Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dawn Bites Her Tongue

Yup.  More vet bills.  Guess Dawn felt she was being slighted on the veterinary front . . .

Last Monday, when I went to ride Dawn, she was very uncomfortable in the bridle - resisting contact and stopping to rub her face on her legs.  We stopped riding, and I put her in her stall while we were untacking.  It was clear she was having serious problems chewing - she was gaping her mouth, twisting her head from side to side and making exaggerated chewing motions with her head stuck out to the front.  A lot of food was falling out of her mouth, and she was repeatedly spitting out chunks of hay that were partially chewed.  Her posture and behavior were a lot like a horse with choke, but there was no coughing and she was still able to drink well, so it seemed we had some sort of (new) mouth injury.

Uh oh . . .

The dental surgery team had just been out the week before (a couple of months after her last molar extraction), and Dawn's extraction sites had fully healed, she looked good, and had been eating very well and gaining weight - in fact she'd gained so much weight (fat horse) that I'd cut her feed - a first for Dawn, who's always had trouble keeping weight on.  I called them for advice.  Since they weren't going to be down my way until Thursday (they're from one state over), they recommended having my regular vet out on an emergency call to rule out any foreign objects stuck in her mouth.

So vet call number one was that evening.  The vet's truck didn't have a speculum on it (the clinic doesn't do a lot of dental work - they use other dental specialists to do it - so they only have one speculum and it was back at the clinic - a good speculum apparently costs around $10,000).  But they sedated Dawn and were able to look around a bit in her mouth.  No foreign objects, but they could just see that the right side of her tongue didn't look happy - hard to see more without a speculum.  We started a course of Banamine for the pain and to prevent swelling.

Dawn improved a bit every day and by Thursday was able to chew soft hay (she refused hydration hay with grain mash) without spitting too much of it back out.  The dental surgery vet came (that would be vet call number two), sedated her and was able to take a good look.  It turns out she had a pretty nasty injury to the right side of her tongue - there was an area on the side, about four inches long by one inch wide, where she'd sheered off the edge of her tongue, removing the entire top layer and exposing the muscle.  No wonder she was having trouble chewing!  The vet said she was surprised that Dawn was chewing as well as she was with an injury like that.

I mentioned in passing that Dawn had previously had EPM and that when she did, in addition to some balance and soundness issues, her face was affected - drooping nostril, one eye blinking when the other didn't and lack of proper cranial nerve reflexes.  The vet was very interested in that, and said that horses rarely bite their tongues and that a neurological condition can cause it, since the horse may either not have good control over where the tongue is in the mouth or not be able to completely feel it.  In Dawn's case, since EPM symptoms in new infections (or inflammatory responses to such things a vaccinations) tend to often follow the same previously affected neural pathways, the dental vet said we should definitely check that out.  Dawn is now on twice a day SMZ antibiotics and another course of Banamine.

I did a thorough neuro evaluation on Dawn on Friday morning (at the request of my third vet - the one who does our chiro and also handles endocrine and EPM related matters).  She was quite abnormal in some of her responses - three legs were affected in the foot placement test - one hind was relatively normal.  Her skin sensations were abnormally depressed all the way along her neck and back as far as the withers, and behind that were much more normal.  Her turning tests weren't bad, but there were some subtle abnormalities - she wasn't stepping over as well, only to the midline, and one hind tended to drag on the outside.  In backing, she was slow to move and dragged one hind toe.  Her balance/strength also wasn't perfect - I was easily able to pull her off balance by the tail as she was led forward, although one side was more normal than the other (corresponding to the hind that was better).  I didn't see any facial abnormalities other than a slight droop of her right nostril.

Since my EPM vet wouldn't be out until today, we started Dawn on the EPM medicine immediately - this wouldn't affect the EPM titers in the blood test, since those take several weeks to come down even if symptoms improve much more quickly.  Also the Banamine might improve symptoms, but won't affect the titer levels.  We also confirmed with the researcher who developed the treatment that the medication we're using for EPM (decoquinate) isn't interfered with by the SMZ's - it would have been interfered with by Uniprim so it's good we weren't using that.

Dawn is continuing to eat pretty well, and got her blood drawn for the EPM test this morning (vet call number three).  I also did a quick recheck of her neuro symptoms and they were almost gone.  The improvement could be due to the Banamine or to the EPM treatment - she's had three doses and improvement is often evident pretty quickly.  I'll check her again after she's been off the Banamine for a few days.

Dawn and I will be riding in this side pull headstall - she goes very well in it and it may be our bridle going forward.  I'm grateful to have such great vets on our team, but hope my horses decide not to require any more vet visits in the near future!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Soft Doesn't Mean Ineffective

Many of us, I think, got to where we are in our horsemanship journeys due to finally waking up to the coercive, often punitive, and sometimes even abusive, methods that are used in more "traditional" horse training - methods we ourselves may have been trained to use, and maybe used with some success in riding and competition.  I know in my case, I reached a decision that I wasn't going to work with my horses that way any more, and had to find a better way of working with horses that did not use fear or pain-based methods and treated horses with dignity and respect.  I had become aware of the cost to the horses of many traditional training methods - some horses give up and shut down (these horses are often easy to ride but very dull), some horses become severely stressed and anxious and some sensitive and willing horses fight back (some of these horses may even become dangerously aggressive or just plain lose their minds - Dawn almost went down that road before I woke up and rescued her by stopping her "training").  And please be aware that there are older training methods - you could call them traditional as well - that treat the horse with respect - I'm thinking Podhajsky and the old man who taught Mark Rashid how to work with horses - they aren't what I mean by "traditional" methods in this post.

When I was at this point back in 2003 - pretty clearly knowing what I no longer wanted to do, but not clear on where to go next - that I just happened to meet Mark Rashid and watch him work with people and their horses - it turns out he actually works with people and the horses are the beneficiaries.  It was a clear case of the old saying, "when the student is ready, the teacher appears".  If I'd encountered Mark before that point, I probably would have not understood the importance of what he has to say about horses, their behavior and the most effective ways for horses and people to work together.

By the way, I lump some "new" so-called-natural horsemanship methods in with traditional training methods - including "lungeing for respect" which often essentially is running a horse in a round pen to the point where the horse gives up due to fear or exhaustion - the so-called "join-up" which is just the horse seeking relief - any relief - from the excessive pressure.  Watch the videos of some of those trainers and you'll notice how on edge and worried their horses are. There's effective ground-work and then there's forcing the horse to comply, just as there's a wide spectrum of NH methods and trainers - the NH term is pretty meaningless (Mark Rashid, by the way, refuses to be identified as a NH trainer, since he really isn't one and also believes the "natural" in the term is meaningless).  Any time the horse is effectively forced to comply (with punishment or excessive pressure) by having no options, the training is "traditional" and coercive, whether it's called NH or not.  "Making the horse work" when the horse doesn't comply is an example of a form of coercion that's popular in lot of NH circles (and the thought process behind it doesn't even make sense, but that's for another day).

That realization, that I no longer wanted to be part of a horse world where coercion and punishment were the methods used, was the beginning of my real horsemanship journey, those many years ago.  I would have been described as an experienced, effective amateur rider - I could do a winning hunter round, I could get a horse around a cross-country course, I could gallop down the trail - but I discovered that I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about working with horses in the most effective way.

But you'll often hear, from proponents of traditional, more coercive, training methods, that "new" methods don't work - horses are poorly trained, have poor ground manners and their people often can't ride them effectively or even at all.

From my observations, that criticism is often true . . .  There are reasons for horses turning out that way.

One factor can be the excessive emphasis on groundwork by certain trainers and in certain "programs", leading to endless repetition of things the horse already knows without taking things forward into ridden work - people get stuck in an endless loop of groundwork and more groundwork.  Groundwork, in my opinion, needs to have a purpose that it's trying to achieve, and once that has been achieved, the groundwork doesn't need to be repeated.  Endless, mechanical drilling is numbing to the horse and doesn't allow the work to move forward, and actually has very little to do with the development of softness - things you do to the outside of the horse don't really produce this in the end.  You see a lot of folks that get stuck working with their horses in this repetitive manner.  Groundwork can, however, be very helpful to someone trying to develop feel and attention - it's really more about training the person than the horse.  It can also be very helpful when starting a young horse or checking out a newly acquired horse to make sure the horse is comfortable under saddle and understands how to stop, back and turn.  Ground driving is also a very good way to expose a horse to new situations without the risk of being on board.

There are also folks who confuse themselves and their horses by doing what I call "trainer-of-the-month" - watching lots of videos, following one trainer and then the next and the next.  Experimentation is important - you have to be willing to try and fail - but if you're going to present consistency to your horse you need to find someone good, whose methods and instruction you respect and find helpful, and stick with it.  There are a lot of bad and mediocre trainers out there - including some of the so-called "gurus" - but there are also some really great ones - you just need to find them.  I was lucky enough to encounter Mark at exactly the right point and I couldn't have found anyone better for me and my horses.  But that said, if you and your horses are in the hands of an unsatisfactory, or even worse, bad, trainer, jump ship - don't wait around even if you're not sure where to go next.

"Traditional", punishment-based training often results in compliant horses - they're compliant because of the fear of getting whacked, or spurred or jerked on.  They may also be worried, and stiff and braced, but a lot of riders are used to that and expect their horses to feel like that (if the riders even feel their horses at all).  As noted above, these horses can be easier for people to ride in the specific environment they were trained for - show ring, trail, etc. - since they're often pretty mechanical in their feel and responses.  (Side note: mechanical horses typically don't have a wide repertoire of skills and are often not really very well-trained - take them outside their comfort zone of familiar situations or behaviors and the wheels tend to fall off, partly because the fear of getting whacked/spurred/jerked comes to the top since they're unsure of what to do and are worried that if they guess wrong they'll be punished.)

Working with a horse through feel and the development of softness - in yourself and the horse - produces a much better result in terms of the responsiveness and cooperation of the horse, but, to be frank, it's a lot more work than traditional methods.  It takes longer - it takes as long as it takes - and requires a lot more of the human.

In traditional fear/punishment based training, almost everything that goes wrong is considered to be the horse's fault - in our arrogance, we assume that of course the horse understood what we wanted, and of course the horse can physically comply, so of course the horse is just being stubborn, or defiant, if the horse fails to do what we want.  The problem is that, in almost all cases where the horse  fails to do what we want, either or both of those conditions aren't met.  Coming to this recognition, and figuring out what you have to do as a result, is the road of the horsemanship journey I've been on.

In developing feel (in ourselves - horses have feel already, we humans just need to find it), groundwork - in the form of leading work - can be very useful.  I can't tell you the number of Mark Rashid clinics I've attended either as a rider or auditor where one or more participants (and Mark, unlike a lot of other clinicians, takes a maximum of 7 or 8 participants for the entire clinic) worked a lot on their leading skills to help the horse, and them, define their space.  I've done some of that myself, most recently at the last clinic with Rosie.  There are a lot of people out there, well-intentioned people, whose horses walk all over them - run into them, step on them, bump them, etc. - because the horse has never been give a clear definition of what the human's "bubble" is - it's not that the horse is disrespectful (that awful, useless word), but rather that the human has been inconsistent or absent in terms of defining the relative spaces to be occupied by the horse and human.  And, sure, if you don't set boundaries, the horse will push on you - that's what horses do to define their space and it has almost nothing to do with dominance or "moving the feet" - that other NH mantra.

A lot of folks - I've been there myself at times - who want to find a better way to work with horses - one that doesn't involve fear and coercion - struggle with trying to be so soft that they are ineffective - their horses don't understand what they want because they don't make it clear.  Being soft isn't about being ineffective - it's the most effective way, in my opinion, to work with horses, but it doesn't mean that you're tentative, or wishy-washy, or vague, or afraid to give the horse direction.  But it's easy to fall into that trap - I've done it myself on occasion.

Soft is about attitude and attention, and offering connection to the horse for the horse to take up.  It's about being a leader - not a coercive or punitive leader, but one the horse can trust to give them direction and keep them safe.  It requires that you do something - direct the horse - but without being abrupt or coercive.  It takes time, close attention, and dedication and patience with yourself and the horse, and especially humility - beginner's mind - to develop this mutual softness and connection.  You can't get it without work, primarily on yourself - it's a lot more about what you offer your horse than about anything else - if you offer softness and connection, consistently, the horse will take it up.  And it takes years - at least it has for me - and I feel I'm only just beginning to scratch the surface of what's possible.

No, it's not easy, but darn it, all that work is worth it when you get that feeling of a live, honest connection and communication between you and the horse - there's nothing better - it's just pure wonderful, all wrapped up in a package with horses.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Problem with "Respect"

Okay, let's start with some pretty common statements people sometimes make about their horses:

"My horse doesn't respect me."

"My horse bucked me off."

"My horse stepped on my foot."

"My horse ran away with me."

Now, let's look at those statements a bit more closely - look carefully at the underlined words:

"My horse doesn't respect me."

"My horse bucked me off."

"My horse stepped on my foot."

"My horse ran away with me."

Do you see any common themes?

What all these statements have in common is that the speaker is the victim of some deliberate action by the horse - the horse did these negative things to me.  All these statements, either directly or implicitly, attribute ill intent to the horse - the horse intended to do these things to me.

Now, let's try restating those statements:

"My horse moved into a space close to my body - closer than I wanted/didn't do what I asked/thought I'd asked.  I was upset by that."

"My horse bucked.  I fell off."

"My horse moved his foot over.  My foot ended up underneath his foot."

"My horse ran very fast while I was riding, even though I didn't ask him to."  [Mark Rashid's reformulation of this would likely be: "My horse spooked, I spooked and we ran off together."]

This is the problem with the statement: "My horse doesn't respect me." It's a statement which describes nothing, overgeneralizes and attributes ill intent to the horse.  As Mark Rashid frequently points out, horses don't understand the concept of "respect" - this is a primate concept housed in our particular brain capabilities.  Horses don't have a concept of "respect", just as they don't plan or scheme or concoct devious plans to thwart our wishes.  They have their own needs, and their behavior expresses their needs and emotions pretty directly.  And thinking about horses as having ill intent puts us into an oppositional position to them, which gives the relationship a negative dynamic.

There are two types of anthropomorphism - one is correct in that it draws appropriate analogies from human experience, and one that goes too far.  It is correct that horses, like all mammals, have emotions and feelings, and anyone who denies this or ignores this is, well, to state it plainly, ignorant.  But horses don't have human emotions and feelings - they have horse emotions and feelings.

Attributing human thoughts and emotions to horses is just as bad an error as assuming horses have no thoughts or emotions.  But a brief detour into so-called "natural" theories of horsemanship and horse behavior.  A lot of modern "natural" horsemanship is based on theories of horse behavior that are extrapolated from dominance-based human thought, and these theories have little or nothing to do with actual horse behavior, whether with people or other horses.

As Mark has pointed out, the true leaders in a horse herd are not the horses that push other horses around ("move their feet"), but the horses who have knowledge and exert quiet leadership and direction to take the herd to water and good grazing - typically an older mare.  These are the leaders, not the "dominant" horses.  I fear that much of "natural" horsemanship is contaminated by male human dominance thinking (which has been adopted by many females working with horses) - sorry to any male readers out there (and I understand that there are many men who work with horses who don't hold these views) - that has little to really do with horse behavior.

Horses always have a reason for what they do, and it is found in horse emotions and feelings, not human "theories" of dominance or "respect", neither of which have much to do with real horses.  If we can look at the behaviors of our horses as just that - just behaviors - without attributing "intent" that isn't really there, we'll be way ahead in terms of offering our horses help to learn ways to behave that meet our needs as well as ours - that is the true meaning of partnership.  Remember that, if you do not have in mind exactly the behavior you want your horse to perform and each step to build that behavior - you won't get it - it's necessary to be that specific - horses deal in specifics.  Focusing on the negative behavior and wanting that to go away is pretty useless from a training point of view.  "I want my horse to not spook/fall in/fall out of canter" is way too vague.  And break it down into pieces and build a chain of desired behaviors, slowly and letting the horse figure out the answers (more on this later).

And one other note - there is nothing you can do to the outside of a horse - groundwork, manipulation of the horse's head/neck/body, constraining the horse into a particular posture - that will give you softness or connection - that has to come from the inside of you first.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Some Post Topics Floating Around . . .

I have ideas for several posts floating around in my head and in various drafts.  They'll get massaged into shape - or not - but here are some hints:

Riding in Neutral 
Reliability and Consistency 
The Problem with "Respect" 
Softness Doesn't Mean Being Ineffective 
Letting the Horse Find the Soft Spot

We'll see where that all comes out . . .

In other news, Red and I are up to 30 minutes walking under saddle, with quite a bit of good work involved - figures, lateral work including leg yield and pirouettes, backing, shortening/lengthening.  He's walking much better, and his backing is now straight with no rotation of his hips as he backs or foot-dragging.  We have one more 30-minute walk session to go, and then I'll run some neuro tests (I'm not a vet but having had 5 EPM and one Lyme case, I can do a pretty decent set of neuro tests) and see if he's ready for trot work.  Today, when we were doing our lengthening work at walk, he really wanted to take that forward into trot, which was a very good sign.  His ankle looks pretty good - a small puff on the outer side, but we continue to ice and it looks better every day.

My recent rides on Pie have been amazing - very strong connection and just lovely work.  The quality of his movement and softness just continues to improve.

Dawn has what I hope will be her final visit from the dental surgeon tomorrow to recheck her mouth after her three extractions.  Considering that she's eating up a storm and is almost fat - for Dawn, this is amazing as she's usually too thin - I'm expecting all will be well.  We're scheduling a chiropractic visit, since her neck is stiff and sore from all the propping up of her head for her extractions.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Troubleshooting for the Barefoot Horse

A fine post from Rockley Farm on troubleshooting for the barefoot horse.  I've added in the comments my thoughts on supplementation for minerals and IR/metabolic horses.  Here's a link for Biotin 800Z, and one for Chromium Yeast.