclusion is that saddle fit may have been part of what was causing him to try to canter, but I don't think that was the whole story.  I only recently started using some inside leg to encourage him to bend into corners, and I think he may well be interpreting that as either "go fast" or "canter" depending on how he was taught to canter.  I was able to get some decent continuous trot in both directions and with changes of direction, although there were numerous attempts to canter thrown in - I wanted trot and wasn't going to stop until trot was consistent in both directions without canter showing up in the middle.  Once I got that, I praised him and we walked and stood around for a while - he likes to stand still - I think at heart he's pretty laid back.   Then we worked on walk/trot transitions - once again the canter tried to reappear.  Finally, I was able to get some consistent walk/trot transitions - the trot was more of a jog but that was fine with me at this point - I just wanted trot instead of canter - including in the corners where he's most likely to try to canter (this makes me think he feels as if he's being set up for canter).  I was able to do this by really toning down my aids - no leg at all and just the thought of the new 1-2 rhythm and an out breath. I think removing any leg aid helped him understand that I wanted trot instead of canter. On a side note, I can't wait until we're able to do (intentional) canter work - he's got a great canter with lots of impulsion.  I wasn't going to stop until I got what I wanted - I owed it to him to make the answer clear for him - it took an hour of hard work but we got to a place I was comfortable with.

And Dawn and I had a nice ride - not too strenuous - some trot work, some canter departures and also some transition work, all of which she did very well.  Dawn is at a point, and is so sensitive, that all i have to do to get upwards transitions is think the new rhythm and exhale - she's right on it.  Downward transitions are harder for her as she tends to be very forward, but those are coming along well too. After our arena work we went on a brief trail jaunt - only 100 yards or so but that's the farthest we've been and she did great.

At the clinic, I'm hoping to do more transition work with Dawn, and also some canter work and some leg-yield to half pass work at the trot and possibly the canter - she's ready for this work, I think.  With Drift, what I work on will depend on what horse shows up - it really doesn't matter as we can get good work done no matter what.  Our softening work needs further development, and if the springing into canter shows up we'll work on that - I suspect it's my cueing for canter (as he understands it), when I'm asking for bend, that's the root of the problem.  We might also do some trailer loading - we'll have to see.  It'll be great to ride with Mark again - it's been a few years.  We're driving up Friday afternoon and I'm riding on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and coming home Monday night.

Saddle Fit, More Loading and the Retirees

After thinking more about Drift's odd behavior yesterday - repeatedly trying to canter and even doing some leaping when asked for trot or while trotting - I think it's less likely that it was just friskiness than something else, since he's never done this before even when he was very nervous.  It's not so much that he wanted to canter - he didn't want to trot, and when he did trot it wasn't his usual flowing trot but more tentative than that.  I'm suspecting saddle fit - I changed my padding arrangement after my sliding saddle experience the other day, and I think I might have over-padded the front, resulting in his shoulders being constrained.  I'm going to try some different arrangements today and see if it makes a difference.  I may also put him back in the (too-long) Neoprene girth again to see if that helps - I've been using a new fleece girth.

I've also made an appointment for a very good saddle fitter to come out in a week or so to look at my Kieffer and all three of my horses.  I knew that the saddle needs to be reflocked - it's about 15 years old - the flocking is compacted and the saddle fitter confirmed this when I showed it to him.  I'm also still hoping to get an About the Horse light-weight western saddle soon, but have to wait until Pie is back in work and muscled up again to do measurements, so that'll be a while (we're still waiting for the results of his blood tests and DNA test).  The lady who is hosting the Mark Rashid clinic I'm gong to tomorrow has a number of the About the Horse (Black Rhino) saddles, and I may be able to try a few on Drift and Dawn while I'm there.

More trailering loading practice for Drift today - he needs to stay on and wait for me to close, and then open, the partition and ask him to back, and I'd like the backing to be a bit less fast - he acts like he's making a prison break -  I want him to take direction from me rather than making the decision to get off on his own, for safety reasons.  We might work on this at the clinic if I don't get a big improvement today.

And some pictures of the retirees down at Paradigm Farms in Tennessee - cell phone photos courtesy of Melissa.  First, here's adorable (and very sleepy) Norman at the vet clinic waiting to have his tear ducts flushed - they always clog up and then he gets goopy eyes and sometimes eye infections:


And here are Maisie (left) and Lily (right) - it's fun to see them together as they are such different body types - Maisie is a Trakehner/TB cross and is a good two inches taller than Lily, but is very delicately built, and Lily, who is a Oldenburg/QH cross, is built like a tank.  They look pretty happy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Inadvertent Canter and Two on the Trailer

Drift and I had an interesting ride today.  He was very calm leading in and calm on the cross ties.  His walk was pretty good from the beginning - fairly cadenced and relaxed with some stretching down to the contact.  But when I asked him to trot - I got that "I'm really full of myself" trot - not that forward and, how shall I say, "ready for action".  The day was pretty chilly - barely 50F with some fog and drizzle and he was feeling a bit feisty.  Then, whenever I asked for trot from the walk - and all I was doing was thinking the new rhythm and breathing out with the slightest whisper of leg - he would try to spring into the canter.  I'm not sure what he was thinking - maybe it was the chill and feeling frisky, maybe it was that trotting is hard work and cantering is easier, maybe it's that he's a little sore behind from all the work we've been doing and cantering is more comfortable.  There were a couple of springy, "fishtail" moments - not bucks exactly but fairly leapy and springy.  We had one "bring nose to boot, push him around in a tight circle with inside leg" when he did something more like a buck, and then kept right on working.

Since he wanted to canter so much, I decided to use what he was offering.  My objective was for him to trot when I said trot, and keep trotting, and canter only when I said canter.  So we did some canter at my initiative - I haven't cantered him before and he's really not ready to do it yet (although close) since our trot work isn't stable and reliable yet.  He's got a really nice canter but not much in the way of brakes - the bracing showed up again as is typical as the energy level increases, although a verbal whoa works fairly well and when he got too excited I turned him towards the fence. Finally, after some more "springing", he was able to work through it and give me what I want - consistent trot when I wanted trot, and canter when I asked.  Since his canter isn't very controlled yet, we didn't canter far - a big half circle or so before I asked him to slow.  We did a number of trot and then canter sets until I was satisfied with the trot and the canter was when I asked.

I took Dawn out and lunged her briefly - both my daughter (who rode her for a bit yesterday - Dawn was very mellow) and I felt that she was the slightest bit off/stiff. It's pretty subtle, but there was a little something, so I didn't ride her today.

And then Drift and Dawn went for a ride in the trailer.  I loaded Drift first in slot number 2 (I like to use slot 1 for hay - there's a stud barrier between slot 1 and slot 2).  Then I loaded Dawn in slot number 4 - the back slot.  They were both nervous but loaded well.  I closed everyone up and we went for a quick drive - about 5 minutes - around my development.  When we unloaded, both Dawn and Drift exited a bit too fast for my taste - and at first Drift tried to turn around - I stopped that - there really isn't room for him to do it safely.  So Drift got to load again and back out when I asked - he wasn't thrilled by the idea but did it, again too fast but at least at my request.

We may do another load-and-ride tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Windblown

The wind is still very strong - steady winds of 20mph with constant gusts to up to 30mph - but the sun is shining and temperature made it up to almost 60F, so both Dawn and Drift got ridden.  I'm hoping to ride them both tomorrow and Thursday, and then give them Friday off for our drive up to the clinic - it's about an hour and a half drive and we'll leave in the early afternoon.  There's a lot of stuff to load up and I've been making lists.

Both Dawn and Drift were very good despite the wind, although they were both very forward.  We got some good work in, mainly at the trot.  Pie's looking better every day although he's lost some muscle mass. I sent off his hair sample for PSSM testing to the U. Minnesota lab - I ended up using tail hairs as the root bulbs were easier to see.

I'm not happy with my new dressage Mattes pad - the underside is fleece (my old close contact one is just fabric) and the result is that the back of the saddle tends to slide somewhat from side to side as I ride, particularly since both Dawn and Drift have a lot of swing to their trots - this puts some strain on my back and I expect the horses don't appreciate it much either.  It's a particular problem with Drift - his back is very broad and fairly flat. I'm going to have to find a different solution to my shimming needs.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Two For the Road

Dawn and Drift got their traveling papers for the clinic this afternoon.  As I expected, Pie will be staying home.  His evaluation was good - he's walking much better and is sound at the trot, although still a little short-strided, and tentative on the gravel.  His digital pulses are all normal, and there is no heat in any of his feet except a slight amount in the right hind.  He has no sensitivity to hoof testers.  Almost all the muscle cramping is gone, although he's still got a bit of tightness in the deeper muscles of the shoulder and hip and just along his spine.  He had some blood drawn for insulin and thyroid tests.  We should have the thyroid results by the end of the week, and until then he'll stay on his schedule of in the stall during the day and out in the dry lot paddock at night, and we've deferred any chiro work until we have more information.  Drift is working on grazing down the other paddock, and it's not far from being usable by Pie - the grass that is left is pretty short, and we also trimmed the grass all around the edges.  Once he can go in there, he'll be in there during the day and in there with Drift at night for company.  He can't wait - he doesn't like being in during the day although he's good about it, and he really misses the company of the other horses.

I made an attempt to pull some Pie mane hairs for the U. Minnesota test for PSSM, but I was sorry to discover that my (aging) eyesight just isn't good enough to see if there are hair root bulbs on there with Pie's very fine hair - I'm hoping our p.m. barn lady has better eyes than I do and can help me this afternoon.  As long as I can see well enough to ride (and read) I don't know that I care too much.

The wind is still howling today - gusts to 30mph and temperatures in the mid 40sF, and we've got a freeze warning for tonight with continued wind.  Dawn and I managed a good ride despite the wind, the chilly temperatures and hordes of screaming, running children heading by - in the past she wouldn't have been able to cope with this level of distraction, but her concentration was basically uninterrupted.  My face and ears felt like they were frozen off by the end.

I elected to do some leading work with Drift in the parking lot - he was very worried by the wind and various other horses screaming and calling, and I wasn't enjoying the wind much myself.  It took some minutes, but by the end of our session his leading was very good. If the wind drops towards sunset for a bit, we might get in a ride, if not, there's always tomorrow.  Horses are a bit like the weather - there's little point in getting worried or upset by their various illnesses and moods - like the weather, it's better to just let it be what it is and work with it (or so I try to tell myself!).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Heavy Blankets in Mid-May

The wind chills are going to be in the 20sF tonight and tomorrow night - temperatures will be in the 30s with wind gusts over 30mph - and Pie and Drift have to go outside to the paddocks tonight, otherwise Pie has no opportunity for turnout.  If Pie had a place to go in the day, they could be out in the day and in on bad weather nights like tonight, but the dry lot paddock isn't available during the day since it's occupied by another horse - Charisma, who's a Morgan and insulin resistant. Pie's good about using his shed, Drifter not so much, but I've dragged out my winter blankets which had already been cleaned and rewaterproofed and put away for the year.  Pie has no winter coat left and Drift almost none, so the blankets are needed.

No riding today - the wind is howling and it's spitting rain.  Vet visits tomorrow and we'll see how Pie is doing, but I think it unlikely that he'll be going to the Mark Rashid clinic since we don't know for sure yet what's going on with him.  He'll have blood drawn for insulin and thyroid tests and I'll be sending some of his hair off to the U. Minnesota for testing for the most common gene causing PSSM in QHs.  But Dawn's saying "send me in coach, I'm ready to play!", and she certainly is ready.

Got a call from Melissa at Paradigm - Maisie had a mild gassy colic-like episode, probably due to an abrupt weather change, so as a precaution they had the vet out to assess her and give her some oil as a precaution - considering her past history of impaction colics we err on the side of caution with her.  And Norman's going to ride along next week with another horse that has to go to the vet clinic for a test, and will have a small spot - possibly another cancer - frozen off his eyelid.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

PSSM and Quarter Horses

Pie is doing well since coming off grass - although he's not happy being separated from his herd - his feet are cool and he looks pretty sound and his muscles are no longer tight and cramped. Pie will be tested on Monday for his insulin and thyroid levels, as those can affect metabolism and cause foot soreness.  Low thyroid, which can be caused by, among other things, certain funguses that proliferate in grasses with low temperatures and profuse rainfall like we've had, can cause metabolic issues that lead to foot soreness. Another possible cause of his stiffness, sweating and muscle cramping could be PSSM  - polysaccharide storage myopathy - which is a genetic disease that is a cause of such symptoms in a small but significant percentage of Quarter Horses.  Tying up type symptoms can be caused by many different things in different horse breeds, but PSSM is a particular issue in Quarter Horses, apparently in three undisclosed bloodlines - why undisclosed? can someone explain to me why a breed would conceal information like this?  Here is a very interesting case study of a QH with PSSM.

There is now apparently a blood or hair root test for this - see this information from the University of Minnesota - a muscle biopsy isn't necessary to test for PSSM, but if it comes back negative a muscle biopsy may still be required. The good news is that PSSM can be treated in most horses that have it - a combination of a higher fat diet - rice bran, flax seed and additional oils - cocosoya, which we already use, and L-Carnitine, which is needed for the transport of fatty acids within cells.

I'm hoping we have some answers soon to Pie's issues.

Friday, May 13, 2011

To Recap . . . Pie Problem, Dawn and Drift Chiro and Work and Two in the Trailer

Those of us who use Blogger as a platform have been out of action for a while.  Whatever their problem was has been fixed, but posts for the past several days, and their comments, were removed and are apparently being restored but that takes some time.  (Update: posts are back but not comments, so if you left one before please feel free to repeat it.) So, to recap the past couple of days . . .

Pie developed a problem on our walking trail ride with Scout on Wednesday morning - it was a hot and humid day - mid 80sF - but, although our activity level was pretty low, after the ride he started sweating profusely and his muscles got overheated and crampy - not a true tying up episode but a lot like that.  Fortunately our chiropractor/vet was visiting that morning and was able to look at him - she determined that  he overheated because he was footsore and had been holding his body tensed to protect his feet, so his muscles were already fatigued and became exhausted by the easy trail ride.  She didn't do any chiro work on him since it would have been a waste of time and he was too sore to work on.

I think this has been coming on for a while - he's been crabby with me lately, which is unusual for him, he's not as willing to just march across gravel, and his feet have been somewhat warmer than I'd like, although he's never been lame or off - Maisie was much worse off when she had her problems the last two years.  I think this started when we had a series of freezing temperatures at night followed by warm sunny days - these conditions increase the sugars in the grasses - see safergrass.org for more information.  Our vet/chiropractor doesn't think it's an adjustment issue - he lived in Montana and then Minnesota before I got him and didn't have access to profuse pasture like we have, and whatever his underlying metabolic profile, it was never challenged before and now has been.  We are very lucky to have our vet/chiro's services - she's an endocrine specialist and picks up things many vets would miss or not be able to treat well.

He's off grass, in the stall during the day and in a dry lot paddock at night, and he's getting a few days of bute.  No hand-walking yet - we want him to be 24 hours off bute to be sure it isn't masking symptoms.  He does get to walk around in the dry lot paddock. The cramping in his muscles is much better by now - just a little bit of soreness and stiffness left in his back - and his walk, which was never lame but rather short-strided - is almost back to normal.  And his feet are cool, and it doesn't look like he's protecting them with his stance anymore. I don't know yet if he'll be good to go for the clinic - we're leaving a week from today - but our vet/chiro will come back to evaluate him on Monday and also do a blood draw to test his insulin and thyroid levels.  It may be that this is something we can treat - he's on chromium (which can help insulin resistance, if that's what he has) and electrolytes (he may be an excessive excreter of salts) already which should help - or it may be that he'll have to be off grass permanently or wear a grazing muzzle.

Dawn and Drift had good chiro sessions - neither one had much going on that needed fixing.  It was Drift's first ever chiro treatment, and he loved it - he stood completely still on a loose lead in the barn aisle, where he's usually very fidgety.  Our chiropractor suggested that I start giving him massages in the barn aisle, to make it a "good place" where he wants to be.  The fact he needed very little chiro work doesn't surprise me - his essential soundness and good movement were a primary reason I got him.

Dawn and Drift had  good work sessions both Wednesday, before our chiropractor came, and today - they had yesterday off after their chiro treatments.  Both horses have been working on stretching down, and in Drift's case relaxing.  Dawn and I did a few canter departures on Wednesday, and they were really nice despite the fact we barely started our canter work last fall before she was off for the winter - it's almost as if she hadn't had time off - all of the training and the resulting softness and focus are still there and we're just continuing on.  If Pie can't go to the clinic, Dawn will go as his replacement, and there's plenty of good stuff we could work on.  Drift was greatly improved even between Wednesday and today - he had to come a long way in from the pasture, stood almost quietly on the cross ties in the barn and his work was very good - the trot was more relaxed, there was almost no rushing which meant I cold begin to use a little leg to help him with his stepping into corners and stretching down, and he was able to start softly stretching down without bracing - it's not there immediately and it's not consistent yet, but I think the "curl up" may be on the way out.  There were a couple of times when we were working and a horse in the pasture would call, and Pie would call back, and Drift would call/scream, but he kept right on working through it and didn't lose his focus.

And, on Wednesday before the Pie problem, I put Pie in the trailer, then got Drift and loaded him - he walked right on without a second's hesitation.  A picture - courtesy of Jill, Scout's owner:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Plan for Pie

It's been a busy morning - I took the truck and trailer in for inspection and lucked out - when I got there there was one dump truck ahead of me but when I was done there was a long line of trucks and taxis behind me waiting for their inspections.  Our state has a twice-yearly inspection requirement for trucks and trailers as big as mine - I have a Ford F-350 (with crew cab, dualies and a long bed) and a 4-horse Featherlite gooseneck.  And then I stopped by the tack store to pick up two new 24" dressage girths - I've been using a 28" which is too big for Drift and Dawn and a hair long even for Pie - I got the machine washable fake fleece ones which aren't too expensive.  And I got a dressage Mattes correction half pad - it's very good for adjusting the saddle fit for my three different horses - there are front and back shim pockets and you can use from zero to three shims front or back.

Pie's off the grass for now, due to his foot soreness and resulting muscle issues.  If you didn't know him, you might not notice anything, but he's short-striding, protecting his front feet when turned in a small circle, and not weighting his feet evenly - all signs of low-grade inflammation.  In looking back, I think this started several weeks ago when we had a series of very cold nights - sometimes below freezing - followed by warm, sunny days.  These conditions, coupled with our ample rain, resulted in grass which was too high in fructans for his system to tolerate well (visit safergrass.org for more information on this topic, but he didn't go into full-blown laminitis (thank heavens), he was just somewhat sore.  His feet haven't been as cool as I'd like either, and he's been showing some aggravation - ear-pinning and general crabbiness as well as moving around when I was saddling.

Our vet/chiropractor's assessment is that he has been tensing his body to protect his feet, and that this led to the excessive sweating episode - his muscles were already hot and tired from working so hard to hold himself in an unnatural posture, and the combination of the high heat and some fairly mild exercise was too much and he overheated.  It's not likely that he has tying up in the classic sense - it didn't come on after a layoff and his muscles weren't that sore - and if we can fix the foot issue it's unlikely to reoccur.  In hindsight, we had one very warm day earlier this spring, and he had no problem at all then.  He's also seemed tight and sore to me during grooming for a while.

This morning he was still sore and tense in his body - his muscles all looked too sharply defined, his back was tight and you could see the line of his abdominal muscles.  I did some massage, which he seemed to appreciate. He wasn't walking lame, either on concrete or gravel, but he was short-striding.  He's eating well and seems bright-eyed, which is good.  His feet were still too warm - I'm not good at feeling digital pulses (but I should learn).  He's nowhere near as bad off as Maisie was for two springs before we moved her to Tennessee - she's doing well there on their less-rich grasses.

He got 2 grams of bute this morning - according to Dr. Alice bute is better metabolically for this kind of thing than Banamine - and will have another gram tomorrow.  He's staying in his stall during the day under the fan, and will go outside at night in a dry lot paddock, with hay, and with Drift across the way for company.  The Drift paddock was unfortunately seeded with grass last year - it used to be a dry lot - and needs eating down before can go in there with Drift, although that's the ultimate plan.  For now, I may "borrow" Scout, who is Pie's best friend, to spend some time in the paddock with him.

Pie is already starting on a chromium supplement, which may help, and when she comes to check on him on Monday, Dr. Alice will draw blood so we can check his cortisol and thyroid levels - the cortisol may indicate if he is insulin resistant, and some horses with low thyroid can react to grass.  It's quite possible that it's not a question of his adjusting to living in a warmer climate with richer grass, it's more that his system, with whatever underlying metabolic profile he has, was just never challenged by his prior living conditions.  Depending on what is going on, he may be able to go back on grass again, at least when the richness passes, with appropriate supplements, or in the worst case he might have to wear a grazing muzzle (I worry about one getting removed during "face play" although I want him to be able to socialize) or be on dry lot.

It's still an open question whether he'll be able to go to the clinic next week - I'm leaving on Friday.  If his muscle tension and foot soreness abate, he should be good to go, if not, then we're on to Plan B and I'll take Dawn as my second horse - there's certainly plenty we could work on.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Three Plus the Chiropractor and Two in the Trailer

This morning I rode all three horses before our wonderful chiropractor, Dr. Alice, came.  First up was Dawn - we worked again on stretching down at the trot (someone asked the question of how you do this and I'll see if I can come up with a good explanation) and she did very well.  Then at the end of our work session, we did a little bit of cantering in both directions.  In both directions, she stepped off beautifully into the canter, and the canter was round and lifting from behind.  We actually had only started doing serious canter work late last fall, and I was really pleased that her canter was so nice.

Then Pie and I went on a walking trail ride with Scout - it was getting pretty hot - it got up almost to the mid-80s and it was pretty humid - by far the hottest day of the year so far and a big contrast to our very cool spring.  When we got back to the barn, we turned Scout and Pie out in a small grass paddock to wait for the chiropractor.

And I had a good ride on Drift - he was a fidget on the cross ties for grooming and tacking (and got swatted for one cow kick), and wasn't perfect for mounting, but the ride was quite good.  His walk work got to relaxed and stretching down pretty quickly, and the trot work, while still a work in process, is also improving.  After our ride, he was very sweaty and I hosed him off.  At first he was very worried about the hose and the water, but quickly figured out that it felt pretty good.

When the chiropractor arrived, Dawn was up first - she really didn't have too much wrong even after her issues with her tooth.  Then I went to get Pie out of the paddock - he was very sweated up (even "shaving cream foam" between his hind legs) - much sweatier than after our ride, and seemed stressed by the heat.  We put him in his stall under the fan.  Usually, for a horse stressed by the heat, immediate cold-hosing is a good idea, but our chiropractor (who is also a vet) wanted to see if he would be able to cool down on his own, in order to judge how serious it was.  He did cool down and the sweat dried and his attitude seemed much "brighter", and his temperature was normal - 100F.  He's a big consumer of salt - he eats his salt blocks - and our chiropractor says he may be an excessive excreter of salts, and may also not be fit enough for this hot weather.  So we'll be adding electrolytes to his feed.  He was also slightly sore-footed - which I'd been suspecting - he doesn't march across the gravel as eagerly as he used to do - probably due to the spring grass, so he'll be getting a custom chromium/magnesium/selenium/vitamin E supplement to help with his insulin metabolism.  If the foot-soreness continues or worsens, his grazing may have to be restricted.  Our chiropractor didn't do him this time, since the effect of the heat stress on his muscles would make the chiropractic work ineffective - she'll come back next week.

Then Drift met the chiropractor.  Although I think he's never had a chiro treatment before, he very quickly figured out that she was going to do things that would make him feel good, and he was friendly and agreeable and downright calm for the whole thing - he actually stood on a loose line in the barn aisle, where he's usually Mr. Fidget.  He seemed to really enjoy the whole thing, particularly the muscle massage, which I can do some of when he's in the barn aisle to make it a "good place" for him.  He was also good for her handling his feet, although she opted not to do any work while standing directly behind him on this visit.  He actually had very little wrong, which I suspected since he's so sound and moves so well.

And, the highlight of the morning happened before our chiropractor arrived.  Before I rode Pie, I brought Drift in and stowed him in a grass paddock.  Then I went and got Pie and brought him down and loaded him into the trailer and closed the partition.  I went back and got Drift and led him to the trailer and loaded him up and closed the partition.  He loaded right up without the slightest hesitation.  I let him and Pie hang out for a few minutes before I unloaded them - here's the evidence, with Pie on the left and Drift on the right (photo courtesy of Jill, Scout's owner):