Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dawn and I Progress and Maisie's Nose and Feet

Yesterday Dawn and I made some progress. My approach to her is to start within her comfort zone and expand the boundaries slowly, making sure at each point that if she becomes worried about something, that we deal with that before moving on to the next thing. What I want to show her is that it's OK to get worried, and that I will help her find a way not to worry about whatever it is. This means I have to be watching carefully, to be sure I don't blow through an area of worry - with a horse like Dawn holes in training like that can cause big problems later. She is a worrier by temperment - she is very reactive and inclined to flee when stressed - and although she does want and try to be good with people, she also worries what may happen if she does something wrong - she wasn't always handled well in the past and was often forced to comply even when she didn't really understand and was afraid. I would like to get her to a place where if worries arise, she will know that we can work through them and that nothing bad will happen while she struggles with something. This doesn't mean that I won't put her in situations where she worries, or that I won't put pressure on her when we're working through something, but I need to be gradual and pay close attention to not over face her, but to also be sure that we work through something that worries her and get her to a more comfortable place before we stop - I think leaving a worried horse hanging can add to the problem.

A number of people have given me the helpful comment that leading can be a useful exercise. I agree with that completely - but I do think that the horse has to have some degree of trust in you, and an ability to calm down after worrying - self-calming is the goal - in order to do this effectively without simply forcing the horse through things. Dawn and I aren't quite ready for that yet, although we will be at some point, I believe. Dawn's first impulse when she's upset or alarmed is to flee - and at that point the fear takes over - you can control her if you coerce - but I don't want to do that. I need to build her (and my) mutual confidence first so that she has some other responses available to her besides fleeing.

So back to yesterday. I groomed her on crossties - she was alert but also calm. No trouble at all with the feet - less tail-swishing when I asked for the right hind to pick it. Then I saddled her up - I planned to take things as far as she was comfortable and if we hit a point of worry, to work on that until things were better. She was good for saddling - it's been a couple of years since she's worn a saddle. I didn't use a white saddlepad, as she's got some issues with white objects, which we'll deal with later. I'm not doing any (planned!) spooky object work with her until we've built a little more trust in our relationship - scary objects are one of Dawn's biggest issues and we need a little more foundation before dealing with that. She was fine for the pad, saddle and girth - she did look around a few times as if to say "what is this?" and her ears were more back than frontwards during girthing, but there was no ear-pinning or other indications of aggravation or discomfort.

And then we had our first small worry. After I had saddled and girthed her, as she was standing on the crossties, she started shifting her weight just slightly from side to side and taking weight off each front foot in turn - she wasn't lifting her feet, just shifting her balance. Her head was a little bit higher as well. It wasn't a big worry, just a little one - as soon as I took her off crossties and led her out, she was fine. I just think the saddle and girth felt a bit weird to her, which isn't surprising.

Then we lunged a bit at the walk, trot and halt with the saddle on and stirrups run up and secured. I wanted to see how she felt about moving around under saddle - I didn't expect any explosions but wanted her to get a feel again for it. No problem at all - we also worked on our transitions, or really on my transitions - my goal was to get precise transitions up from walk to trot and down again from trot to walk - off my body language and energy level. This worked pretty well, except when she was trotting to the right, the downwards transition to walk tended to turn into a halt. This was because I was having trouble slowing down the right amount to signal her to walk, without having to slow down so much that she halted. Dawn learned to lunge with people standing still in the center, so she has learned to tune that out - she's getting the hang of paying attention to body language but she's still figuring it out and the right seems to be harder. I expect it's something I'm doing or not doing to the right due to my own body asymmetries. I solved the problem (by accident) by getting a little bit further behind her as she transitioned from trot to walk - this kept me walking forward and also didn't give the visual appearance of a person in the middle. We got a number of good transitions in both directions and even got some good stretches down and round. I'm getting a lot more attention and eye contact from her now, now that she understands that my body language and energy level mean something, which is very good.

I decided to try one more lunging step before working on mounting. (Mounting will take some work as my daughter tends to jump up on Dawn - she only rides bareback - while Dawn is walking - sort of how racehorses are used to having riders get up.) I'm glad I did, because it turned out Dawn was somewhat worried about it. The next step I took was to run the stirrups down and lunge Dawn with the stirrups swinging. If you think about it, when there's a rider in the saddle using the stirrups, they don't swing (or at least they shouldn't!), but if a rider drops stirrups, or should fall off, the stirrups may swing a lot and even bang the horse in the sides. This is particularly true of English saddles with their very flexible leathers, and I'm also fairly tall so my stirrups hang pretty far on Dawn, who isn't that big. I'm sure that many people never lunge their horses with the stirrups down, which may partly explain why when riders fall off, many horses run off and buck - it may just be the stirrups bumping around as much as the shock of the rider coming off.

From the moment she went out on the circle at the walk, it was clear that she was somewhat worried. She picked up the pace and was carrying her head higher than before. When we were walking, she wanted to trot, and when we were trotting she wanted to canter, although she slowed when I asked her to. We kept working on our walk, trot and halt work. After a while she settled and was able to concentrate again. We finished with more good transitions, with good attention from both of us to the other. By the end, she wasn't worried about the stirrups, although I'll check to see if that sticks until our work tomorrow. If it has, we'll move on to other things. We will also need to do the stirrups down work at the canter, when the stirrups will swing and bang around a lot more, but we don't have to do that yet.

I had brought out her bridle, but we didn't get to putting it on. Today we may work on some basic mounting - standing still at the mounting block and accepting weight in the saddle. I may do this with the halter and lead rather than bridle and bit, unless we progress so well that I can mount and walk around. We'll have to take it one step at a time. We also may do some lunging at the canter - that's high energy enough that I may do it in a separate session from mounting. So far so good.

* * * * * *

I've notice recently that Maisie often coughs a bit when we start our trot work. She coughs a few times and blows her nose, and after that she's fine. When she runs with the herd, she also tends to briefly get a bit of white discharge from her nose (this is from yesterday's running - I took the picture when they'd stopped):

I hope this isn't the beginning of some respiratory issues like those Lily had. Our bedding is not too dusty (we used compressed wood pellets rather than shavings partly for this reason) and Maisie's stall is well-ventilated in the months when we can leave the barn doors open, as her stall is on the end next to the door and a good breeze often comes through. Lily had worse issues - she had true heaves - with impaired exercise tolerance and often quite profuse discharge - not to gross anyone out but she would often cough and sneeze up stuff that looked like lots of plain yoghurt - often all over my clothes! But Lily's problem started somewhere, and I hope Maisie's not headed in that direction. We'll have to keep an eye on it.

Maisie has fully recovered from her episode of concussion laminitis of several months ago, but I've noticed that there is a physical record of the inflammation - she now has a distinct ring on each hoof that corresponds in time to the laminitis episode - if you look at the picture you'll see the ring about a third of the way down her hoof from the coronet band:


  1. Not grossed out Kate, I'm one of life's saddo's...I love puss and yuck; hehe. Hope Maisie's snotty nose is something innocent. Good progress with Dawn.

  2. Good work with Dawn. You are almost treating her as if she is an "unbroke." Not quite the best term, but it sums up how to handle her. When Kenny Harlow first backs a horse, he slaps the (western) stirrup leathers against the saddle over and over until the horse does not react at all.

    I also lunged my youngster with the stirrups down for the same reasons you cite. Good move.

    Just take you time and "read" her body language each time. You are being very sensible about all this.

    Maisie's discharge doesn't look like an issue to me. I've seen that in my horses plenty of times. Just some minor irritation. Could be a seasonal allergy to something. Looks like it will be OK to me. (Hope so.)

  3. I agree with Jean, Maisie's discharge looks like nothing to me. I see that in some of the horses here from time to time and it is usually gone on its own within a day.


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