Saturday, December 26, 2015

Dawn Teaches Me: Channeling and Mirroring

I’m still learning from my horses, and expect that will never stop.  Dawn’s been teaching me some important things again, that I can take and apply to my rides with my other three horses.  As usual, my learning is all about how I ride, and how I can more effectively present myself to my horses so they can more effectively do what I want.

I’ve been riding Dawn now for over 7 years, and we have a very close partnership.  She’s a good teacher because she’s so profoundly sensitive and responsive - she gives great feedback.  We’ve been thinking/feeling together about some important things lately, that I believe will further transform my riding and how I think about my partnership with my horses.  The more softly and with thought I ride, the better my horses go - funny how that works.

Dawn’s been teaching me some important things about what I can “mirroring”.  But, before we get to that, a few words on the difference between directing/channeling and bracing/blocking, and on the relationship between directing with thought/intention and physical aids/cues.

Before I started learning about how to ride with softness and thought, I thought of myself as a pretty effective rider, and in some ways I was.  I could get the horses I was riding to do most anything I wanted, but, although I wasn’t rough or punitive, I basically muscled/pushed/pulled my horses into doing what I wanted.  It never really occurred to me that there was another way to ride.  The way I ride now bears little resemblance to the way I used to ride.  It used to be that all my cues and aids were braces, my contact with the horse through the reins was a brace, and much of what I did with my body blocked/interfered with the horse’s motion.  My horses got the job done for me, but I made things a lot harder for them.

Here’s how I think about things now.  My body, and its position and actions (including breathing and where I focus my eyes), serves to direct the horse’s motion.  My thoughts and intention lead/direct the horse’s thoughts and intention.  My body - arms, legs, seat and the position of my torso and head - provides a channel that the horse moves inside of - they provide shape and limits.  I try to avoid bracing - if the horse encounters any of the physical limits I’m setting, I want to offer softness while still giving definition to the boundary of the channel.

My internal energy, intention and focus direct the horse’s energy level, rhythm and destination.  Increasingly, this also takes the place of physical cues, but the “channel” of my body provides the cues the horse may need if my thought and focus aren’t clear enough.  Essentially, the horse only encounters a physical cue if it’s needed as a backup, and even then, it isn’t really a cue, it’s shaping of the horse’s motion by the boundaries of the “channel”.

Hope that isn’t too confusing.  Now, on to mirroring.  Think of a horse’s body, from tip of nose all the way to where each foot contacts the ground.  Now rotate a horse’s body vertically, and you’ve got an equivalent of the human body.  When I ride, I think/feel my body as merging with the horse’s body, with the equivalent body parts being as one.  This has two aspects - my body forms a physical channel for the equivalent part of the horse, and my intention for my horse to do something with a body part - say, step under and over with a hind leg - becomes a thought for my body part and the horse’s body part to do the motion together, as one.  If there’s any disconnect between my thought and what the horse derives from it, the channel of my body comes into play, effectively as an aid - although I’m not “applying” any aid or cue.  Since there’s no “putting on” of an aid, the opportunity to brace is reduced and it’s easier to stay soft and relaxed together.

Another way the mirroring concept is very helpful to me (and my horses) is that it gives me a way to position myself in space so that I don’t block the horse’s motion.  I’m a pro at blocking motion - most of my problems with bend and/or horses falling on the forehand have come from my blocking a shoulder.  Most of it comes from my using rein aids that block or bracing in my shoulder rather than mirroring the motion I want to create a soft channel. Dawn’s been helping me figure out how not to do that any more.  

Perhaps a couple of examples would help.  Using mirroring, together with thought and intention, here’s how we bend through a corner, or turn off the rail.  As we come into the corner or initiate a turn (tracking right) - all of this happens simultaneously - I turn my head slightly (keeping my head and eyes up and not tilting my head to the inside) and direct my eyes around the corner, open my right shoulder slightly (which means my right hand comes back towards my hip slightly), and think our two right hind legs (her right hind, my right leg) stepping under and slightly to the outside.

If it’s really working, what I do and what the horse does are one and the same and they occur at exactly the same time - there’s no separation and the horse and I just do the movement together - there’s no ask and response, just us together as one.  This is the true mirror - where we mirror each other with no separation between us in time or space. This is how Dawn and I are operating now, and almost all the time there’s really nothing more to it.  If there were any separation, the horse would in the instant and softly encounter the boundaries of the channel, which would serve to direct the horse’s motion.  If I’m doing all these things (or more importantly, not “doing”), if you were watching you’d see me doing almost nothing or perhaps nothing at all.  When Dawn and I go around a corner or start a turn, if you watched really closely you might see my eyes move but that’s about all.  If my inside hand came back a fraction, it was simultaneous with her bending her head, neck and shoulder slightly. And my eyes and hand are just “going with” what Dawn and I are already doing.

The ask is the response is the release - it's all one thing.  How cool is that?

Dawn gets the “excellent teacher” award, and my other horses say they appreciate her efforts.  I still have more moments of separation with my other three, where the channel providing shaping/boundaries comes into play, but those occasions are getting fewer and fewer and smaller and smaller, and the improvement will come all from me - my horses are ready and able to respond if I offer clear intention with my thought and focus and soft channeling by mirroring with my body.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Bracing, Pulling and Rooting

Horses that pull or brace on your hands, or that root, are looking for a release.  Horses don't come braced, they get made that way by people.  The horse that pulls and braces, and is heavy in your hands likely has learned this by being pulled on and never getting a release.  The horse that roots has also likely been pulled on and has learned to get a temporary release through rooting.

The solution in all these cases is to teach the horse that there is a release to be found - a consistent, reliable, soft spot where everything's in balance and the contact is the merest whisper.  But it's up to the rider to define and deliver that soft spot every time.  When this happens, and the horse believes that the release is always there to find, all of the pulling, leaning, bracing and rooting behavior goes away, just like that.  It's that simple.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

More Simple - On Bending

More on the concept of simple (see this post if you don't know what I'm talking about).

One thing I've struggled with in my riding is a tendency to block the horse's motion, either by bracing - with hand, leg or seat - or by focussing on the wrong things.

I find it very helpful to think of bending, not as changing the orientation of the horse's neck or body - thinking this way often leads directly to blocking the motion - but as influencing/directing the horse's leg (or legs).  Bend then results, without blocking or bracing, from the feet upwards, rather than from the body downwards.  The resulting feel is much better - the power comes up from the feet.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Missy's Hock Fusion

Missy was quite sound when she came to me this past January.  I noticed as we were working together over the next several months that she had some difficulty bending left and was often slightly stiff tracking left when we were warming up at the trot.  But she always warmed up out of it and remained sound.  This made me think that she probably had some arthritis, most likely in her hocks, which is quite common in horses in their teens - Red also has some hock arthritis and starts out stiff in trot but loosens up as he works.  My general rule for this sort of thing is: if the horse improves during a work session and ends up moving sound, then the work is likely helping the horse stay mobile with some degree of arthritis.

But, if the horse either comes out worse off the next day, or doesn't improve during a work session, then it's time for a rethink.  Over the past several months, Missy's soundness at the trot was becoming questionable.  We'd have a good day, but sometimes she'd come out stiffer the next day.  Or she'd trot fine tracking right, but then be somewhat off tracking left, and not warm up out of it.  I'd give her a few days off, with some bute, and she'd be fine again for a bit, but would be off again once we started working again.

There was never any swelling or heat nor any signs of footsoreness.  It was pretty clear that the issue was somewhere in the right front/left hind pair, but it was hard for me to determine precisely what it was.  So it was time to have the vet out for a look, to determine exactly what was going on, so that we'd know what we should be doing or not doing.  My vet is really excellent at lameness evaluations. She takes her time and is very systematic and thorough.  For example, when she does flex tests, she does all the major joints, not just the one that seems to be the problem.

On the lunge, Missy was slightly off at the trot in both directions on the right front/left hind pair, more so when tracking left.  Cantering on the lunge was very difficult for her.  On the left lead, she would tend to "bunny hop" behind, bringing both hinds down very close in time, and would counterbend to the outside - to protect the left hind.  Tracking right, she wanted to stop cantering or switch leads behind.  This was consistent with my experience in the canter work we'd done under saddle.

Flex tests showed soreness in the left hock, some slighter soreness in the right hock, and on palpation she had some soreness in her right neck and shoulder and sternal area - due to compensating for the left hind.  (Fortunately, we were able to get the chiropractor out within a few days, and she's a lot less muscle sore.)  She was also positive for hock soreness using the Churchill test, which is more specific for hock pain than flex tests.  We agreed that hock x-rays to confirm what we suspected were the next thing to do - the left hock was clearly the bigger issue.

For reference, here's an x-ray of a normal hock:

The hock is a complex joint, with many small bones, and is anatomically equivalent to our ankle.  Look at the stacked bones in the middle.  There are three joints there running from front (left) to back (right) of the hock.  From a functional point of view, only the topmost of the three horizontal joints is necessary for the horse to flex the hock joint - the lower two joints are what are known as low-motion joints.  These lower joints are the ones most prone to arthritis.

Here's Missy's right hock (the one giving her only a little bit of trouble) - the second view is frontal:

When the vet saw these images, she said "yep, hock arthritis".  The right hock's middle joint is basically 100% fused - there's no joint space left and bone has filled in.  The lower joint is also pretty much fused as well.  In the frontal image (the second one of the two above), the lump on the right overlapping the bottom joint is a bony bridge - a bone spavin - this lump has always been there, which means this joint has probably been fused for quite some time.  The shadow on the x-ray indicates some irritation of the bone, due to strain on this hock in compensation for the left one.

And here's the troublesome left hock joint:

Both lower joints on the left hock are well on the way to fusing as well - my vet says they're about 75% fused, with the middle joint further along than the lowest one.  The fact that Missy's fairly recently developed obvious soreness means that the arthritic changes are progressing, probably to full fusion in this hock as well.

Many horses have some hock arthritis, but not all horses progress to fusion - many don't.  Hocks fusing can be a result of a combination of genetics, conformation and how the horse is used.  Fusion can happen quickly, or can take quite a while - even years.

Now this may sound bad, but it's actually good news.  If and when the left hock fuses, the pain and inflammation should go away and it's quite likely she'll be completely sound in both her hocks, losing only about 10% of the flexion in the hocks.  It's also good news that she's only slightly off and not seriously gimpy (some horses apparently become severely lame during hock fusion) - this means that she can stay in light work so long as she doesn't get worse.  Joint injections in the two lower joints are not recommended due to no joint space existing or being so minimal that getting a needle in would be too difficult.  The upper of the three joints of both hocks are in good shape, which is good news.

So our objective is to keep her moving but also keep her as comfortable as possible, while waiting for the fusion to progress.  Sometimes fusion happens quickly, and sometimes it takes a long time, but it's far enough advanced that it should happen at some point, and her soreness indicates the process is active.  My vet will come back in 6 months or so to take another set of x-rays to see how things are doing, and in the meantime Missy stays in full all-day herd turnout - she moves around just fine out there - and we'll do light work.  I've been riding her bareback (to reduce excess weight) for about 15 minutes at walk and a few minutes of trotting.  We do 5 minutes of "ambling around" walk, and then 10 minutes of marching walk.  Then we trot a few lengths of the arena - no turns.  We're also doing topical anti-inflammatories (Surpass ointment) on both hocks for a few weeks, and then she'll go back on daily aspirin.  If she doesn't seem uncomfortable, we can slowly add a bit more straight-line trotting.  I'm also keeping an eye on the height of the inner (medial) edges of her hind hooves and slightly rasping them down if they start to get longer to take some of the pressure off the inside surfaces of her hocks.

And she's also on a diet - she's a hay-eating machine and has gotten a bit heavy lately (no, we won't use the "fat" word . . .).

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Your right leg and lower body channels and directs the movement of the horse's right hind leg.

Your left leg and lower body channels and directs the movement of the horse's left hind leg.

Your right hand and upper body channels and directs the movement of the horse's right front leg.

Your left hand and upper body channels and directs the movement of the horse's left front leg.

Destination, speed and rhythm, and changes in them, come from your focus, breathing and internal energy and rhythm - from doing it yourself, together with your horse.

That's really all there is - mirroring of bodies and blending of thought and motion. Each idea implies a lot more, but I believe it's really fundamentally that simple.

I expect I'll have more to say about what's contained in that simplicity . . .

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Does Your Horse Ever Yell at You?

Once in a while, one of my horses has to yell at me, and I always feel bad about this because it means I've not been paying attention and have been ignoring what they have been trying to tell me, often for days.  They say that if they ask nicely - often repeatedly - and if I'm still not listening, and they have something important to say, then I leave them no choice but to yell at me.

Yesterday, Dawn and I figured out something important - but she says to tell you that she had to yell at me first.

She's been increasingly snappish about our morning rides, sometimes when I'm grooming, often when I'm saddling and girthing, and even sullen glares and attempted nips when I'm leading her to the mounting block to get on.  She started with gestures of displeasure - glares and grimaces, then over the next days, upped the ante to "air snaps" - biting gestures where she doesn't make contact, to grabbing my coat and holding it (with accompanying glares).  Finally, Monday, she'd apparently had it - she really turned into an alligator - big snaps and even hitting my hip with her teeth.  She and I have a deal: she can be expressive but contact with my body isn't allowed.  The fact that she felt she had to cross that line was a really clear indication of how upset she was that I wasn't getting the message she'd been trying for days to tell me.

The worst of the snapping occurred when I was saddling - putting the saddle on, putting the shims under the saddle, adjusting the pad and girthing.  So clearly it was something about the saddle.  But I was a bit perplexed.  We're using the same saddle she's been happy with for years, with the same shims.  I had to think about it overnight until the light bulb came on . . .

But first, a note about saddle fit and shims.  These are the shims I use:

This shows two of them, fanned slightly, much as I use them under a saddle.  They are very thin pieces of felt, and they are inserts that came from a Mattes pad.  A number of years I got a Mattes pad, thinking it would be useful, but pretty quickly got rid of the pad itself and kept the inserts.  The pad itself was pretty, but not very helpful, as it has pre-set pockets into which the shims go.  But what if that's not where your saddle needs shimming?  And the shims had to stack up in the pockets, creating uncomfortable edges for the horse.  So, instead, I shim using the felt pads alone, arranged in whatever number and configuration is needed and placed between the saddle and pad exactly where they're required.  The pads stay put nicely, since the felt isn't slippery.

But, you ask, why not get a saddle that fits?  This is a good question to ask.  I have three saddles.  Missy wears one (an About the Horse saddle), with no shims - it fits her perfectly.  Red wears a different About the Horse saddle - it fits him well with no shims.  Pie wears the same saddle as Missy, but with shims to compensate for his narrower shoulders.  Dawn wears a third saddle (a Kieffer dressage saddle), and she's both slightly downhill and also narrow through the withers, so we use shims.  There's nothing wrong with using shims to allow a saddle to fit, and they can be helpful as horses change shape due to fitness levels and weight.  But as with anything, shims can also create problems, and they won't fix a saddle that really doesn't fit.

I use the thinnest saddle pads possible - Red and Pie use single wool pads, and Dawn uses just a dressage pad.  Missy does use a diamond wool pad but it makes her saddle fit perfectly so that's OK.  If your saddle fits, you don't need much if any padding (also assuming you're not bouncing and pounding on your horse's back), and this has the benefit of putting you closer to the horse.  If you need a lot of thick padding, your saddle really doesn't fit.  And padding up a saddle with a tree that is too narrow actually makes the problem worse.

Anyhow, I thought about what Dawn could be telling me about saddle fit . . .

Aha!! I got it!  She'd changed shape - she has gained some weight recently (a good thing as she's a hard keeper) and also has most of her thicker winter coat, and her saddle, shimmed the way we'd been doing it, no longer fit and was putting pressure on the back of her shoulders (the most common saddle fitting problems are: a) wrong tree size - too big or too small or wrong shape, b) bridging - where the front and back of the saddle correctly fit the horse but there's a gap in the middle where the saddle doesn't contact the horse's back, and c) pressure on the shoulders due to wrong tree shape/bar pressure or incorrect placement on the horse's back).

The next morning, I confirmed when grooming that the areas at the back of her shoulders, just below the withers, were a bit sore, the right a bit more than the left.  We did some massage and energy work on those areas, which she seemed to really appreciate - some muzzle twitching, chewing and even one big head/neck shake out.  Then we went to saddling, and before I saddled, I took the shims and held them out to her and told her I now knew what she was saying and thought we could fix the problem so she would be comfortable.

There was one pro forma glare when the saddle came out, but other than that she was relaxed and happy throughout the saddling, including for girthing - a huge change from one day to the next.  I'd been putting three shims on each side, at the front and top of the saddle - this both raised the saddle and narrowed it at the front.  The problem was that three shims was too many with her weight gain, and I was also putting the shims too far forward where they pushed on the back of her shoulders.  I reduced the shims to two (we tried one on each side first but that wasn't enough shimming) and moved them back from the front of the saddle - they're still towards the front, but behind her shoulders.  I also rotated the shims by about 45 degrees to more correctly fill the space without lifting the middle of the saddle.

Voila! Problem solved!  Happy, non-snappish Dawn.  We've had two days in a row where things have been just great.  I think that many horses who act out - who feel they have to yell (which can take the form of biting, bucking, rearing, bolting, etc.) - have issues of physical discomfort due to saddle fit, bit type/fit and muscle/joint pain issues that no one is paying attention to.  "Misbehavior" can often be a horse who is desperate to communicate something important about how they are feeling, physically and/or emotionally.

Now, Dawn says, if she could just get me to pay better attention so she doesn't have to yell at me again . . .

Have you ever been yelled at by your horse?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Good News!

Red and I had our vet visit today.  I really, really like my vet - she's extremely smart and knowledgeable, and a real pro about lots of things, but especially about lameness of any sort.  She's good with the horses, and always takes her time - even if her schedule is running hours late.  She also is good about explaining things to the human connections of the horses.  She also knows my horses well as individuals and remembers how they move and any oddities about their bodies.

She watched Red on the lunge, looked carefully at his leg, asked me questions, and did a careful palpation (done the correct way, with the leg held up) of all the structures, including the ligaments and tendons.  The swelling was down quite a bit from last week, but still visible.  Red was very close to completely sound on the lunge, slightly less so when the left hind was on the outside, but still more than 95% good.  Slightly less push with the left hind, but very subtle.

She said all the important structures - the suspensory ligament and the flexor tendons - felt fine - no swelling or tenderness.  She said it was highly likely, due to the location next to the tendons and in an area where he has scar tissue under the skin from his splint bone surgery, that an adhesion - scar tissue from the surgery - had been attached to the tendon sheath and had moved (when he almost fell with me or from running around in the pasture), causing a small tear in the tendon sheath.  This leaked synovial fluid, forming the swelling and causing minor lameness at the time.  The fact that the swelling has gone down a lot and there is no heat or tenderness likely means the small tear in the tendon sheath was so small that it has already closed back up again.

After discussion, we decided not to ultrasound at this time, since she didn't think the structure of the ligament or tendons was affected, and ultrasound does a poor job visualizing adhesions.  She also thought the 5% unsoundness was likely in large part to his hind end arthritic joint issues and him being out of work.

So we're cleared to start back to under saddle work!  Very exciting!  Obviously, if he doesn't work out of his stiffness, or he gets less sound or the leg starts to look worse, we'll rethink, but her opinion is that he'll be just fine.  I let him go into the pasture and he trotted and then cantered off, as happy as can be.

(A note about tendon sheathes.  Normally, an injury to a tendon sheath is a very serious matter.  But most injuries to tendon sheathes are wounds - lacerations or punctures.  These injuries present serious risks of infection, and often the structure of the tendon is damaged as well.  Red's injury isn't of this type - it's wholly inside his leg with no exposure to the outside.)

So, this afternoon, we went back to work with a 15-minute walk ride - he was as good as gold, despite having been out of work for almost three weeks.  It was great to be riding with him again!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Nature of Trust, and Another Vet Visit Coming Up . . .

An excellent post from Soft and Sound on what it means for a horse to trust, and what it takes to get a horse to put trust in your leadership.

* * * * * *

Red gets to see the vet . . . again . . . next week for a diagnostic ultrasound.  Although he seemed to be OK after our almost-fall about two weeks ago, about three days after that he developed a mysterious swelling on the outside of his left hind leg.  His outside left hind is where he had splint bone surgery, and the leg, although fully healed, does have some lumps and bumps.  But this was a soft, puffy swelling, and the location was a bit problematic in my view - in the area between the lateral suspensory ligament and the flexor tendon.  The swelling is clearly defined, not that large and about two inches above the top of the fetlock joint. It could be a result of the almost-fall, or somewhat that was exacerbated if he ran in turnout.  On the lunge, he's only slightly off on that leg - barely detectable - and he doesn't seem sensitive to palpation.  On a straight line at the trot, he appears sound.

Here's a picture - we're looking obliquely at his left hind - front of the leg is to the left.  The white line is where the hair grew in white over his surgical scar.

Horses with ligament and tendon injuries can sometimes present with minimal swelling or lameness, or after a fairly brief period of rest, no swelling or lameness, even if the tendon or ligament isn't fully healed.  This can result in a cycle of injury/soundness/back to work/reinjury/etc./etc., ultimately compromising the structure of the ligament or tendon to the point that soundness is impossible to retain when the horse is in work.  Maisie and I went through that a number of years ago - I was less experienced at the time and also got poor advice from the vet and trainer I was with at the time.  I don't know if ultrasounds were available at the time - more than 10 years ago - but no one suggested one. After repeated reinjuries, she was retired in her mid-teens - she's pasture sound but can't be in work - and is happily enjoying her retirement.

It's possible, due to the location of the swelling, that Red simply tore an adhesion from his surgery.  But the ultrasound will give us a more definitive answer on Friday.  Keeping fingers crossed . . .

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Tale of Four Tails

This is another case of how different each horse is from another.

I'm careful grooming tails - I hate pulling out hairs.  So, for most of the late fall, through winter, and into spring, I don't groom tails, at all.  If there are burrs or mud, I pick it out with my fingers.

Usually, the first really hot day in late spring, the horses get one of their few shampoo baths, including tail washing, and after that, I brush out tails, with liberal application of Show Sheen, and then use Show Sheen every time I brush tails after that.  This year, for some reason, although we had baths, there was no tail brushing.

So we ended up with September (and early October) tail brushing.  Dawn was easy - her black tail is sleek and slippery, even without Show Sheen, and easily brushed out.  Her tail looks a lot better than it used to - she used to frequently pull out big chunks of it catching it on her water bucket hooks, but that seems to have eased up with Missy (instead of a gelding - nasty gelding, Dawn says) in the adjacent stall.  Pooping in the water bucket is also way down, which I appreciate.  Her tail is pretty full now, and hangs to almost fetlocks, which is longer than it used to be. (None of these photos is recent, but it gives you an idea of tails.)

Red's tail is beautiful - very dark in color (although his mane is lighter than his body color), and quite narrow and long - it just brushes the ground.  It also has some wave to it, and tends to twirl - individual tendrils tend to form long, wrapped twirls, which makes them tough to brush out at first.  It took quite a while - at least an hour - to work through his tendrils.

Pie's tail is huge - very large and bushy and also quite long - it almost touches the ground.  I knew it would take quite a while to brush it out - his hair is a bit curly/kinky and tends to form knots and clumps, and it takes a long time to work through all the hair volume.  But once it's done, it's full and exuberant.   It took me two full sessions - probably an hour each time - to get it done - and I have to brush it with Show Sheen every day to keep it from snarling up again.

Missy has the prize tail - it's full, and very thick, and very, very long, white on the top and very dark brown below - it drags on the ground by at least three inches when she's at rest.  I was dreading brushing it out - although her's had been done more recently that any of my other horses.  But it turned out to be a breeze - less than 10 minutes to get the whole thing done.  She has the same slick, very straight hair that Dawn does - no curls or twirls or snags to deal with.  It look gorgeous - I may have to (reluctantly) trim the very ends to keep her from stepping on it and pulling it out.  She seems to have the same slippery, dirt resistant coat and mane/tail hair that our pony Norman has - we called him the Teflon pony - which is a good thing, considering how much white she has.

It's interesting the different character each horse's tail has - have you found that with your horses?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Red is Sore

Although Red doesn't seem to have suffered any serious injuries from our almost fall a few days ago, I expected him to be stiff and sore - he had to use himself pretty seriously to keep from falling.  The past two days, I've been doing some massage wherever he indicates that he wants it - his neck, shoulders and sacroiliac area seem to need special attention.

Today I put him on the lunge briefly, and although I wouldn't describe him as lame at the trot on any particular foot, he was very tight and stiff and didn't much want to trot.  He's quite sound at the walk, and his swinging walk is coming back - yesterday he was a bit stiff even at the walk. So for now, we're riding at the walk.  He seemed to enjoy it, and we did a bit of leading around the mare pasture afterwards.

We'll do this for the next week, and I'll continue to massage where he wants it.  I'm not doing any bute, since he's in herd turnout and if he's sore I want him to feel it so he doesn't overdo things.  I think he'll be fine, but it may take some time.  I'm just glad things aren't worse.

Sunday, September 27, 2015


There are days where you're just plain lucky.

Yesterday, I was riding Red in the outdoor arena - we were riding on the grass center.  It was a lovely day, enough wind to keep the flies at bay but balmy and sunny.  Red was forward, and just wonderful - lots of nice trot and canter work.

We were cantering on the left lead, and he fell out of the canter into a very big trot.  Rider error - instead of collecting him in trot before asking for canter again, I just pressed him to canter from the big trot.

All of a sudden, he was scrambling.  He went down in front - I think on both knees and his nose/face  - but managed to haul himself back up.  We had a lot of forward momentum when he tripped, so it took him a number of strides to right himself, and the ground looked mighty close.

I was sure for a moment that we were both going down, but he managed to pull it out - he saved our bacon with his fitness and athleticism.  I gave him free rein in the seconds while he struggled - I'm not a believer in the "hold the horse up by the reins" school of thought - a horse is heavy, and with forward momentum that's a lot of mass - a human holding the reins isn't going to have much if any influence on what happens and I believe the horse needs freedom of the head and neck to recover.

I jumped off, expecting bad things - damaged tendons/ligaments or worse.  Nothing was obviously wrong - I palpated everything - and he was walking sound, so I got back on and trotted briefly - amazingly, he was completely sound.  I got right back off and led him back to the barn and put him away, not wanting to take a chance on his soundness until some time had passed - injured horses can sometimes appear sound just due to adrenaline.

I checked Red again after I rode Pie, and again several hours later, and he seemed to be sound at the walk and there was no swelling or heat in any of his legs, which was remarkable.

This morning I hiked out into the far pastures to check on him, and he still seemed fine.  He gets a day off today anyway, and we'll see how he is on Monday.

Sometimes you're just plain lucky - I'll take that whenever it's on offer.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mixed Messages, and the "Go There" Game

Red's bracing on the first walk/trot transition is telling me that I'm sending him mixed messages - "trot now" and "I'm expecting you to balk".  His bracing/fussing is him saying "make up your mind, woman! - how am I supposed to do it when I don't know what you want!"  And I'm introducing physical bracing by pushing him with my legs/seat and the going to a secondary aid (tap with dressage whip) when that doesn't work.  Those are all braces on my part, and he's entitled to expect more from me - it's perfectly fair for him to react as he does.

So we're changing how we do things.  I'm working on getting out of my mind - into my energy and feel - Red demands this and expects it from me.  He's a great teacher/taskmaster for this stage of my horsemanship journey.

So we've been using what I call the "go there" game.  Once we warm up at the walk, our job is to "go there" - wherever I decide "there" is - with as much energy as we can muster - fast walk, trot or canter, it doesn't matter.  We go to the various arena doors, we go to objects - barrels/jump standards/other things.  We go to marks on the wall.  My job is to lock on to an objective with my eyes and pull us there, together, with energy.  No leg aids, no seat aids, no secondary cues, no thinking rhythm, no anything.  Just my eyes/focus and intent/energy.

Know where you're going and go there, together.  There are a bunch of things in there - let's unpack them.

Focus only on what you do want, not on what you don't want.  A mental brace is an example of focussing on what you don't want, and this pulls your horse's attention to that instead of what you do want.  By the way, this isn't about the power of positive thinking.  If you haven't prepared your horse for what you do what, you won't get it just by thinking that you will.  If your horse hasn't learned to stand still for mounting, because you haven't consistently, with softness, asked for it and rewarded it, thinking it won't make it so.

Focus on where you're going, not on the horse.  Up and out, that's my mantra - it opens my posture and allows the horse to move.  If I focus down, on the horse, it drives the energy down instead of up and out.  If I resort to mechanical aids/secondary aids, that introduces braces.

The horse and you go there together, with the energy and feel you bring and which the horse joins you in.  How do horses go from walk to trot in the field?  They just do it, they don't think about it, they intend it (go there, and the gait follows) and it happens.  Everything I've learned so far about asking the horse to do something has been an improvement - from mechanical aids, to softer mechanical aids, to just thinking the new rhythm and feeling it in me.  But there's still just the slightest bit of separation between me and the horse.  All of my horses have brought me this far, together with the very fine instruction and supervision I've had from Mark and Heather.

I think what Red's inviting me to do now is to take that next step. To go out of my mind and use pure feel and intention, no words or "labeled" thoughts, to take the horse and me, together, as one mind and body, where we want to go - this is how I rode as a kid.  He doesn't like the feeling of my slight separation bumping up against his mind and body, and is telling me so - he says I can do better than that.

We've been playing around with it together, and although it's not always perfect, it's already better.  Other than keeping his head pointed towards where we're going, I ignore any fussing and just ask for "there, with as much energy as we can get".  And he goes, sometimes at a fast walk, sometimes at trot and sometimes at canter.  We're working on refining it - he's already happier.

At the end of our session today, we did some dynamite canter work - figure eights with simple changes in the middle - he does a great counter-canter already and I think flying changes will arrive soon . . .  His canter just gets better and better - very uphill and elevated which gives us a lot to work with.

This journey of discovery, together with my horses, is very exciting.  What they have to teach me is so profound, and so wonderful, that it takes my breath away.

Let go of expectations, just go together.  Just let it happen, don't try to make it happen.  It's not something you do to the horse, it's something you do together with the horse.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Letting Go of Mental Braces

Sometimes when we struggle with something - with our horses - we just can't stop fretting/worrying/obsessing about it.  We tell everyone, "my horse does x!"  And, every time we ride, we think about x, worry about x, and expect our horse to do x.  That's a pretty good description, I think, of a mental brace.  And one of the things about it - it's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you're expecting x, x is pretty darn likely to happen, even, or especially, if you're closely connected to your horse with mental feel.  And then it becomes a habit, for both you and your horse . . . And we all know habits are hard to alter.

Red and I have struggled, for longer than I'd like to tell (years, actually) with our walk/trot transition. And not all walk/trot transitions - the very first one in a work session, and that one only.  We're walking, I mentally ask for trot, his head pops up and body gets stiff (no trot), I go to a secondary cue, he fusses, sometimes contorting his neck and body, and trots.  Sometimes, if he's feeling fresh, he leaps into canter rather than trotting - almost like he's bursting through a barrier.  It happens almost every ride. After that first, ugly transition, the problem just evaporates - every other walk/trot transition is as perfect as can be, even if we stop working for a while, stand in the middle of the ring and pick things back up again.  This makes it particularly difficult to work on, since it only happens once per ride. I can refine and polish my other walk/trot transitions as much as I want - they're pretty darn perfect - and nothing improves about that pesky first walk/trot transition.  It's unlikely to be a soundness/soreness issue as he immediately has no problem whatsoever, even seconds later, with another walk/trot transition - those happen just with feel and I never have to resort to secondary aids.

I'm anticipating the balk/brace, and he's delivering it. Now we get to the "don't think about pink elephants" part . . .

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Cooler Weather Coming, and Snotty Nose

It's been hot for us - 90s with the heat index.  Even if the horses would be OK - and they wouldn't be comfortable, I'd be hot, and sweaty and not having much fun.  So we've been doing very little riding over the past week.  Today, finally, with some rain and storms, the temperature's beginning to come down, although it's still very humid.

All four horses had short walk/trot rides today - we're all building our fitness back up.  Missy and I spent some time working on her softness - I'd noticed some bracing when leading/turning was showing up and wanted to get that nipped in the bud.  She responded very quickly - it was a case of my not paying attention to her starting to brace when being handled.

More coming on that . . . on the subject: never release on a brace.

Dawn is on SMZs for two weeks after an episode of snotty nose.  She had a goopy, bad - nasty, rotten - smelling discharge from her left nostril for several days. Could be a sinus infection, could be a tooth problem - the upper molars have their roots just adjacent to the sinus cavity and an abscess can break through to there.  Then, after the bad smell went away, she still had a goopy nose for two more days.  She'll be on the SMZs for two weeks to be sure anything that's in there is dealt with.  She's due for a dental follow-up this month anyway - her teeth are always an issue - so we'll check thing out and be sure she doesn't have (yet another) fractured tooth going bad.

She's eating well, but she was very crabby - cross and biting but no fever - just before the goop started.  So there may have been a tooth abscess brewing . . .

Working on a post on braces, bracing and what that feels like in your hand/leg/seat . . .

Monday, August 31, 2015

Nothing Better

Nothing better on a warm late summer day that four lovely rides on four excellent horses.  We're going to have some hot weather for the next few days, with little riding likely, so I wanted to get in some rides today.  I couldn't have asked for a better day.

All the things I've struggled with my horses require me to dissolve the braces in me, and then things get good - it's never about the horse doing anything wrong, but about what I bring to and offer to the horse - if it's right on my end the horses deliver.

Dawn was lively - very forward and responsive and wanting to move out.  She has taught me a lot about having a soft, following contact and doing as little as possible - in fact nothing - to get what I want.  With her, thought is enough - if the barest idea of canter crosses my mind, she's cantering - I have to be careful what I think and keep a clear mind when I'm with her.

Missy and I worked some more on her left bend at the trot, and on her maintaining forward with good softness and engagement - very nice.  She's very consistent in her softness now and is just lovely.

Red and I have had two outstanding rides in a row.  He's been energetic and responsive, and my offering softness to him - for him to take up - at every step, even when he wants to brace - has made a huge difference.  Instead of bracing against (my) brace, he just melts into the softness, and we go about our business.

Pie has been a peach (peachy Pie, anyone?).  Lovely, soft, engaged trot work and some excellent relaxed, forward cantering.  Right bend is no longer an issue - he's reliably soft on both reins now that I'm not getting in his way.

My horses teach me every day.  Some of the thing they teach - consistency on my part pays huge dividends.  Their manners on the ground are impeccable, they stand like statues for mounting, and they know exactly what to expect from me.  Things just happen like I'd want them to, if I give the horses the consistency they deserve and have come to expect.

Dawn and Pie teach me quietness - on my part - no excess movements, melting into the horse, and using breathing and thought to get what I want.  Softness results.

Red continues to teach me that if I can continue to offer softness when he braces, the brace dissolves - it isn't about him being soft, it's about me offering softness to him and him joining me there, consistently.

Missy teaches me that forward comes from the inside of me, connected to the inside of her - it isn't a matter of aids on the outside of the horse.  Our communication and connection continues to grow.

A very fine day, indeed.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Asking a Question

The mare pasture is visible from the indoor arena, so I sometimes get to see interesting mare interactions.  One of the things I like most about spending time with horses is getting to see their interactions with each other in the herd - our pastures are big and the herds have at least 15 horses in them.

I was standing in the indoor the other day, talking with another boarder.  I noticed Dawn grazing in the mare pasture.  A buckskin mare approached her, stopped about 20 feet from her, and stood there with her ears pricked, intently looking at Dawn.  I said to the other boarder:  "That mare is asking Dawn a question."

Sure enough, within a few seconds, they were grooming.  I've seen that behavior before in herds - the subordinate mare will ask if it's OK to groom, and the more dominant horse has to accept the offer.

It's good to see Dawn grooming with another horse in her herd.  Since she's moved to the barn - in 2012 - she really hasn't had a special mare friend, and this was the first time I've observed her grooming at this barn.

Dawn will occasionally call to Missy, both when she's in the pasture and I have Missy inside, or will nicker when Missy comes back to her stall - their stalls are next to one another - but I've never seen them grooming.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Photo Shoot

I was at the barn early today, so had a rare opportunity to go out in the pastures with my camera.

Loved how Dawn shone in the sun:

Curious Missy:

Dawn grazing:

Missy grazing:

Missy comes up to say hi:

And then decides the grass is more interesting:

Shiny Dawn:


Pie wonders what I'm up to - that's Red on the right:

Backlit Red walking:

Shiny Pie:

Red butt:

Boys together - Pie on the left, Red on the right:

Pie turns:

Red in the sunlight:

Pie left, Red right:

Pie's distinctive, and I think handsome, head:

Two butts - Pie closest with Red behind:

The boys together - gives a good idea of their relative size, build and color - Red on the left, Pie on the right:

Pie's one sock, with the striped hoof and ermine spot:

Red's leg that had splint bone surgery is looking good, but has a permanent scar:

It's always fun to spend time in the pastures.

Thanks for visiting our world!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Now That Was Fun! - Two Bareback Rides

I had a low energy day today.  The barn was quiet - almost no one around - and I didn't feel like riding hard or hoisting saddles, so bareback rides were on.

I hadn't really planned on riding Red, but after all four horses were groomed, he came to his door and wanted to come out, so off we went.  We've been having some trouble with renewed bracing at the beginning of our rides - by the end things are always OK but it takes a while to get softness.  I'd decided that I wasn't offering him enough of the feel of what I wanted - I'd been getting the job done but I wasn't giving him the soft feel I wanted back from him.  Yesterday we did some work in the Rockin S raised snaffle to mix things up, and today we were back in his Mylar comfort snaffle.

I grew up riding bareback - from the time I was 6 or so until I was in my late teens I almost never rode in a saddle - never had a lesson until I was in college.  It's delightful riding bareback - you're very close to the horse and your center of gravity is lower than when riding in a saddle.

Red and I did fairly well today.  There were some moments of bracing, but I tried to continue to offer softness, and things got soft pretty quickly.  His halts and backing got soft faster than they've been getting, and the trot work was nice as well.  With Red, I have to ride him frequently, and with a very high degree of consistency on my part - I have to never stop riding and be very conscious of the feel I'm offering.  If there's any brace in me, he gives me a big brace right back.  When I ride correctly, he's a dream, but he's not going to give it away for free.

Missy and I had a lovely bareback ride.  I haven't ridden her bareback in quite a while, and the difference was dramatic.  She's at about 90% of the softness I want, and her consistency is very high - Red goes from 50% soft to 100% and sometimes back again.  Her trot work is really outstanding now - lots of spring and engagement behind and the beginnings of very good shortening/lengthening work.  The left bend was better today with me bareback, probably because of my lower center of gravity and also my (necessarily) more consistent posture.

Two lovely rides, and we've got a week of cooler, more pleasant weather coming up . . .

Friday, August 21, 2015

Drinking Styles

Each of my four horses has his or her own drinking style.  In some respects, these drinking styles reflect their underlying personalities, I think.

Dawn is a lip flapper.  She lowers her face to the water without hesitation, flaps her lower lip a few times at the surface and then drinks deeply.  A mare that tests the waters and then fully commits.

Pie approaches the surface of the water several times with his muzzle before drinking.  Then he drinks deeply - sometimes with sucking noises.  He will always suck his tongue thoughtfully, with the tip protruding from his mouth, for several moments after a first drink.  He usually takes a second, shorter drink, and doesn't suck his tongue then.  He is cautious, checks things out but is also fond of ritual and contemplation.

Red is a plunger.  He directly approaches the water and forcefully drops his muzzle and immediately drinks.  There's no hesitation.  If he's eating hay at the time, he doesn't finish chewing but drops it in the water, although he's not a dunker - he doesn't eat the hay that gets wet.  He's deliberate but also a touch impulsive and very direct about what he wants and how to get it.

Missy drinks a lot and is quite straightforward - she just drinks.  She's also my only horse who doesn't have a favorite between the two buckets in her stall - she drinks equally from both.  (Red is a right bucket drinker and Pie and Dawn prefer the left - although Pie will also reluctantly drink from the right if his "special" bucket is moved from its usual spot on the left to the right.)  She's a plain-spoken, no fuss sort of mare.

Do your horses have drinking styles, and do these reflect their personalities?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Four Browns

All four horses are what a non-horse person would call "brown" - well, Miss is brown and white and Dawn has a black mane and tail and black points, but other than that, they're brown.

One of the things I love about spending time around horses - not just my own - is how individual each of them is, including their color and markings.  Every horse is unique - color, appearance, behavior, personality, you name it - each of them is him or herself, only.

My four are all brown, but what a richness and complexity is concealed within that word.

Dawn is a bright red bay - in the winter she gets much darker:

There's a tinge of black in the brown, even in the summer.

Pie is a bright chestnut with yellow highlights:

I see him and Red together frequently, and Pie is lighter in color.

Red is a deep rich brown, well red actually - he looks like burnished metal:

Missy's brown is very dark - like chocolate - a lovely color - darker than even Dawn's winter coat but without the black highlights:

I'm full of wonder at the beauty of each individual horse, every day - do you ever feel the same way?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Outside, Hoof Trims, Saddle Fit, Trot Work, Sunblock, Ride Log

The bugs - mosquitos, black flies, gnats, flies and more flies - stable flies, face flies, green-headed flies and now the dreaded B-52s - have been really terrible this year.  We've had a lot of rain, with intervals of heat - perfect conditions for all sorts of flying tormentors.

My horses and I got in some nice rides in the outdoor arena - which is mostly grass, which means more bugs than a sand arena would have - in the spring, but have barely been outside to ride since.  The horses are outside almost all day in the bug-infested pastures, so I expect they haven't minded too much being inside in the shady, somewhat less buggy indoor.  Some days the bugs have gotten so bad that the horses had to come in early from turnout.

Finally this week we've gotten some cooler weather with a good breeze, and we finally managed some nice rides outside.  Tuesday in the afternoon I rode both Red and Pie outside, and Wednesday morning Dawn and Missy and I enjoyed some nice weather in the outdoor.  There was a great breeze, and so long as we weren't walking, the bugs weren't too bad.  It's heating up again, so we'll be inside for a while, or not riding at all because it's just too darn hot.  The horses deal better with the heat than I do - I just get exhausted and red in the face - but all of us don't care much for riding when it's in the 90s.

* * * * * *

We had hoof trims today, and all four horses were excellent - Red's been perfect for his trims two times in a row.  He used to be a beast for the farrier, but has steadily improved.  My new strategy with him, which I've used with success two times in a row, is to completely ignore him while he's having his trim and just go about my barn chores.  If I'm out of sight for a bit, I come back into his line of sight from time to time to let him know I'm still around - he pays close attention to where I am, but doesn't fidget or give the trimmer any trouble.

Everyone's feet were chipped up, even though we're on a 5-week trimming cycle.  But everyone stayed perfectly sound - all the chipping was cosmetic.  Missy's feet are rapidly improving, and she's very sound.  The central sulcus cracks in her fronts are completely gone, her heels are coming down and strengthening, her feet are shortening and her frogs are stronger.  When she was walking to me yesterday at bring-in, I was pleased to see that she's now got a nice heel-first landing.

* * * * * *

Yesterday I switched the saddle I rode Red in.  I've been riding him in the Black Rhino western saddle I got for him a while ago.  Lately, he's been somewhat sticky about forward, and I was suspicious that the Black Rhino wasn't fitting him as well in the shoulders as it had been.  So I rode him in my Kieffer dressage saddle - this saddle was actually reflocked for Red several years ago, but I had been riding him in the western saddle for the extra security - he's got some fast moves and can be spooky at times.

The Kieffer seemed to fit pretty well - good shoulder clearance and nice and level.  So we rode in it, and Red seemed much happier and more forward in his gaits.  The saddle also felt good to me, particularly at the canter.  Oddly enough, this is the same saddle I ride Dawn in - she's shaped a lot like Red, but is narrower through the shoulder and withers, and also a bit downhill whereas Red is uphill, so I use shims at the front with Dawn which make the saddle fit her well.

* * * * * *

I've been thinking about how important I find our trot work to be.  I'm a big believer in good work at the walk (as well as good backing), before much trot work, and good work at the trot before doing much canter work.  If you don't have what you want at the walk, you won't get it at the trot, and if you don't have it at the trot it's guaranteed you won't have it at the canter.  Everyone has their own definition of what "good" work is, but for me it's about consistent softness through the entire body - not just head and neck - and the horse using itself from the core and hind end with a relaxed top line.

Straightness/bend are also important - they're really two sides of the same coin - and again I want them to come from behind, not the head/neck/shoulder although they get into the act too.

Good quality, forward, soft, engaged trot work is also really great for developing the correct musculature of the horse, over time with gradually increasing amounts of work.  It's good for developing the human core muscles, too!

* * * * * *

I ordered some My Pony sunblock for Missy - her nose is mostly white, so she could use some sunblock and most of the commercial ones I've found are nasty and greasy and get her nose very dirty.  Someone recommended it to me, and the reviews also seem good, so we'll try it out and see how it does.

* * * * * *

The ride log page is back up and running.  I find it's a handy way for me to keep track of what we've done and how far we've come, and also of horse health maintenance and issues.  I've eliminated the ride number counter, though - too obsessive . . .

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sorry about the Comments Setting . . .

Sorry, everyone, I forgot to enable comments again - comments are once again possible - I had disabled comments when the blog was on vacation to prevent spam.

Friday, August 7, 2015

I Miss the Blog . . . Back Early

I miss the horse people I've come to know and enjoy through their blogs, and even those who comment but don't have blogs.  I can't really tell, or know, if anyone misses me and my blogging, but I guess that doesn't really matter.  So I didn't make it until the end of September for an update.

Anyhow, I've been reading, and sometimes commenting, on others' blogs, and missing blogging.  There's something about writing it down that is meaningful, somehow.

I won't be updating the ride log - that's too compulsively specific, without really capturing what is going on in our day to day riding life.  I try to do my riding now from day to day, without worrying about numbers of rides or numbers of days.  If I don't feel like riding, I don't, if I do, and I often do, I ride.

My blog break didn't make it to the end of September, but here are some highlights from the past month or so:

Horse updates

Pie had a bad reaction to mosquito/black fly bites again and developed face crud again - I caught it much earlier this year and we started on our regime of antihistamines, SMZs plus washing his face and Quadritop antibiotic ointment - he's fine now and without the scarring he got last year.

Red had a bad reaction to fly spray - got hives all over and was biting his chest and rubbing himself on the stall walls - I immediately washed him off and gave him a dose of antihistamines.  He was OK for a while - I switched to using Eqyss Marigold spray, but then he got "chest crud" - the same as Pie's face crud, so we're doing the washing/antibiotic regime.  Don't know yet if he'll need SMZs.  He won't even tolerate the Eqyss spray on his chest.

Dawn had a minor left front ankle injury - a little swelling on the inside, probably a low suspensory strain.  She's not off or unsound, but Dawn's legs are normally very clean, with all structures well-defined and clear, so I pay attention to these things - if she's got filling, something's going on.  She's had some days off and I'll wait till next week to see how she's doing on the lunge and under saddle - today the ankle was looking much better.

Norman down at Paradigm Farms got his PPID medication adjusted.

Lily gets a body clip at Paradigm - she's being treated for PPID and is doing well but still tends to grow too much coat.

Some Links

Melissa at Paradigm did another in her excellent series on PPID: Cushings/PPID Primer, part III.  I've also put it on the sidebar for future reference.

Manolo Mendez did a wonderful piece on on straightness and bending, with great compassion for the horse.

Mark Rashid had a link to another post which debunks many of the supposed behavioral theories that underly "natural horsemanship".  In summary, too much projection by humans of their dominant/aggressive tendencies onto horses.

Riding updates

I'm delighted to say that all four horses are working and riding very well. Everyone is calm and happy, and soft and responsive.  All four horses pretty much ride exactly like I'd want, no matter how many days off they have. Many things that used to be issues no longer are - things just go the way they should.  They all lead and handle on the ground well.  They all stand completely still on a loose rein for mounting, every time - it's just assumed and so it is.  Softness is a given - with Red I have to be sure to ask for it early - lots of figures and circles and transitions, including halt and backing - but if I do it's there throughout our ride.  With the other three, it's never missing.

We've mostly been riding in the indoor - the bugs have been ferocious outside due to our weather.

Missy almost never braces or roots anymore - she's just soft, all the time.  We've started some canter work, and she struggles with the left lead - her natural bend is to the right, so this is hard for her.  We've only been doing a little bit of right lead canter work - her better direction - and are continuing to develop her left bend and suppleness at the trot, working to activate the inside hind and help her step under with it in the turns.

All of a sudden, Pie's work has really come together.  He and I no longer struggle with right bend - it's just there and he's as soft and responsive in that direction as to the left.  His canter work is also really progressing - my "revised" canter/walk position after the clinic gets me out of his way, and his canter is becoming quite lovely.

My work the past month had emphasized for me how important straightness is to bend, and bend to straightness.  It's also emphasized that you can't force bend - and the dangers of excessive lateral flexion of the head and neck.  Bend, and straightness, come from the hindquarters, not the head and neck.  And a horse that isn't soft - one that is braced - will have much more difficulty with bend and straightness.

I've had the chance to see some lovely things this month - including one day when Pie and Red were flowing in with the gelding herd from the far pasture at a relaxed canter.  This makes clear to me how much more important for our horses their horse herds and horse companions are - this is their world.  They may enjoy our company, and work together with us when we ride, but their horse companions are by far more important.

I hope you all have an excellent rest of the summer!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Thanks, and Quarterly Updates

Thanks for all the kind comments.

The blog will stay up.  I will try to update quarterly with doings, what I've been learning and, with a little luck, some photos.

See you all in the fall - I'll plan to post after the end of September - and may you and your horses have a lovely rest of the summer!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Blog Tired

It's time to go.  This blog has been running since 2009 - that's six years.  The adventures of Dawn, Pie, Red and now Missy (and Lily, Maisie and Norman at Paradigm Farms in Tennessee), will continue, whether there is a blog or not.  The blog has been fun - I've enjoyed the writing and the interactions with so many of you over the years.  But it's time to live in the real world, rather than on the net - I'm not on FB, or any other platform and have no interest in being there.  There's nothing on here you can't find elsewhere - there's good info on EPM and Lyme, and if you want to learn from Mark Rashid, there are his books, and his FB page, and go audit or ride.  There's some of you I consider friends, even though we've never met in person.

I'm riding almost every day, and enjoying my time and learning with my horses.  I wish all of you the best, with your horses and in the rest of your lives - may you live long and prosper, and may horses fill your dreams.

This blog will be up for at least a while, and then it may go dark.  But the light and the life of horses are in the real world - enjoy the sights, smells and touches of your real horses, and be well.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Cushings/PPID Primer, Part I (from Paradigm Farms)

All three of my retirees at Paradigm Farms - Lily, Maisie and Norman-the-pony, have Cushings/PPID, which is managed by medication.  All three were diagnosed while they lived there, due to the attention and care Melissa and Jason give all the horses that live with them.

Melissa has started a series on Cushings/PPID - here is Part I.  I will also be adding these posts to a sidebar as they come out.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Two Retirees

Here are two of my retirees, Maisie and Lily, at their home at Paradigm Farms in Tennessee - photo by Melissa:

They're both in their 20s, and both have Cushings/PPID that's well controlled by medication.  I think they're looking pretty good - you go, girls!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Oh, Mare

Missy is pretty smart.  She stays out of trouble in the herd, and doesn't usually put herself in a position that's likely to cause trouble.  But yesterday, I came to the barn to find this:

Very odd.  Not bites, not kicks, and pretty symmetrical on both hind legs.  The right leg was a bit worse than the left, and also had a wound down near the ankle:

These pictures were taken this morning, and the wounds already looked a bit less raw.  Yesterday they were very red, although not bleeding - just the top layer of hair and skin was scraped off.  They were very fresh at bring in time, which meant they'd just happened.  They were also quite clean - no dirt or debris.

The good news is that the swelling's not too bad - she had some Banamine last night - and the wounds - scrapes is what they are - aren't too serious although they're ugly.  She's sound and there's no sign of any structural damage.  I washed her legs with soap and water, and after she'd air dried, I put Neosporin on the scrapes and then put Swat around each wound so she could go out in a pen today - the pastures are very muddy right now.  She also got a couple of hand walks to help keep the swelling down.  So far so good.  Once things are starting to heal up, she can go back out with the herd and I we can go back to riding.

But how did she manage to do this?  The only thing I could figure is that she got her legs through the fence, and scraped them pulling them back out.  Pie, who can be very crabby with mares, was in a small paddock in the afternoon adjacent to the gate area of the mare pasture.  I suspect that Missy was  at the fence "talking" to Pie - she's in heat - and he didn't care for her offer.  She then kicked at him - he might even have tried to bite her.

There was evidence - a board was knocked loose in the paddock, and lo and behold, on the board below that board, there were white hairs caught in two patches on the top edge of the board.  I'm just glad she managed to extricate herself without doing any worse damage.

From now on, Pie and Red will be in paddocks that don't adjoin the mare pasture, to avoid future incidents like this.

Oh, mare.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Connection Between Walk and Canter

I've always found that there's a strong connection between work at the walk and work at the canter.  I'm not entirely sure why that is, but I suspect that it has something to do with the 4-beat nature of the walk, and the 4-beat (counting the suspension as one beat) of the canter.  There are differences, of course - the most notable of which in canter is the diagonal element, moving from one hind to the opposite front foot.

But a horse and rider with a good quality and feel at walk are likely to have a good quality and feel at the canter, or at least have a good place to start.  A horse and rider with a poor walk - low energy, uneven footfalls or poor engagement - are also likely to have a poor canter.  One of the reasons that I got Red, despite his obvious issues, was that he had an amazing walk, even just when being led in from the pasture.

Pie and I did some canter work today, and my hypothesis about the connection between walk and canter really proved true.

Those of you who have been following along will recall that one of the things we worked on at the clinic was my position at the walk.  Instead of collapsing in my lower back and driving with my seat and secondary aids - therefore blocking the energy flow from hindquarters forward - we worked in the walk at having me sit the same way I did in trot - more on my inner thighs than seat - with a more upright posture and no driving aids - basically getting out of the horse's way so the horse could move more correctly and with full energy.

I did this today with Pie in the canter and it worked like a charm.  We've struggled a lot with canter - or he's struggled and I've interfered, would be one way of saying it.  Today, his canter was round, and soft and engaged, and he was able to do 20-meter circles without loss of the hind end or loss of impulsion, and I was doing a lot less - basically nothing other than being with him - so it felt wonderful.  All I did was concentrate on having my position be the same as my (revised) position in walk.  And he was "through" from back to front, on his own - because I wasn't cutting his energy and movement in half in the middle.  Amazing how effective getting out of the way can be . . .

Walk = canter.

Powerful Post from Mark Rashid

Here's Mark's latest post - read it, it'll be worth your time.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Practice, with Four Horses

I am so incredibly fortunate to have worked with Mark Rashid for 13 years now, and to have four fine horses who serve as my teachers/shapers as I edge towards the goal of unconscious competence.

Here are the four stages of learning:

1.  Unconscious incompetence - you have no idea what you're doing or if it's correct, and you have no way to tell.

2.  Conscious incompetence - you know that what you're doing isn't correct or isn't working, but you don't necessarily know what to do about it.

3.  Conscious competence - you can do something correctly, but you really have to concentrate to make it work.

4.  Unconscious competence - thing happen correctly, automatically, with softness.

I've got a number of things in my riding/working with horses, that are at stage 4, and some that are at stage 3.

This past two weeks, since the clinic, I've been working on moving some things from stage 3 to stage 4, and my horses are helping - without them I'd be getting nowhere.  My horses are my teachers and I listen to them every step of the way.

Nothing, let me repeat, nothing, that I'm working on with my horses that isn't right is coming from them - that's one reason I didn't take them to the clinic.  It's coming from me, and to the extent that I'm consistent, and clear, and soft and paying attention, they all - all four - can do pretty much anything I ask.

This week, we've all been working together on our transitions, and in particular the trot/walk transition.  I've also been paying attention to how consistent I am about how we lead, how we stand for mounting, how we halt from the walk, how we back and the quality of our walk/trot transition and the quality of the trot itself. Any errors - any glitches - are coming from me - if the horse makes an error it's because I've been inconsistent, unclear or inattentive in how I'm communicating.

So this week, we've been focussed on having exactly the leading I want, exacting the standing at the mounting block I want, exacting the quality of walk I want - from the first step - exactly the halt I want from the walk, etc.  This sounds demanding, but if I'm very clear (while being soft) about what I want, the horses - all four - are delighted to have my direction and guidance and relax into the work.  If I'm distracted or inconsistent, they tell me so.

Changing how I do trot/walk transitions has been hard.  I've had to change my body position (to keep it still, with the horse, and not interfering/blocking, and trust me, if you're in your 60s like me, this can make you sore) in the walk and during the transition to walk, I've had to keep my focus up and out (and not on the horse's head), and I've had to internally carry the energy through and keep breathing, all at the same time.  I'm at stage 3 - I know exactly what to do, but still have to concentrate on it.  The changes I'm making are very small, very subtle, but there are a number of them and they involve changing a number of habits I had - that's why it took three days at the clinic to work through all of them.

But my horses are helping me, as they always do, and we're getting close to stage 4 on this task.  We practice, and practice, and practice some more - I've been riding only two horses a day to be sure I have the energy and physical ability to do what needs to be done.  Every ride, I'm getting closer to having these things be automatic.  Every horse is different, but every horse is telling me exactly what I need to know, and where my practice needs to improve.  If I ride correctly, with feel and intention, they're right there with me, my four fine teachers.

I'm deeply blessed to have four such fine horses - Dawn, Missy, Pie and Red.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Dawn Has a Birthday

Today is Dawn's 18th birthday.  You'd never know it from looking at her - she's glossy and muscled and fit.  Since she had her two rounds of dental surgery last summer, she's been eating up a storm and holding her weight better than she ever has - even so, she gets 4 times the feed my other three horses do.

She's a bright red bay - she gets much darker in the winter - with no white markings at all.  She was a TB race horse, and has old-style breeding.  On the top line, she goes back to War Relic, a son of Man O'War.

Since I ride her in the early morning - she objects to the presence of other horses in the arena, and at her age I'm glad to accommodate her rather than try to change it - she probably gets ridden more regularly than my other horses, except in very cold weather when it's just too darn cold in the a.m. to ride.  Most weeks, we ride 5 times, and almost never less than 4.  This helps keep her fit and healthy.  She's been barefoot since 2012 (she was probably shod since she was a young horse before that), and is doing well with that.

Dawn has taught me many things.  Our family has had her since 2001, when she was 4, but she was my younger daughter's horse until the fall of 2009, when my younger daughter went to college and I "inherited" Dawn.  Before that, I'd only ridden her a few times.  In fact it would be safe to say that I was a little bit scared of her, and not that happy to be stuck with her.  She and my daughter (bareback, from age 12 to age 18) would gallop flat out on the trails.  She couldn't be ridden safely in company - she kicked, even sideways at a horse next to her - was extremely forward and prone to reactive spooking, bolting and bucking.  There were a number of days where Dawn would show up at the barn well ahead of my daughter, who would come limping in after being bucked off on the trail.  Dawn was a fearsome mare, and I wasn't at all sure I was up to dealing with her.  This worry was amplified when she kicked me in the jaw in 2009 when I made a bad decision to pick her feet in the barn aisle, loose, when she was in heat (yes, call me stupid).   I broke three teeth, but luckily not my jaw, and had a bunch of dental work afterwards, including eventually having two teeth removed since they were too damaged to save.

She's taught me so much since then.  I've learned how to ride an extremely forward, reactive horse, by being quiet and non-emotional.  She taught me how to have a soft, following contact rather than bracing against the horse.  She and I are very close, now, and she now bestows on me the "nose rest" that she used to reserve only for my daughter.  We do this almost every morning when I groom her before riding - she puts her nose into my chest, or on my shoulder next to my face, and we breath together for a while, sometimes with my face against her muzzle - this is not something I ever ask her to do, she insists.  She will attack the stall next to her or other horses nearby in the pasture when I am with her - this is the same behavior she shows under saddle in the arena - I think she's claiming/defending me.  Otherwise she's good with the other horses in the pasture.  She will make biting gestures - she knows not to connect - if she's crabby, in heat or objects to what I'm doing.  She makes her opinions known. She's small, only about 15.1, and very feminine, although sturdily built.

She's a remarkable mare, and I care deeply for her.  She's my Dawn mare, and I'm hers.  Here are some pictures:

Happy birthday to a lovely mare!