Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hug Your Horses

A friend of mine lost her beloved gelding today.  He was 24, sound and apparently in very good health - she rode him last night.  Sometime in the night, he coliced badly.  This morning, he was in distress and she had him trailered to the vet clinic, and the vets told her there was nothing they could do - surgery in his case had less than a 5% chance of working - he apparently ruptured his intestine.  So all of us need to hug our horses - every day we have them - you never know how long you have.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Creating the Soft Spot, Part III - Responsibility: Consistency, Reliability and Stability

(Part I is here, Part II is here.)

Before the horse can find a soft spot, we have to create it first, and offer it to the horse.

So much of what I had been trained to do with/to horses was about the horse's responsibility.  But wait a minute - what about my responsibility? - any relationship has (at least) two parts . . .

Softness isn't just a physical thing - although it's very much that - it's also an attitude, an emotion, a connection - a deep connection.  It's a form of communion with the horse - and I use that term deliberately, in the spiritual sense.

We are responsible to lead the way - that's our role as leaders in the human/horse relationship - it isn't about obedience, or that misused term "respect" - how insulting/demeaning to the horse is that?  It's about reliability, consistency and providing stability to the relationship with the horse.

Mark Rashid said something pretty profound at one of our recent clinics - you can't make connection, but you can offer it - horses are good at taking up connection if we make it available.

Connection/softness is an attitude, and also a task.  You have to check your ego at the door - that is why "lungeing for respect" is so misguided.   The task is to be the best rider/communicator that you can.  Trust me, this is a huge responsibility - you have to really learn how to ride, how to be responsible for your body position and what you do with your seat, hands, legs, balance and timing - there's nothing remotely mechanical about it and it takes huge discipline and practice - you have to really want it to get it - there are no shortcuts.  It requires dedication, and practice - for me on a daily basis - to really do this.  And if you're a beginner rider, that doesn't mean you can't get there - in fact if you're a beginner but don't have the baggage of bad training to unlearn, you may get there faster.

To offer softness, you have to be soft yourself - this takes concentration, practice and self-examination.  Think of every point at which you contact the horse - your mind, seat, hands, legs and even your soul - as holding the connection with the horse as if it were an egg, or a baby bird - the slightest touch, breath or thought is enough to communicate.  We humans tend to be crude, and horses are oh so sensitive and responsive if we just care enough to listen and ask in a way that is not coercive, demanding or degrading.

The objective is to, with your intention and body, consistently and reliably create the soft spot - offer softness - when the horse can always find the release.  Developing a soft, following seat, hand and leg being able to consistently maintain your position without bracing is an important part of this - this takes time and miles. When you're learning to do this, the physical motions required may be big, and that's OK, that's how we learn.  But as we practice, the physical element become smaller and smaller until it's vanishingly small and the horse can come into the soft spot together with you and the two of you just stay in that spot together, whatever gaits/actions/movements are occurring.  And we have to wait sometimes for the horse to find, trust and take up the connection - if we offer softness, in a consistent place, the horse will find it, and the more often we do it, consistently, the quicker the horse will find it, every time.  I call it "locking on" - things just click into place and everything gets right.

The goal to stay in the soft spot together with the horse, to have a following feel that flows back and forth between the horse and rider.  Allowing horse and/or rider to make mistakes and find the path without being coerced, and while remaining calm and clear on what you want, is part of the equation.  Mark has a concept he calls "softening at the point of resistance" - more on that later.

You can't make the horse be soft, but you can create softness in yourself and offer it as a place for your and the horse to be soft together.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Soft Spot - Not Mechanics, Not Verbal (Part II)

(Part I is here.)

I've got a lot of bits written, but it's hard to write about the soft spot and what it means.  Part of the problem is that the soft spot isn't really about mechanics.

We're taught and learn lots of mechanics, as if riding a horse were like driving a car.  Almost none of the really good stuff is about mechanics, which is about operating on the outside of the horse.  Now, this is not to say that our own mechanics - how we sit, what we do with our bodies, our tension/relaxation, and how we time our aids - aren't important - they are.  Part of what I'm trying to write about is responsibility - our responsibility to the horse to be the best rider we can.  But softness isn't something you do to the horse, it's something you and the horse are, together.  There are mechanical things that can get you part of the way there, but in the end it's not about mechanics.

The soft spot also isn't a verbal thing - using words to describe it is hard.  The soft spot is physical, and mental, and let's be clear, it's also spiritual and about relationship, deep relationship.

So these posts are going to come slowly.

More coming . . .

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Soft Spot . . . the Beginning (Part I)

We fiddle, we adjust, we bump, we pull, we drive, we brace, we push, we jiggle, we mess with, we throw away contact.  We do stuff to the outside of the horse thinking that somehow it will change the inside of the horse - but we don't change the inside of ourselves first.

More to come . . .

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!